Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mali Xmas!

Merry Christmas! I hope you all had a great holiday. We had a lot of fun. We went to a fancy hotel in town and paid to swim in their pool. Yes, it's that hot here, even in December. Andrew spent most of the day making homemade mozzarella for our baked ziti dinner, which was awesome. For those of you who haven't already, check out Barbara Kingsolver's new book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle. It's all about her family trying to live of their land for an entire year. Pretty cool. She goes to a cheese-making class by Ricki Carroll, and so we bought a starter kit and the book and have been having a blast. So far we've made pizza and ricotta cheesecake. Yum!
Natalie and Andrew show off their mozarella

This Christmas was both better and worse than last year. It was worse because I missed home so much more, and it made me sad that my parents and grandmother didn't spend the holiday together like they did last year. It was better because of the company we kept here. We spent the holiday with the two new married couples in our area, Mark and Sam and Steve and Natalie. The dynamic between us three couples is pretty great. We all get along extremely well, which is heartening considering there has been a lot of tension lately between the Kayes region volunteers. Without going into too many details, let me just repeat what a non-PC couple (who live in Mali) said about us when they came to visit this week: "You guys should have your own TV show, like The Real World!" Oh, the drama.
Mark, Steve, and Luis in the hats I knit them

This week is also the Biennial Celebration of Mali, and it's being held right here in Kayes! It's a ten day long celebration with lots of music, dancing, and artisan fairs. Tuesday is the closing ceremony and there are rumors that the president of Mali will be there. There's also a rumor that if we ask, he will take a photo with us because he isn't allowed to say no to Peace Corps volunteers. So maybe I'll meet the president! At the very least, I'll get to see him from afar.
Bicentennial celebration

Dancers at celebration

Andrew's parents will be here in only three weeks, and we're both really excited but not quite ready for their visit. We've been trying to make our yard and house look as nice as possible, but there's so much to do! We need to have our well re-dug (it collapsed at the bottom), our straw hangar re-done (the wind has all but ripped it off), and our chicken area fenced off. Oh yeah, we need to buy some chickens, too! We just finished the construction of our chicken house, we're just lacking its inhabitants. We're tired of making do with goat and sheep meat and not having any eggs for breakfast, so we've taken matters into our own hands. We're a little worried about our cat's response to the chickens…
Chicken house

So what's happening in the real world? Send us a brief update and tell us about your life. New job, new apartment, new partner? Where is everybody??

Friday, November 28, 2008

Our West Africa Trip (NOT!)

OK, just kidding. We didn't actually go on vacation as planned. Both Andrew and I had too much work to do at our site that we couldn't justify taking off for an entire month. We'll go instead in April or May. So what have we been doing?

1. I'm working on a health-related theater competition to be held in the county capital in January. Each junior high is sending one group to compete for a prize of $200. This is a really big project and I don't have control over every aspect of it so I'm pretty nervous. But I finally got the funding that I requested so I can rent equipment the day of the competition. Now, if the community will just follow through on their part of the contribution…

2. I'm a teacher! I've been teaching "Economie Familiale" which is basically Home Economics. It's largely a health-related class, but it's a lot of fun. In my 9th grade we talked about the causes of diarrhea and how to prevent it, and we even made oral re-hydration solution together. The downside is that my 7th grade has 144 students, my 8th 81, and my 9th 60, so it's a really tough job keeping them in control by myself and trying to make sure everyone is keeping up with the class. It's made doubly hard by the fact that the 7th and 8th form don't speak great French, so often I'll think they understand but then when I read their exams and homework they can't even put a sentence ogether! Another problem is that there is only one book for every five students, which makes sharing very difficult. The students sit three to a table, so many tables don't get a book. It's really hard. They fight over the books and almost tear them apart. It's funny because the school teachers didn't want to pass out ANY school books, because a) there aren't usually enough b) the students destroy them, c) the students don't read them, or d) the teacher is still using his 1980 photocopied textbook that doesn't match the nice, brand new, expensive textbooks that could theoretically be passed out to every student. So we had to push and prod to get the teachers to hand out any books, because let's face it, what's the point of having textbooks if they sit in a cabinet and no one gets to use them?? Besides, the students DO read them. They love books and it's such a rare treat for them to have them.

3. Andrew is a teacher! The biology teacher got promoted and left town, and the admin people don't have anyone else to send to teach bio, so Andrew volunteered. He's doing a great job. He's been killing bugs, putting them in my jam jars and then pinning them to Styrofoam and showing them off in class. It makes for a really messy kitchen but I'm sure the kids are having fun (and so is he).

4. We're in Bamako now, the blessed capital of Mali, getting some work done on our applications for the teaching program in France, and spending ridiculous amounts of money. There's a real grocery store here so we're stocking up on supplies. We'll be making a feast for the new volunteers in our region for Thanksgiving. EDIT Nicole made a fabulous feast with chicken; green beans; mashed potatoes; stuffing; cranberry sauce; and butternut squash pie, yum. All while reading books 3 and 4 of the Twilight series. We had cheddar cheese, crackers, and sausage for lunch. All 12 of us volunteers almost died in bliss, not having eaten any of those things in a very long time.
Joshua, Mark, Sam, and Ashley eat Thanksgiving yummies

5. Andrew just made contact with a new NGO in town that works on improving French skills at the elementary level and so he is going to be spending a lot of time working with them as well.

6. Gardening season is upon us and Andrew is working with a Malian NGO to start up women's gardening instead of looking for gold. In 2003, the old PC volunteers built 3 cement wells to try to start gardening, but the women never built fences like they were supposed to, so cows ate all of their produce the first season and the wells have sat unused since then. Due to women's groups presidents' inability to let others use their otherwise unused land has proved too difficult, so a new plot of land has been selected and the women are hopefully fencing it off and having a well dug. Once that's done, Andrew will show them how to compost, start a seed nursery, space seedlings, etc.
7. Andrew has been working on a textbook project. He submitted it a couple months ago and the PC funding agent here is a bit of a lackwit. Anyway, it should be going online within a week or two. https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribute.donatenow
www.peacecorps.gov > Donate Now > Donate to Volunteer Projects > search by country Mali > results appear below.

The project is for $375 so with so many people on our email list, that's less than $10 a person (the more the merrier). Each textbook costs about $8, and he's hoping to be able to buy about 60. I wish we could get more textbooks, but the community has to provide 25 percent and they can only afford so much. If you're interested in funding any of the other projects that appear, please do so. They're all our friends and need help. Even $5 can be a big help. Also, he's planning on doing a well project for a women's garden in January. If you wanna hold out for that, no problem.

Here are some interesting things that have happened to us recently:

1. A moth flew in my ear. Right INTO MY EAR! It was terrifying. It took Andrew about five minutes to get it out with tweezers.

2. On Andrew's birthday, we were walking through Bamako and a group of kids pulled my hair and threw rocks at me. When I yelled at them they scattered. It was really upsetting but I'm okay.

3. We carved butternut squash and gave out candy for Halloween. It wasn't the same as eating gross amounts of chocolate, wearing cool costumes, and watching scary movies, but it was fun.


4. I have become Twilight obsessed. Honestly, I don't know why. I think the writing is pretty bad, the story is cliché, and I don't particularly like the main character. But I do love Jacob and Edward and that apparently is enough to keep me reading the first book (5 times in the past two months). I haven't read the last two books, but I did order them from Amazon and should receive them soon. That should tell you how obsessed I am; shipping alone was more expensive then the actual books. Andrew almost had a heart attack. Then, when I ordered the soundtrack, he actually did have a heart attack. Poor guy. I don't even like vampire stories!! Is the book laced with highly addictive crack cocaine? Someone explain it to me!

A couple of people have asked about Christmas presents. If you're so inclined, we'd love to receive the following:

-Donate for the project!
-Food, as always
-Books, mainly:
The Translator
Brideshead Revisited
Beijing Coma
Dead Souls
The Gulag Archipelago
At Swim-Two Birds
The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire
Letters to My Mother
The Unquiet Ghost: Russia Remembers Stalin
Bill Bryson (but not Notes From a Small Island, A Walk in the Woods,
or a Short History of Nearly Everything)
Indian religious books (not native americans) like upanishads, vedas, etc.

Attached are photos of our halloween fun; and the sweater I made for our language teacher. Check out more at
I knit this sweater for Moussa

Monday, September 29, 2008

Tripping Out

Well, I'm back in Mali.

I had a great time in California. I saw lots of friends, and wish I could have seen more. I was so rushed, and a bit sick, but I managed to cram in a trip to LA, San Francisco, and San Diego. I think I travelled a total of 16,000 miles and over 100 hours on this trip. I still have another 100 miles and 6-12 hours to get to my village. The trip between Mali and Senegal is the worst trip I've ever had in my life. It takes 5 hours to cross the border (2 miles) because the Senegalaise have to check everyone's bags, then everyone's ID (but not at the same time or place, oh no, that would be efficient). If you're lucky enough to not get left behind, you have to then have the Malians check everyone's IDs and bags (again, not at same time or place). The border patrol is on a total power trip. They wouldn't accept my official Malian ID, nor my visa in my passport, so I had to give the agent $30 (which he pocketed) for him to stamp my passport with a visa. Luckily, I got back onto the bus before they pulled away. Not all passengers were so lucky. I yelled at the driver to get him to stop, or at least to unload their bags, but they didn't want to wait there all night. A couple others helped me out and we yelled enough and got them to stop and wait, then again, then again, then again, and finally the Cote d'Ivoirian and Nigerian got on the bus after going through the same shit I went through. The bus driver was so anxious to go because He had started the trip 4 hours late because they kept switching busses on us. The first bus hadn't made the trip in a month; the second was short about 10 seats, and the third ended up breaking down twice on the journey. I had such a nice seat on the first bus, no seat on the second, and a very cramped seat over the hot engine on the third.

But the US was nice. I ate well, although it doesn't look like I gained any weight, sorry for those trying to fatten me up. Here's what all of you need to appreciate about the US:

Millions of miles of paved roads
No bugs
Running water
Air Conditioning
Common Sense and efficiency are valued
Availability and choice of all foods
Entertainment options

Think on each of these and be thankful that you live in the best country on earth, God Bless America!

I got to give a little talk at my cousin's 3rd Grade classroom. They were really cute, had tons of questions, and will hopefully send some letters to my 9th graders (hopefully my 9th graders will be able to read their letters).

I managed to bring my microscope to Mali. Now maybe they'll believe me that germs really do exist.

I also managed to bring about $300 worth of food (mainly mixes and dried foods). That should keep us a month or so.

Vera, I meant to give you some African French music. I'll see if I can send it over e-mail next time. African French is much easier than French French. They trill their r's. They often speak with excitement, especially when saying 'par rapport' and 'raison pour lequel.'

EAP: it was so good seeing you guys! Do you have an e-mail address for Linnea? Nicole says her messages keep bouncing back.

To all the newly married/engaged couples, congratulations. Best wishes, we'll try and get to as many weddings as we can.

To all those who donated stuff (basketball, blow up globe, Baileys, etc.), thanks, I got it here safely!

Nicole likes my hair, woo hoo! I got it cut (no offense Nicole, but you're not the best with a pair of scissors) at Fantastic Sams.

Senegal looks a lot like Mali. Dakar, the capitol, looks a lot like Bamako, only slightly cleaner and taller buildings. Everyone speaks French and Wolof. It was annoying not being able to speak Bambara to the Africans, I'm so used to it.

People asked if it was weird getting readjusted to civilized life. The answer is yes. Other volunteers had no problems. At first, I couldn't speak to black people in English, I was too used to French or Bambara. I almost died of joy when I went to the supermarket. In Dakar, it was weird having a smooth ride in a taxi on a nice road.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

I Saw a Hyena Today!

No, really! I've heard for the past year that there is a hyena in Kayes, my banking town, and I finally saw it for the first time today. Apparently some crazy people captured it and put it in a cage with a crocodile. The hyena is HUGE. I didn't know they could get that big (it's the size of a LION!). I felt really, really bad for it.

Speaking of trips to the U.S.... Sorry I never wrote an update about my trip. Mostly it was uneventful and it felt kind of weird so I never sat down and wrote anything about it. I did manage to spend some time with Anna and Daniel and Nicole, though not nearly as much time as I would have liked. I saw three movies, Indiana Jones, Wanted, and Wall-e, but I wish I could have found Prince Caspian playing somewhere. I did eat a lot of great food, such as sushi, Olive Garden, Subway, BLT's, and lots of ice cream. However, I was plagued by stomach problems the entire trip, so I didn't gain the weight I wanted to. Talk about bad timing. I ended up overdrawing our account while I was there and spending all of our money, so that was a definite downside to the trip. Poor Andrew had to be pretty frugal on his trip (even though it sounds like he really wasn't). Overall, I wish I could have held out and not made the trip home, or at least waited to go with Andrew for Grace and Aaron's wedding (CONGRATULATIONS!), because I missed him too much both while I was gone and even more while he was gone, and because our nest egg of $6,500 is gone at this point. Also, I missed the Dark Knight premiere by about a week, and never got to see Ironman either.

But even though we no longer have American money, we do have some Malian money and are taking a very long vacation in November. We're traveling to Burkina Faso, Ghana, Benin, Togo, and Cote d'Ivoire. We'll be gone about a month, and will have to find some way to hear/see the U.S. election and the new Harry Potter movie. Can't decide which I'm more excited about.

Andrew's parents are coming to visit in January, and I'm really excited for them. I just wish there was a better way to show you all what life here is like. It just blows my mind sometimes. Case in point: I have thought for a couple of months that my neighbor might be pregnant, but had no idea how to verify. It's considered rude to ask, and a woman will never give that information willingly. Finally I saw her at the maternity the other day for her pre-natal consultation, so then I knew for sure. A week later she had the baby!!! Malian women wear such baggy clothes anyway that it's hard to tell if they're pregnant. Crazy.

We have a lot of new volunteers here in the Kayes region, including two married couples. It's really nice having new people, especially other couples, even though they are both older than me. Speaking of marriage... Daniel and Nicole are engaged!!! yippee!!! Andrew and I should be back for the wedding in summer 2010. Andrew gets to be a joint best man (with Joey). Hopefully they will let me bake something or arrange flowers.

Andrew and I just celebrated our two year anniversary, and we watched our wedding video. I have to tell you, I have never been so happy in my entire life, even here in Mali. Andrew is the best guy in the world for me, and I am amazingly lucky to have found him so quickly, so early in my life. I like to think that Fate was making up for the first 13 years of my life by giving me Andrew. There is now a happiness overload in my life and I'm a little paranoid that maybe something bad is going kick me in the face sometime soon. Is it even legal for two people to be this happy with each other???
Enough mushy stuff. I've been getting a lot more work done. I'm currently working on this health-related theater competition between 13 schools in my area, and it's a big undertaking. Thankfully, it keeps me busy. School is about to start again, and I'll be teaching a weekly Life Skills class about how to say no to peer pressure, be assertive, etc. I'll also be helping out with the English class, maybe even teaching it, since the old teacher got positioned someplace else for getting a student pregnant. Some justice, huh? The guy gets a student pregnant, and gets to move far away where he doesn't have to deal with the shame or the financial burden of supporting a baby. These little extra-curricular excursions are pretty common here since the teachers are always placed in schools far from their homes and forced to leave their wives in their village because it's too expensive to re-locate them. Also, according to the teachers, the girls throw themselves at the teachers because they're smarter, better paid, and younger than the guys they're most likely to marry. I'm not sure I buy into that completely, and I still think the teachers should be fired and forced to support the kid or go to jail. That's technically the law here, but nothing happens unless the family of the girl presses the issue. Dumb.

It's currently Ramadan, so everyone is fasting. For some reason, this leads to better food in my village. There's a girl who's started a little cooking stand, and she makes meat kabobs and French fries and all sorts of good things. I taught her how to make onion rings so she can sell them to the village. That is my biggest contribution to Mali so far. High cholesterol. And who said this was a waste of time?? Actually they all loved the onion rings and I'm going to teach her how to make more things. If nothing else, it keeps me supplied with food. Talk about sustainability. I've also introduced the Dead Zone to my village, via the DVDs Anna let me borrow while I was in America. They love it, even without French subtitles. Unfortunately, thanks to that and 24 (which airs on Mali TV), everyone is convinced America is a lawless country where you get shot for just walking down the street. To Malians, this is inconceivable. They can't imagine that type of violence, which definitely says something positive about their culture. So don't anyone ever worry if I'm "safe." If I'm gonna die over here, it will be because of a traffic accident, make no mistake.

That's all for this month folks. I'll send emails from our trip through West Africa, which begins November 1st.

Lots of slobbery hyena kisses.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Andrew Eats Cake

Howdy partners!

I'm here in Tubani So again, our volunteer training ground, and I'm eating cake and on the internet. Life is good. I'm here to train the volunteers and their Malian counterparts how to do community assessment. Fun fun fun. The new batch of volunteers is in the process of being well trained, and they're just getting ready to leave the training grounds and go see their village for a week, before coming back for more training. It's insane the difference a year makes. Its absolutely unbelievable the change in language (to the detriment of my English, of course). I was able to comfortably train Malians and Volunteers speaking in English, French, and Bambara.

Nicole is safely returned, with few difficulties. She told me she'd be sending an update of her US trip, so I'll leave that to her.

I'm in the process of updating our e-mail list, so if you get multiples of these e-mails, know of others who want to receive these e-mails, or don't want to receive these e-mails anymore, let me know! It shall be done.

Work is crazy this time of year for an Environment volunteer. Helping women with shea butter, gardening, men with new sorghum varieties, selling local seeds bought in Kayes. The seeds you guys sent (thank you thank you thank you) are being grown in my garden and if they work, given to men and women whom I trust to grow and multiply. So far: lima beans. It's so hard to grow things here. We had one zucchini! Unfortunately, the bugs had 5, and this was planted 6 months ago. The zucchini was divine. We're okay on seeds for now.
Nicole returned with a bunch of herbs and odd stuff like kohlrabi. Beans, squash, melon, cucumber do great here. Nightshades like tomatoes, eggplant, peppers also doing okay. Can't seem to get broccoli, carrots, lettuce to grow. So far, we've harvested lima beans, tomatoes, 2 heads of lettuce, 1 zucchini, 2 beets, 4 carrots,
and 3 radishes. I thought once I got past the animals eating everything, the lack of water killing everything, I'd be okay. Nope. Now things are getting too much water, still more insects than you can shake a stick at, what I assume to be nematoads, and crappy soil. I've tried everything I can to protect one cantaloupe, pockmarked by caterpiller bites. I've raised it off the ground to protect against nematoads, covered it in a blue screen to protect it against larvae, but I think it's still not going to live.
One of our gigantic squashes!

Also, I've become a farmer!!! I farm peanuts and corn (and I have sorghum fields farmed by locals). My back is very tan, my hands callused, and my fingertips stained brown. I feel so manly. "Farm boy, fetch me that pail of water..." Now, when all of the Malians order me to come help them in their fields, I can gracefully decline
by saying, "Sorry, I've got my own fields. Yes, I really am farming. Yes, I really can farm. No, I'm not paying people to farm for me." Now all I have to do is sleep on my nose to squash it and my Malian transformation will be complete.

Book by Baba Wagué Diakité

Thank you Erika and Maggie and Glen and Leann and everyone else who sent/is sending books! My village probably has the most English books in all of Mali. We haven't counted (or started catalogueing), but I'd
guess between 200 and 300. Also, I found some kids books written by Baba Wague Diakite. They're in English, but about Malian stories, and his daughters' visits to Mali. I'd highly recommend buying one. It gives a perfect picture of what Mali is like. Buying _The Magic Gourd_ off of Amazon...$14.00. The way malian students' faces light up when they read in English a fable their grandfather told them ... priceless. That's the good news. The bad news is that Washington has not sent money to the American Embassy in Mali, and thus the Embassy has not sent money to our approved project. Theoretically, once they get the money, we get the money. Thankfully, the most essential part of a library (the books) is going good. All we need is a book case and we've got a veritable library. The funds will really help establish a computer room and a conference room that will provide light at night to study.
Old school to be turned into a library

I'm hoping to put up a project to get a garden well for a local village. The women are genuinely motivated, not just looking for handouts, so I feel okay starting the process, and the well is needed. I was sold when they decided to plant a live fence instead of the $1000 chain-link fence. My guess is that the garden well project will cost around $500, and I'm hoping that you guys can help me out with it. The women are required to furnish 25%. I know many of you have already sent packages and books, and I thank you for helping us out.
For everyone else, I'm hoping you can donate $5+ to help build a well. I'll let you know when it goes online. If you're really gung-ho about it and could respond saying you're definitely interested, that'd help me get an idea of how much we can spend (maybe a pump to help reduce pulling so many buckets of water, buying some fertilizer, garden tools, etc.)

Hmm, any cultural updates... Oh, I forgot to transfer my photos. I'll do that now and put some with this e-mail. Done. Check out more at

I saw a cow cut into 32 pieces (see photo). Other than that, can't think of any new cultural news. Oh yeah, the three villages: Baroumba, Diaguina, Netekoto have a custom/law that if there's a death in one village, all 3 villages stop all work (read farming. Cooking, laundry, dishes, and baby-sitting don't count as work). Solidarity or laziness, you decide.

Final news: I am coming to the US! I'll be arriving September 14th, assuming Delta hasn't cancelled my flight due to the "fuel crisis." I'll be in LA Sept. 14 to 17, Berkeley 18 to 22, LA 23 to 25. At least that's the plan. Looking at it, that isn't enough time anywhere, so this might change. I'm coming because GRACE AND AARON
ARE GETTING MARRIED!!! Ala ka den balo (may God give you children). Let me know if you'll be around, we'll do lunch. Also, Berkeley people, let me know if you've got room for me to crash on the floor at your place, hotels in Berkeley are ridiculous.

I'm taking orders for shea soap and shea butter if you want some, $0.50 per bar of soap, $2.00 for 200g of butter. (shipping and handling not included) Soaps come in Shea with honey/cucumber/neem/green mud/glycerine. All good for moisturizing skin, helping wounds heal, and helping out Malian women.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Where Everyone Knows Your Name

I would like to talk about what it's like to be a white person living in an African community. I've never lived in a real community in the US. I've never been able to walk down the street and see people I know and people who know me. In the US, I live in obscurity. My communities are scattered: work, school, family, dancing, etc. And they mostly don't overlap. Here, I live in a community. As I walk down the street, everyone stops and says hi, how's your wife, how's your family, did you sleep well? They know me. The know what's up. They know if I've been to the neighboring village. They know my wife is in the US, and that I'm living alone, how am I eating, living? They know I have a garden. They know me, even if I don't talk with them, even if I don't know their name, even if I've never seen them before. Even when I go to the other villages of the county, they know me and they ask how's the work, how's the wife, how's the family? The kids who don't see me every day will follow me if I pass by, chanting "tubabu, tubabu" (pronounced 2-Bob-oo) which means white/French person. The kids who do see me every day chant "Oumar Kone" (my Malian name) and ask me how's my cat doing, "where's Mamine, how is she?" (Nicole's Malian name). They peak through my fence every time they walk by, hoping to get a glance of the tubabu. As I was sitting in my yard, shelling shea nuts, I suddenly realized that I'm like a zoo animal. With the fence closed, I feel comfortable enough to go about my life as normal, and they feel comfortable to stand at the gate and gawk, and that's mostly ok. If the child isn't chanting "tubabu," he or she is running away or hiding, having fear of the white guy. I liken it to the kids who don't like the big Mickey Mouse at Disney land, he's not for everyone. It usually takes 4 months for a child to get over their fright of me. Usually halfway through, the child can be in my presence, we just can't make eye-contact or touch.

The kids all want to touch me, like I'll bring them luck or something. I hate it when I walk down the road, there's a group of kids playing in the street next to the trash pile, then they suddenly thrust all of their dirty hands out at me to shake. I usually cross my arms or rudely avoid the hands, but politely greet them. I have no problem saying "hi," but I hate when the kid sticks out his hand as if to say "touch me, give me your luck," like I'm obilgated to shake their hand. Sometimes the kids will stroke my arms as I'm avoiding the hands, just so they can have a touch. It sounds silly, why would you refuse to shake a hand? I don't know. I don't like the expectation, the obligation that I have to shake the hand, especially when it's out of context. I especially don't like it when parents castigate me for not shaking their child's hand, because some parents think I am obliged to shake hands. These are the same parents who teach their kids to follow white people screaming "tubabu" and "give me a quarter." I hate that phrase, too, but luckily only get that when I'm out of my village. Donne-mois cent francs: give me one hundred francs. Not "may I please have a quarter," but "give it to me, now, because you're white and I'm poor." I typically respond by saying "no" or just ignoring it. Nicole once responded by saying, "NO, you give me a quarter" and the kid did (of course she gave it back). Apparently, in the 70's, missionaries would give out quarters to everyone who asked, so the parents taught their children to say that phrase (often the only french they know), and those children taught their children, who are currently bugging me. I refuse out of principle.

Overall, I like living in a community. I like knowing the people that I walk by. I like that I can ask how there new baby is doing, or the new wife, or the sick brother, or their peanut field. I feel like a celebrity, a movie star. If I'm hungry, I could go to any house in the village and eat. Imagine you're sitting down to eat lunch when the door bell rings and there's Morgan Freeman at your door, asking to have lunch with you. Imagine how you'd treat him. That's how I'm treated. "Would you like some water? Don't sit there, that's the bad chair, here take mine. Are you tired, would you like to rest? Still hungry?" I like going to a school meeting, and seeing the same people for the town budget meeting and at the meeting when an NGO comes in, and at the weddings and baptisms, and in far-away cities. There is definitely a development community separate from the village community. The development workers hang out together and usually know the other development workers throughout the area. The reason they're everywhere is because they're involved. They're not satisfied with just farming, they want to make sure the town is budgeting correctly, or that the NGO can do good in the village, or to get the training that is offered in another city. This leads to different recurring discussion topics. The villagers are always talking about how they want to go to America, the promised land, or the "manque de moyen" (lack of means); whereas the development workers are always talking about how screwed up the country is, who's at fault, how they would fix it, how their current attempt at fixing it isn't working for some reason or another. I am definitely part of this development community. Others include the teachers, the mayor and other bureaucrats, agriculture and livestock agents, the doctor and midwife, and certain entrepreneurs in the village (only a handful). I try and mingle with the other community, but they don't speak french, often not bambara, only their local malinke, which is to mumbled and too quick for me to understand. I find I don't have much to say to them. They tell me I'm going to come and help them plant peanuts, or sorghum, or I'm taking them to America, or I'm giving them my bicycle when I leave, or I have to "monter un projet" (create a proposal) to get funding for their sick child or to give them a well and a metal fence for their garden. Often I just pretend not to understand, or just say yes to get them to shut up about it. They think like I'm here to help them or something, bizarre. I'm often conflicted. I do want them to be helped, but I don't personally want to help them. Maybe they were rude, or are just looking for handouts, or are asking me to do something beyond my means. Most likely they are just trying to interact with me the only way they know how. They do need help, they do have problems, but they're not solving them in the right way. They've been jaded by all of the NGOs and government projects and white people giving gifts. Their culture is also one that demands those with means to give to those without. Here, a great salary is $200 a month, a low salary is $20 a month, the average salary is $66 a month, and most people don't earn salaries, they just sell what they harvest. Nicole and I each make $200 a month, which probably makes us the best paid family in our village (excluding money sent home from those in France, etc). There's an important thing to know about the agent who's worked for 20 years and is earning his well deserved $200 a month: he's got a family. I don't mean just a wife and kids (usually 2 and 8 respectively); I mean he's got a brother who needs a cell phone, another brother who's sick and has to go to a hospital in Dakar, a sister who's husband left her with three kids and now relies entirely upon him, a third brother who needs money to buy a wife (about $300 to $3,000, depending on price of cows and whether she's a "noble," "caste," or "slave"). He's got his mother and another brother living with him, and his brother-who's-in-France's wife and kids are with him. So where a peace corps volunteer has to support one person on a meager $200 a month, the local has to support 15 to 30 people. They all have to eat, they need clothes, they need medicine. In the US, you can just be an asshole and not give your brother money to buy a phone, but not here. If your brother dies, his wife, his family becomes your wife, your family.

Another thing that bugs me is that I'm known as a stranger, not just as a white person. They treat strangers differenlty than real locals. Many of those other development workers are strangers. They are Malians, but maybe they're a different ethnicity, or from a different county. What bugs me is that whatever the stranger says or does is then only applicable to strangers. All of the words of advice, of encouragement, of support... sure, all of that works in stranger-land, but it won't work here. Maybe soap prevents sickness in America, but not here. Maybe having less kids means an easier life in America, but not here. Maybe a traditional well works in the east of Mali, but not here. The skepticism and fatalism is insurmountable. The only thing I can do, and do do, is find those who don't believe that strangers are fundamentally different and work with them, care about them, and leave the rest to wallow in their willful ignorance.

What do you think? Does this life sound appealing to you? How would you handle these situations? I'm interested to know, because I'm sure you'd do some things differently.

Nicole will be in Mali soon. I can't wait! You lucky devils who've had her the past two weeks.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

M is For Mali

First, let me apologize for being so grouchy in my last email. Nicole + no mail – food= very grouchy. But you all responded so nicely that I was left guilty for weeks afterward. I hope this email is more informative and better humored than the last.

So I have lots of little cultural lessons for you guys today.

Lesson 1: Gravity doesn't exist for Malian women. Malian women wear a pagne, which is a long piece of rectangular fabric that they kind of tuck in around their waists like a towel. Amazingly, this works for them. Not only do women make these stay on, but they can walk in them, they can carry water on their heads wearing them, and they can pound corn and other foods in their giant wooden mortars (which is quite a work-out, let me tell you). And they do this all while still wearing their pagnes. I, on the other hand, am a complete goon with a pagne, even though I have mine made with strings attached so that I can securely tie it to my waist. That said, the clothing is probably my favorite cultural quality of Mali. Every store sells fabric, often in crazy and beautiful patterns, and tailors abound in every village (mine has no less than four, which is a little ridiculous since we can't even get someone to sell bread regularly). The other great thing about Malian women is that they are immune to basic rules of fashion. You know the one where stripes and plaids don't mix? Here in Mali, anything goes. Women will wear any number of patterns at the same time, and somehow still look amazing. I hope some of the photos I've sent have helped demonstrate that fact.

Top students receiving gifts of shoes

Lesson 2: Killing animals is very, very gross. I went to my first sacrifice last week. No, not human! When someone dies in my community, especially if they don't actually live in my village but somewhere else, a member of their family will hold a sacrifice in his/her honor. This is much, much better than a funeral because there's none of that wailing and tearing of the hair. Instead, everyone gets together and they give out these tasty little rice-sugar balls, and they kill a cow. This is disgusting. I watched them pull out all the poop from its intestines and place them not-too-far away from the rest of the body. Gross. They then distribute the meat to close(r) friends of the family. We always get some meat since we're foreigners. You can be sure I cooked ours very, very well.

Lesson 3: You must dance at weddings. I went to my first wedding a couple of weeks ago. It's fun but very stressful. I didn't arrive until the celebration started, so I don't know how the actual wedding part really works, except in theory. Usually the couple goes to the mayor's office and signs a paper, which is the "official" wedding, and then they go to the mosque and do the "religious" wedding, and then there's a big party. At the party, there is a group of women who dress in men's clothing and carry hoes (the tool, silly) and pretend to smoke cigarettes and dance around. It's comical, but I have yet to see the men who dress like women running around in pagnes. The procession of party-goers moves around the village playing music and dancing. Their version of dancing is this: While someone is playing the drums, two women (no more, no less) run out into the middle of the circle and dance all crazy-like. Then they leave and another pair runs out to show her stuff. I, of course, and completely terrified to dance and usually cower toward the back. They usually try to bring me in but I'm pretty resilient. What disturbs me most is how sensual the dancing is. It's a lot of butt-shaking, and seeing 9 year old girls doing it is a little bothersome. I'll try to bring you some videos when I'm home. After the dancing, someone carries the new bride, piggyback, to her new home, and everyone follows. The couple enters into the hut and someone fires three gunshots into the air (we always leave by this point because we feel it's kind of dangerous). That's the signal for the honeymoon to start, which lasts about 7 days. During this time the women doesn't leave her hut except to go to the bathroom. And usually the party continues every night until the seven days are up. After that, the bride can move into her own hut, where she'll only be visited by her husband a couple nights a week, depending on how the schedule is divided among his other wives (he can have four).

Lesson 4: Malians want money to take their photo. We were on the bus yesterday to come up to Kayes, when we passed four Fulani women who were in the process of walking the 70km to the nearest "city." They came running after the car, with these huge bundles on their heads. Fulani women are an ethnic group from the eastern, deserty region of Mopti. They are really distinct in their culture, language, and appearance. They are the cow herders of Mali, and are somewhat nomadic. Also, Fulani women are said to be the most beautiful in Mali, but the different ethnic groups don't really mix with them, probably because of their language. Anyway, this was my first time to see a real, ethnic Fula women. I was amazed. They all had very pale skin, lots of scarring on their faces, and at least three giant gold hoped earrings in each ear. They also had a poofy afro at the very front of their head, while the rest of their hair was braided into three braids, two of which dangled in front of their ears, the last at the back of their head. There clothes were all different as well, but mostly they were a mix of bright patterns thrown together. They have really brazen, beautiful head scarves that I can't find anywhere to buy. Their language is really beautiful, musical and high pitched, unlike the Malinke that sounds like someone speaking with a mouth full of rocks. They all wore about 6 bracelets on each arm, all the same pattern. I actually bought a bunch of those bracelets last time I was in Bamako, as souvenirs for you all back home, but I had no idea they were Fula bracelets. They all carried smaller bundles in their laps, and when they unwrapped them, I saw a bunched of handmade, multi-colored bowls stacked one on top of the other. Each bowl help something different, like money or herbs. Anyway, so we picked up the four of them. A minute later, two more flagged us down. Two minutes pass and we cram another three women in. I now know what a clown car is like when it's being filled. It was crazy! I talked to a couple who seemed to understand Bambara, and it was mostly fun even though one of the older women offered a younger woman as Andrew's second wife. However, when we got to the town, I asked to take their photo and they said I had to pay them money for it, so I didn't get a photo. But it was still fun meeting them!

Not my photo, but it gives a good idea of how Fulani women look

Alright, now on to work-related stuff. I've actually been really busy! Which is probably why I'm in such a good mood now. First, I did a program with my matrone (midwife) and malnourished children in my village. We weighed 59 babies and then chose 8 who were a little underweight. None were severely malnourished. Then we went to their homes and asked them to participate in the program. The 8 women came to a meeting a week later, as well as 2 others who heard about the program and wanted to join. We gave the kids a de-worming medicine, to facilitate their growth during the program. We asked all the women to bring a kilo of either peanut, corn, or millet flour. The next week, we started the program. For 12 days, the women came to the matrone's house and we made an ameliorated porridge and gave a presentation on different health topics everyday. We talked about birth spacing, eating a nutritious meal, preventing malaria, and other things like that. Andrew helped out and did presentations on Moringa (a really nutritious tree) and mud stoves to reduce firewood consumption. The program is great, but I ran into a couple of problems. First, not all the women came everyday. It was really frustrating but there wasn't anything I could do! Also, we ran out of flour, and I asked the doctor to give us more, and he refused because our program wasn't a part of the clinic, which is total BS. He also didn't want the matrone to participate because he said it wasn't part of her job description. Because he said she still had to at the clinic every morning, we had to hold the meetings in the evening at 3:00pm instead of during the morning, which was hard because the kids were supposed to be drinking the porridge throughout the entire day. And then the matrone left the village two days before the end of the program, so I had to do the last two days on my own, which sucked because the women only speak Malinke, and I only speak Bambara. But two of the four kids who came the last day had gained a little weight, so I guess it was a success??

Rehabilitation Program with women

In addition to that program, I started an English Club. Every week students come and we discuss a different topic in English. The books Leann sent were great for this because we can read a short story in English, which also gets them interested in books. We've done numbers, where we taught them "Go Fish;" geography, where we listened to the Beach Boys' "California Girls" and talked about US regional stereotypes; family, where we made Mother's Day cards; and seasons. I'm always looking for different ideas, so if anyone can think of one, let me know. We're doing animals next week. With all the books Glenn and Maggie have sent us, we should have a great starting place for future club meetings.

English Club: Playing Go Fish

We've also been teaching English, but we only have one student. Lots of people approached us and asked us to teach, but they never showed up to any of the classes, despite all the reminders they received (fliers, radio announcement, door-to-door) so we've given up on them.

Our library project is going to be funded! At least, the US Embassy in Mali has agreed to fund it, but they are still waiting for the funds to arrive from the US, so nothing has been started yet. But now that we have so many books, even if we can't get the building made, we can get some bookcases and keep them in the staff room for the students to use.

Speaking of books, if anyone wants to help out with library, you can do this: Go down to your local bookstore and buy one book in French. There are tons of English books so French is really what we need right now.

You can also mail anything else you want there, and I will take it back to Mali with me when I come to visit, which is in one month! I will be arriving in L.A. on June 26 and leaving July 9. I will make time for anyone who wants to see me, especially if you offer me lunch or ice cream. Or a movie. God, I'm so out of the loop in terms of movies! June 28th will be the annual Independence Day BBQ at the Wallaces (which is actually why I chose to visit in June) so if you're in the area, come hang out!

One note on sending donations to Mali: School supplies aren't really useful. The students have very few supplies that they actually need. They all have pens, pencils, and special notebooks. Sending bic pens and pencils is great, as that's what they use here, but as there are 500 students, it's a little hard to choose people to whom we can distribute supplies. Don't send notebook paper, as the teachers won't accept it for homework or tests, and art supplies are too few to be distributed equitably, although great for teachers who want to create illustrative posters. I do use them for English Club, but if you send markers and stuff, even giving them to the best students in the school has its pitfalls. The students don't know what to do with stuff like that, and the one time we had them use markers, they wrote all over each other with them. For school, what they really need are textbooks, because there aren't enough for all of them, or they are out-of-date. But it's difficult to help with that, so sending (French) books is really the best way to help out the students, to keep them reading and learning outside of school. We had a teacher send us flip-flops, which is something all students want, but we could only give them to the girls who had better than a C average since we only had 25 pairs, and it wasn't great for the little general stores trying to sell their flip-flops.

I'm trying to start a theater competition in my region for the students. I want all the students to perform skits related to health topics and present them at the capital for a prize. The problem is that PC messed up and used up all the funds for projects until 2009. I have to find some way to pay for all the students to travel to the capital to perform their skits. I'll let you know if there's anyway you guys can help.

We've had sporadic rain here, which is nice, because it's HOT. I don't even know how hot it is here because our digital thermometer fluctuates between 106-117 degrees. I don't think it's actually that hot, but you never know. I'm excited for rainy season to start because I want to try growing things again in our garden.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008


Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for life... or so the saying goes.

What if he already knows how to fish?
What if he can't afford the line or hook (rods are out of the question)?
What if there's nowhere to buy line and hooks?
What if there are no fish due to overfishing?
What if the fish are endangered?
What if the river is polluted and the fish are poisonous?
What if he gets attacked by mossquitoes and gets malaria while waiting for fish?
What if he goes to the next step and starts dynamiting the river for fish?
What if the fish don't taste good?
What if his wife doesn't know how to cook/clean fish?
What if he fishes, to the exclusion of farming, and thus has nothing to eat?

what if, what if, what if...


Teachers of Dialafara

Nicole and I waited up all night for our fellow volunteer, Vanessa, to arrive from Kayes. Due to breakdowns, she didn't get in until 5 am (4 hours late). The bus guys tossed down this huge rice sack and we were stunned. A whole rice sack; wow? We thanked Vanessa and wished her a good journey (at least 2 more hours to Kenieba). We went back home, got some sleep, and then called over the headmaster (director and teacher of the middle school) and openned up the 'present.' Nicole was happy to count the thirty flip flops and notebooks, pens, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, rulers, scissors, paper, binder, markers; and thai dolls. The headmaster smiled from ear to ear. We thought about how best to distribute this in a fair, but encouraging way. We talked about spelling and geography bees, jeopardy, giving them to good students, etc. The headmaster decided that the flip-flops would best be given to the girls who had at least a C average, as that number closely matched the number of flip-flops. The top three students of each class were given the notebooks and pens and pencils. The art supplies have been left in the teachers office for the teachers to make illustrative posters for the students. The loose-leaf paper will be used for the math classes to do their sums. The difference in American and Malian paper styles is a little unfortunate, but they are happy to work around that. The rest of the pens and pencils will be given out at the beginning of next school year, because if they were given out now, they'd be lost or misused, and they will nicely reinforce the 'grade ceremony.' Among those photos, I included some images from the 'grade ceremony' from the second trimester (it was in March or April). The teachers gathered all of the students and invite the parents (of whom only a pitiful few arrive) to announce the grades that the students received on their finals. It was striking for Nicole and me because they also say the comments like 'very bad student, student talks in class, misbehaves' etc, and the rest of the students laugh. We're working with them to try and change this to a more positive, inspiring ceremony. The inspiring part is when they
announce the top three of each class, and the top girls, and pass out notebooks and pens and pencils to them. We're still trying to get some sort of competition going for the thai dolls and other supplies, but its totally new territory for the teachers, so it will take some work.
Top girls receiving their flip-flops

Award/Punishment Ceremony

Top Students of the Year
Let me talk about the school. In Dialafara, there is an elementary and middle school (grades 1 to 9). The school itself used to be grain storage buildings, but throw some cement on the wall, paint it black, and you've got a school. Each room is about 15 ft x 30 ft and holds anywhere from 70 to over 100 students, crammed together 4 to a desk where there should only be 2, leaving the tiniest path for the teacher to slip through to get to the front where the black board is. Since this is the only middle school in the county, students come from all over (as far as 40 miles). They have to stay with a family in Dialafara because there is no transport to the villages. When school is done for the season, they walk the 10+ miles back to see their parents. It's hard to keep the students coming when home is so far away, especially the girls. Each class is only about 25% girls. Unfortunately in our village, education is not much respected, so the girls come to class to look pretty among the other girls, not so much to learn. They usually cannot speak French, even though the teachers mainly talk in French, and they've theoretically been studying it for the past 7 years. To be sure, there are girls who try really hard and do well in school. But it is really hard to stay in middle school when you get married and have a baby. The girls who stay in school are very lucky to have parents who understand its importance (after all, ten cows and $300 to marry your daughter is much more lucrative than school).
Students three to a desk

Students start learning to read and write in Bambara, one of the national languages. They grow up speaking Malinke, which is almost Bambara but not quite (more different than American English and British English, but the same idea). The learn to sing the national anthem; to raise and lower the flag, to march in step. They use chalk and little black boards to do their lessons. In 4th grade they begin learning French. They must pass a test called the BAC to graduate from 6th grade. From there they go to middle school, where the classes are mosty in French, except for the English class. In middle school, 5 teachers teach them math, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, geography, English, French, history, drawing, music, and civic and moral education. Each class lasts about 2 hours long once or twice a week. The teachers do their best, but with 70 students, you can't give students the attention that they need. So the good students sit up front and learn and the teacher often calls on them when they raise their hands, snap their fingers, and say 'me, me, me sir;' and the disinterested students sit in the back and zone out. The teacher used to have more control when he could threaten them with a beating, but now that's against the law, and mostly not done. It's also difficult when there is only one textbook for every 4 students, so much class time is spent writing on the board what is written in the books. Since the students don't get enough attention, many are unable to pass the compositions (tests) at the end of each trimester, so they repeat the class. Most of the students in 9th grade are around 17. To go to high school, they have to pass the DEF. The closest high school is in Kenieba, 40 miles away, but most students who go to high school go to Kayes, the state capital, 100 miles away, or Bamako, the country capital, 400 miles away.

But I have painted a bleak picture of school. The teachers get together everyday and eat lunch together, talking about their classes, about the soccer game last night. They laugh all the time. The students play soccer, or sit around and drink tea when they aren't busy with chores. They know that school is important. Some of them have plans to be doctors, English teachers, soldiers. Others are content to graduate and help their family at the farm. Most everyone is happy. They have the same feelings as American students. Some dread that first day, others can't wait for it. There are the students who cram hard before the test, and others who study the whole time. The students are happy when they get good grades. There are the students who don't care, about anything. There are prankster students and teachers-pets. The setting may be different, but school is essentially the same.

My recommendation for future school donations would be pens, pencils, sharpeners, art supplies for teachers to make posters, money for textbooks, French and really easy English books, pictures of American life (classroom, farm, supermarket, parking lot, school yard, nature, city, animals, transportation). Donations are easier to distribute (though probably not to collect) at the beginning of the school year than at the end. But any aid at any time is always welcome. I think Peace Corps is a great way of getting the aid away from the capital city, which gets more than its fair share.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


I am discouraged. Maybe because I haven’t been working as much as before (it’s too hot and my work will naturally pick up again when rainy season starts). I am frustrated with Malians and with Mali. I am getting to the point where I feel like all international aid is pointless. We come in with our great ideas, with our perfectly workable solutions, to help because they need help, they say they want help, and we’ve got the means to give it. What happens to all those great ideas, movements, solutions? Nothing. Countless years spent trying to propagate the mud stove: a free solution, possible throughout the world (ingredients: mud, rocks), greatly reduces fuelwood consumption which is good for the environment and means less work for the women who have to go get wood. This is a great solution, but I’m hard-pressed to find these mud stoves. The idea was brought to Mali in the 70’s, so this isn’t a new idea. I was trained how to teach the villagers to make them, but it’s the villagers who can teach me. They can tell me how great they are for the environment, for the families, everything. Yet they’re hard to find. Why? The rain destroys them, they can’t be moved, they need airflow, whatever. I’ve heard tons of excuses. The answer is that the women of my area cook with three rocks, period. There are also metal stoves, hourglass shaped, that are the same thing as the mud stove, but it costs $4. I can imagine a guy going around: “It slices, it dices, and your kid won’t get burned every other day!” Yes, a fancy solution to this simple problem, one that makes them financially invested in its success. These are more popular, you can find them in more households. But can you find them in use? They cook with three rocks, period. No matter how great the solution, it won’t work without a corresponding behavior change. Examples like this abound: Nicole’s ameliorated porridge, hand washing, charcoal making, miracle trees, micro-credit, gardening projects, improved this, improved that, NGO for the development of the support of the bla bla bla. It hasn’t worked.

Malians have to reinvent the wheel. They have to do this themselves. The entrepreneurs need to step forward, take their NGO-financed risks, and solve this problem themselves. They’ve been given a solution to every problem, except for how to change their behavior, how to change their culture.

Yes, change their culture. It is their culture that prevents them from washing hands, from using improved stoves, from cooking more nutritiously, etc. Until there’s a cultural change, there’s nothing we can do, and nothing we should do. When we come in with these solutions, we prevent them from enacting this change. Oh, they can’t change their culture! Culture is sacred, it’s what makes them who they are, unique! For a comparison, think about how the US is changing its car culture in response to global climate change. Cultural change is possible, and it isn’t a bad thing. Culture isn’t static. It has to change in order for survival. That will be the subject of my next post, hopefully tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mali Says Hi

Well, we've been here in Mali almost nine months, and I guess for some of you that's too long because everyone else seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. No emails, no letters, not even a comment on Facebook. I understand that it's hard to keep in touch sometimes, but for goodness sakes people, will it kill you to write a quick email saying "hello"? Sorry to be so testy, but it's extremely difficult to live in a technological void for five weeks and then return, full of hope, to the internet café and post office only to discover…nothing. We're dying for news of the rest of the world! How are the primaries going, which Hollywood couple has filed for divorce, what new scandal is shocking the rest of the world? Sometimes even the mundane news is like a little beacon of hope for us. It reminds us that even while we live in the third poorest country in the world and deal with HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tribal (verbal) warfare, at least somewhere in the world there's stupid, non-life-impacting things taking place. So take five minutes out of your busy lives to drop us a line. The person who brings us the most interesting or amusing piece of trivial news will win a Malian prize.

Okay, enough scolding. What have we been up to? For me, almost nothing. Andrew is the perfect volunteer, and works even on the weekends (Me, bitter? Nah). I occupy myself with the everyday things, and by the time I am free to do actual work, it's too hot to breathe. Basically, our day is as follows:

7:30am: Wake up, probably because some obnoxious guinea fowl have flown into my yard and are making a ruckus. Or because the neighbor kids are shouting my name over the wall that divides our houses. Since we sleep outside now, it's impossible to avoid either.
8:00am: Already drenched in sweat, I take a cold bucket bath shower, the first of many throughout the day.
8:30-10:00am: Make breakfast and tea. Usually breakfast is oatmeal or porridge or mangoes.
10:00-12:00pm: Wash dishes in a bucket of cold water. Sweep floors and patios with a witch-like broom without handle. Fill water filter with pump water, then fill clay drinking jug with filtered water to cool it down. Make bed, shaking out all leaves, sticks, and dead (or live) insects that have accumulated during the night. Take out compost, burn paper trash, and clean up garden a little.
12:00pm-1:00pm: Go to "store" to buy things for dinner. This usually includes onions, flour (sifted to get out bugs), and if I'm really lucky, the butcher will be selling cow meat. It only happens about once a week, and I have to get there early to avoid getting the nasty parts, such as intestine, tongue, testicles, and other parts you only see in biology class.
1:00-1:30pm: Greet everyone, their mothers, and their goats. Every person I meet on the street greets me this way, and then I follow up with the same questions:
Good morning!
Did you sleep well?
How is your family?
How are your children? (They say this one even though they know I don't have kids)
Your husband?
Your cat? (Kids especially like this one because they think it's hilarious that anyone would willingly keep a cat around.)
Where are you going?
What are you buying?
What are you going to cook?
You can cook???
Have a good day!
Greet Oumar (Andrew) for me!
Needless to say, it takes quite a while to complete this exchange with everyone I meet on the street.
1:30-2:30pm: Eat lunch. Usually roasted goat meat, leftover rice, or mangoes.
2:30pm: Shower #2.
3:00-5:00pm: Nap during the hottest part of the day.
5:00pm: Shower #3.
5:00-7:00pm: Cook dinner. Usually spaghetti, rice and sauce, soup, stir-fry (when I have vegetables), or mangoes.
7:00-10:00pm: Read, knit, play cards, entertain cat, be entertained by cat, and contemplate doing actual work the next day.
10:00pm: Go to bed.

Honestly, that's a pretty typical day. Half the time I can work in a couple hours of real work in there, but it's hard when all the little stuff takes so much time. And everything in Mali takes a lot longer to accomplish. Think about just getting water! It is 100 yards to the pump, where there's always a long wait to get water. Then there's the physical labor of pumping the water, putting it onto your head, and walking back to the house, usually spilling quite a bit of water on the way. And just imagine how much water we need: dishes, cooking, laundry, drinking, bathing (did you see how many showers I take a day? I would melt if I didn't.), and watering the garden. I can't actually complain since it is Andrew's responsibility to get all the water. I handle the rest of the domestic duties. But mostly it's my lack of desire to get anything health related done. I'm still in limbo in terms of switching to the education sector, and my clinic doesn't really have anything for me to do right now. All the children in my village are vaccinated, people come to the clinic all the time, everyone has a mosquito net, and giving hand-washing demos doesn't work. People know they should be washing their hands with soap. They can recite to you all the reasons why they should do it, but for them it's not worth giving up their culture for better health. What can one do?? What they really want from me is to find funding for a new maternity and hospital, which really isn't part of Peace Corps but it is something they really need. Of course, it's nearly impossible to find $50,000 for the construction. I have been putting a bunch of stuff together for the fall semester at the school. Since they are in the last trimester there isn't much I can do at this moment. But in the fall the students will be required to complete community service in order to graduate. This will help meet the needs of the community and even give new skills to the students, especially those who want to work at the mayor's office or the hospital. For those students it will be more like an internship.

One thing I really want to do with the kids is get them involved in photography. I want to get a hold of some disposable cameras and have Amy, another volunteer with an M.F.A. in Photography, teach the students how to take photos. Then the photos would be developed and the community would offer prizes to the best photos. I also want the Natural History Museum in L.A. to display some of the photos in the Interact room. So if anyone wants to help out with a specific project, send us some disposable cameras! I think it's an interesting project because you'd be amazed how Malians view their own world. Their concept of beauty is so different from ours, and the things they find important are amazing to see.

I'm still planning on coming home for a visit at the end of June, and will welcome any visitors and/or offers of ice cream. I plan on spending most of my time eating my way through all the restaurants in southern California, so be sure to see me at the beginning of my visit before I gain too much weight. And if you were planning on sending me a care package, feel free to send it to my grandmother and I can carry it back with me to Mali.

Andrew plucked/skinned a chicken. This guy randomly came to our house and sold us two chickens. We'd never seen him before, nor have we seen him since. How he knew we'd buy it, I don't know, but I'm glad he came. We had absolutely delicious chicken cacciatore. Normally, the chicken here is really tough but this was tender, so maybe the secret is not boiling the chicken in water and lighting it on fire to get the feathers off.
Our garden is withering. We had a well dug on Feb. 4th. The well was dry by Feb. 24th. We will have it re-dug in mid-April, after the water table has fallen a bit more. There is another well not too far away and Andrew gets 12-20 buckets a day to water our onions, beets, and carrots. He also has a small garden of baobab and Moringa because the leaves are super healthy to eat.

Andrew is almost never at home anymore. He's always going out into the forest to measure shea trees, or biking 6 miles to see his homologue and work on a dying banana plantation (well dried up), or driving around with another NGO to visit all of the villages in our county, making maps. As if this isn't enough work, he's also taught the students how to compost and is starting a tree nursery to grow shade trees for the new school.

Our library hasn't gone anywhere. The embassy still hasn't taken a look at the applications, which were due in December! But THANK YOU to LEANN who sent 10 perfect English books, and to others who are in the process of sending books (like Erica with 130 lbs!!!). To give you an idea of the perfect English book: Dany and the Dinosaur. If you can find books with the reading level number, we need lots of 1's, some 2's, and maybe a few 3's. Leann also sent a book called This is San Francisco, which perfectly captures San Francisco. There's another This is New York that would be nice. A Texan, Baptist missionary dropped off three books as he was passing through, pretty nice of him. Already, the students are reading the books and their English is improving.

Speaking of improving English, Andrew and I are going to start doing English lessons in mid-April with the mayor and other adults. We're going to focus on dialogues and getting them to stop saying "small small" when asked if they speak English. Anyone with suggestions about teaching English, or learning English, are welcome.

White Man's Burden
is a very interesting book talking about why the $2 trillion spent on aid hasn't ended poverty, hasn't cured hunger, hasn't even come close. In short, big grand sweeping plans like the Millennium project should stop with the big grand sweeping plans and focus on something specific (instead of ending poverty, their goal could be distributing $4 mosquito nets to 85% of children in Africa). Also, it advocates using free markets for aid. Let those in need find the product they need. A great example: my village could do wonders with the XO laptop (an NGO called One Laptop Per Child has created a $200 laptop to give to every child), but we can't get one, I can't even buy one for my village, because they want big grand sweeping plans: for the Malian government to buy a million of them and give them to all the students, and the NGO is finding out that the governments won't buy them, so One Laptop per Child has become No Laptop per Child. So frustrating.

My friend, Emily, came down for a visit. She thought Dialafara was beautiful with its cliffs. The village was laid back. We dyed Easter eggs with some Malian teachers. We went bushwhacking to see a cave in the cliffs. She brought fresh vegetables and we ate well. She brought a relief from boredom when Andrew is out working..

One of the three married couples dropped out of Peace Corps. They were having a tough time adjusting to city life (where nobody knows your name), being called "Whitey" all the time, being confused for tourists, feeling like their work didn't make a difference. The husband applied to law school and was accepted, but they decided to stick it out. Then family members started getting stick and with all that straw, the camel's back broke. We will miss them dearly and I hope we can keep up our relationship when we're done.