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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)