How many students do you know who are studying in Africa? Lee Rainboth of rural Marcus decided Africa was the place to expand his learning and enhance his understanding of art. He is a student at Iowa State University.
Rainboth explained, "I always knew I wanted to return to Mali after I went with the local Methodist Church group in June of 2002. When I saw a poster hanging in the art center at Iowa State about a trip to Mali in the summer of 2005, I knew I had to go."
The program is referred to as "The Art and Culture of Mali, West Africa" and is sponsored by Antioch University from Yellow Springs, Ohio. Seven students from Illinois, South Carolina, Kansas, Massachusetts and Germany met in Chicago. From there, they traveled to Paris and then to Bamako, Mali on Aug. 25. The director, from New York, is experiencing her eighth trip to Mali.
The course will do an in-depth study into Malian aesthetic and cultural heritage. To understand Malian traditions, it requires them to experience life outside of the capital city since the foundation of Malian art and culture is found in the rural areas.
Rainboth contacts his family regularly by email as it is efficient.
The first week was spent in Bamako where the group familiarized themselves with weather and surroundings. Rainboth noted each was placed in a home with a local family and found it to be sufficient in every way.
The second week, they moved on out to a smaller community, Segou. They experienced a number of activities, viewed local art, dance and music events. The menu certainly changed but for the most part, the group adapted. One member fell ill and had to be hospitalized for a short time.
It was the next move that called for a big adjustment for the group. They found out Timbuktu really does exist.
"I felt as though I reached the end of the world where it has never been hotter. When you walk to the edge of the city limits here, you just may fall off the edge of the earth. This city is very different and the ride here was something else. There is only one road into Timbuktu and it equates to about a cow path in a pasture. Our driver actually decided to take a donkey path off to the side of the road. It was better than the actual road. So for five hours we rode on that. I never was convinced that it was a better choice," said Rainboth.
He noted the area is surrounded by the Sahara Desert. His hotel was very close to the desert where, "there are infinite kilometers of sand dunes."
Rainboth noted the streets are narrow. There are countless mud huts. The group was approached by Tuareg men, dressed head to toe in blue, who came from the desert to sell their wares.
"I saw nothing but their eyes. They seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear back into the vast Saharan dunes just as quickly. It almost feels like I've encountered a ghost returning from the haunting past of this merchant city, " said Rainboth. Once called a city of gold, the zenith of the trans-Saharan trade route, Timbuktu has now lost much of its former luster. Now the filthy streets are filled with beggars and craftsmen hoping to make a buck off the occasional tourist.
"There are still many libraries and houses full of ancient manuscripts and writings demonstrating the historic knowledge that this city was once famous for. It is undeniable that the culture and intellect runs deep in these words surviving from ages past. I'm here to study art but so much more of the culture is being revealed to me that it's hard to wrap my mind around, quite different from the life I am used to back in rural northwest Iowa. Yet I encounter this other extreme on the cultural spectrum. I realize even more the interconnectedness of the human race."
Rainboth found the city of Djenne fascinating. The route provided them with an incredible view of the Bandiagara cliffs. It has the world's largest mud brick mosque in the world. Djenne is full of history where they remained for a few days.
Before his journey is over, Rainboth plans on visiting the Nara village that the Grace Methodist Church group assisted in 2002.
Upon completion of this program, Rainboth will receive college credit from Antioch University which will transfer to Iowa State University.
Rainboth is the son of Clark and Vickie Rainboth of Marcus.