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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!


  1. Wow, Colleen! What a cool experience you're having in Mali! I got your postcard and laughed for a good twenty minutes at John's. I've written a letter but I keep forgetting to send it. Whoops. :-/

    I'm going to bookmark your blog, and I can't wait to hear what you've been up to.

  2. It sounds like you're gaining a lot of cultural experiences from the villagers and paying them back with the work you're doing!! Good job and good luck Colleen!! Looking forward to your next post :) ~Naomi