Disclaimer: This blog does not reflect the opinions and policies of the Peace Corps, the University of South Florida (USF), the U.S. government, or the government of Mali

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The first few Months

So this is going to be a super fast update since I need to get back on transport to pick up my bike and bike 70k back to village. I will be back on Thanksgiving to have dinner at the U.S. Ambassador's house (Delicious but not as good as America).

Here are some things I have been up to:
-termites ate a hole in my nice mattress and otherwise invaded
-termites were followed by bats. One dive bombed me and I ran screaming from my house. My host dad killed 3 by literally picking up and throwing on the ground. Malians apparently aren't that scared of bats but are really afraid of frogs.
-I have a cat now...In Bamabara to say you like something and want something is the same thing so...someone showed up with a cat for me one day and I didn't refuse. Just my luck it is more annoying than my grandma's cat snickers but looks like my Aunt Lisa's cat, Manard
-I have cooked several dishes for myself that weren't half bad and made Guava Jam
-attended a traditinal ceremony at night in my village with men dressed in animal skins doing Circus Soleil caliber moves
-shelled countless peanuts, beans, and corn (engineering degree is coming into good use)
-went to the fields a few times and harvested peanuts
-ate mayo, jam, and kool-aid powder plain....
-ate the fried whole fish at market and liked it...
-eaten countless meals of To and beans and actually started to like the beans
-planted some Miranga trees
-conducted hand washing sessions at the school that actually went pretty well and teaching them how to filter and treat water tomorrow
-learned more Bambara...
-Finished all the baseline water and sanitation surveys, analyzed the data, wrote a report, and translated it into Bambara
-Have had countless glasses of tea and have actually started liking it and learning to make it
-Got lost on my first bike ride back from Kati (70k) and almost got stuck sleeping outside but was miraculously rescued by PC transport
-wrote and sent lots of letters
-stalked by a 19 year old boy that has now become the younger brother I never had
-attended many funerals and am witnessing the hardship that families go through when members are stick
-saw a day old baby
-have put in a lot of miles, run 6 days a week
-ran my first two hash runs in Bamako with some amazing views and met some amazing people from all over the world that have been all over the world and have committed their life to service

Alright that is a pretty good summary of things so far...I may expand later and I'm sure there are many things I forgot.

On the right hand side I put a wish list in case you are interested in sending anything but again, letters more than suffice.

Also my sitemate and his girlfriend have two projects in their villages that need funding. If you are feeling in the Holiday giving mood this is a great opportunity to do so. Here are the links to their projects where you can donate online and read more about them. I will have similar projects in the early spring that you will be able to donate to as well.

Women's Fabric and Dye Shop
Shea Butter Production Building

Thank you so much for your continued support, letters, e-mails, phone calls, and packages. It really means a lot. I am happy here but do miss family and friends. I have also be relatively healthy ::knock on wood:: Keep the letters coming. Have a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you had a Happy Halloween!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My first few weeks as a PCV at Site

So I am in Bamako for the weekend. It was an adventure getting here on my own for the first time. I have to take a car ("bush Taxi") to Kati which means they stuff it past capacity. 4 in front, 4 in middle row and 3 in back, 4 on the roof. It started pouring rain so I felt really bad for the Malians on the roof. The car broke down after going through a sizable puddle for an hour. At one point everyone besides me and the older man had to get out and push the taxi through a river basically. Once I finally got to Bamako I ended up getting on the wrong transport and had to call a PCV three times...This was all compounded by a fever and cold I acquired in village with little sleep the night before. But I arrived around 11:30 after leaving at 6AM and had a chicken sandwich and fries for lunch and then ice cream later :):)

Bamako is a little overwhelming after being in village. Here is a bit of what an average day has been like:

6AM- Wake up with roosters and wind up alarm clock and go for 5-8k run (Sundays-20k)
7AM- bucket bath, sweep house (the mudd and stick ceiling is really dirty...not to mention cricket, spider, and termite infested)
7:30AM- corn porridge for breakfast in my house
8AM- language tutoring in the three room school house in my village
9AM- language class abanna(over) and sit for an hour with my teacher, listen to BBC on his radio, and chat. We are becoming really good friends. He is also a pretty good teacher. Mostly been reviewing parts of the language structure that I didn't understand during PST.
10AM-return home, eat a granola bar
10:10AM- Do various work: shell corn, baseline surveys, and measured all the wells in my village
12PM-12:30PM- lunch. Usually Tao, or a corn kus kus with a red, oily sauce
12:30PM- More work (baseline surveys, some tea drinking, more surveys, chatting)
6PM- Fetch water from the well with my own well bag and carry it back on my head (luckily the well is only a block away but it has earned me some brownie points)
6:10PM- Bucket bath #2. I've come to look forward to thee
6:30PM- Sit with landlord aka "Jatigi", chat and wait for dinner to come
7:00PM- eat dinner (either tao or a corn siri again)
7:30PM- hang out and chat with family for a little while
8:00PM- eat another granola bar or bread and mayo if it is Thurs-Sat since I have bread from market day
8:10PM- write in journal, write letters, prepare for language lesson, sometimes read a little
10/11PM- Bed time!

I think I did some sort of timeline like that before so sorry if it is repetitive. That is like everyday except market day on Thursdays. I've come to really look forward I bike 10k to my site mate's village around 9:30AM and spend the day at the market, shopping and eating good/better food :) They have bread and street food (meat!). I purchased more cooking supplies, another trunk, a table, and chairs. It all gets transported back ON bike, usually my jatigis since his bike rack is bigger which as an experience.

Otherwise, there have been a number of big ceremonies in my village in just a short amount of time:
1. Jama-naming cermony/circumcision for girls and boys
I did some intense dancing with only the women who would run to each concession, dance and pour buckets of water and smear mudd on each other. They had belts made of bottle caps that jingled and funny hats. At one point this woman dressed up as a witch doctor type smeared ash all over my face as part of some initiation, I think...I didn't understand their singing. But needless to say it was a lot of fun even though it reinforced that I can't dance.
2. Tabaski-the end of Ramadan where they usually slaughter an animal and eat a lot
This was actually not much of a celebration in my village both because they are very poor and 1/2 catholic. My teacher did give me some goat and rice and it was delicious!
3. Funeral- Unfortunately the same day as Tabaski there was a death of a 15-20 year old boy. I spent several hours sitting and mourning with the women; some were crying and it was a very somber occassion. I am not sure the cause of his death
4. INDEPENDENCE DAY(Sept. 23)-Mali gained independence from France in 1960
There wasn't much of a celebration in my village but apparently there are parades and parties in Bamako. There was a big soccer game that all the kids went to but I wasn't told about. The night before there was a dance that I went to for 20 minutes but it, sadly, got rained out.

As I said I have been working on the WATSAN surveys with my homologue. It is going extremely well though the WATSAN situation is pretty dire in my village. I will post more once I total the results. But we have done over half the househouds in my village (31 of the 45) in 4 days and usually this takes 2 months! He also said we are going to do the closest small village too. I hope my homologue's work ethic reflects that of the community...ni allah soona (god willing)

So altogether I am having a great cultural experiences and integrating well into my community. I try to be as outgoing as possible and I think my language is improving. I have not had much time to read and relax but I like to keep busy. I'm sure a lot of that will come later. I will probably not be back to Bamako (so internet or cell access) for another 3-4 weeks. I will try sending out lots of letters tomorrow if I get to the post office in time! Thanks for your continued support!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

N ye wolonteri kura ye!! (I am a new volunteer)

So as most of you know, I was sworn in as an official PCV on Thursday, September 10th at the American Embassy. Thank you for all of you that congratulated me on FB!

It truely was a magnificent and perfect day. The embassy actually has American grass in it (totally unsustainable but cool...) and automatic flush toilets. Most all of the PCTs dressed in fancy Malian clothing, myself included. It was purple of course! (pictures to come soon). The ceremony was very nice and included speaches from our PC country director, the US Ambassador, a representative of the Malian govt., and PCT speeches of each language we learned. Justin gave a speech in Dogon! We took an oath to obey the constitution, protect, and serve.

It felt similar to graduating HS/College. I felt extremely happy and proud to have made it through training and to become an offical PCV. It still is taking some getting used to.

Afterwards we went to the American Club where I watched a movie, ate a delicious lunch (cheeseburgers were consumed along w/ chocolate mousse), swam in and slept by the pool. Pure Heaven! Closer to the evening we went to a hotel in Bamako where we had rented some floor space. I was in a room with 5 mattresses on the floor and 12 people, which was fine since we were out to some clubs in Bamako until 3AM. I danced the night away...and had a blast!

So what is next?
I leave for my site on Tuesday!! A lot of people left this morning already which was actually pretty sad. Our class has really become a family/support system. But we will all see each other at the end of Nov. for Inservice Training (IST) which will be much more technical and some language.

Today I went shopping in Bamako to buy some things for my new site. I am the first volunteer so I need to get EVERYTHING including a mattress, stove, and pans. They have stores called "Tubab Stores" that are like a mini Meijers. I find it difficult to go to those stores now with so many choices. I get overwhelmed. Also, things can be expensive. A rolling pin costs the equivalent of $60 when a wine bottle/nalgene will work just fine.

I will buy a lot more at the market in my site mate's village and also get furniture (chairs, bed frame, and table) made their. I'm going to try to live as frugally/close to Malians as possible though I have a gas stove... I'm still trying to figure out how often I will cook for myself and how often I will eat with my family.

The next two months will be spent getting to know my community, conducting a baseline survey of WATSAN and gender, studying Bambara with a local language teacher, and conducting some participatory assessment tools to get to know my village's needs. I'm both excited and nervous! I probably won't have internet access for another 3 weeks, so a bit less than the past 2 months have been.

Thanks again for all your support! I received package #3 billibilliba (BIG in Bambara) which had TONS of goodies (granola bars, drink mix, magazines, wash clothes...) I think I am set for another 6 months! I'm going to have fun packing tomorrow and Monday ;) I can't replicate the original packing job... Also received a letter from Adam and package from Ana. THANK YOU! I have not received any other mail (that means you Dad...don't know what happened to your letter :/) Some of you should be getting letters if I can purchase stamps.

Almost there!

My apologies but this post is sort of random on some last sessions we had before swear-in.

WATSAN in Mali
On Wednesday the WATSAN volunteers had a field trip in Bamako to: the Direction Nationale de L'Hydraulique (DNH), CREPA (Centre Regional Pour L'eau Potable et L'assainissement/ Regional center for portable water and sanitation), and Deptartment of water and sanitation (DNACPN). This was an extremely informative trip and we learned more about how the government of Mali enforces and promotes water and sanitation. I was impressed at the level of organization and legislation that DNH and DNACPN have.

CREPA is seperate from the government and is a non-profit WATSAN organization in 17 West African countries. They provide training and funding for wash areas, latrines, hand washing stations, sewers, etc. We get to visit their site where they have ECOSAN latrines during In Service Training (IST) at the end of November. I am really excited!! ECOSAN latrines have seperate urine collection, compost in the pit, and the wash water runs into a garden.

One of our last sessions as PCTs really stuck out to me that I thought I would share. It was referring to a book on development called Two Ears of Corn. One of our cultural trainers was sharing what he learned from the book through his PC service. The book talks about approaching any development by: starting simple, starting small, and nuturing enthusiasm. These seem obvious but many NGOs, development organizations, and PCVs fail to do this again and again. I plan to read the book in my first two months of site. I think a lot of these steps are what I am going to have trouble with since I like to be productive and get things done. Our first 2 months at site we are not allowed to do any funded projects since we are supposed to integrate into the community and learn the language more. Also, here is a significant quote from the novel that resonnates with PCVs:

"It is only when we have spent all day stooped over while transplanting rice in flooded paddies, [or] when we have raced into the familiy courtyard to rescue drying millet from a sudden rain...that we can come to speak the villager's vocabularly, understand their priorities, and fathom their wants. And it is only then they will truely come to trust us."

Our cultural trainer told an interesting anecdote that I thought I would share:
A man fell down a well/pit and he can't get out so a missionary walks by, hears the man's cries and drops a bible down the well. Next, a NGO (non-govt. organization) worker walks by and throws some money down the hole to the man. Lastly, a PC volunteer walks by and then runs away...only to come back an hour later with his/her backpack and mosquito net tent. The PCV jumps in the hole with the man and says "I'm here to live with you."

Over the last couple days I had the pleasure of meeting some fullbright scholars in Mali. Fulbright is a grant you can get to do research in a developing country for a year during your doctorate. The two students we met seemed really impressive. One was studying the history of art in Mali and the other was studying political activism in Mali. The girl researching political activism also had done research on feminism. I took down her contact information and may meet with her soon.

On Wednesday we also got to meet with Ambassador to the US in Mali which was cool. She talked a little bit about the foreign service and her background. It felt a bit like Model UN meeting her and asking her questions related to her position/duties. I, ofcourse, was in dork heaven! (Thanks Chisnell...) However, I don't think the foreign service is something I am going to consider but it is a facinating career.

I don't know if any of you have heard but there has been a big political debate and rallies going on in Mali (all peaceful). The president was trying to pass a law amending the family code to give women more rights where they would no longer be required to obey their husbands and the marriage age would be moved up to 18. This has met significant resistence and their have been massive demonstrations in Mali against it so it has come under reconsideration in their parliment. If you are interested about reading more here is a link to the article on BBC.

Lastly, on Wednesday our stage (PCT class) had a talent show. I played America the Beautiful on my clarinet to open and I was in "Soudouguba Stomp". The people in my homestay village put together a little percussion ensemble and "performed" a two minute piece starting with the call to prayer and me pretending to run to the Negen and use the sallie daga (tea pot with water=Malian toilet paper) then banging out quarter notes while others joined in on nalgene bottles, buckets, and plates. We also did a little beat box that included some bambara phrases. It was really fun and WE WON the talent show. I really miss band sometimes and was glad to practice and perform even if just for a joke. Other performances included a circus act with hoola hoops made of WATSAN tubing and juggling oranges, bango playing, guitars, and acapella Toto "I missed the rains down in Africa..." Altogether a great evening. Everyone paid some money before hand and we got cokes, popcorn, and pringles.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Homestay Banna (Homestay is finished)

This past Sunday I returned from our last homestay and language training (Weds Aug. 26-Sun. Sept.5, 11 days). Everything went pretty well and it was a bittersweet depature. Here are some of the highlights:

RAMADAN (Sunkalo)
Right now, most Malians are practicing Ramadan since they are mostly muslim. Ramadan is basically a month of fasting. You wake up around 5:00 and eat a huge breakfast before sunrise and then do not eat or drink water until sunset (some people go longer) which is around 6:45PM. They still go to the farm during the day as well. They also pray 5 times a day. It is quite a sacrifice. They do tend to be crabier and go to bed early.

Some volunteers fast as well even if they are not muslim to share in the cultural experience... so I decided to try it but my family only let me do it for two days. They were worried about me losing weight and I wasn't praying so they said it didn't count. I probably won't have a chance next year since my host family at site is catholic but that is fine.

PHAST (Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation)
After a few days at homestay we practiced some participatory, community assessment tools for Water and Sanitation on some members of our homestay village. Basically PHAST is a progression of exercises to help teach and plan health water and sanitation practices and technologies. It includes lots of pictures (I colored some of mine in with the crayons I brought) and interactions. Even asking people how they eat poop (fingers, fields, flies, food, fluids).

It went pretty well though we didn't get a lot of people and it rained really heavily; making it hard to hear each other. Most of the participants in Soundouguba knew what were good and bad sanitation practices and technology. For instance they know they should wash their hands with soap but they say they are "not accustomed to it". Also, the most difficult part is that they would lie about having soak pits or children wearing sandels or defecating in fields unless you called them out on it. Malians in general don't like to answer questions negatively so you need to keep things open ended. Hopefully they become more honest when you are better integrated.

I am excited to start the activities in my village though it may not be until after the first 3 months and I potentially form a water and sanitation committee. Other volunteers have also done the activities in schools which I think is a great idea.

The day we did PHAST in our village was also my first birthday in Mali. I am now the ripe old age of 23...and things feels exactly the same. Thanks to everyone for the birthday wishes. My inbox was successfully inundated with FB wall posts. I waited to open two birthday cards that my mom, Nana, Aunts, and Sara-Jane sent. They happened to be the ones you can record a message in, or in this case the Happy Birthday song. It was a real treat to listen to their voices so far from home.

Birthday activities included "good ol' American Saladay"...which is when all of our homestay trainees get together for good food (shish kabobs, salad, cucumbers, tomatos, fried eggs, melon, cokes, and...this week there was laughing cow cheese from Bamako :):)) Later we went to the next village for more celebration. Overall, a great day :)

The day after my birthday we had a field trip to the Malian museum in Bamako which was actually really nice and we got to see some African artificats, masks, and cloth. Other volunteers chose to go to the "zoo" where you can apparently poke a dead manitee...guess I will need to visit!

After the museum visit and some delicious food at Broadway Cafe (another cheeseburger and coke float!) we returned to our homestay villages and I went for a 2 hour run in the light drizzle. I had rice patties on one side of me, green and lush, and a canal on the other side. It was amazing and now I know I can run distance in Mali :) Though I did see a 4-5ft long black snake in the middle of the road which was a bit scary.

After several more days of language training we constructed a soak pit and wash area for a family in our village to pratice. A soak pit is used to infiltrate excess wash and latrine water into the ground instead of the street. A simple soak pit for a single family is about 9 ft deep (don't worry the family dug the hole), 3 ft in diameter filled with rocks, and has pipes running into it from the latrine and wash area. It is covered with plastic and earth at the end.

The wash area is basically a cement slab with a drain/pipe that goes into a soak pit so that the wash water from dishes and clothes doesn't just pool in their concession (courtyard). I posted some pictures online (finally got a chance...internet is fast at 4AM) if you would like to see. I'm excited to build wash areas and soak pits in my village if that is what they decide is important and are willing to contribute labor and rocks.

The night before the soak pit construction and the following several days it seemed that rainy season had arrived and the streets turned into rivers. This also apparently did not bode well for one of my homestay family's latrines (the one that I use ofcourse) since the wall caved into the pit and rendered it useless. Luckily this was on the last day since the other latrine was a bit less improved.

So it was bittersweet having to pack and leave my first family and home in Mali. It seems like they get the short end of the stick from PC since they have to put up with us (we are a bit high maintenance...) but don't get the benefits of having a volunteer. Sure they get paid and a room fixed up but that seems small compared to how much time and effort they spend helping us learn the culture and integrate. Thus, it was sad to leave but I was happy to be done with homestay and closer to becoming a volunteer and going to my actual site. I plan to come back and visit though since my homestay village is pretty awesome. A lot of volunteers return from time to time to their homestay villages.

The morning I left we took lots of pictures together (even with the family cow). I gave them gifts I had brought and sent (MI picture book, softballs!, mini frisbees, a few American dollars, Malian cloth, sugar, tea, charcoal, bracelets). We went through the MI picture book and they really liked seeing all the pictures of big buildings, bodies of water, snow, and farms (there was a pumpkin patch).

Upon deptature, I made my actual host mom and togoma (woman who cooked for me) cry which is really rare in Mali (it is culturally inappropriate to cry in public besides funerals). A lot of my family shook my left hand with theres (you may remember me saying it is culturally inappropriate to do things with your left hand since that is the "dirty hand"). This is actually a sign of respect meaning you must come back to right the wrong of shaking with the left hand.

We returned to Tubaniso on Sunday and took our final culture and technical tests. On Monday we had our final language tests. We have to test at a certain level (intermediate-middle) to become volunteers. Most of you reading this know that I don't like tests so this was quite a stressful experience for me. Luckily I had M&Ms and oreos left over to console me after I failed at the scenario of reserving a hotel room in Bamako for my parents.

After coming to terms with my performance, and realizing that I am still going to be a volunteer but I may need to stay an extra week at Tubaniso for language training; the teacher who administrated my test said that he accidentally taped over it and I needed to do it again. This kind of sucked but I did much better the second time around. I found out today that I indeed achieved INT-MID!! So life is good.

So on Thursday all of us Peace Corps Trainees (PCTs) will be taken to the American Embassy and sworn in as volunteers and become PCVs. We also get to spend the night and celebrate in Bamako. I am extremely excited and can't believe the day is almost here! Thanks again for all your love and support to get to this point.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Zeala feels like home (Zeala ka di kosebe)

I have returned from site visit alive and well and excited to return!

PACA (Participatory Approach to Community Assessment)
First, we left Friday and spent that day and Saturday morning working with a current PCV's village, women's group on PACA. The village was only 8k from my actual site so I got a chance to work with my future site mate. PACA is a community development tool to assess the capacity of organizations and assess their needs. We were practicing this tool with our homologues which mostly involved them actually running the sessions in Bambara and us helping with flip chart paper. Which went really well and demonstrated that our homologues were trained well at Tubaniso and will be able to implement PACA at our sites. My homologue was especially awesome and was kind of a leader near the beginning of the session. He actually explained to the women at one point that PC is not here to do the project for them but to show them how!

The woman's group we worked with was actually really impressive. They had a woman's garden and earned money by sweeping for other people which they would put towards their childrens school. A project they were really interested in was dying and sewing this special formal fabric called Bazin. My site mate is going to work with them more to develop this project and I may help him too.

It was great to have my PACA site at my site mate's village since we are so close and will probably be working on projects together. His village is much larger than mine (about 2500). It has a CSCOM (medical center) and huge catholic church that puts a lot of money into the community. Worldvision also does a lot of work in his village. My site mate has built a number of soak pits (sealed place for excess latrine water to go into instead of in the road) and has a model WATSAN committee that does trash collection. Here is a link to an aritlce on his project.

I spent the night in his village with the intention to leave early in the morning but that didn't end up happening since it poured down rain. We spent some time waiting in the butiki (store) with my site mate's friend who also has a new kitten that fell asleep in my arms. (I really think I am going to get a cat...) Around 11 or so the rain stopped and I strapped on my huge backpacking pack and set out on the saturated roads. The 8k felt like it took forever since the road was bad, my bag was heavy, and there were hills. I will definitely need to either pack less or get better endurance on a bike. We made it though and I was really mudd caked at that point which was great for first impressions at my site. I thought they may ask to return me. But I quickly showered and changed into a Malian outfit.

Me and my homologue then met with the dugutigi and village elders. I presented him with lipton tea, sugar, and Kola nuts and he seemed really happy. My site mate did most of the talking with his homologue since my Bambara is still in the elementary stages. But I was at least able to say I was happy because I was in Zeala.

Following that meeting and formalities I got to hang out with my homologue and his family and also my "Jatigi" or host father whose concession/compound I am living in. My jatigi is my homologue's older brother. My house is two fairly small bedrooms made of mud bricks with a thatch and mud roof that, luckily, doesn't leak. I have a small wall enclosing the front of my house which I like. As required by PC, I have my own Negen(latrine) which is MASSIVE but really nice. (Latrines can be considered status symbols here) However, it doesn't have a soak pit so that will be one of my first projects. The hole actually has a lid which means many less cockroaches than homestay which I am really happy with. Moroever, it was really nice to see my eventual house and I'm excited to return and stop living out of bags. It really felt like home.

The next 4 days at my village were spent:
  • EATING: Plenty of To and rice and very little protein. Also, eating twice each meal (once with homologue and once with Jatigi)...that is going to need to change when I get back. But I also plan to cook a little for myself. I actually found myself missing my homestay food since the sauce for the To was better and I got french fried sandwiches. I found myself getting hungry shortly after meals (thank goodness for granola bars!). I was REALLY happy when my homologue took a day trip to Bamako. He brought back bannanas and apples which I devoured! Plus the next morning I had bread and mayonnaise (trust me, it is goood :) )
  • CHATTING as much as I could with my limited Bamabara and french. My french-english dictionary actually came in pretty handy. My limited french skills have really deterioated with learning Bambara (only so much room in my head apparently...) I met the teacher who is to be my language tutor and he seems really nice. He knows like 4 languages including Bambara and French but he also wants me to teach him some english. I actually think my Bambara improved a lot during site visit and I got more creative with my limited vocabularly. I was able to find out a lot about my village.
  • RUNNING. Yes, I ran every morning and only on the main road. They are totally fine with me running but made sure to show me the route and which way to go when the road forks. The road is actually pretty hilly but nice and there seem to be plenty of other paths and roads to run on and explore. It is 50k (about 30 miles) to a major city and I actually plan to run there by the end of my service :)
  • FARMING. Yes, farming. I went 3 out of the four days. It is a bit of a hike even on a bike to my homologue's farm and they walk it every day. They farm peanuts, millet (No), a little cotton, beans, and corn. I can actually distinguish between all of them now. (they are not all just green stuff) They let me weed a little bit but would constantly ask if I was tired or needed to sit. I even used the cow plow (pictures to come...). One day I went out to the farm of the woman's organization and there was music and dancing which was really awesome. The people of my community really appreciated that I went to the farm with them.
  • ASSESSING WATSAN Ofcourse I took notes and asked questions regarding the water and sanitation in my village. I knew a little information going in but it was different to actually see it. They have 8 wells and only 2 have covers. The other 6 only have steel barrels and a concrete apron but most all 6 were within two feet of where they kept animals and washed dishes and clothes. They do drink the well water since one pump is broken and the other is really slow. The water is not treated. There are no soakpits in my village and the excess wash water and urine runs and pools into the roads. A lot of the latrines do not have holes so they are most likely practicing open defication. I witnessed a teenage girl squatting in the middle of my concession before a big rain storm. The school has latrines but they do not have holes and there is no close water source. The waste management in my village seems pretty good since there is not a lot of trash lying around my village but I don't know if that is because they clean it up or just don't have much trash coming in since the butiki (store) is REALLY small and the people in my village can't afford much. My homologue and host dad are really good at washing their hands with soap before they eat with me which is very refreshing compared to my homestay village. I actually got my homologue's wives to yell at him if he does not wash his hands!!
  • Scaring kids with my hair...I made at least 3 kids cry at the sight of me and they said it was because my hair was so long and big.
Altogether, my site visit went really well and I'm excited to come back and have a place to live. I already have plans to possibly have a cat, start a garden, compost, try urine fertilization, farm with my family, cook for myself, possibly form a WATSAN committee, do PACA, work with the woman's organization, teach water and sanitation at the schools, build a soak pit, etc.

What was surprising was the difference between my homestay and village. My homestay is more of a town with a larger population but also with a higher level of income, it seems. There are different levels of poverty that are apparent and my village seems to be lower than my homestay.

KOULIKORO COW (They call the different regions cows)
On Friday it was time to leave for Bamako and meet up with current volunteers and PCTs in our region, Koulikoro. Once in Bamako, me and my site mate got breakfast at the delicious meatball sandwich lady. I had a delicious meatball sandwich with plantains and some hot pepper followed by a yogurt sachee. I was in heaven! I then spent some time on the internet and went to lunch at "Le Relax" which is a white person's restaurant basically. There I had my second cheeseburger and shared a bannana split with another PCT. It was delicious!! After lunch we set out for the regional city, Koulikoro and the volunteer house there. This involved filling a Malian bus with all white people which is a site to behold for Malians. Our bus ended up getting a flat tire on the way but only delayed us about a half hour.

I spent two nights at the Koulikoro stage house with 30 other PCVs and PCTs (all the floor space was taken at night). We had music and dancing as well as good food in the evenings. It didn't even feel like we were in Mali at times. It was cool to meet everyone that will be in the region and hear about their experiences and projects. Also, it was a good time to relax and unwind. I met, Emily, who will be running the Ghanain marathon this september and we went for a good run one morning together and discussed the race that I will do next year. It will be her first marathon but she competed in college.

Sunday was time to return to Bamako and the the training camp, Tubaniso, but not w/out having a delicous chicken sandwich and coke float for lunch. It was great to see my fellow PCTs again and learn about their site visits. It seems like everyone had a real positive experience.

Monday was more sessions at the training camp, but we also received...PACKAGES! It truely felt like Christmas. I got massive box #2 filled with drink mix, a soccer ball, softballs, granola bars, gum, letters, dried fruit, triscuits....mmmm :) I got a bracelet and ear rings from Colombia from Ana. AMAZING!!! Thank you all so much! It is amazing how little things; e-mails, letters, and FOOD make me so happy. (e.g. I was really looking forward to the oreos and M&Ms after site visit :) )

So Wednesday we leave back to our homestay villages for 11 days of language training. After that we return to Tubaniso for a week of training and our final test. September 10th is the magic day that I will potentially be sworn in as an official PC volunteer. By September 20th I will move into my site. Things are really moving fast! Thanks for your continued support by either reading this, sending electronic, and snail mail :)

Monday, August 10, 2009

Site Assigments!!

Today after our language and mid-training tests we received our site assignments!! I'm both nervous and excited.

-region: Koulikoro (the captial, Bamako, is in this region). If you want to know more details, I can send you an e-mail or call because of safety and security reasons.

-population: 700
-homologue (who I will meet tomorrow and will help me with my service and projects) is Jena/Jean Claude and holds a few positions in village associations and cooperatives. He is married and has two wives and 10 children (4 girls). He is fluent in Bambara and French.
-Closest PCV I know of so far is only 8k from me. He is also a WATSAN volunteer.
-There are some pretty cool PCTs and PCVs in my region that I am happy about including the current president of GAD :)

-a new site, I will be their first volunteer
-language: Bambara
-2 pumps, one broken
-6 wells, only three covered
-basic pit latrines and no soak pits
-I will live in a "concession" with a family but have my own room
-no cell phone access unless you bike out 7k but there is a satallite phone

I will leave for my site this Sunday to visit for a week. I was told to bring my bike since I will be dropped off at a station and then need to bike to my village. Thus, I need to pack lite for that first stay...

Soundouguba Ka Di (Soundouguba is good)

11 more days at homestay and I have survived:
-hair braids for one week (Actually was cooler and easier to maintain. Taking them out was another story though. Totally want to get the purple extensions next time)
-7 morning runs (Even one 45 min run. I'm getting more energy!)
-planting 1/100th of a rice patty while dancing to traditional music and drums (schitosomiasis and HUGE spiders be damned)
-riding my bike around Mali (We finally got our bikes. Mine is in pretty good shape despite being used by a previous volunteer because of budget cuts)
-a mosquito breeding ground in my water filter :( (not without significant damage to my butt...)
-washing my own clothes (well...mostly...they still help me and laugh at me
-carrying two buckets of water (one on my head)...like two blocks...it was hard!
-another traditional dance (this time played bowl drums and they tried to get me to sing)
-drinking countless glasses of tea with tons of sugar (just how the Malians like it)
-at least 5 rain storms (I love them, they really cool things down!)
-11 middle of the night Negen (latrine) trips...Not technically sick but not at all regular...When you gotta go, you gotta go. For those of you in the US...be thankful for a bathroom in your house.
-walking in the village in a "tafe" (basically wrap around skirts. Most popular clothing worn by women. They tied mine a little too tight for walking...)
-one marriage proposal. My younger sister has actually gotten more than me. I'm an old bag here...Michelle, if you ever want to marry a Malian man, there are a few ready for ya.
-well treatment (our well was only like 10cm so only required 1/2 a tea glass of bleach). The depth of the well is measured using your forearm (basically a half meter) for the wet part of a rope dropped down the well. For each "1/2 meter" you insert 4 tea glasses of bleach if it is a certain concentration.
-2 baseline surveys (37 questions about water and sanitation. Asked and recorded in Bambara. Malians like to lie about things like washing their hands with soap...and having soak pits)
-countless card games of keme ni bi duuru kelen since they realized I could play
-11 lunches of Tao (pounded millet) and sauce. Actually not too bad.
-countless carbs...bread for breakfast, macoroni and tao for lunch, potatos, macoroni, and some sort of meat for dinner...I am fed too much but I am able to tell them I have a small stomac and large stomacs are bad in America since I will not get a husband
-probably a weight loss of 5 pounds since my appetite has been really low (one PCT lost 30lbs in about a week...)
-countless chatting with my "host mom" (technically my niece but basically my mom since she cooks for me and is about the only one that can understand me). I'm getting better at making conversation and basic sharades. My favorite conversation is that all American men are womanizers and all Malian men are womanizers...thus, all men are womanizers.

As a side note the entire village thinks me and another PCT, Matt Clemente, are "together". His host father even asked when/if he was going to get me pregnant. This is only after walking to class together 3 times...

I actually really enjoyed this last homestay and it was hard to leave since I was really getting close to my family. I bought all the women in my concession head scarves and one for myself. I think all seven of us in our homestay village would love for Soundouguba to be our actual site since it is so awesome.

Though I sort of forgot about missing my homestay family on Sunday since we were taken to the American club in Bamako where I swam in an inground pool, drank a COLD coke and sprite, ate a cheeseburger (with real cheese), drank two beers, and spoke in english all day :)

When we arrived back at the Tubaniso we had a stage meeting and I received a HUGE box. I almost cried when I opened it!! Full of M&Ms, oreos, cheez wiz, ritz crackers, dried cherries, a stuffed monkey, two books on how to shit outdoors, a world map, AAA batteries, and a family photo album :):):) Oh, and my research manuals...Jim Mihelcic's textbook printed out. Nana, Aunt Lori, Aunt Lisa, and my Mom rock. I am saving the birthday card for my birthday :) Apparently there is ANOTHER package on its way already with powdered drink mix..mmmmm. I am WAY too spoiled for my own good. Thank you SOOO much!!!

(really, I feel set with what I have. I brought WAY too much stuff for my own good)
1. Letters and updates on what is going on
2. News, news, news (time magazine, burned CDs of BBC and NPR podcasts)
3. Burned CDs and AA batteries (batteries here are explosive...they dent when you touch them and leak battery acid in electronics. I would like to go the rechargable route but I don't get much electricity access)
4. Powdered drink mix (grape/blue/strawberry gatorade)
5. Granola bars (chewy, cliff)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

N ye dugutigi ye? (I am the dugutigi?)

Our PCT class (or "Stage") had our first meeting together where we talked about some basic business and elected a "dugutigi"/chief/president. I am very honored to be the dugutigi of our PC Mali 2009 Training class :) They are really an amazing conglomeration of people!

The title may take some getting used to...My duties are to be the go between between our training class and the staff as well as organizing meetings and overseeing the committees. (That sounds a lot more official than it really is..., don't worry)

Anyways, tomorrow morning we return to our homestay villages for 9 more days. I am both ready and nervous to begin again. I hope I graduate to at least a 5 year old's language level?

The past few days we have been doing more safety and medical sessions as well as some technical training sessions. The WATSAN sector learned about soak pits, wash areas, water treatment and water related disases. We also mixed concrete and made some bricks!! ::excited::

During homestay we will treat a well with chlorine and conduct a baseline water and sanitation survey to practice. That will be both exciting and interesting with our limited language skills but we should get some help from our teachers.

GAD (Gender and Development)
Also this evening I attended the GAD (Gender and Development) committee meeting for PC Mali. The committee is in a reorganizing phase but sounds promising. They plan to conduct a silent auction soon and want to host a celebration for Intl Women's Day on March 8th. They also want to compile handbooks on GAD and potential projects. SENEGAD is the Senegal version of PC GAD for Senegal and simlar to what PC Mali GAD wants to accomplish (http://www.senegad.org/ ). I want to get really involved in this committee since this is what I want to focus my research on.

This will be a challenge and is sorely needed in Mali. Mali ranks as one of the lowest countries on the gender and development index. Some facts on women in Mali:
-Total fertility rate: 7.29 children/women (2.05 in US)
-The Malian marriage code allows girls under age 15 to marry if they have parental consent and special permission from a judge. Otherwise, you can marry as young as 15
-The most disturbing of all- 95% of adult women have undergone Female Genital Mutilation
-Domestic violence against women is common

Sorry to end on such a note, time to get some rest before departing for Soundouguba!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Folon Denbaya Ka So (First Family Home)

So the 65 other PCTs, that arrived in Mali just two weeks ago, and I have survived our first week and a half homestay village experience!!! (This is not w/out some medical conditions such as Amoebas, giardia, swolen feet, heat rash, and food poisoning to name a few) Besides a little Mr. D and Mrs. C, I'm keeping in good health, don't worry ::knock on wood::

Here is my phone number as promised: 011+223+78455446. 1PM-5PM EST is the best time to call. It doesn't cost anything for me to receive calls but is about $1 a minute to call the U.S. Usually I can call really quickly and then you can call me back. My phone is usually off in village since I do not have electricity

Anyways, so much has happened since I have arrived in Mali that it feels like I have been here months instead of weeks. I don't know where to begin...

Soundouguba, First Impressions
Me and 6 other WATSAN volunteers arrived in our homestay village via a white PC minivan to music and dancing. We greeted the dugutigi (chief) and elders and presented a gift of Kola nuts. Each of us was presented to our host families and given new Malian names. My name is Mariam Doumbia and my host father is Arauna Diarra (most everyone in the village has the last name Diarra).

Where I am living
I was then taken directly to my room which is one room among a dozen in a rectangle facing inwards called a concession. My host dad lives there with his two wives, 6 children, two mothers (his father had two wives and is now diseased), older brother's son and wife and three kids, along with two of his brothers, their wives, and children. I have a family tree drawn out but don't have the total online. The family tree was really fun to figure out with limited language, but my host dad is very patient and actually pulled out everyones Malian birth certificate to help me understand and get ages. The oldest member of the family is 77, my host dad's mother.

My room is simple but has a relatively comfortable bed with a mosquito net. Ventilation is sort of an issue but I am so tired at the end of the day that it doesn't matter. The bathroom is a basic pit latrine, no cover, complete with cockroaches at the bottom. I like to aim for them when I brush my teeth in the morning, but have learned not to go in after it rains since they all exit the pit....There is a seperate wash area where I take my bucket showers twice a day (once in the morning after my run and once before dinner). My host family would like me to shower at lunch too but, nope. (Malians think Americans are dirty since we rewear clothes and don't shower that often. Yet they don't wash their hands after the bathrooom).

My Family
Altogether, my family is really nice, patient, and not suffocating in comparison to others. My host dad gave me a childrens Bambara book and reads with me every day when he comes back from the fields. I don't even really understand the book but he goes to great lenghts to explain in his limited french and by acting out things (even getting children to fetch certain items so I understand). Ofcourse, there is a fair amount of laughing and staring at me. Bascially I have the language level of a two year old in a 22 year olds body. I am learning slowly but surely. It is the most frustrating aspect of PC so far but I am really enjoying Mali and learning about their culture.

The Food
The food actually has not been that bad. I was sort of afraid the first day since I had rice for lunch, and just rice water for dinner. However, there was food of more substance the next day. Breakfast consists of coffee (with lots of sugar and concentrated milk), a loaf of bread (literally), and rice poridge. Lunch consists of Tao (pounded millet type substance that is gray...) and a green, okra sauce also spaghetti noodles with a tomato type sauce. (Yes, two meals...) Dinner consists of boiled potatos and beef (misi in Bambara), more spaghetti, and sometimes rice and a peanut sauce. The woman that cooks for me (host dad's older brother's son's wife/my niece who is 24) has also taken to knocking on my door around 11/12 at night to give me 3 hard boiled eggs even when I am asleep. So, they are really trying to fatten me up. Though, I have not had to go to lenghts to hide my food like in Ghana.

I have not had any really bad food cravingings yet except for something cold to drink. Our village doesn't have electricity, therefore no refridgeration. We have walked the 2k to the nearest homestay village which has cold drinks but really annoying, stalker children. I also went through all my grape, gatorade mix since that is much preferable to warm, chlorine water. (MI water, I miss you!)

Water and Sanitation
The sanitation situation in Soundouguba is pretty low. The latrines are basic pit latrines and the excess wash water from both the latrine and wash area enter right into the street (no soak pit let alone sewer). The animals have free reign and deficate everywhere. Dishes and clothes are washed on the ground or in the canal. There is no real waste management system and this is a city just outside the capital, Bamako. I am curious to see what the sanitation situation will be like at my actual site that will most likely be more remote.

As I mentioned before, no one washes their hands after the bathroom and/or before eating. I eat with "my niece" and she only rinses her hands...I'm trying to get her to use soap but I like the company more than when I was eating alone. Though, that did coincide with the start of Mr. D...They really do believe that washing your hands brings bad fortune ("washes away your wealth") and really think we (white people) are weird for doing so. Don't get me started on their reaction to brushing teeth...(they usually only use sticks).

The water situation is much improved from sanitation (as usual). They use three different water sources in my concession ( one of the three India-Mali hand pumps, personal well, and private tap in concession). They pay for the private tap (about $10 US a month) and it is supposidely treated and they use it for drinking. The well and pump water are used strictly for washing and cooking. I did wash my clothes once in homestay and the women and girls in my host family really had a kick out of that one and basically did it for me but I'm still going to try to learn.

Typical Day
5:00AM-Awoken by call to prayer on loud speakers from the mosque right across the street from my concession
5:45AM- Bathroom trip, changing for running, and washing face (you can not greet people until you wash your face...)
5:55AM- greet everyone in my host family that is awake starting with the oldest
6:00AM- Pick up Matt and go running for 30 min (damn it is hot and I'm not really acclimating that well. Combination of dehydration and poorer nutrtion I am sure)
6:40AM- Return to concession, greet everyone, and basically get thrown in the shower.
7:00AM- Eat breakfast in room (they don't let me eat outside for breakfast anymore because of the flies). I usually review a little Bambara before class
8:00AM- Time for language classes with three other volunteers in my village.
12:00PM- Morning class is over and time for lunch and sitting around with family, mostly studying. I used to take naps but not so much lately
2:15PM- More language classes
5:00PM- Back to homestay, shower, dinner, studying, sometimes watching bad TV (battery powered), teaching english of the words I know in Bambara
9:00PM-11:00PM- Time for bed. Sometimes studying and journal writing

Joking Cousins
There are many different ethnic groups in Mali but most distinctively 8 from the 8 different regions. Each region has common last names. People of certain last names joke with others of a different last name. This is actually really fun and you can say and call them anything; mostly donkey (I ye foli ye) and that they eat beans (U be sho dun). (Don't worry, I am learning some useful Bambara too.

Ofcourse the rights of women here are very limited. Polygomy is legal (up to four wives) and womens work is womens work (washing, cookings, cleaning, etc). I did have some fun conversations with my nephew and aunt when I told them that American men only had one wife. My nephew proceeded to say that that was bad and you need 4 wives and many children. I said, I would like to have 4 husbands and that got a laugh from both of them. I did explain to them that my parents were divorced and they were very somber on that subject (culturally sensitve). They were also really surprised that my Mother's sisters were "so old", unmarried, and had no children not to mention that I only have one younger sister.

I did tell them that I was single with no children. Some PCTs and PCVs create husbands but I decided I wanted to sort of educate them on that aspect of American culture. So far I have only gotten one marriage proposal anyways. Though, I will get a ring for whenever I travel.

Also, when a man and a woman get married in Mali there "honeymoon" is spent in a special house in the village for 7 days. The man is allowed to leave after 3 days and visit friends but the woman is not supposed to leave for the entire time.

Dancing (Donke in Bamanankana)
Some of my favorite moments at homestay have been dancing. There was a random traditional dance for a few hours on Weds. similar to our welcoming dance and music. Me and the other girl in my village tried to mimic the Malian moves but mostly proved that white people can't dance. However, it is still a great experience to listen and watch. The drummers are amazing with no sheet music and women dance with sleeping babies on their backs.

Last night (Saturday night) we had a dance in our village but a little bit closer to an American dance. It took a while to get started (we showed up at 9 and it didn't start until 11). I was really surprised to see young, Malian girls dressed in outfits that you would see clubbing in the states...We did get our chance to shine on the dance floor after they spent an hour replaying the same 2 minutes of song for random people to dance...We showed them some "American" style dancing that probably wasn't too culturally appropriate for Mali but hilarious. Apparently many pictures were taken... After we did our American dance, the party really got started and I had a great time. Stayed until 2AM eventhough the dance ended at 3AM since we needed to return to Tubaniso (the PC training camp/little America) at 8AM.

What's Ahead
Wow, this has been a long entry. I really need to get to bed. As I said we are back in Tubaniso (little Ameriki) for some technical and cultural sessions. I now realize why all the PC volunteers love this place. I do feel so much more comfortable here surrounded by americans and provided with better food (Salad and fruit!), as well as fans in our rooms. We go back to our homestay villages on Wednesday after a short tour of the capital, Bamako. We will be in our villages for another week and a half. We return for a week in Tubaniso where we will receive our site assignments and then visit them for a week (that will be a major milestone).

Again, everything is going well but I just wish I was better at picking up the language.

Thanks to everyone for all the e-mails and, hopefully, soon to arrive letters and packages (yay!). Really I don't have any requests besides grape gatorade which I believe my Aunts, Mom, and Nana will be sending.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Staging so far and Homestay Ho!

Things I have learned in training:
-how we will filter and treat our water (bucket filters and chlorine)
-all about malaria and even how to do a blood smear
-all about "Mr. D" aka diarrhea (it WILL happen and many times)
-how to use the bathroom w/out toilet paper, squat and aim better
-basics on how to maintain a mountain bike (we get our bikes tomorrow!!)
-about the different stages of culture shock (it will be a roller coaster of emotions)
-what to do in emergencies (anything from natural disasters to political instability). You can all rest easy now!
-how to eat with my hands around a bowl, sort of...
-basic Water and Sanitation overview and tour :) Learned about the objectives of the WATSAN sector of Peace Corps
-how to conduct a baseline survey in village to assess their level of water and sanitation
-how to wash my own clothes ( I washed my first pants by hand!)
-basic greetings in the main language of Mali, Bambara
-to have a brief conversation in three different languages (Bambara, French, and English)
-never wave, eat, pay for things, or much of anything besides wipe with your left hand
-most Malians don't wash their hands. They believe it will wash away their wealth.
-if you get a pet cat, Malian kids may like to sling shot its' eyes out
-it's not okay to smell your food
-you should not compliment a Malian woman for being pregnant
-the rains and Africa can be wicked (well, I already sort of knew that...)
-posting pictures on PC computers is pretty much impossible...(I will try..)
-plenty of other things but won't bore you with too many other details

1. I'm going to run a marathon in Ghana next September with a few people in my "stage" (PC training class)!!
2. I got a cell phone and will get my number tomorrow. It is free for me if you call me. I don't know what service will be like in my site but while in training it should be good. Look up skype if you are interseted :)
3. There is a girl, Sarah, in my training class that graduated from Purdue the same time as me. We sung Hail Purdue today!! :) Wonder if that has ever been sung in Mali....

We will be leaving for our homestay villages tomorrow morning (so far all the PCTs have been staying in Tubaniso, a training camp outside of Bamako). The homestay villages will also be located outside of Bamako but we are each placed with a seperate Malian family (some with the chiefs of the villages). I am in Soundougouba (Soon-dugu-ba) with most of the other WATSAN volunteers!! We will be there through next Sunday, so no blog postings until then. During homestay we will have intensive language training everyday. I will be learning the most commonly spoken language in Mali...Bambara (no, not French). I'm really excited!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Packing, Staging, and Arrival (OH MY!)

PACKING & GOODBYES (July 6th and 7th)
So Monday and Tuesday were spent hurridely packing and spending last minute time with friends and family. A string of bad luck seem to hit me from Monday evening into Tuesday but, so far, has seemed to run its course. Monday my stomach became upset after a few mohitos and crab claws with Aunt Lori followed by locking my keys in my car at Meijer (thanks Frank for helping me!). Tuesday began with a parking ticket at the post office and then my Aunt Lisa's dog Ripley getting hit by a car (luckily she was okay!). Then we had my final goodbye dinner with my family at Outback Steakhouse where I had Wahalla Pasta and cheese fries (mmm!). It was really nice and that is when I think I started realizing I was actually leaving.

I preceeded to stay up all night packing, re-packing and cleaning; wishing I had gotten a lot of stuff done sooner ::sigh:: Oh, plus I had one last night at National with some high school buds :) It was quite a challenge packing for 2 years and eventhough I really tried to limit myself I ended up packing way too much still :( Though it is comparible to other volunteers but I wish my duffle had wheels.

My Aunt Lori, Mom, Nana, and Dad drove me to the airport for my 8:55AM flight on Weds, July 8th. I was a true deer in headlights the whole time. I didn't cry upon leaving my family at security but I think that was because of the lack of sleep and daze I was (and still am) in. However, it was really nice to have all of them send me off.

My flight went well and I ended up spotting Justin (other MI from USF) at the airport and tackling him. It has been really nice having someone I know in this large group of future Mali PCVs (66 in total). Me and Justin preeceeded to the Hotel in a shuttle filled with other PCVs, easily spotted with their large amounts of luggage.

Once in Philly we dropped of luggage, grabbed lunch, and started orientation. Orientation included paperwork, icebreakers galore (introductions, skits, sharing anxities and aspirations etc.), and overview of PC policies, goals, and mission. It was really great meeting everyone and sharing past travel expieriences, why we joined the Peace Corps, and our histories. It looks to be an amazing group of people and the WATSAN group promises to be great! Plus, there is a girl that went to Purdue the same time I did and a returned volunteer from Thailand.

On Thursday we had an early morning where we all received Yellow Fever shots but I didn't have to since I had it from Ghana :P Then we ran a few more errands (post office, rite aid, stopped by Independance Hall and glanced at the Liberty Bell) and were off to the airport.

TRAVELING (July 9th-10th)
At 6:50 we all left for an 8 hour flight to Paris followed by a 8 hour layover and a 7 hour flight to Bamako. Made for pretty long travels but the flights went smoothly enough. Air France has individual screens on each seat where you can play games, listen to music, watch the plane take off, and watch movies. Totally watched Grease in French and that made me super happy!

Once we landed in Bamako we collected our luggage (not as efficient as other airports), loaded some buses (with air conditioning!), and headed to the training camp area in Tubaniso. We have been escorted by current volunteers who have been really helpful. The camp is pretty nice. I am sharing a thatched hut with 2 other girls.

We immediately received tutorials on using the toilet. The toilet is basically a pit latrine (hole in the ground) that you squat over after you kick the metal cover. We have toilet paper but are suggested to use a sallie dalla (spelling?) which looks like a tea kettle and you fill with water to rinse yourself. Toilet paper is actually sometimes seen as a dirty way to clense yourself. I used the pit latrine for the first time and, not going to lie, took a little practice to aim. You are also supposed to use your right hand as the clean hand and the left to wipe. Will get some getting used to, I guess. Also, we will be taking bucket showers :) Hopefully I will post pictures soon.

Malians are very clean and professional. All the clothes I brought are either pants or skirts that come below the knee (even when sitting). They really stress cleanliness and you are not supposed to greet someone in the morning until you have "washed your face".

We will need to wash our own clothes or possibly pay someone to do so. Either way it is rude to give someone your underwear to wash and they should not be hung to dry in the open. The PCVs suggested washing them while in the shower everyday.

After receiving the tutorials we had a small meal of potatoes, meat, peas, and bread. I gave some of the current PCVs chocolate which I think they appreciated but I may have wanted to distribute more evenly :)

From packing up until stagining I was really numb to the whole experience. Mostly just going through the motions and trying to get everything done. When we finally started getting our tickets and checking in, I started to get really excited for everything. I thought things would hit me more (like AHH I'm here for two years) when I got to Mali but I'm still really excited even with all the bathroom stuff (I was expecting it anyways). I think it has really helped that I was in Ghana before and that I'm in such a large and supportive group of people all going through the same thing.

I know things promise to get more busy and stressful. Training will certainly be intense; especially learning a new language (Bambara). I probably will not be able to post such long entries from now on. Actually I should probably get going since I need to get up for breakfast at 7AM and take a bucket shower in the morning still :) Sorry for the longwindedness...Miss you all and thanks for all your support which includes getting to the end of this post.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Une Semaine (One Week) and Garage Sale

Today marks one week until I am on a plane to Philadelphia for three days of staging and then off to Mali, West Africa. It is hard to believe that it is actually happening. I have spent so much time preparing for this and now it is upon me. I still feel like something is going to go logistically wrong with medical paperwork or passport since I have that kind of luck...but let us hope for the best. Hard to say what I am feeling. Thought I would be more excited than I am but I think that is mostly numbness due to nerves and trying to get everything done.

In somewhat old news the Peace Corps Garage Sale June 18-20 that was hosted by my Nana went extremely well!! Here are the numbers:

Sales = $417.52
Donations =$220
Total== $637.52

Thank yous...
Special thanks to my Aunt Lori, Nana, Aunt Lisa, Sarah-Jane, Erika Lessien and her mother as well as Kay and Kelley for their contributions and donations. Thanks to Ana for her super organization and presentation skills!! She came all the way from Tampa to help me with my garage sale... As well as anyone else that donated and/or attended (Adam! and Nicole). Oh, ofcourse, thanks to Jenn Woodham for being my inspiration for the garage sale :)

Money from sales has gone to purchasing items I will need in the Peace Corps (new backpack, bug spray, flashlight, sleeping bag, nalgene bottles, etc.). Donations will be kept for future projects.

I am still really blown away by how supportive friends, family, and strangers have been of my service. I feel unworthy of such praise and generosity at times but am very thankful and hope I can live up to it.

Well, time to get back to work. It is going to be a busy week! I'm excited for the 4th and spending time with family and friends.

PS: Before I leave I will be sure to post a link to my packing list for future PC volunteers. I received a lot of feedback from current and returned volunteers and believe the list is pretty complete.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

La premiere poste

Welcome to my new blog!! I will post random updates on my future experiences as first a Peace Corps Trainee and then a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Mali, West Africa. Let me start by answering a few frequently asked questions. I know some of you will already know the answers so feel free to skim...

1. Where are you going?
I will be serving in Mali, West Africa (see map on right hand side). I am not entirely sure where in Mali yet. I will spend three months of intensive language, technical and cultural training in the capital, Bamako where I will live with a host family. When I pass training I will receive my assignment for the next two years. I will most likely be placed individually in a remote, rural area/village.

2. When are you going?
Leave Detroit 8:55AM, July 8th for Philadelphia for three days of "staging"(briefing on PC, logistics, and vaccinations) and then we depart for Mali.

So, yeah, less then 3 weeks away! I can't believe it. I go between very excited to nervous to excited. Mostly just want to get all the logistics taken care of before I leave!

3. What language do they speak?
Mali is francophone (french speaking) but there are a number of native languages. The most popular being Bambara which I will most likely end up speaking.

4. How long will you be there?
Peace Corps service is 27 months (3 months of training and two years of service). There are options to extend service for an additional year or more.

5. What will you be doing?
My official assignment is a "Water Sanitation Extension Agent" which means helping build things like wells, latrines, soak pits, wash areas and also provide hygiene education. The projects I am involved in will depend entirely on the needs of the community. Volunteers also participate in secondary projects such as agriculture or HIV/AIDS education in addition to their primary assignment.

Moreover, I am part of the Peace Corps (PC) Master's International (MI) program at the University of South Florida (USF). A link to the program is on the right. This is a very unique program that combines the PC and a Master's degree in Civil/Environmental Engineering. I spent the past year taking courses in environmental engineering, anthropology, and public health. Throughout my Peace Corps service I will need to conduct research for a thesis. I will finish and defend my future thesis at USF when I return to the United States. I hope to focus my research on Gender, Water, and Development. Basically, increasing the participation of women in water and sanitation projects to complete more successful and long lasting (sustainable) projects. More details to follow in the future.

6. What will your living conditions be like?
As stated in the first question I will most likely be placed in a rural community. Transportation will be limited but PC does provide volunteers with mountain bikes and helmets. I will most likely not have electricity, cell phone, internet, and running water in my "house", . I will have to shop and cook for myself. I will be able to travel to the capital or nearby "major city" to use internet cafes to update this blog and answer e-mail. This will be on a limited basis possibly every six weeks but maybe shorter.

7. How do you contact me?
My mailing address and e-mail are on the right hand side. The mailing address is only good for my first three months of training. (June 11-Sept 11) I will let you know what my more permanent address for the next two years of service will be as soon as I know. The primary e-mail I will use is ccnaughton@gmail.com.

Letters, e-mails, and packages are welcome and much appreciated!! I really wantto stay connected to everyone to the best of my abilities (thus, letters are probably better). As far as packages are concerned, I will update my blog with items I am craving since I will need to carry and pay for packages that arrive.

8. Why are you doing this?
I probably should have began with this question but I thought I would get the logistics of PC service out first.
SHORT VERSION: Since high school I have been passionate about the environment, service, and those less fortunate in developing countries. PC encompasses all of these passions. I would regret it for the rest of my life if I did not do the PC. I feel extremely lucky to have this opportunity to serve.
I became intensely passionate for international affairs through my participation in Model United Nations (MUN) in High School. I traveled abroad for the first time the summer after I graduated to Finca La Flora, Costa Rica with members of the MUN team. Part of the trip we volunteered on a sustainable organic farm. I caught the travel bug and passion for service then and there!

I chose to go into engineering at Purdue University after HS instead of international relations since I wanted to solve problems, not just talk about them. It was difficult at first to find the connection between civil engineering and humanitarianism. But everyone needs clean water to drink and be healthy. Civil Engineers design water and wastewater treatment systems to do just that! 2.6 billion people on this earth lack proper sanitation. There is a need! More lives have been saved by engineers with wastewater treatment than lives saved by doctors....

I had always been interested in Peace Corps but wasn't sure of all the logistics and attended some information sessions at Purdue. Then I wasn't sure about the 27 month commitment until I volunteered in Ghana, West Africa through Global Volunteers Network for 7 weeks in the summer of 2007. I fell in love with Africa and the people in my village. It changed my life and I realized you really needed 2 years to get anything accomplished. (Time moves a little slower in Africa it seems and you really need to gain the trust of the community you are working with).

Thus, I was all gung-ho about the PC but didn't feel that confident in actually building anything despite my engineering degree since I had more theoretical than practical knowledge. While web surfing I found the Master's International program at Michigan Tech. In my senior year at Purdue, I applied and was accepted and nominated to Tech and the PC respectively. Through a chain of events the director of the MI program took a job at USF (University of South Florida) and I ended up going to school in Tampa instead of the Upper Peninsula (pretty good deal!). The MI program helped better prepare me for PC through the coursework and research especially in the sustainable field engineering class where our class built a compost latrine. Plus I met some amazing people and was able to become a member of Engineers without Borders!!

9. Who else is going?
PC sends a training class once a year to Mali. We will all meet at staging July 8th. There will be about 70-75 of us. One of the guys in my program at USF, Justin Meeks, is also assigned to Mali. So I already know one person in my training class. Also, there are currently at least three master's international students stationed in Mali from Michigan Tech. I will know people in the country but I will be serving in a community individually.

10. What have you been up to this summer?
Since school got out I have been in Royal Oak, MI spending time with friends and family, learning french through Rosetta Stone, and preparing for the PC. I am extremely lucky that my family has been very supportive of my choice to serve in the PC.

11. Do you get to go home?
PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) get about 2 days a month off. You can save those days and take longer vacations. If you want to go home you need to pay your own way (plane ticket is about $1600). My family does plan to meet up with me somewhere in the world my second year and possibly fly me home for Christmas my second year. We will see. I also plan to travel around Africa with my "vacation time". (VISIT MEGAN in SENEGAL!!)

12. Are you paid?
We are paid at the standard of living of those in Mali which is sufficient for food and transport.

13. How do you get funding for projects?
PC, other government agencies (USAID), and non-government organizations provide funding for small projects. Your community is also required to raise a percentage of a project. However, I may call upon friends and family to contribute whatever they can to make up some of the difference that is not provided by the other sources mentioned.

14. What do you think you will most miss?
I know I will really miss family and friends. It is hard to entirely predict what I will crave foodwise in the PC. Mostly likely chocolate, cheese, and ice cream. Those seem to be the top of people that have returned. I know I will miss the conveniences of home at times but that is what I signed up for.

Wow, I have certainly written a lot for the first entry. I can't promise that all my entries won't be this boring and long but they should get better. (Well, at least more interesting...) Thanks for reading! If you received the link to this blog please respond with your address and best e-mail address to contact you with!!