Thursday, August 30, 2007

Return from Site Visit

Andrew and I just returned from seeing our permanent site, Dialafara, which is in the region of Kayes, very close to the Senegalese border. Our village is surrounded by the Tamboura Cliffs, a 100 mile long escarpment of beauty. It's very green, there are waterfalls, and chimps at the top! We haven't seen them yet, though, because the cliffs are really high up. Our village has about 1,900 people, but the community seems a little unsure of our role there. First, they keep comparing us to the previous married couple who lived there, and it's hard for them to understand that we are different people. They wanted us to live in these tiny mud huts, which were in disrepair, and in the middle of someone else's compound, which means no privacy whatsoever. We finally convinced them to move us to this cement house with its own private yard where we can garden. They are making the Peace Corps rent it though, because it's technically private property. They also think we will eat every meal with them, and I had to dispel that idea real quick. I'm not interested in starving to death!
The clinic where I'm working seems okay, but I think most of my work will be going door to door giving health presentations and arranging baby-weighing days. Andrew has a much cooler job. He gets to work with Tamboura Tours and help them develop ecotourism around the cliffs. I'm going to help by doing environmental/wildlife education with the children. His sounds cooler but as my supervisor said, "You'll be saving babies while he plays with the chimps!"

Unfortunately, I don't know that much more about my site because we were only there for four hours. The lack of adequate housing meant we couldn't stay overnight as planned. We had to begin the very long, bumpy journey back to the regional capital to stay at the Peace Corps house that night.

Public Transportation!!! I never believed it would be this bad! We took a 10 hour bus out of Bamako to Kayes and it was horrible. First of all, someone bought our tickets for a 6:30 bus and made the driver "promise" to wait until 7:30, when we showed up. Of course, the driver was gone by the time we got there, so we had to chase the bus about 40 minutes out of Bamako and hop on where it had stopped for a rest break. The bus was completely full by that time, so a lot of us ended up sharing seats with Malians, carrying our huge bags on our laps or in the aisle. Talk about a safety hazard. Then it started raining, and it took the bus 3 hours to go over a 50km stretch of unpaved road! We were lucky the rest of the trip, because we took P.C. vehicles to and from our site but we were almost unlucky. The nearest volunteer to us (only 85km south) had to take the "bus" up from his site to Kayes. We should have been on the same bus, because it stops in our village, but we had already left. Anyway, it left at 9:00am, broke down three times on the road, and the final time was around 9:00pm and since the headlights stopped working the bus stopped permanently and everyone slept on the side of the road. Thank goodness he had his cell phone and he called the PC and they went out and picked him up. Apparently the rainy season is the only time the road is bad, because the rain and the trucks turn the road into a muddy, rutty mess. We just aren't leaving our site for three months every year...

In other news, this Saturday is our one year wedding anniversary. I'm a little sad because we won't be able to celebrate in any way. I wish we had cake. :( If I had a way to cook I might be able to whip something up that has chocolate in it, but that doesn't seem possible yet.

For those who care, I am reading Harry Potter for the second time since the copy my grandmother sent me arrived yesterday! (:)) I read it the first time using a friend's copy, but I practically inhaled it (it took me exactly 8 hours) so I was really excited when my own copy came. I'm almost finished with it (again) so hopefully it will clear up some things. I really liked it, but the "afterward" really irritated me. It was too "tied up." But the rest was good although I totally thought she killed off the wrong people. It was almost unnecessary.
Anyway, I'm back to Famana, my homestay site, for more rice and peanut butter sauce, but this time I am armed with the goodies Laura sent me, so I shouldn't lose any more weight (I've already lost about 12 pounds).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Week #???

Hey Friends!

I've completely lost track of time here since I've been on West African International Time (W.A.I.T) which about sums up everything that happens here in Mali, including transportation, classes, and even shopping. Everything takes probably more than twice as long here than in the glorious U.S.

I have to admit, I had a really bad couple of days about two weeks ago. For three days, I didn't want to leave my room, eat, bathe, or talk to people. I was feeling pretty down about the food (which is still the same malo ni tigedegena or rice and peanut butter sauce) and the feeling that my every movement is scrutinized by kids and adults alike. Everyone always wants to know what I'm doing, where I'm going, and they kind of look at us as a sort of entertainment. They are always trying to get us to sing and dance and they ask us to help with household chores just so they can crack up when we don't do them right. I know in my heart that they don't mean anything by it, and that my family genuinely cares about me and really likes me, but it was a hard adjustment to make. Thankfully, after a couple of days, the coolest thing happened to me: a snake found it's way into my room!

I'm sure to most people (including Nana) that doesn't sound all that great, but it was actually really neat for me. Not only was it something new and exciting, but I got to share my interest in reptiles with my host family which stopped them from killing a harmless animal (it wasn't venomous). Andrew actually picked it up with gloves and put it back outside. I'm attaching a photo of the little guy. Somehow that snapped me out of my funk and I was able to get on with my life. Malians have interesting fews of animals: snakes and frogs are big no-no's here. One night after a big rain Andrew and I went out and caught these huge frogs and everyone was laughing and thought we foreigners were being very silly, but entertaining. Until Andrew tried to get a Malian to hold the frog. To them, frogs are dangerous because they can jump inside you and steal your soul!
Our Language Prof who lives in the village with us is amazing. He does a good job of making sure we are as comfortable as possible, and he's become a great friend to the five of us in our village. The other night before we returned to Tubani So, we had a mini-party, and somehow we all ended up telling ghost stories under his hanger. Once it started raining and thundering, he let us move into his house where we continued to tell stories until about 1:00am. Then he walked everyone home and made sure our windows were locked (we were all terrified at that point!). His name is Moussa and he's pretty neat.

Tomorrow Andrew and I are making the long journey to our permanent site. We are traveling by public transport to the regional capital, Kayes, where we will spend the night. The next day, we will drive down to our banking town where we will learn our way around. Finally, after another night's stay, we will drive to our site where we will spend two days learning about our jobs and our new community.

Our Peace Corps swear-in date is September 20th, so we've only got a month left of Pre-Service Training, of which only two more weeks is spent at homestay. I can tell you, I will miss my little village of 415 people, especially some of my younger siblings, like Mamine, who is only 6 but follows me everywhere. My family really takes care of me. The other night I made "American" tea for my family, and as I got up to give the tea glass to someone, all the little children crowded around me, spilling the boiling tea on my foot. The adults immediately chased the kids away, and came running over to offer advice and give medicine (thankfully my toe didn't fall off!). For the next couple of days they kept asking me if I was okay. They are very concerned that we are safe and healthy and happy.

Our language has gotten much better, and we can actually hold conversations with people. We just had a mid-PST language test, and I and Andrew scored just one level below the level we need to swear-in in September. My evaluator said the only reason I didn't pass then and there was because we just hadn't covered one of the topics required to pass the exam. So we're feeling pretty great about our language, especially since no one else in our village passed that high.

We went into Bamako yesterday and had pizza and cheeseburgers and banana splits! It was amazing. And there was this huge supermarket where we bought snacks and food.

Thanks so much to those of you who have sent us care packages! So far we have only received Laura's package (the cereal bars aren't too squished!), but I know some of you have sent other things. Apparently it's cheaper and quicker to send bubble mailers rather than boxes; sorry about the late info!

Finally, we have cell phones! My number is 002233308572 and Andrew's is 002235584722. You just dial the number exactly like that and you can reach us if you need to. Unfortunately, we don't have cell reception at our site, so we will only be able to make or receive calls once a month when we go in for banking.
Killer crazy turtle at Tubani So

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Reflections on Homestay

So Nicole and I have finished our first week and a half living with an actual Malian family. Here are some notable highlights:

  • I have been renamed Umaru Kone, and Nicole is Mamine Kone.
  • We are learning Bambara, which is spoken by 80% of Malians. It's a pretty easy language to learn, especially compared to those learning Fulfulde and Dogon.
  • Our language class is awesome. We have a great teacher and great classmates. We have great fun saying weird things. N'ye kaletigela ye (I am a trouble maker).
  • They don't have words (or wonder, it seems) for different stars or constellations. To them, it's just lolo (star) and kalo (moon).
  • Living without electricity is easy, because at night we have kerosene lanterns and flashlights (AA and C batteries are readily available).
  • Pooping in a hole in the ground looses its appeal real quick
  • I think that the food is pretty good. It's just a bit too repetitive (rice for five days straight gets a bit boring).
  • You can't beat 9 mangoes for 20 cents.
  • Working in the field is fun, but hard. I was using a daba (kind of like a hoe but with a 2 foot long handle) to clear out the weeds between cornstalks. My family definitely understood me better after farming (why is this guy here? he doesn't farm, just goes to this guy's house all day).
  • Kids are kids no matter where you go. We had fun making sounds with our tongues. They love Old MacDonald and Go Fish and when I dance.
  • It appears that everyone eats a lot. We are never able to finish the food that they give us (Nicole, me, and one of our host dad's sons eat together out of a big bowl using our right hands). Unfortunately, protein is scarce so there are lots of carbohydrates (rice, millet, potatoes, spaghetti, beans).
  • Big conversation topics are food and poop.
  • Our host family is really nice. I'm very glad to be here and can't wait until I can speak Bambara and have meaningful conversations
  • I've done a lot of reflection on how our countries are different. Here, it is okay to beat wives and children, which is bad. But on the flip side, Mali didn't invade Iraq. Malians have a lot of checks to prevent conflict, like joking cousins. The joking cousin idea is a fabulous one. For example, all Traores eat dogs. (They don't really, but these jokes help keep everyone lighthearted). Also, I'm not allowed to fight with a Traore, or a Dembele, or a Dumbia, or a Koulibaly, but if I need someone for conflict resolution, I can use one.
  • Polygamy is the norm here, as well as really large families. While this isn't great for the world's population, it does create really fun, caring families. Family life is really important here, so while they have hardly any material possessions, they are rich in familial love.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Homestay Weeks 1-2

Andrew and I are back from the first two weeks of our homestay visit. We'll be at our training site for three days before we head back to our families.

We are living with the Kone (pronounced Cone-ay) family. My name is Mamine, or Maimouna, or Maimou, while Andrew is Umar or Umaru or Zan. The crazy thing is that everyone has the same name, and there are several different nicknames for each name. This makes things very confusing. I am one of four or five Mamines in my family alone! Our Bambara is coming along, but it's complicated by the fact that our village speaks a slightly different dialect and they aren't very informed on what we learn everyday, so it's hard for them to speak in a way that builds on what we learn each day.
Our house in Famana

The living conditions are okay, but it's hard to get used to not having electricity or running water. The most difficult thing for me is the food. Our family feeds us the best they can, which means rice. Every day. Almost every meal. It is gotten to the point where I can't even look at rice without feeling sick to my stomach. Our Language instructor finally spoke with our family and we have been getting different things now, like beans and spaghetti noodles. That helps, but I'm dying for some American food. That said, if anyone would like to send us hot chocolate packets, apple cider packets, parmesan cheese, cookies, candy, or other snacky foods, I will be eternally grateful, as well as full. :) It would be especially great since we got a huge pile of PC mail today, and Andrew and I didn't have a single piece of mail. I didn't realize that I was even looking forward to mail, but out here something as small and insignificant as a postcard makes my day after 13 days of living with people who don't understand a word I say. So in two weeks, when I return here again, I expect emails and actual mail! I'm excited about receiving HP7 which my grandma sent to me. Apparently packages only take about 2 weeks right now to get here.

Okay enough lecturing.

We went to the market the other day and bought 9 huge mangos for $0.25. And that was without trying to really barter. I also had a tailor make me a dress and a headscarf for $1. Andrew says to check out his Livejournal for more news.
Our little sister, Mamine

Okay, I need to go. I will try and email again in the next couple of days when there aren't 80 people waiting to use the computers as well.

Nicole aka Mamine