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
Common Sense and efficiency are valued
Availability and choice of all foods
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.
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.