October 11, 2003 - Washington Post: Vanessa Adams is a Peace Corps volunteer detailed to Mali's ministry of handcrafts and tourism

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: October 11, 2003 - Washington Post: Vanessa Adams is a Peace Corps volunteer detailed to Mali's ministry of handcrafts and tourism

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-110-177.balt.east.verizon.net - on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 2:06 pm: Edit Post

Vanessa Adams is a Peace Corps volunteer detailed to Mali's ministry of handcrafts and tourism

Vanessa Adams is a Peace Corps volunteer detailed to Mali's ministry of handcrafts and tourism

Djembe Drums, Going for a Song
Sale Offers Mali Goods Left Over From Folklife Festival

By John F. Kelly
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 11, 2003; Page B01

About a month ago, Vanessa Adams was sitting in a restaurant in Bamako, the capital of the West African nation of Mali, when a man called over from the next table and asked a question: "What's new with the products?"

Ah. The products. That was a bit of a sore subject.

Adams is a Peace Corps volunteer detailed to Mali's ministry of handcrafts and tourism, helping to develop a foreign market for Malian goods. She spent two weeks in Washington last summer, working in the MarketPlace tent at the Smithsonian's Folklife Festival, where Mali was a featured culture.

In a fit of extreme optimism, the Malian government had borrowed $400,000 from the Banque de Malienne Solidarité to purchase and ship to Washington 37,000 arts and crafts items, including goatskin drums and leather change purses.

While the Malian exhibits and performances were popular -- a dozen masons were flown to Washington to construct an adobe house from scratch on the Mall -- fewer than 7,000 of the items were sold.

The man who approached Adams in the restaurant?

"It was the banker," she said this week.

Which is why Adams is back in Washington. She's spent the past week sorting through unopened crates of Malian merchandise, doing inventory and pricing items for a clearance sale. The loan comes due in December, and everything must go.

"They've sent me here to do my best to sell it and also promote Malian handcrafts," she said. "We're working hard to make lemonade here."

The items have found a home, and a showroom, at the Millennium Arts Center, a warren of artist studios in Southwest Washington. Goods are spread out across the floor of the converted school's auditorium, giving the room the look of an African bazaar.

Adams, 33, surveyed the scene Thursday. She wore an apron made in Mali, its pocket stuffed with a can of Pledge.

There were mounds of hand-dyed and hand-woven textiles, from somber brown and yellow mudcloth blankets to bright blue indigo scarves. There were carved wooden masks by the Dogon and Bambara peoples and leather-covered wooden boxes made by the Taureg people. Dozens of koras -- stringed instruments made from gourds -- rested in a crate like so many beached sea turtles.

Also scattered about: hippopotamuses hewn from ebony, beaded bracelets, agate necklaces, clay pipes shaped like human heads, carved wooden stools, wooden xylophones, tiny musicians crafted from snipped-up tin cans, Giacometti-like figures cast in bronze. . . .

"We've got so much bronze. Do you know how heavy bronze is?" Adams asked, trying to shift a wheelbarrow loaded with the loot.

We have cowrie shells galore," Adams said. "And mudcloth bags, fully lined in leather. These are going for $35. If someone argues with me on a price like this, I think I might have to kick them."

Hourglass-shaped djembe drums are $55, marked down from $75 at the festival. Bogolon bed coverings have gone from $80 to $55. Decorative wooden doors are marked down 40 percent.

Adams said everything is priced so that the Malian government breaks even. The traditional artisans who crafted the items already have been paid.

"We have ducks, too," said Terrence Meniefield, 43, who, along with Anthony Wigglesworth, 36, was helping Adams set up the sale. Meniefield held up a wooden bowl adorned with two tiny duck heads.

"Yeah, let's put some ducks out," Adams said. "Who would not want a duck bowl?"

The vast majority of the more than 1 million visitors to this summer's festival evidently did not want a duck bowl.

Adams said Folklife Festival officials told representatives from Mali that they should send over as much stuff as they could. The Malian government, she said, "was listening quite literally."

When festival officials learned Mali was bringing 37,000 products, Adams noted, "People said, 'Oh, that's a lot.' But no one said, 'Whoa, that's a lot. We don't have anyplace to put that.' "

The artifacts from Mali shared the MarketPlace tent with goods from Scotland and Appalachia, the two other cultures featured at the festival.

There wasn't enough room to even unpack all of the crates from Mali, let alone display all the wares. When the festival was over, everything was loaded back onto two trailers and sent to a Smithsonian storage facility in Suitland.

"They overestimated, and people just weren't buying like they were the year before," said Rachel Delgado, director of MarketPlace at the Smithsonian's Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage. (The year before, the festival was devoted to the Silk Road, the ancient trade route between China to the Mediterranean.)

Delgado said in the future, organizers will try to "screen more as far as the different types of items and as far as quantities." She said they've never had quite the overstock that was left after this year's festival.

A distinctive odor permeated the Millennium Arts Center's auditorium. "When you walk in, there's a burnt wood smell," Adams said, a remnant of the wood fires the artisans used to fire ceramics and prepare dyes.

It's the smell of Mali, Adams said. At a bargain price.

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Story Source: Washington Post

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali



By Patricia Flory Cummings (wc08.mtnk.rnc.net.cable.rogers.com - on Thursday, February 12, 2004 - 4:52 pm: Edit Post

I would like to contact Vanessa Adams. We are old friends who have lost touch. Please forward this message to her, with my email address, if at all possible.
Patricia (Flory) Cummings

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