July 21, 2003
We're back in Sevare after three days and two nights hiking, riding oxcarts, fording streams and scrambling over rocks in Dogon Country. It was a journey of extreme contrasts--sublime views and maddening insects, warm hospitality and unimaginable poverty.
Here's a view from our last sunset in Dogon Country, from a point atop the Falaise near the village of Begnematow.
Here are some pictures from the trip. Details to follow.
A young goatherd at the waterfall in Begnematow.
Filtering water in Begnematow.
The village of Tele, seen from the now-abandoned cliff houses.
A Dogon grainery.
The tourgina, or meeting house, in Ende.
The Hogon at Ende, the last person living in the village's old cliff-houses.
Back from Dogon
Dogon Country is definitely God’s country. I saw some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen, yet I encountered the most humbling living conditions and people working in ways I never thought humanly possible. We hired a guide to take us from Severe through Dogon, where we passed through various villages and had the opportunity to meet many people. All around us were cliffs, like the mesas through western NM and Arizona, yet everything was green and lush. The highlight were the cliff villages, much like Mesa Verde, but people still live in many of them. We did a lot of rock climbing (not by choice) and even got to ride an oxen cart (again, not by choice). Yet the experience was more than a tourist adventure. It was a glimpse into the lives of people whose hope for survival depends on the rain. There were instances that brought tears of guilt to my eyes and made me promise to never complain about small annoyances in my life again and there were others that made me want to stay there forever.
Our guide, Hassimi, met us at 6:30AM at our hotel. We set off through Bandhiagara but stopped off for gas and ended up picking up a hitch hiker; a little boy no older than 3 with a soccer ball and a hand full of CFA coins. He needed to get to Bandhiagara. As we drove up the dirt road the little boy grew sleepy and fell asleep on Tim’s shoulder. It was a memorable drive.
The first Dogon village we visited was Djiguibombo. The roads to Djiguibombo were built by the Germans. They are nicely flat red earth roads with concrete bricks laying out the path on each side. They were much friendlier than the roads to Siby but they were still unpaved. Hassimi walked us through the village where we were greeted by a gang of five children and their pet flies. I’ve never seen so many flies before, but they didn’t seem to annoy the children who walked along side us and held our hands. The huts of the village were square in shape at the base, about 3 meters by 3 meters and extended about 5 meters up. They had huts for grain and millet, separated for the men and the women. The women are supposedly stingy with their grain so they get their own smaller huts. Each family has several huts. The inequality between women and men is shocking sometimes.
The Dogon are famous for their wood carved doors, windows and wood posts with figures of men, women and animals carved into them. Each family has their own unique symbols. In the center of the village is an open hut built of crafted flat wooden poles that branch out in a Y shape. Each pole has a different animal or person carved into it. The poles support a large roof built of thousands of small twigs. These particular huts are meeting places where the wise old men of the village gather to sort out problems. It serves almost as a court house. They have separate ones for the women, one for the children to play in and one for the very old men. We were fortunate enough to meet the oldest man in the village. He is over 90 years old and is still smoking on his pipe that he lights by hitting stones together. I felt so out of place in this village yet at the same time we were welcomed with big smiles and the extended Dogon greeting that translates to How are you? How’s your father? And your mother? And your wife? And your children? And your friends? And so on…When the villagers would pass each other their greetings to one another rang out like a song or a chant. They would exchange greetings while passing one another, even from a distance.
The village of Kani Kombole has the same features as Djiguibombo except that it boasts a beautiful mud mosque and a busy market. After Kani Kombole we stopped in Teli to see the cliff dwellings, which were still lived in until 60 years ago. The Dogon arrived in the 11th century after they were driven from their own land by Muslims who forced them to either give up their Animist beliefs and convert to Islam or die. So the Dogon packed up and left in order to preserve their culture and their beliefs. They settled in the area now known as Dogon country, but they sort of kicked out the Tellum people who were believed to be the Pigmies who now inhabit the Congo. It was very interesting learning about the history of the places we visited. Our guide was very knowledgeable and encouraged many questions. Yes, the men typically have many wives and up to 20 children. The most prevalent crop that we saw was millet, and no the children don’t have a choice of what they get to eat. It’s typically rice and spaghetti sauce; Dogon style (lots of onions).
Our final stop for the day was in Hassimi’s village of Ende, which he claims is the Dogon Capital of Mali. We were set up to sleep on the roof top of a tourist resting facility when the thundering clouds appeared from over the cliffs and we were driven inside.
There is more to come on our adventures in Dogon, but I haven’t eaten in 7 hours so I am off to dinner. Once again, I’ll have the Capitan brochette. After seeing all the cute animals everywhere and they way they tie up the goats to be slaughtered I don’t want to eat red meat again, but fish I can endure any day!
Hassimi Guindo, Superguide
Hassimi Guindo, a young Dogon from the village of Ende at the southern end of the Falaise, was our guide. In addition to seeing to our every need, Hassimi was a fountain of information about the region. He told us fantastic stories from Dogon history and folklore, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of local arts and crafts, and happily fielded the most random questions from a bunch of engineers.
Those seeking a guide for Dogon Country, Mopti, Djenne or even Tombouctou can leave a message for Hassimi in Sevare at the Maison des Arts or at the Hotel Mankan Te.
Mask Dance in Begnematow
On our last morning in Dogon country, the village of Begnematow organized a mask dance on a rocky amphitheater high on the Falaise overlooking the plains. Fortunately the masks were in a friendly mood, and didn't display their more terrifying aspect (beyond charging one of the guides and scaring Beto).
While hiking through Dogon Country, we got to visit a number of local artists at work. For example, this gentleman in the village of Teli produced statues and other carvings based on Dogon folklore.
Common themes are the crocodile (who first lead the Dogon to water in their migration from the Manding region) and various exaggerated human figures.
These men in Ende worked with bogolan fabric, dyeing the cloth and tailoring it into shirts and other garments.
In Ende we also found an indigo workshop, where women produced the dye from a mysterious substance that I couldn't translate (leaves? dirt?).
By tying knots in the fabric with thread that they release after soaking the cotton in dye, they are able to create complicated patterns and designs.
Meetings in Dogon Country
We ran into all kinds of people in Dogon country, from Pular women selling raw cow's milk to old muslim dudes zipping around on mobylettes to women pounding grain to whole families digging up weeds in their millet fields. We also met lots and lots of curious kids.
And in one instance, lots and lots of sheep.
July 22, 2003
Wrapping up our visit to northern Mali, this morning we took a trip across the Bani River to Djenne, home of the world's largest mud-brick mosque.
July 24, 2003
Centre de Recherche sur le Savoir Local (Center for Research on Local Knowledge)
"Point Sud is an autonomous research institution that focused on developing a new mode of interaction amongth Southern countries and the North. It was founded as the result of a local initiative comprised of both native and non-native Malians in cooperations with the University of Bayreuth, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin and other scientific institutions including l'Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales, Paris and the Center of International and Area Studies of Yale University. Point Sud mobilizes resources in order to carry out research projects and educate graduate students from around the world working towards this objective."
At our meeting this morning with Point Sud codirector Moussa Sissoko and Violet Diallo from Ashoka, we discussed the possibility of a partnership between Point Sud and Design that Matters, which would help to connect university students in Mali and other Francophone West African countries with DtM design challenges.
Meeting with Point Sud
BACKGROUND: Started in 1990. Two programs: 1) Training Program that promotes higher education for Malian students (Master's/PhD) and study abroad; and 2) Organizes biennial international conferences (mostly with Europe), facilitates collaboration with foreign universities. Research areas focus on local challenges, and include agronomy, maternal & infant nutrition research, anthropology (focusing specifically on migration patterns), and decentralization. Bridges technical and social areas of expertise.
TIME: 10:00 AM, Jul 24
CONTACT: Dr. Moussa Sissoko (Codirector)
- Would like to put course records onto Kinkajou for reference
- Saw Point Sud as facilitator to deploy Kinkajou to local market
- Research project on how well Kinkajou works in a classroom
- Seemed excited at the opportunity to collaborate
- 3 possible uses: Personal reader, projector for schools, portable library (legal text for rural judges; pharmaceutical)
- Environmental hazards of Microfilm
- Need to get a patent
Meeting with Teachers and Trainers
This afternoon, we went back to AJA to meet with representatives from several Malian NGOs working in the area of adult literacy and vocational training. Violet Diallo from Ashoka helped to organize the meeting, and AJA director Souleymane Sarr handled the introductions and moderated the discussion. Representatives included Souadou Diabate Kone, President of AMPJF (Association Malienne pour la Promotion de la Jeune Fille et de la Femme) and N'Gouro Sanogo, Adjoint Director of GRAT (Groupe de Recherches et d'Apllications Techniques).
We got a fantastic response from the group with regards to the Kinkajou projector. We're now working out the details of an extended pilot study to be conducted here in Mali this Fall and Spring. The NGO representatives will provide us with a set of course materials and presentation slides from each program area (adult literacy and numeracy, maternal health, vocational training) to convert into microfilm. The idea is that we'll send back a beta prototype for the various agencies to pass around and test in their different education programs for six months. This will be a mix of night-time adult education courses and daytime vocational training, and should provide us with excellent design and market feedback.
AJA (Association Jeunne Accion)
BACKGROUND: Second meeting at AJA. Met with directors of AJA as well as other local educators and NGOs. Presented Kinkajou and DTM to 16 people (12 men, 4 women, Violet, and team Kinkajou)
TIME: 2:30 PM, Jul 24
- Souadou Diabate Kone (President of Association Malienne Pour la Promocion de la Jeune Fille et de la Femme)
- David Mathers (UNAIS-British NGO)
- Dembelé neé Jarqueline Goita (Local educator-met again at Violet's house for dinner)
- Plus another 13 contacts…..
- $50 is a good cost for the projector
- Dictionaries cost $30
- David Mathers suggested using 8mm camera film (Super 8 film)
- Maybe use slide film ("japon" in French) or some other alternative to microfilm.
- How long does film last?
- Possibly setting up a local HQ for service and renting of Kinkajou projector and content
- How to become independent (i.e.-manufacturing of content, projector, etc)
- More appropriate for adult education because adults are much more motivated to learn
- Is it good for kids? Pro: They can't tear up the books, it will be the only thing to see in the dark room. Con: In a dark room, I'd probably fall asleep
- Kinkajou not ideal for introductory literacy courses because students need to see the teachers writing the letters-better used for more advanced courses.
- Abuse of equipment (robustness)
- Film cassette changing
- AJA currently has only 1 book for 15 students in their technical teaching class, so this could be a great opportunity for Kinkajou (especially because the content doesn't change). More cost effective than buying books for each student
- Met the teachers who wrote the World Education content
- Next time, add more variety of content on cassette (or more standard content) so it can be tested in more NGOs
- Passive learning is bad
- Production of Microfilm content.
- 3 classes of people which we have met: a) local educators who like the Kinkajou, but want to be able to produce the content locally; b) local educators who like the Kinkajou but would be ok having the content produced internationally; and c) local educators who have trouble seeing the Kinkajou in a classroom setting because it is a passive learning system.
July 25, 2003
Return to Mali Folkecenter
This afternoon, we went back to the Mali Folkecenter to talk to the director, Ibrahim Togola, about next steps in a collaboration between Design that Matters and the MFC. The three main areas of discussion related to the Kinkajou projector, other designs like Amy Smith's screenless hammermill and Light Up the World's LED lamps, and other potential design collaborations between DtM and the MFC such as solar cooling, low-tech load-shedding windmills and locally-manufacturable photovoltaic charge-controller circuits.
We took some more pictures at their office, including one of this nifty screw-in LED light bulb from Germany--don't know if Dave Irvine-Halliday and his colleagues at LUTW have already seen this design. It`s got ten 0.1W LED bulbs and costs about US$35.
We left Ibrahim with two LUTW lamps of the most recent design (adapted to accept 4-24 volts) and a rechargable AA battery pack. Tom Burrell, the MFC's solar and lighting expert, is going to give the LUTW lamps a thorough test in the field this summer, and they plan to follow up with LUTW in early Fall to talk about a school lighting project in the works for rural Mali.
BACKGROUND: A followup meeting with the MFC. When we first arrived, we showed them the Kinkajou and they seemed very excited with it. They conduct some training courses for which the kinkajou might be useful. Earlier, they showed us around some of the villages where they have installed solar panels/lights and a multifunctional platform. We also tried out the Kinkajou at a school which they helped build in Tobacoro.
CONTACT: Dr. Ibrahim Togola (Regional Director)
TIME: 2:30 PM, Jul 25
- Costs 700 CFA to recharge car battery in villages (sometimes people have to travel to neighboring villages with recharging stations, such as multifunctional platforms), 500 CFA in cities. Battery charge last 1-2 weeks depending on battery condition and application.
- Car battery generator costs 150,000 (from salvaged parts) from the 'piece detachées'. The generator in the multifunctional platform at Bougoulaba lasted for 12 years.
- The Kinkajou could be used to replace their current training material (TV=125,000 CFA; VCR=85,000; Diesel Generator/Solar Panel= 300,000). The whole setup costs about $1200.
- Willing to work with us in the future, email is best option.
- They also need a cheap charging circuit for their devices.
- There are trained electrical engineers in MFC which currently recycle electronic components.
- The MFC would be interested in using the Kinkajou in there PV training, etc.
- Plastic Manufacturers in Bamako: Fofy, SinPlast (best option), Sadadiallo (not useful, they make oil)
- Circuit boards are usually salvaged from scrap radios and other electronic devices which can be bought in the Grand Marche at 'dabanani' on the Avenue De La Nation. (they have 'piece detachées radio components)
- The people in the village who usually do electronic maintenance are the radio repairmen
- An electronic schematic may be sufficient to design duplicates
- Typically in the markets, you have to bring the actual part to get a duplicate (a code/number may not be sufficient)
- Possibly renting out Kinkajou (just as they rent out LCD projectors)
- TV and VCR could be used for personal use, whereas Kinkajou is less likely to be abused
- Difficult to transport TV and VCR
- Concerned with local microfilm production
- If a group of local NGOs team up, and send there content together, then the total cost of microfilm production could drop
- Follow up with Tom regarding #solar panels
- Comparative analysis between MFC training vs. Kinkajou
- They use a small TV (<15in), how many students can learn from the Kinkajou vs. the TV setup
- What is the TV resolution? A video might not give enough resolution for literacy training
- What other things must be considered to make a fair comparison?
- Are they even worth comparing? Or are they like apples and oranges?
- They also need a cheap charge controller, perhaps we can collaborate in the design.
In Search of Plastic
On the way back from the Mali Folkecenter this afternoon, we took a tour through Bamako's Zone Industriel to get a sense for local manufacturing capacity. We found companies working with injection-molded plastics (in the form of shoes and buckets) and sheet metal (for aluminum roofing sheets). There are countless sidewalk arc-welding shops and a booming trade in "pieces detachees"--recycled spare parts--from cars, radios, VCRs and pretty much everything else you could think of.
The roads in the area were pretty wretched. It was only after we'd plunged through a couple two-foot deep mud puddles that our driver Mustafa admitted that he'd been up until almost midnight the night before washing the car.
SOACAP (Societe Africane de Chaussures et Articles en Plastique)
TIME: 4:15 PM, Jul 25
BACKGROUND: Located in Zone Industrielle in Bamako. They are one of the larger plastic manufacturers in Bamako, and appear to make many of the shoes and buckets which we see around Mali.
- Interested in manufacturing the Kinkajou form, etc.
- They have an injection molding machine
- They claim that the mold for the top form (which could make 3 parts at a time) would cost about $80,000
- They do not have a vacuum molding machine
- They get their molds from Taiwan
- They seemed like a funny, but strange bunch-all Muslim and joking about marrying Kateri and sending their profits to Osama Bin Laden.
Recording the Experience
Now that we have less than a week to go before the Kinkajou team leaves Mali, it's important that we try to capture as much information as possible. At night after our meetings, the students have started compiling their paper notes into on-line summaries for the field journal.
I've been working on indexing our videotapes (six hours so far, and counting), audio files (about 40 clips to date) and gigabytes of photos. I've got pages of notes with meeting details, and there's always a feeling of having a million other details in my head to write down.
Once the students head back to the US, my wife Elizabeth and I will head to Benin overland via Burkina Faso. We're hoping that a couple days on the beach at Grand Popo away from meetings and internet cafes will give us a chance to get caught up on organizing all of our records.
Adaptive Wind Turbines
During our meetings with Ibrahim Togola and Tom Burrel at the Mali Folkecenter, we discussed the idea of an adaptive, small-scale (order 1-100 kW) wind turbine and generator set. Over the last year, Design that Matters has been conducting research into the feasability of designing a small wind turbine that is robust and protects itself from damage in high winds. Large-scale turbines can rotate the turbine blades so as to shed the load in high winds. With small turbines, the blades just tend to snap off or the generator gets wrecked from spinning too fast.
Here is a simple turbine design, from a water pump in Segou.
Ibrahim and Tom agree that a low-cost adaptive turbine would be useful--it remains to be seen whether it's feasible. The adaptive component for small turbines could be as simple as flexible vanes, or vanes that can rotate in their sockets, up to something with motorized turbine blade sockets and a control system.
July 26, 2003
Tim and Liz, Day 18
Here we are taking lunch at Le Relax, a noisy Lebanese restaurant not too far from our apartment in Quartier Hippodrome. Alas, the chawarmas here can't compare with those in Abidjan, but we do appreciate the plastic placemats.
Cooking with Kinkajou
Martin and Beto spent this morning-into-afternoon working on a video describing the Kinkajou design for future teams of student designers. They had to hunt around the apartment for a spot with decent lighting, and then they laid out a script for the story.
The team is doing a fantastic job of preparing the Kinkajou design project for their successors, both in terms of documenting their work to date, and in terms of building partnerships with potential users and manufacturers of the device.
Although the students will all be headed for other jobs when they get back from Mali, they've all expressed an interest in staying involved with the project as mentors for the next generation of student designers.
Bamako by Car
On most of the weekdays we've spent in Bamako, we've had the good fortune to be able to hire a car and driver to get around the city. We've been all over Bamako in search of NGOs, schools and factories, and the view out the car windows is always changing. For example, this is from yesterday morning, at the edge of the industrial zone, where we ran into a roadside livestock market in full tilt. This cow had enormous horns, and the handlers were worried that the sound from the passing cars would drive into a rampage.
Where ever we go we pass dozens of fruitstands, with their pyramids of lime-colored oranges and green bananas.
Driving through the city is like driving through an endless, open-air shopping mall. You don't even have to get out of the car--the vendors come to you. At every intersection, we're approached by kids selling prepay cell phone cards, toothbrushes, water bottles, leather belts, soccer balls, dog leashes--you name it. Here, down by the river, we passed a clothing store among the trees.
Traffic is sort of a competition, and some formula based on horsepower and momentum seems to dictate the right-of-way. We've only passed a couple accidents, including a mobylette (moped) squashed between two sotramonts (minibusses). Here's what they look like when not crashing.
Things Fall Apart
For those interested in learning more about the culture behind all the pictures we've been posting, we plan to put up a series of recommendations for books that we feel capture the African experience.
Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, set in an Ibo village at the turn of the century in what is now Nigeria, describes the customs and daily life of the community and one man in particular, and the disastrous effects of their first encounter with colonialism in the form of British Christian missionaries.
"We have heard stories about white men who made the powerful guns and strong drinks and took slaves away across the seas, but no one thought the stories were true."
"There is no story that is not true," said Uchendu. "The world has no end, and what is good among one people is an abomination with others. We have albinos among us. Do you not think that they came to our clan by mistake, that they have strayed from their way to a land where everybody is like them?" [Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart, p. 130]
If we have time, we'll also recommend some books that illustrate conditions in developing countries more generally, and whatever else we think expresses some element of our experience here.
People Are Watching
The Hesperian Foundation in Berkeley, CA has recently contacted Kinkajou with the hopes of transferring some of their content to the projector. The foundation publishes global health books & distributes them to those non profit & health organizations who work in remote areas on medical issues.
Kinkajou is very excited at the opportunity to partner with the Hesperian foundation in the near future.
A world health organization has put some of these books on a CD rom but because of lack of computers there's a problem in rural areas which is most of Africa.
Some of the titles published by the foundation include: Where there is no Doctor, HIV, and Helping Health workers Learn Where women have no doctor.
The health manuals teach community health workers critical life-saving skills & inspire the creation of innovative & responsive local programs. The books are easy to read & have lots of illustrations.
About Internet Cafes
In the last two weeks, we have become conoisseurs of the African internet cafe. We have learned how to convert keyboards from the French layout back to English. We have learned how to entertain ourselves during the interminable wait for pages to load. We have learned that a gang of kids rushing into the joint to instant message each other pretty much overloads the modem.
Here is the Kinkajou team hard at work.
Here's my typical computer setup. I draft articles and edit photos on my laptop, and then transfer them to the internet cafe machine with a USB compact flash card reader.
Here's a better picture of the card reader. All of the machines here run Windows 98, so I typically have to install the device driver before I can get started. We've been pretty lucky so far in finding at least one machine with USB ports at every cafe.
Malian Miracle Diet
Want to shed those pounds fast? Just drink some unfiltered water! The sights of Mali and its people are absolutely incredible, but for me, being sick for the past couple days is the most I have experienced what peoples lives must be like. I am in the best possible conditions that most Malians could hope for, eating the best food and staying in one of the nicest houses in the area. For the past few days all I have thinking is that toilet paper comes directly from God and that heaven is my moms kale soup. All of us have felt sick at least once on the trip, but we get to go home, and i have insurance. I didnt know that "drink coke" could mean "don't contract dysentary" because it is bottled in some gleaming factory far away. I didnt know that the life expectancy here is 48 or that people can just learn to live with malaria.