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.
PHILIDELPHIA AND STAGING (July 7th and 8th)
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!
TUBANISO AND STAGING SITE (July 10th)
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.