Saturday, November 24, 2007


Development work is very frustrating. As we’ve learned from the literature, just giving them something never works in the long run. To make changes, you have to show them how to solve problems by themselves through experimentation. This is really hard because most of the people are convinced that if they just had lettuce seeds, if they just had a tractor, if they just had electricity, all of their problems would be solved, if only they could find someone to give it to them. They are convinced that the solutions to their problems are ‘out there’ in the world of NGOs and white people. Little by little, we have to show them that the solutions that really are out there won’t work until they reinvent them. That the solutions they come up with can work just as well. That they, not anyone else, have the power to solve their problems. One big cultural difference that we’ve noticed is the following: in individualist America, the phrase ‘not my problem’ is common, whereas the equivalent here is ‘your problem is my problem.’ Culturally, they are used to others helping out when there is a crisis. After all, the community needs to take care of itself. We, however, are used to fixing our own problems.

We're Still Alive!

Happy Turkey Day! I hope you all enjoyed your delicious turkey and cranberry sauce. We managed to track down a turkey for our own impromptu Thanksgiving celebration here in our regional capital, Kayes. I'm sorry we've been out of the loop for the past two months. We've been very busy at our new site, Dialafara. It's beautiful there, but life is a little difficult. Overall though, we're having a great time. Our house is finally starting to feel like our house, which has boosted our spirits considerably.
We've planted a garden, which was mostly destroyed by errant animals, but what's left is now safely behind a fence. A garden is much needed because there is a significant lack of vegetables in Dialafara. The community is very fatalistic, assuming that any garden they plant will just be destroyed, so they don't even bother with gardening. That means that we're forced to stock up on canned corn and other veggies while we're in the capital, or face eating okra every meal. Since I can't stand okra, we pay $3.00/can and try and make it last through a month before returning to buy more. I can't wait until our garden is ready to give us carrots, tomatoes, and lima beans!
Lamini in our garden

So gardening has actually consumed a good part of our life, and
we spend a lot of time trying to make it work. Therefore, if anyone wants to send us seeds, we'd gladly welcome them! They're cheap, and really easy and inexpensive to send, so it'd be a great Christmas gift!

Andrew would like to offer his MALI CHALLENGE to all of you. For one week, try and do as many of the following. Afterwards, report back to us letting us know what was hard, what was easy, and what you gave up on.
1) Pick one favorite rice dish and eat only it for lunch and dinner every day. You can only add meat on one day.
2) Only electricity that can be used is flashlights, t.v. (pick one channel), phone, and radio
3) Only running water that can be used is toilet and the outside hose to fill up buckets
4) Go out of your way to greet each of your neighbors twice a day. Ask after their family and how they slept. Do the same with as much of your extended family as possible (phone is OK).

So when
we're not gardening, what do we do? Well, I spend a little time at the clinic, mostly observing the tiny staff overwork themselves. I like working with the matrone (a trained midwife), but she's usually too busy to babysit me. She has done over 300 prenatal consultations this year, with about 20 births a month, and she does monthly baby weighing and vaccination sessions for not only Dialafara, but seven surrounding villages. In her spare time she gives presentations on the radio and goes door to door to follow up on malnourished kids and make sure the women are following their prenatal regime. And she does this all by herself. And she only gets paid $60.00 a month! She doesn't complain, even though the clinic is literally falling down around her and she has no equipment to do her job properly. She told me about a night where two women were in labor at the same time. She only has one (broken) birthing table, so one woman was on that while the other gave birth on the floor. Fanta, the matrone, went back and forth between the two women with her kerosene lantern. Despite her circumstances, she's only lost 1 or 2 babies this entire year during the delivery process, which is quite an accomplishment. I'm going to be working on getting her funding for some new materials, and hopefully a new clinic. In January, there will be an opportunity for anyone in the U.S. to make donations for specific things, such as mattresses, lights, or birthing tables, so keep that in mind this Christmas!
Baby-naming ceremony

In addition to my time at the clinic, I've been doing a couple of presentations to the community. Last week I did a presentation on AIDS to 150 school kids. I was really nervous, but everyone says I did great. Andrew made me some really great posters for the event. I'm also supposed to be working on my language, so Andrew and I spend a couple hours a day with our language tutor, Lamini.
We kept up our Bambara for a while, but have now switched to French. It was really frustrating for me because I spent two months learning Bambara, and the women in my community mostly only speak Malinke. Rather than try picking up an entirely new language, we decided to try and perfect our French, since everyone that we work directly with speaks French anyway. Lamini is really great. He also speaks very good English, and he's the director of the school, so we have lots of good contacts with him. He's also one of few people in the village who hasn't asked us for money or food or something else. Sometimes I feel like we are being taken advantage of. He helps us out with lots of personal things too, such as helping establish the garden and coming to check on us when we are sick. He is here in Kayes right now because we wanted him to experience an American holiday with us. He's also Christian, so we will probably spend Christmas with him.

Andrew is spending his time getting to know people in the village so that, instead of performing gardening demonstrations to start a school garden, he is hooking up the director (Lamini) with other people who know how to garden. Hopefully, this will be more sustainable and continue after
we leave. He is also going to try to slow deforestation on three fronts: promoting mud stoves instead of three rocks, which should reduce the amount of wood burned, promoting improved methods of charcoal making instead of just burning wood, which will also reduce the amount of wood burned, and promoting firewood plantations, which should reduce the strain on the local forest, make the women's daily firewood gathering venture less painful, and possibly create income for some people. He will also be working with a tourism group, trying to promote the benefits of ecotourism (sustainable, environmentally and culturally responsible, promoting local economy, not just 'nature tourism'). He is also trying to promote the use of jatropha oil to generate electricity (in a diesel engine). He wishes that solar power could provide enough electricity to the village, but the panels are too expensive to support an entire village. He is also going to work with women's associations to help them sell good Shea nuts to make that shea butter that's in your skin cream. But all of that is in the future. For now, he is dropping hints of his plans and trying to find key people to work with.

I don't want to disappoint anyone, but
we aren't living in mud huts. We were supposed to be, but the condition of the huts was really poor (even for mud huts), so we asked for different housing. We have a two bedroom cement house with a large veranda, tin roof, and a huge yard. We even splurged and paid to have electricity put in! Well, by electricity I mean a light in each room hooked up to a car battery. We take the battery to be charged by a solar panel every two weeks or so. Still no running water, but I don't mind so much (we have, however, installed a spigot into a bucket, which works almost the same). I just heat some water for my bucket bath each day.

We have a kitten! We weren't going to get one, even though there was a litter available at our training site right before we left. We refused them, but when we arrived in Kayes, this adorable tabby followed us inside the house! We couldn't refuse her, and when you see the photos, you'll understand why! Her name is Arya, because she closely resembles a character from the series, A Song of Ice and Fire. We have a lot of fun with her.

We would really appreciate it if you all sent us a couple seed packets! I think growing our own garden is the only way to survive here since there aren't any fresh vegetables really.

Some more culture differences here: The women laugh every time they see Andrew carrying water on his head. That's supposed to be a woman's job. But he does it since I do all the cooking, and besides it's a little awkward for me to carry those big buckets. I think some of them think I'm not such a good wife for allowing him to carry water, but perhaps others wish their husbands were as equally minded.

Also, despite their claims that they have no money, and therefore don't have any means of helping themselves, people are surprisingly reluctant to do things that would earn them money. Case in point: We asked the carpenter to make us a table when we first arrived in Dialafara. It would take him no more than a day to do so. Yet it still isn't finished. When we went to see him last week, we found him sitting around looking for gold instead. I don't think I can describe how fruitless that process is. Everyone in the village is gold crazy. They walk 5-15 kilometers out of the village, drill (by hand) huge holes in the quartz and then cart off the big pieces back home. Then they hammer off smaller pieces, and then pound it into powder in a big metal mortar and pestle. Then they sift it with water. If they're lucky, they get a tiny smidgen of gold dust. It's a ton of work for practically nothing (they get about USD 560 per troy ounce instead of the current USD 800). Yet offer them a real job, with guaranteed money, and they'd rather take the hard way, on the desperate hope that they might strike it big. It's very frustrating.

I think that's all for now. I should be back in the capital in three weeks, because I have some reports to file. I look forward to your emails! I really want to hear what's happening in the "real" world!