An American Stands Out in Mali

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The airport is small and crowded. We’re the only foreigners and are surrounded by Malians as we wait for out flight. The men could almost be in uniform as they are all dressed alike in khaki pants and short sleeved shirts.

We introduce ourselves to one of the men and ask where, in the US, he is from.

“How did you know I’m American?” He gestures to the crowd around us. “I’m dressed exactly the same as everyone else here and I’m black.”

“Well …” How do we put this delicately? “Your walk, your stance, your haircut all scream US.” We hesitate and then say, “You’re black, but your skin tone isn’t at all the same as the Malians.”

“You know,” he says, “I’m dean of the school of architecture at UofX. I came here to study the buildings, to see how they keep them cool in such extreme heat. I’m looking for ways to conserve energy back home, and in an ideal world, to eliminate the need for air-conditioners.” He smiles ruefully. “I thought that if I dressed like everyone here, I could blend in and travel unnoticed, so to speak, but I’ve been spotted as a foreigner every time. Now I know why.”

We nod, not at all surprised. “And what did you find out about the buildings?” we ask.

“Mud brick homes are built with two ceilings about three feet apart. The heat is trapped in between and the homes are surprisingly cool.”

Mud brick buildings in the US? Not likely, but we tell him we hope that he can find a way to create a natural air conditioning effect and wish him well as he heads for his plane.

 

 

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