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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 :)

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