Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Daou Dynasty

The Daou family are the big-wigs in town. They are both the village founders and the holders of power today. Adama Daou is the Chief of the village. Moussa Daou is the mayor and Siaka Daous was the mayor before him. Mapha Daou is the vaccinator and Oumou Daou is one of the birthing women. Mama Daou is the wealthiest man in the village. Adama Daou is the President of the managing body of the clinic and Ko Daou is the President of the radio. And if there is any new committee formed, any political position open, be sure a Daou will be appointed or voted in.

Although the village is now a mixture of Theras, Konates, Cissés and Traoriés, the Daous have no desire to relinquish their power. And the others know it and respect their wish, fearful of treading on the toes of the Daou family.

Perhaps part of their success in holding onto power comes from their ability to manage their own family like a high functioning bureaucracy.

My host family is a branch of the Daou family, made up of the Chief of the village, Adama Daou, his two sons and their families, and the Chief's younger brother (même père, même mère), Lahmine, and his family. There are over thirty members in their branch alonge, and they are based out of a large compound in the center of the village, its entryway opening to the road that runs through town. Adama's sons and Lahmine, my official host, each have their won compounds for each of their wives, but like any bureaucrat, they and their wives and children spend each day at the office -- the big family compound.

The roles of family members are well defined. The men handle farming, financial matters, the building and upkeep of family houses, and the raising of animals -- the cows, goats and chickens that fill the family compound and wander the village in search of food. The women do the cooking and raise the children . There is no such thing as 'gender bending', in this family, men and women stay where they belong. The rules stretch right down to who is in charge of fetching a glass of water (women) and who names the children (men).

There are ten women in my branch of the Daou family -- all various wives of the four men. The women take turns cooking for everyone, switching every two days. Millet porridge for breakfast, millet to for lunch and millet rice for dinner, a regimen that also rarely varies. While only one woman is on cooking duty at a time, stirring huge pots over a wood fire, all the women gather each morning to pound the millet together, laughing and gossiping as the tall, thick pestle flies up and down in their hands. While it is the women who cook, the men maintain control over the graineries, doling out millet little by little as the year goes along.

There are special dispensations too, rules set in place in case of death or births. Maternity leave for one -- after woman gives birth, she has forty days vacation from cooking duties, pounding millet, and any other work at the family compound. My host mother, Soté, recently gave birth to her sixth daughter, Tata, and is currently enjoying her last days on maternity leave. She takes her time getting dressed in the morning and heads over to the family compound not to pound millet but to show off her baby.

When Gaousou, one of Adama's brother's, died in February, there were bylaws already in place. After the funeral, Gaousou's wife Rokia moved into the family compound permanently along with her three children. She is still there today and will stay there until five months have passed since Gaossou's death. She is in mourning and although she helps out, she does not take on cooking duty or even step foot outside the compound. Once five months have passed, late this coming July, Rokia will be allowed to leave the compound. She will also be remarried to one of the men in the family, a way of ensuring her security and the future of her children. Its the Daou family form of life insurance, in a different form.

LIke any bureaucracy, there are always people milling about the compound and others coming in and out. Even today, two years in, I'm still trying to figure out who everyone is and how they fit into the Daou dynasty.

I am a Daou, too, and although I don't share cooking duties or help in the fields during farming season, I am certainly an element of soft power in the village for the Daous, a celebrity endorsing their brand. The Theras are the next most populous family in the village, and I know they would give a lot not only to become the mayor (they recently achieved great success by seeing a Thera appointed Imam of the main mosque), but also to see me -- or my Peace Corps successor -- named Thera. But as every Daou knows, the Theras are bean eaters, and I would never touch beans to save my life.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Impact of AID

It is hard to escape the impact of aid and development organizations in my village. UNICEF, USAID, World Vision, the European Union -- development organizations and NGOs are certainly trying to make a mark. Whether they have been successful is a debate to get into at another time. However, it provides an interesting perspective to detail exactly what exists in my village because of a development project. Whether its a person whose salary is paid by an NGO or consortium of aid programs and local community groups, vaccinations that are subsidized by foreign governments, or a new building, aid is everywhere.

Without aid, none of this would be in my village:

  • The clinic
  • Mosquito Nets
  • Vitamin A
  • Birth Control
  • Malaria prophylaxis for pregnant women
  • Vaccinations and sterile, onetime-use needles
  • HIV/AIDS testing and retrovirals
  • Nutritional supplements for malnourished children
  • The new hospitalization room at the clinic currently under construction
  • Enriched porridge powder and the profit it brings in for Mama Traoré
  • The bikes given to the community health workers
  • The ambulance that comes to our village from San
  • The solar panels and batteries that light the clinic at night
  • The mayor's office and the salaries paid to the mayor and his staff
  • The doctor
  • 2 nurses
  • The public elementary and middle school
  • Student sponsorship/scholarships
  • The preschool
  • The radio
  • The library and the books that fill it
  • The local cereal bank
  • The generator that provides electricity along the main road at night
  • The covered market area
  • The businesses that support the NGO and aid workers traveling along the main road; the income generated by the purchases of community members such as the doctor and myself who receive their salaries from an aid organization
  • 3 pumps
  • The local church
  • All technical and educational trainings, including trainings on health topics, business management, knitting and sewing, animal raising, and improved farming received by villagers
  • The Youth Center
  • A trench to collect rain water for farming
  • Money in villager's pockets from trainings, projects, and short-term jobs with development agencies
  • Me.

The list could go on and on. Take just one of these items and extrapolate from there. Vaccinations = a job for Mapha, the vaccinator = good food for Mapha's family and a concrete house with a tin roof = health and opportunity for Mapha's children = health for the thousands of children Mapha vaccinates = more hands in the fields and more mouths to fill = a larger population...and on it goes.

Most Malians I know are appreciative of the aid that is given to their community. Like many Americans who feel that it is their duty as those who have to help those who have not, many of the Malians I have come in contact with, express an expectation that toubabs should help out where they can.

The help is coming in. The community plays a large role in receiving much of the aid -- they provide the physical labor or a percentage of the money required to complete a project. USAID in collaboration with Peace Corps built the radio, for example, with a large monetary contribution from the village, manpower to build it, and it is now staffed by Malians who receive no salary.

Aid is interwoven into so many aspects of the village that it is hard to imagine what the village would be like without aid, or what effects aid will have on the village in the long run.