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, 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.