Friday, September 7, 2007

Baby Weighing and Porridge Demonstration

Weighing babies

I finally feel like my time here is useful! This week I conducted a porridge demonstration and a baby weighing in my village. Not only was I able to conduct the session in Bambara, but I weighed 52 babies!!! That's a lot to do, especially since I was really the only one doing it. My friend was feeling really sick, so she just wrote down weights for a while. It was exciting but also it made me very nervous. It's hard to try and tell a mother she isn't feeding her baby properly when not only am I a white person from a completely different perspective, but I'm not a mother myself. Regardless, I feel like the majority of their mothers were genuinely interested in improving their child's nutrition, and maybe some of them will take to heart what advice I gave them.
Growth chart

It's so hard to describe how poor Mali is. It's the 3rd poorest country in the world, and even prior knowledge of that statistic wasn't enough to prepare me for the poverty I witness everyday. My host siblings run around with no clothes on, no shoes, most of them have huge distended bellies, and some of them are so sick I almost can't bear to look at them. Yet despite this, Malians remain such a friendly and warm people, who never miss an opportunity to offer any person their hospitality, even if food is scarce. They all watch out for each other; the children are communal, and even if parents seem to be absent, there is always an adult somewhere, watching out for them. And the children are so independent that they almost don't need watching over. My little 6 year old sister Mamine is constantly "bamu-ing" her two month old cousin. (Bamu-ing means she carries his tied to her back as she fetches water, cooks, and takes care of the animals). At the same time there is so much supervision lacking! I see my siblings chewing on batteries, playing with dead animals for lack of other toys, and urinating and defecating wherever they want. These are behavior changes that I will be working on, but it's SO hard. I can't even express the struggle I face everyday as I see someone in my village doing something that I know will lead to another parasite, another bout of malaria, or another physical deformity.
Preparing the porridge with Emily

I see this daily struggle, and then I look at the other 77 volunteers serving here. It never ceases to amaze me how selfless and good-intentioned their sacrifice is. Regardless of their reason for joining the Peace Corps, the fact that they still remain says something about the goodness of their characters. Only one person has willingly gone home. Another was sent home after she was drunk in public, and two others have been separated for medical reasons (one had mental problems his first day here, and the other broke his ankle a week ago). That's a surprising number of people who have lasted even this long, after 6 long, difficult weeks. To be honest, part of me thought I would be home by now, and there's still a part of me that isn't sure I can handle this for two years. But the majority of my spirit remains dedicated to helping these people live their lives more fully. When we all swear in in two weeks as official volunteers, I know it will be an emotional time, but by no means the end of our struggle here in Mali. For some it will be harder, having to finally be on their own, away from the support we have gained from each other. For some, like myself, I think it will be easier. Our purpose for being here will finally be realized, and for me, having control over how I live my life will be paramount to my experience here. But I know it will still be very, very difficult.

Which is why I am so grateful that I have such kind, thoughtful, amazing friends back home. Your emails, your letters, and your packages make a bad day disappear. I can't tell you how it feels to struggle through a difficult day, trying to make a difference, and then to find that someone back home has sent me a few words of encouragement (or in the case of Laura, a few morsels of nourishment!). The simple act of filling out a postcard and dropping it in the mail makes everything else seem trivial. Thank you all so much, and I hope you will continue to write to us and wish us well. Please know that we think of you all every single day, and your support makes all the difference in our work here.

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