So yesterday was Wednesday, and on Wednesday we got up and drove to Bougouni. We drove down a long dirt road for about 25km to a remote village called Ouroun. It was there, in Ouroun, where we received what I think, for me, was the most incredible welcome from strangers I have ever received. No less than 1500 children made a line (the one I'm navigating in the picture below), close to 200m long. Clapping, singing, stomping their feet in unison, high-fiving and cheering our arrival. It was a busy day in Ouroun - Wednesday is market day, people come from other villages by motorbike, bicycle, donkey and truck to trade goods for the week. This meant that the turn-out for Right to Play day was, as one female elder put it in Bambara (translated to me into French) "disappointingly low". Ha!! Good thing I didn't go on Tuesday... I might not have left!
The children of Ouroun are SO happy. They LOVE Right to Play days. Children of every age take part in educational programming, the focus of which, being age-driven, varies between hand washing techniques, to malaria prevention, to literacy, to AIDS/HIV awareness to conflict resolution.
We met the Mayor, and the woman in charge of Ouroun's Women's advancement group, members of the School Parent's association, village elders and anyone who came by for a handshake and a bonjour. Clara and I had the incredible opportunity to sit in a class room of students taking part in a Youth Initiative pilot program to discuss the specific problems they face. Their school doesn't have electricity, so when they arrive after their chores are finished (many chores are performed in the bush, foraging, leading animals to feed), it's often too dark in the class rooms to read - so they use flashlights. They'd really like a newer school building, they want benches that aren't falling apart, they'd really like to have their teacher recognized by the ministry of education, so that he can be paid accordingly. These young people have big goals, they want to lead. One youth said he'd like to be mayor one day, another said she wants to teach healthy living to young women in her village. They're all taking part in the pilot program to take that first step in their respective goal's long journey - to become literate.
It was tough to leave such an engaged conversation. The majority of my visits to the communities I've been to in Africa are play-based, and mostly with kids under 12. These young people were inquisitive, intelligent, thirsty for perspective and knowledge... I really appreciated my time with them. I won't forget it, and I promise to do what I can to ensure the Youth Initiative continues to meet the needs of young Malians.
In a flash of goodbyes to the village elders, we were off down the long bumpy road which brought us to the most welcoming place I've ever been, on Market day.
We arrived in the city of Bougouni after about an hours drive (I slept), at the RTP offices where Virginie made us a delicious chicken lunch with local side dishes; plantain, rice, onion/lemon sauce... it was amazing. Bougouni has a youth centre which houses the area's only local disabled youth facility. 10 men with lower body disabilities put on an incredible show of hand-ball; a close, competitive and extremely combative game, where the men basically run on their hands, and dribble the ball between them (a foot-ball is treated as a hand-ball is in soccer, with a free kick). Their range and accuracy was amazing, I saw at least 3 half-court goals. It was "Dignity day" in Bougouni, and these men redefined the word by owning a game, demonstrating their proficiency in a highly competitive environment, and entertaining a large crowd with their prowess. A big WOW to the athletes. (A big Wow is a local kudos/congratulations/I'm impressed saying, which really requires no explanation at all, but why not elaborate, right? It's my blog...). The activities came to a close with a quick youth game, just for fun type clapping and stomping, and just as we were wrapping up a FIERCE thunder clap came out of nowhere... it wasn't even really cloudy, and scared half the children into a furious scamper around the playground, 5 or 6 grabbed onto my t-shirt and shorts in terror, I jumped too it was SO super loud. We all calmed down quickly and said our goodbyes. With that, it was off to Piemont to check into a hotel for the night.
We had about an hour before dinner, so I stood out in the rain for a bit to cool off, and I saw a soccer ball fly up high across the street, so I ran to my room got my shoes and RTP nxne soccer jersey on to join them. I asked in crappy French "peut je jouet avec vous?"... some of the older kids laughed and pointed in the direction that I was going to be running and kicking the ball in a manner way-less-good-than-them (queue my high-school English teacher's groan, cause Miss Salvo is too young to be spinning in graves). One of the kids motioned that I tuck in my jersey. Really? Do I look that sloppy? No, ingeniously, these kids do that so they can tell what team their on. I was on the preppy side. (Also, I was on the older kids team, which, I soon realized, was how they organized the two teams, 10-13 on one side, 13+ on the other. We won, by like 5 points... but the anklebiters scored twice!) I asked afterwards (in the pitch black, cause we played until dark, and one kid spontaneously yelled "Fini" - and every kid picked up and jetted home)... I asked if the kids knew about Right to Play - they all had, they love it.
Today we visited communities around Bougouni before coming all the way back to Bamako. First we had an information centre with the lovely and talented RTP Bougouni staff... Merci Beaucoup pour votre perspective! Next we drove out to another rural community and toured their community. We took part in a health session targeted at mothers and children to improve nutritional practices and to familiarize them with vaccination procedures - their measles / poliio / tetanus vaccines are coming tomorrow. They learned how to use corn maize flour, lemon, sugar and water to make a really tasty and nutritious breakfast for enfants (yes, I tried a little!). We checked out some of their local crops and wells, both traditional and modern. They prefer the modern pumps, because the water comes up faster and cleaner (they still have to boil it), to their traditional ground-level bucket drawn open wells. But apparently the modern wells always break, and are difficult to fix. Want an engineering project Smarty Pants University Engineers? Design an effective well pump you can fix with ONLY simple bike parts and tools. The rubber gaskets should be recycled inner tubes... cause they have lots of those.
The best play-day Djambala has ever seen was our last stop in Bougouni. We broke up into groups after the Community Elder and mayor showed us how to dance in the BEST energizer warm up I have ever been a part of. He totally busted a move, and if there was a rug, it would have been thoroughly torn-up. We played some tag games, human pretzel, elephant ball, and did some relays. It was so awesome. Bougouni kids know how to play.
Now we're back in Bamako, looking forward to one last play day tomorrow, and a rest/vacation day on Saturday.
A shout out to all my Canadian Teammates in Mexico at the Pan Am Games, keep on racing so fast!! Nice work K4s, Bonne Fete Em, and Good Luck/Bonne Chance!!