Our workshop participants and travelers are in Mali now, read below about their travels, and what’s going on at the Center and in Mali.


  1. Bojour tout le monde du Mali- I’ve been in Bko for almost a week now. Things are going well so far. However, I was sick for 2 days already from cough and running nose. So bring along some vitamin c and lots of it. The win blows but yet the air is thick with smogs from too many broken cars call “goodby Europe”
    I am just testing the blog today and will stay in touch. Stay well and only love.
    From Mali,

  2. Dear all, today December 10th 2011 all the parents came together along with their children to attend to our annual student sponsorship program @ Ko-Falen Center here in Bko. All 28 students that attend regularly showed up with both of their parents. Modibo the teacher open the gathering by congratulating both students and parent for their excellent participation. All 28 had 0 absences according to his record and that is because of the initiative that the parents took by giving their phone numbers to call in case if their child did not show up. The parents (non western educated) responded “That is because we now understood now what our friends in America are granting us. The whole four hrs of meeting went extremely well. Even though we had sponsor for only our regular 20 students, parents were so please that they decided to chip in to help sponsor the 8 extra students. The oldest parent said, “What the Americans are telling by their act is that children belong to all of us. Therefore as the are helping us, we must also help each other” I took several photos for you all to view later. In the end, they say that they cannot wait to have you all here and thank you in person.
    Love from Bko, Mali

  3. Awesome Wague! Thanks for keeping everyone updated. We are really excited to join you soon!

  4. To day Dece mber 22 2011, we started the textile dye workshop. Haby Diakite is our instructor as usual. But today as day 1 we only learned the techniques of tying and sewing to make designs. Tomorrow we will do the dying part.
    In the late afternoon, Ronna and Kathleen walked over to the Potter woman’s home (Hawa) to greet her and deliver her some cola nuts. She was very pleased and put us to work immediately wedging clay with feet and hands then draping and tamping the clay around a clay dome to form the bottom of the pot. Our second attempts were more successful and we finally gained praise from Hawa, our instructor. Cathleen whom they now call Kadijah, was taken by the way Hawa easily corrected her work in a graceful manner, then allowed her to continue. This potter family lives close enough to Ko-Falen, we both think it would be a great workshop to add to our schedule of classes. We hope to do a firing with her after the wedding that takes place this Sunday.

    Yes, one of our first children in the neighborhood has grown up and is getting married! So we will all be attending the wedding in the neighborhood. Our sister-in-law came by today to invite the women to join in the henna party at the brides home, but unfortunately, we were in the middle of madly sewing and tying our textile designs, so we will have to arrive at the wedding henna free.

    Ka’awn be. Hope all is well to those reading this!
    by Ronna, Cathleen, Julie

  5. I am really excited to announce the accomplishment of our adobe oven at Ko-Falen center. It was built the 20 th of December 2011. Just the day after, Cathleen Wolf made the fist bread from the new oven. It tasted so good that we bought more flour and made another baguette. We are planning to teach women around the neighborhood how to make their own bread. Because our adobe oven has two separate compartments, we can bake bread and barb-q meat at the same time. The building process was even more exciting. We collected clay from well diggers, mixed it with shredded grass and water. Then we created a wooden mold to make bricks. We started with a square base and filled it with dirt, then built a dome oven on top. We decorated it with finer adobe that we made from termite mound earth creating a bas relief of kanaga, lizard and snake. Then to finish it off, we combined pounded charcoal with wet clay and decorated the top tier of the oven. We’re planning on wood fired pizza for New Years Eve and can’t wait for all of you to meet me back in Portland to make an oven in our own back yard!
    by Baba Wague

  6. The Mediterranean and Europe behind me, my Air France airbus starts the long descent over the Sahara to Senou Airport in Bamako, Mali. I’ve been in transit for 30 hours and tried to stay awake by watching one of the pinnacles of recent American Civilization, The Hangover, Part II.
    I am returning after seven years for my fourth visit, this time for eight weeks, so I can attend the two major music fests, the Festival in the Desert in Timbuktu, January 12 to 14, and the Festival of the Niger in Segou, February 15 to 19. On the plane, two Austrailians going to rework an old gold mine for a foreign company (how much will go to Malians) and an unemployed construction worker looking for work. He was married to a Malian woman and they have a kid. Mom and kid stay in the U.S., she not wanting to ever return. He wants a job in a country where many leave to find jobs.
    Walking down the stairway to the tarmac, I am enveloped in the warm, damp blanket of the Malian night. Nine p.m. and still over 80 degrees. The usual chaos reminiscent of the Fall of Saigon ensues in the terminal, a two story building about the size ofa Walgreen’s. My western mind shakes its head at the inefficiencies, dictating that the Malians should do this or that so everything would run more smoothly. Smoothly’s not going to happen. I remember the recurring lesson from my other visits, bashite’, no problem. There is not even a scintilla of an appearance of the chance of me effecting any outcomes, so let it go.

    “Life is a broken story half lost.”
    What the grandmother of my host (Wague) told his mother, as reported in his memoir, A Gift from Childhood. They both laugh.
    How Malian. In 2002, the GDP rose by hundreds of US dollars per capita after the election of Amadou Toumani Toure’ (ATT), the general who helped kick out the dictator 10 years before. ATT was considered the Malian George Washington, but within a couple years, the GDP rate plummeted to where it was, $300 per person per year, its financial capital broken. They say there are rich countries with poor people and poor countries with rich people. Mali has rich people because of its strong historical ties among its peoples and its harsh living conditions, which fosters mutual respect and interdependence and a strong sense of family and community.
    And an omnipresent sense of humor and ribbing. Malians laugh a lot and have the ability to laugh at and with you at the same time.
    Like the time Wague and his brother started joking with two young men on a moto, saying that they wear short pants, which means they have not been circumsized. The lads protested and say that Wague and his brother eat lizard, which also means they have not been circumsized. So they go back and forth, more and more animated while laughing. They had never met before, but went back and forth like family.
    Or on this trip, on our visit to Soni Tieni, a village Ko-Falen supports by providing school supplies, and the town pays for performance by masked dancers and the local scout troop, singing our praises for honoring their village by visiting.
    Or the two teenage girls washing clothes who giddily laughed as I ran by yesterday morning out in the country. Maybe because no one runs here, everyone gets enough exercise from their hard labor, but maybe it was my bare legs. Or maybe it was my clunky greeting.
    I will share more observations here, so please check in weekly. Please also check the blog of my travel mate, Paul Ries,

    Pres Lar Smith (aka Daouda Diakite)

  7. From KFCC President, Larry Smith:
    I’m on the freaking Niger River, says my traveling partner this morning at sunrise, when we break camp and get back on the boat.

    It is our second day of three on the river, taking a boat to Timbuktu. I rise early, before dawn under a full moon, and walk inland, straight from the water over flat desert scrubland, nothing on the horizon except scrawny, thorny bushes. After a mile, I hear the bleats from a lamb, but see no sheep. I can walk forever in the nothingness, like an arctic expanse. I have never known such solitude. I traveled this far to get past loneliness.

    Back on the boat, I realize how fortunate I am to be able to tour the Niger and see the land of Timbuktu (Buktu’s well, from the ninth century C.E.). And fortunate for the opportunity to practice humility when encountering the connecting spirit of the Malian peoples and their response to the harsh conditions in one of the world’s poorest countries. They say bashite’, no problem.

    The Bozo people have villages and encampments all along the river, supported by the men casting their nets while their sons, some quite young, pole the boats in place. How many of these boys will fish when they are adults? The fish are dying from desertification and the growing population. The temporary camps of the Fula¸ herders of brahma bulls and heifers and sheep. Both tribes are bound to their vocations by their castes. Both extract a living from a land less giving, the desert slowly wrapping its arms around all and wringing out the water and life. The children wave at us as we pass. I can’t here their cries, but I know they’re asking for “Cadeaux, cadeaux” (“Gift, gift”). I wave back, exhorting them in English to study hard, obey their parents, and vote Republican.

    In Timbuktu, the Tauregs (Tamasheks in their language) are everywhere, I don’t mean the Volkswagen SUV. They are nomads with a fierce reputation, who are also Sufi Muslims. The Festival of the Desert started 12 years ago, pulling in the yearly gathering of the Taureg tribes that have roamed this desert before the Timbuktu. Their music, mostly Takumba, is seemingly simple, but with a complicated syncopation that becomes trancelike and even religious in the call and response of its vocals. The dancing becomes ecstatic after a while and many rounds of hot desert tea. These people party hard, perhaps as respite from the harshness of their daily life. I was repeatedly pulled into their dance circles and pushed to go higher and higher, the fine dust of the Sahara rising like a foggy mirage.

    Tinariwen, the world reknown Takumba band, closed the Festival from 2:30 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. A Sufi singer from India sang with them on a couple songs. She reminded me of the Qawali singer, Neusrat Fateh Ali Khan. Only the tuobabs (foreigners) drank the alcohol provided by roving vendors, who prowl just like at the ball game, but can’t seem to make change or open a beer. There were only 150 of us Tuobabs at the festival this year (17 from Portland), a small fraction of those attending in prior years, because of the terrorist threat. Malians were let in for free and easily made the attendance equal to other festivals. The crowd was therefore African, which was great for connecting with the people, but also meant that we tuobabs were pestered all night to buy stuff by the same swarms that surrounded during the day.

    Thursday night, the female emcee announces that we have a surprise guest (although we really didn’t see him until the next night, so I guess she ruined the surprise): Bow-No, like in Bonobo, the ape, except it was really like Bon-oh, like in U2. The next night, Tinariwen backed him up during his nine-minute exercise in failed crowd exhortation. Very few Africans know who he was, even after an extensive intro. He thrust his hands out in peace symbols, sort of like the anti-Nixon, and chanted “Viva!”, and then Viva Timbuktu, Viva Festival of the Desert, Viva Musique, Viva Tinariwen, Viva Basekou (Basekou Kouyate, well known ngoni player from Mali (an ngoni is a rudimentary string instrument said to be the father of the banjo because of its jangly metallic sound)). The lead singer of Tinariwen sang Bono’s praises, although the praise seemed a bit begrudging. Bono’s command performance seemed to run on a little bit too long, especially when the crowd did not pick up that when Bono shook his hands at the audience like he was measuring a woman’s cup size, we supposed to repeat what he just sang. I’m sure he has had more success in other venues. He said his goodbyes and was escorted away by his two soldiers, who never let any black person near him when he sat in the celebrity stands before his gig. He had a videographer there, capturing ecstatic and exotic people of color dancing, so maybe we’ll be in his next video.

    I know I should give the guy a little slack for showing up to tell the world we should not be afraid and should come to the festival because music brings us all together. Who can argue with that? Well, maybe one little quibble. For a guy that talks about music bringing us together, he never really was with us, the people who don’t have special accommodations or soldiers that shoo away Malians.

    The act before Tinariwen closed it was Habib Koite and Bamana, music for Malian southerners, the Bambara and Mandinke. Our buddy, Ibrahim Kelly (who fronts the Portland band Dusu Mali) played djembe’ with Habib on his last song, a song advising people to quit smoking. A djembe’, which means harmony-peace in Bambara, is an African conga. Buoyed by good music and the half moon rising over the cool desert, we persevered until the end, the fine dust of the Sahara covering us all. We had eaten and breathed it for a week and left town three hours later in a 4 by 4 (a fine Galoper, made by Mitsubishi) on a ride that was as much vertical in up and down as it was forward. Three days of hard travel, and a touch of physical malady that didn’t require Cipro or hospitalization, I start the dance and drum workshop. So far the old saw, white men can’t dance, has not been challenged.

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