Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Leaving for Homestay

I ni su!

Tomorrow Andrew and I are leaving for our homestay site. We will be living in a village of 415 people about 100km south of the capital. We will be living with a family and learning more Bambara. While we are there, we won't have access to email, so the soonest we can check our email will be when we return to the training site in about two weeks. So please email us news from home in that time! Thanks to those of you who have already sent us emails; it helps us keep our sanity!

We attended a cultural fair last night, where we heard Malian music, watched dancing, and were able to barter for panyas (a type of skirt worn by the women). We both bought some traditional clothes that we will wear to greet our family tomorrow.

Festival at Tubani So
Andrew and I also found out that we will be placed in the Kayes (pronounced Kai) region of Mali for our two year service. That's way in the west, about 2 hours from the border of Senegal. We'll be really far from the capital, so far that we get plane tickets to fly from Kayes into Bamako a couple times a year. The geography is very lush, green, and hot. Apparently our house, which was occupied by a previous PC couple, will be situated near a cliff (in case I get tired of Andrew and need to get rid of him inconspicuously;)). Andrew gets to work with ecotourism. Kayes wants to open a chimpanzee reserve so he may be helping with that. I will be working in a fairly large clinic.
Notice the Kayes region to the west

We're excited about our assignment, but it does seem like we'll be pretty isolated from the other volunteers, whom we've gotten to know very well.

The past couple of days have been an interesting insight into Malian culture. Malians eat with their hands (well, only their right hand), which is a lot more difficult than you'd imagine. Typically the family sits on the floor around a large bowl filled with rice or to (a millet based malt-o-meal like substance) and they scoop a ball up with their fingers, dip it in sauce, and then eat it. Keep in mind that you absolutely cannot use your left hand (it's used for bathroom purposes only) and you aren't supposed to lean over the bowl. So it's been very challenging, but thankfully with Ramadan approaching, we will be eating by ourselves a lot.

So far no illnesses, though my stomach has been feeling a little weird. Apparently once we get to our homestays that's when the real stomach problems begin. We've had lots of vaccinations, and to my credit, I haven't cried yet. But I still have 4 to go!

We had a session about stereotypes that we have of Malians/Africans and stereotypes that they had of us. We haven't had a chance to confirm or deny our stereotypes, but if you'd like to send us yours, please do. Here are the stereotypes of Americans: obese, greedy, powerful, very rich, egalitarian, hardworking, entrepeneurs, feminists, homosexuals (not that we all are, just that they exist in the US), racists, and the most surprising of all: DIRTY! They think we're dirty, it's so hard to understand. Apparently, we are unclean (eat pig, don't wash five times a day to pray, drink alcohol), use toilet paper (supposedly that doesn't work as well as their method), and are underhanded (we fight dirty). So as part of our Peace Corps mission, we must show them what Americans are really like. Fortunately, the Malians get a biased view of Americans because pretty much all of us are liberals.

There are lots of cool insects here. We saw a spider that is bright red, about a half inch long, and velvety. We also have seen tons of millipedes and really pretty birds. Its nice sitting through classes listening to the bird songs. The mosquitoes aren't bad at all. The flies are annoying. It rained yesterday and there were tons of termites all over the place. We don't really know what's going on, but either they're fighting or mating because we see them in twos and it looks like they're biting each others wings off, or they're falling off, not sure. Either way, it was good to finally see why there were termite wings all over the floor.
Cool little red mite

If you have any questions about Mali, let us know! Another of our missions is to bring back Malian culture, to get you guys interested, and maybe even to visit! In a couple months, once we're in the swing of things, we'll send some places where you can donate money to help out Peace Corps projects, if you want.

Here tilenna (Sleep in Peace)

Monday, July 16, 2007

**Backlog of Africa Posts**

I've decided to archive all of my old update emails that I sent out from Mali. I apologize for those who already had to suffer through these descriptions once, but you can always skip to the new stuff! At any rate, it might be interesting to see our evolution through the two years.

Dear Friends:
Tomorrow morning Andrew and I are beginning our first step in our Peace Corps journey. We fly from Ontario, California to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. For three days we will meet with the other 84 volunteers traveling to Mali and get all of our vaccinations (Oww!). On July 19th, we'll fly from Philly to Paris and finally to Bamako, the capital of Mali. From there we'll have about 8-12 weeks of training. We'll be improving and (hopefully) perfecting our French, and also learning the local language of Bambara. We'll also get training in our specific jobs (for me, Health Education, for Andrew, Natural Resource Management) and we'll learn how to take care of ourselves out there. After that, we'll be placed in a community somewhere in Mali. We won't know more until we complete the training. Our service ends September 21, 2009, but we won't be making any trips home to the U.S. before then. Therefore, we encourage all of our friends to broaden their horizons and come visit the beautiful continent of Africa. We'll even make room for you in our mud hut! ;)
Our bags are packed!
We'll miss all of you, and we would REALLY appreciate any mail you can send us while we're away. We will probably have email access once a month, and we plan on sending out updates to all of you on this list (if you want to be removed, let me know!). Our address is as follows:
Us at the Philly airport

Nicole & Andrew Wallace, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 85
Bamako, Mali
West Africa

In addition, please send all email to nicoledcwallace@gmail.com or taurendur@gmail.com. We won't have a lot of time to check multiple email accounts, so it'd be best to send email to this account.

Good luck to you all in the next two years!

K'an b'u fo!