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, November 23, 2010

Project fundraising time!

After many months of meetings and planning, the WATSAN committee in my village and I have finally finished the budget and schedule for the project to be completed February-April 2011. I know it has been a long time since I have written and I have been keeping busy. I promise updates soon but I am leaving for Sikasso (another region in Mali) to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Here is a small summary of the project and a link to donate online:
Many people in my village suffer from diarrheal disease and malaria every year. I am trying to raise money for a project to fix and maintain two water pumps, build 11 latrines and 15 soak pits, and distribute 100 mosquito nets to the village to help prevent these diseases. I am asking for your assistance even if just a few dollars towards this project that will have a major impact on the lives of the people in my village to provide a sustainable drinking water source, sanitation facilities, and bed nets. You may make donations online at this website: https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=688-342

Friday, July 16, 2010

Joyeux Anniversaire

July 10th was my one year anniversary in Mali which I realized half way through the morning. It's really hard to believe and I'm sure this year will go even faster. Looking back and especially having the 80 new PCTs to compare to, I have come a long way...

-I've become mostly fluent in an African Language, Bambara

-I've mastered eating with my hands

-I'm a lot more comfortable bargaining and get upset if someone cheats me even 50 fcfa (5 cents...)

-Squatting has become normal

-patience, patience, patience (meetings, transport, banking, projects, etc.)

-pants? Wrap skirts all the time

-I really like bucket baths

-Had my first donkey cart ride

-pooped my pants and my bedroom floor…and often swap similar stories with PCVs over dinner

-Totally normal to see a woman breast feeding...actually prefer it to shut up a screaming baby

-head feels naked without a headwrap

-Rocks, old car batteries, logs, etc. all look like chairs

-I love beans...though you're not supposed to admit that here

-Live chickens look good to me

-It is weird to drive in a car with my own seat and, not to mention, a seat belt

-gas stations overwhelm me

-I live in harmony with cockroaches, flies, and spiders

-Things I find delicious: beans, mayonnaise sandwiches, mayo and fries...,MEAT, slim jims, HAMBURGERS, shots of strong, sugared tea

-Things I have eaten and truly enjoyed: jams plain, kool-aid powder plain, mayonnaise plain...

-Deodarant? Washing my hair? Toilet paper? Washing machines?


Most significantly, I believe I have gained a much larger appreciation for America, my family and friends. I know before I came to Mali and even now I can be a pretty big critic of America and our often times wasteful way of life but I really am lucky to have been born in America. A country with not just abundant running water, electricity, and health care but an amazing education system. I still can’t imagine growing up without tons of books to read let alone all the toys, movie, television, and delicious and mostly nutritious food. Yet, often times, I wanted more since others even had more than me. On top of all that I was able to go to college and get a world class education and then go back for more. I’ve had amazing opportunities to travel the world to Costa Rica, China, Guyana, Ghana, France, Germany, Senegal, and now Mali. All this and never being second guessed because I am a woman and I should really get married, have babies, and clean house like so many Malian women.

Ofcourse being away from my family has made me appreciate them more and they have been a constant base and support for me thousands of miles away through phone calls, e-mails, letters, packages, and just knowing they are rooting for me. I’ve also gained at least two other Malian families (my first host family during pre-service training and my village host family) that adopted me as their own despite being from such different cultures and not speaking the same language. Also giving me so much in food or money when they themselves have so much less than me. Yet though they have so much less, you wouldn’t know it since, they are some of the most happy and loving people you will ever meet.


So much has happened in a year, making it difficult for a review.

1. PST: Started with 9 weeks of, as promised, intense language, cultural and technical training and was elected the village chief.

2. SWEAR IN: Swearing in at the American Embassy was followed by less intense/scheduled but still challenging three months at site adjusting more to the language, culture, food, and way of life in a Malian village (drank many cups of tea, ate a lot of To, interviewed each family about WATSAN practices, shelled lots of peanuts, beans, and corn).

3. IST: All of Risky Business came back to Tubaniso in December for In-Service Training (IST) (I was one of three that came on foot in the IST Half-Marathon) which was more technically focused and preparing us for when we could officially start projects.

4. DOGON CHRISTMAS: Before going back to village I spent one of my most memorable Christmases on an amazing three day hike through Dogon country with fellow PCVs.

5. Once back in village immediately formed a WATSAN committee and began participatory hygiene and sanitation education activities and tried to understand more Bambara. Also, under a little too much pressure to start a project, worked with the women’s group to plan a garden project.

6. BODTWD: Brought five of my girls to Kati for Bring Our Daughters to Work Day with girls of three other villages to show them they can do anything they want to do.

7. SENEGAL: In February I traveled over 30 hours on a bus to Senegal to participate in an International Softball Tournament with volunteers across West Africa but mostly to see one of my best friends from high school, Megan! It was so great and inspiring to travel to her village, see where she had served, the difference she had made and how integrated she had become in her community.

8. Back at site I continued to work with the WATSAN committee and women’s group. I received money for the garden project and we began digging our first well. Though we were mostly busy with PHAST activities, I worked to construct a soak pit and latrine in my homestay family’s concession. I visited a fellow PCVs site twice to help with a water system project and headed a topographic survey.

9. I was accepted to pursue my PhD at University of South Florida (USF).

10. Hot season came and went. I developed bad heat rash near the end, but ate countless, delicious mangos. Our well digger for the women’s garden stopped showing up but we put up the fence. Also started planning next years project with the WATSAN committee and finished my first “toilet”/latrine and soak pit in Africa.

11. I put in an application and was selected to be the WATSAN PCV Trainer (PCVT) for the new stage that arrived July 3rd where I got to see the other side of training and help prepare for their arrival by participating in a Training of Trainers (TOT) workshop and revising lesson plans.


So far I would say I am satisfied with my service. It has been extremely challenging and rewarding (“The toughest job you will ever love”) Language has been the most difficult part of my service but that has become much easier. Otherwise it is amazing what you can get used to living without, I enjoy being in my village, and miss when I am away. This is a good place to be and I look forward to this next year which promises to fly by. Though I made New Years Resolutions in January, I think they are appropriate to state here as well:

1. Get More Involved- I have a number of things planed since I feel much more comfortable with my language and integration:

· Life Skills in my commune capital, Torodo

· World Map Project in Torodo

· Continue with World Wise Schools (WWS) including a new match

· Conduct baseline survey in neighboring village, Nci’Bugu, form, and start working with a WATSAN committee there

· Neem Cream (natural mosquito repellent) formations

· Urine fertilizer formations for women’s garden

· English group-Torodo

· Teeth brushing formation at school

· Girls group at Zeala school

· Improved Shea butter formations

· Radio show with new site mate in Faladie

· Finish Women’s Garden Project

· Plan and execute WATSAN project in Zeala

· Budget, plan, and repair water system in other PCV’

· Potential sanitation competition amongst the 16 villages in my commune

2. Improve Language

3. Communicate more back home (letters, skype)

4. Improve Organization (e-mails, paper, money, etc.)

5. Update and continue journaling and blogging (used to keep a daily blog but two months behind now)

6. Focus more on research (Gender, WATSAN)


1. Lap top!!!

Recently I just got a lap top computer to make work, research, and communication easier since there are few computers at the PC office. Unfortunately when the computer arrived and I turned it on…it was only a white screen. After having it fixed w/out my permission I paid $100 and have had my first skype conversations with my Aunts and Nana which have been amazing to see and talk to them FOR FREE. So feel free to skype me at ccnaughton86.

2. Nigeria

As I said me and Justin will be heading to Nigeria for an engineering conference at the University of Illorin. We leave July 24th and come back July 31st. The conference is the 26-28. We are really excited to go and hope that things people say about Lagos aren’t completely true… Otherwise after that I will be basically at the training center (save 2nd week of August for site visit) until Swear-In on September 3rd.

3. Ne bena taa Ameriki ka si min

Literally, “I am going to America to breast feed” has been repeated to me by more than three Malians when I say I am going home for Christmas July 17th!!!!! So excited. Best Christmas present EVER JJ

4. Marathon Training

Ran 17 miles today after a heavy rain last night and it was perfect weather. I think I will be ready for the race but the visa for Burkina just sky rocketed so it looks like we will be flying both ways which is also very expensive…hopefully we can work something out.

5. PST 2010

Otherwise, training is going well and WATSAN and HED will come back from their first stint at homestay tomorrow. I have really enjoyed being a trainer so far and it is hard to believe I was in their exact same position last year at this time but now I can answer most of their questions. Their stage seems to be very motivated and excited and have elected an awesome Dugutigi and Vice Dugutigi. Plus there are about 20 runners and about that many from MI!!!

Wow, well that was really long. Bravo if you made it through! Probably won’t be updating for a while but maybe after the Nigeria conference. Thanks again for all your support this past year. I couldn’t have made it this far without family and friends and I will repeat that again and again.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Here come the rains and the new volunteers.

In less than 4 days, 84 or so PCTs (PC Trainees) will be arriving in Mali for their Pre-Service Training (PST). Hard to believe I was in their shoes this time last year where my life was consumed with packing and spending last moments with family and friends. It is too bad that they will not get to spend the 4th of July at home like we did but we will try our best to celebrate.

I'm excited to be a trainer for WATSAN (18 trainees) and I expect to learn alot and gain a fresh perspective on my service. I am sure I will be updating more with details. Already it has been an intense preparation period (including two week long training workshops) and interesting being on the other side of training.


Though my current location is Tubaniso and I will be spending very little time in the next two months in Zeala, progress was made on the garden before I left. Most of the fence has been built though I need to buy some more materials and send them soon. Digging the 56 holes in a straight line, to the same size, in rocky soil was not easy for the women and the posts are by no means the same height but we were still able to hang the griage. I also don't think any cows will be getting through.

Unfortunately, problems with the first well digger persisted and he will not be finishing the first well he started. Mogo nenaman te ani a ka maloya ka dogo (He is not a good person and has little shame...) We hired two more diggers from village to start the second well but progress has halted for the rainy season and we probably will not be able to start digging until January or February. Not exactly to the timeline planned for project but that is how things go sometimes. I have learned a lot from this project and it was a good starter.

B. WATSAN Committee
The past two months we have held several meetings to start organizing a WATSAN project in the village (repair pumps, get a pump repair kit, top well repair, soak pits, and latrines). This is a tall order but we have been going item by item and I think we will be able to pull it off. Plus my homologue is really motivated and understands project planning.

In other news we did finally finish the soak pit and latrine in my landlords concession after such a long process. I'm really excited to have my own soak pit now and not be contributing standing water into my concession :) However, they do not sweep the latrine regularly which I have been trying to reinforce.

C. Cooperative Multifunctional
Me and my homologue made a program together for all our work through Januray which has been really helpful. We hope to still work to establish a multifunctional cooperative with shea butter, womens garden, food security, and WATSAN in it.

D. Rainy Season
Otherwise, hot season is officially "over" and I found the transition from hot to rainy season the worst and had some pretty bad heat rash for a several weeks. Though I at least had mangos and slept outside a lot. In my village, we have had a few storms but not much yet while villages closer to Bamako have already started planting their millet and peanuts. It is the fantayan waati (poverty season) where many people have run out of grain and are forced to buy it at high prices with credit. So hopefully the rains come soon and they can start planting.

Traveled to another PCVs site to help evaluate her top well repair project basically checking if they were following the improved practices shown to them (closing the door, washing clothes far away, hanging the well bag, treating the well, etc.) A lot of the wells were following the correct practices but some were not and needed to be reminded. It was a very positive experience and gave me ideas for top well repair in my village and also project evaluation.

Me and Justin should be going to an engineering conference on sustainble development in Nigeria at the end of July. We will both be delivering a presentation and it should be a great opportunity to network and see what research is being conducted in W. Africa.

Otherwise, been training for the Ghana Marathon September 26th with a several other PCVs (some running, some cheering). It should be a really good experience and great to see Ghana again and hopefully up north since I didn't really get up there. Helps to be at the training center with protein in my diet.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

PhD and PCVT

This past month I have been honored to be selected to pursue my PhD in Civil Engineering and become a PCVT (Peace Corps Volunteer Trainer) for WATSAN.

First, regarding the PhD, instead of pursuing research for my master's thesis I will be doing research towards my dissertation. When I return to America and eventually USF, I will take classes to complete my masters and continue research to complete my PhD. This will decrease the amount of time to pursue my PhD and I am excited to continue work with my current adviser.

Second, I applied for and was accepted to be the WATSAN PCVT for the 84 PCTs (PC trainees) arriving July 3rd. I am currently in Bamako helping plan the learning objectives and training schedule for Pre-service Training (PST) 2010. If any incoming PCTs are reading this, you are welcome to ask me any questions (ccnaughton@gmail.com) you may have!!!

Being a PCVT, I will be pretty busy during the rainy (and farming season) for July and August. At the end of July, me and Justin have been invited to attend a Civil Engineering conference in Nigeria. Also, I have currently started training for the Accra International Maration (AIM) on September 26th. We have a pretty sizable group of Mali volunteers going running the full, half, relay or going to travel and cheer us on.

Time really is moving incredibly fast and I can't believe I am only 2 months away from completing a year in country.

Mango Season Activities

Wow, so it has almost been three months since my last post!! I really apologize for that but things have been busy and computer time has not been the easiest to acquire. That should be changing since I am having one sent by the end of June!

Garden Project
Since my last post, I wrote a proposal and secured funding from the PC and USAID Small Project Assistance fund. I worked closely with the women to design the project and create a budget. Project funds of just over $2,000USD will go towards buying metal fencing that will prevent the cows from eating their vegetables, digging two wells, cement, well covers, seeds, and water cans. The women will also each be contributing the equivalent of $4 USD each towards the project and have already provided labor by clearing the land of trees, providing food and pulling dirt for the well digger. They will soon be digging holes for the fence posts. Me and the school director (also writer for the women’s organization) bought all the fencing materials in Bamako last Saturday. It was an experience for sure but he went into the market first to bargain and we ended up coming under budget which was a relief.

So far I have a learned a lot from this first project. Project timelines are really difficult to follow here. Unfortunately, the well digger we hired is not very reliable and will not be able to complete the second well before rainy season. We will have to wait until next January or February to dig the second well so the women will not be able to garden next dry season. However, they should be able to garden during this rainy season.

WATSAN Committee

Meetings and work continued with the WATSAN committee I started with my homologue. We completed the participatory , learning activities (PHAST) and made a three year plan for WATSAN projects and behavior change.

We began and mostly completed a soak pit and pit latrine in my host families concession. My latrine and his will feed into the same soak pit. This usually would be a relatively quick project but has taken now going on two months to complete since things keep getting pushed back with lack of planning, funerals, or my travels. However, we should finish soon. Most of the rocks have been put in the soak pit and the latrine slab has been made.

Robine Project

As I mentioned last time, I would be traveling to a fellow volunteers site to help him with a water project. Currently there is a water system in his village consisting of a water tower and 13 tap stands. It has been inoperational for several years since bandits stole the solar panels that powered the pump. However, even before then, water did not reach all the taps since the tower is placed at a low elevation in the system. My second vist, me and another WATSAN volunteer administered a topographic survey to get the elevations of the different parts of the system. Currently I am working on calculations and mapping to fix the system. Ni allah soonah (god willing), by October/November we will have submitted a proposal to fix the system and will be asking for donations to the project. So far this has been a very exciting project to work on since I didn’t think I would get the chance to work on one so technical in Mali.

Shea Conference
Me and two women from my village attended a conference sponsored by PC on shea butter networking. The women from my village were really excited to learn about shea butter improvement and marketing. They also came from the conference really desiring to read and write and hope to go to classes with a NGO working in my village. Since we have returned from the conference, we have met twice with interested women in the village and will soon start to collect money and elect officers of a shea association.

Food Security

During April I attended a regional IST with my homologue. Presentations were given by NGOs for potential partnerships and we learned more about food security and how to address the problem in our village. We also explored ways to improve our working relationship and wrote action plans. Since then, me and my homologue have begun to form a food security committee (yes, another committee) where we hope to address some of the food security problems in my community. Already people in my village have run out of their millet (main grain) including my host family and are forced to buy mass amounts at inflated prices until their harvest comes in.

Cooperative Multi-Functional

Currently my homologue came up with a great idea to create one cooperative that includes 4 committees (WATSAN, garden, food security, and shea butter) to lessen the paperwork and funds to officialize the organization through the mayor and higher government officials. This will be complicated to do but I think it will really help my village develop in the long run.

ERAD(Equipe de Recherche et d'Appui Pour le Developpement)

This NGO has been working a lot in my village with baby weighings, literacy training, improved stoves, and installing a large diameter well in my village. Unfortunately the well project is not going well and has been difficult to dig despite the daily usage of dynamite that usually makes me jump. Some people in my village say it is because the devil does not agree since the well was placed closed to a fetish.


So, those are the main things I have been up to the last several months. It has certainly been a busy time, not without challenges but still gratifying. I have really learned a lot which will help for my second year of service. It is still mango season which has been amazing to have delicious fruit everyday. I actually bought a solar dryer from a PCV during regional training and have been drying some slices that I may send back to the states. It is the hot season and, as expected, it is really hot but not as miserable as I thought it would be though I have been sleeping outside. I think I prefer hot season and mangos to rainy season with mosquitos but it is nice when have gotten sporadic rains.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Waati be Pan (Time Flies)

Ne menna tuguni (I have been a long time again). I apologize but I think every 6 weeks is what I am shooting for at this point. So since Jan. 3rd I have accomplished a lot of what I set out to do before I went to Senegal. I have yet to dig a soak pit, well, or latrine but you really need to take things slowly here. (sometimes you can't help it either) Here are some highlights of the last 6 weeks:

BODTWD (Bring Our Daughters to Work Day)
Through a "essay" contest, the teachers in my village selecting 5 girls from the 5th and 6th grades to attend a sort of camp/event in Kati (largest city out side of Bamako) for 5 days Jan. 17-21. This was an event to help promote Gender and Development in Mali. Three other PC villages participated, each brang 4 girls. The main events included a work shadow, visit to a technical school, trip to the zoo, life skills lessons, games, ice breakers, goal making, and a candle light ceremony.

There were four main work shadows; each with a woman mentor who acceled at that profession: radio, mayor's office, pharamacy, doctors. The girls were split into groups based on their occupation preference that was part of the essay contest. I chaperoned the girls that went to the Mayor's office which was a really great experience. The woman mentor, Umu, had gotten her PhD in Russia and spoke french, Bambara, and Russian. From her own personal experiences and struggles, she encouraged my girls to study hard so that they could get a job and provide for their children besides living in village.

The visit to the technical school included a panel of female students that talked about how they overcame hardships and discrimination to attend a higher level school after high school. The zoo was a fun experience for the girls as well as for the volunteers. As you may expect, zoos in Africa and in the U.S. are not the same. I at least got to see a lion eating a piece of donkey meat.

On reflection, the event was a great experience. I was able to get closer to the girls from my village especially since I acted as their chaperone too. (proving I am not ready to have children yet though at least mine may speak the same language) It was difficult to work with the girls at first since they were all so timid and were afraid to speak up or elaborate. But as the formation progress, they gained more and more confidence. This was the first time we did such an event in Mali and I look forward to doing it again next year with what we have learned from this year.

WATSAN Committee
With the help of my homologue and the village chief, the Zeala Water and Sanitation (Ji ni Sanniya) Committee has been formed. There are 7 men, including my homologue, and 7 women including me. We have only had three meetings so far. The first was an organizational meeting where they elected officers and decided to have a kesu (each member contributes 50CFA every two weeks, 50 CFA if they are late, and 100CFA if they miss a meeting). The next two meetings we worked on PHAST activities which are interteractive water and sanitation exercises to identify WATSAN problems and solutions in your community. The last meeting they split into two groups and mapped the community and put different color papers on areas that they thought were good or bad.

Though, I must admit working with the WATSAN committee has been a challenge. Me and my homologue meeting for 3 hours on Tuesdays to prepare the meetings and the activities have been difficult to explain with my language ability which is even worse infront of an audience at the WATSAN meetings. But we are all learning together. I hope that the next meeting we can start on time since we started over an hour late the last time but such is Africa.

Women's Garden Project
I have been meeting every Sunday with the women's group that I contribute 100CFA every week to their microfinance kesu. Through participatory assessment tools they identified that they would like to start a community garden. Now we are in the budgeting and planning stage to find the land and price out the well, fencing, and other materials.

Food Security Surveys
As part of a large grant that PC-Mali received from USAID, volunteers have had to interview 10 families on food security issues. The surveys have been an eye opener into problems of hunger in my village that I was previously unaware.

I have been cooking more at site, included a sweet potato and plaintain chicken dish the day before I left for Senegal which was AMAZING. I saw the process through from purchasing to killing and cooking the chicken. (See facebook for pictures).

Radio and BBC
My life in village is forever changed and improved by my solar radio. I listen to BBC during breakfast after my morning run. I bring out the radio to listen to the local station with my family at night. It has a solar panel so I'm not going through too many batteries. THANK YOU!

Christmas in February!
Right before I headed to Senegal I received 5 belated Christmas packages!! (Ana, the fam, Dad, Vickie, and Jim). I was so overwhelmed and had to give up some cookies to help transport to a fellow PCVs house for "safe" keeping. But there were oreos, slim jims, nutella, marshemellow fluff, reeses, dried fruit, ranch packets, wheat thins, Sustainable Field Engineering book, tons of magazines and beads!!! Also some stuff I don't even know since I didn't want to risk repacking all that stuff. Really thank you all so much for your thoughtfulness and love!

WAIST (West African International Softball Tournament)
So, on Feb. 10th over 80 PCVs from Mali left for Dakar. We filled 1.2 buses and I was on the bus with 0.2 toubabs (white people) but that was okay. It took us 30 hours which I passed by making a stick horse (our theme was the cowboys), sleeping, and chatting. It was amazing to finally arrive in Dakar and their American club which makes ours look like kiddie land. My feet looked like they had been bitten by something but just swollen from the ride.

On arrival, we chilled out at the pool and I had a screaming, hugging reunion with Megan who I had not seen in 2 years. It was amazing to meet up on another continent and catch up. Over the next two days we had softball matches; two a day. There were 5 teams from Senegal, 3 from Mali, one from the Gambia, a Refugee team (made up of volunteers relocated from Guinea and Mauritania), and also a team made up of missionaires and one of Senegalease students (who were pretty intense). I played for the C-team since I am well aware of my lack of hand eye coordination and never playing softball before. We had a lot of fun but the first few teams we played were a little too serious for us (one of them, the Gambia A team went on to win the tournament). We made up for it in our last game by playing "kick ball" instead against the Refugee team.

During and after WAIST, I got to explore a bit of Dakar which is about 10-20 years ahead of Bamako in development (think of Dakar as New York and Bamako as Detroit...no offense, Detroit). It really helps to not be land locked. The ocean was beautiful and they have a lot of amazing restaurants. I ate thai food, mexican, italian, hamburgers and hot dogs at the American club of course, and pizza. Dakar really seemed like America but things were also really expensive (especially getting around with cab rides) and it was difficult getting around since I don't speak french or Woolof.

I attended a West African Gender and Development conference at the PC-Senegal biro along with representatives from Gambia, Niger, and Togo. It was a bit informal but we were able to share a lot of ideas for projects and committee organization.

Megan and I went to Goree Island the day after the conference which was a former slave island. It was a touristy but fun thing to do and I got to swim in the ocean!

At midnight we got a "cette place"/busch taxi to take to Kolda (regional capital near Megan's village) which took 10 hours and included crossing through the Gambia and a Ferry ride. We spent the night at Kolda and headed to her village the next day. Her village only has 130 people and feels like a big family. Megan and her village speak Pular which I understood none of but could say good morning and thank you. They killed a chicken for me for lunch the next day and then we had to head back to Kolda since we would catch a car back early in the morning to a city I could get transport back to Bamako. I really wish I could have stayed longer but I needed to get back to my village. Still great to connect back with Megan. The last night together we watched Moulin Rouge, killed a pack of oreos, and ate velvetta.

It was sad to say goodbye but Megan should be coming to visit once her service ends in October. Travel back was an adventure. We got stuck at the Senegal-Mali border for 3 hours since they apprently didn't open until 9am and we got there at 6am. 200k from Bamako, our bus broke down from 11AM-4AM when they tried to fix it, got another 100k where they just gave up and I had to pay to take a taxi to get to Bamako. Once in Bamako, I was surprised to find that all public transit was on strike since a bus driver was shot but a police man so I had to wait for PC transport to pick me up. So in total probably over 40 hours to return when it should have taken 24.

But now I am back and heading to my village tomorrow. I feel refreshed and ready to dive back in even in the midst of hot season (it has already been getting up to 105 during the day). Before WAIST I was going through somewhat of a rough spot, unsure of how to correctly launch projects and under pressure to produce results. There isn't too much time before rainy season to get projects done but I will try my best.

Here are some things I plan to do in the next month:
-build my own soak pit combined with my host families
-budget out the garden project more
-teach more WATSAN at the school
-continue to do PHAST with the WATSAN committee
-help a fellow environment volunteer with his water system

Thanks again for all your support both material and emotional.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Ne Menna (I have been long/a long time)

Yes, I know it has been FOREVER since I posted and when preparing for the PC I always wondered why people didn't update their blogs more often but internet is both slow and computers are hard to come by. I was going to update before I left on Christmas holiday but I got strep throat which almost kept me in Bamako but luckily the drugs worked.

So, my apologies! Here are some updates since my last post:

As I think I mentioned I had Thanksgiving dinner at the US Ambassador's to Mali's house which was amazing! Turkey, stuffing, green beans, mashed potatoes, AND pumpkin pie with REAL whipped cream! There were over 30 volunteers and some high school exchange students. Overall a really great time, great food, and I had a lot to be thankful for but still missed my regular thanksgiving in MI (cranberry orange relish!).

It was only a there and back trip to Bamako (so I didn't bike) and the following day was a big muslim holiday, Tabaski. People in my village stayed up until 5 or 6AM the night before while I was still recovering from Thanksgiving (my body doesn't like good food...) and then we ate basically all day! There was lots of rice AND meat. The day after Tabaski was pretty amazing.
Apparently every year some people from Turkey come in and give meat to each person in our village. We had a big ceremony at the school with costumes made out of trash and dancing to welcome them. It was an interesting experiencing watching "tubabs" come into the village and being more apart of the village than the strangers. They even leant me a rice sack shirt with
cigarette and tea cartons sewed to it. Next year I have to make my own. They get really creative and call themselves "Ngolomas", basically stupid/useless people. Made me think of my days in Tau Beta Sigma with our "pots" and random things attached to them. At that moment, it made me feel like they found the perfect village match for me.

The people from Turkey that could speak some english overwhelmed me with questions on how I could live in my village? was I scared? What did I eat? Did I eat with my hands? How did my parents let me come to Africa? I was overwhelmed since I am so used to being among other PCVs that what we do does not seem so out of the ordinary. I was just really happy to eat really
good beef for about 3 days.

A. Half Marathon
After Tabaski there was not too much time before I headed back to Bamako for our Inservice-training December 7th. I headed back early to bike the half marathon route from our office to Tubaniso and back. In three days I biked 70 miles and ran 13.1 which went pretty well. Me and three others ran the half marathon on the morning of training along with 3 people on bikes with
water :) We had enough time to walk into the dining hall to cheers, grab breakfast, change clothes, and go to session.

B. Training
December 7th-20th was spent in training but this time a lot more technical and not much language training. I got to go down a
well, down a latrine, help construct a latrine slab, help with top well repair in a nearby village, disassemble an India-Mali pump,
learn about rope-and-knot pumps, and built half of a mini-cistern. Altogether very hands on and useful. I did post pictures of Tabaski and IST on Facebook, here: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2626400&id=13705312&l=a4f972522b

Other training focused on HIV/AIDs education, project design and management, radio, urine fertilization, and Incoming Generating Activities (IGAS)-learned to make natural mosquito repellent, soap, mango driers, and mud fabric :) Overall, I think training went really well but I am a PC dork so my opinions are bias. It was quite overwhelming with all the project opportunities and that our "real" work will be starting soon. However, our "stage"/new PCVs felt closer. I still had my dugutigi duties and we got some pretty awesome shirts made.

We also had a Holiday party complete with paper snowflakes, a white elephant gift exchange, Home Alone, and hot chocolate and mini marshmellows courtousy of my Mom, Aunts, and Nana w/ Package Billi Billi Ba #5 (still the biggest of all X-mass packages! Radio, velvetta!, M&Ms, running shoes, fabric, oh my). I made about 25 friendship bracelets the colors of the Malian and American flags and gave them to the volunteers in my region (Koulikoro) and sector (WATSAN) as Christmas presents and they were a pretty big hit. If I get more colors I will make them for all of our stage. I am wearing one as an anklet and apparently that is a foreign concept to Malians and they keep asking why it isn't on my wrist. It has been weird and kind of nice not being surrounded by Christmas decorations, music, and advertisements but the party put me in the holiday spirits.

Last part of IST the WATSAN volunteers went on a trip to a village 2 hours away to see some ECOSAN projects done by an NGO CREPA. They had built some compost latrines, wash areas, soak pits, a mini-market for school children, water cisterns, and some hand washing stations. It was great seeing the technologies in the field but some were, unfortunately, in disuse or disrepair. There was also another Gender and Development (GAD) meeting and I was honored to be elected the new National Coordiantor/President. I had put together a manual before and during IST for volunteers to get project ideas and learn how to incorporate GAD into their service which is still a work in progress but a good start. I'm excited to serve in this new position but I have some big shoes to fill from the previous National Coordinator.

I also wanted to give a shout out to Mrs. Edginton and her 5th grade class ( Robert, Clayton, Hannah, Lily, Dalton, Josh, Charlene, Darien, Ethan, Katelyn, Amber, Jasmine, Sarah, McKayla, Taylor, Maggie, Albert, Keaten, Erik, Lindsey, and Zack). I received individual letters, two pictures of their class (one in Halloween costumes), and a letter about how they spent Thanksgiving (made my mouth water with the list of food) during IST. I don't know if any of them this read this (I will send an e-mail) but a general letter to the class is on its way and individual letters should be coming shortly as well. I just ask to be patient with the Malian postal system. Hopefully you get them before Valentines day, but I really enjoyed reading all your letters and look forward to more correspondance :)

I decided to join 15 of my fellow volunteers to go up to the Northern reaches of Mali (close to Timboutou/Timbuktu in Mopti region) to another volunteers site to spend the Christmas holiday. It took 12 hours to get there but we got PC transport (air conditioned and all Americans blasting various tunes from portable iPOD speakers.) but we arrived at the PC house in Sevrai and the next day took our own bashee ("malian bus"), 4 hours to Sam's site. Northern Mali is completely different than my region and resembles the American west, plateaus, cliffs, few but large trees. We spent a few days at her site where we had an AMAZING christmas dinner of corn bread, green beans, deviled eggs, stuffing, candied yams, and goat fresh off the spit. I will admit on Christmas day I had saved Sara-Janes and my Mom's Christmas cards (since I couldn't wait to open the package), and my Mom had included a snowflake in her card that made me cry just a little. (but it was a happy cry just the same) Needless to say, I have daydreams of going home for Christmas next year :)

Here are some photos from Billy who has an awesome camera:
Christmas in Dogon Country: http://www.facebook.com/album.phpaid=2047137&id=14900208&l=4cb4df4f61
Dogon Hike: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2047186&id=14900208&l=87b7313706

The day after Christmas we set off on a pretty rigourous 3-day hike up cliffs and through Dogon villages where we slept under the stars on hotel roofs. It was amazing and beautiful though the kids were somewhat oppressive (Ca Va Bon Bon/ l'argent/biki/bidon, Hello candy?money?pen? bottle?) near the end and I missed being able to somewhat speak the language. I returned to Bamako on public transit this time (half spent sitting on a leaky 20-L water bottle) on the 29th, spent the 30th in Bamako and finished my Master's International quarterly report.

NEW YEARS (Trente ni une ke, literally 31sting)
On New Years Eve I decided to head back to my village. I had been gone for over 3 weeks and was feeling guilty, low on cash, and missing my village. I had told them I would be back the 4th so they were surpised when I showed up early (there is no reception at my site still so I couldn't call). I spent the day greeting, unpacking, and drinking tea. I was surprised and pleased to discover that my house had not been destroyed by termites, just a thick layer of dust, and that my cat was still alive (so now I will need to name it and take it to the vet). Though I tried, I fell asleep before midnight since they don't really celebrate the new year but I was still happy I went back. I made some New Years Resolutions in my journal before I crashed:
1. Take my vitamens (Aunt Lori will be happier with this one)
2. Try to eat healtheir (I must have gained 10lbs from training and even hiking...)
3. Get better at Bambara & hopefully start learning some french too
4. Integrate more
5. Handle my living stipend better
6. Keep up letter writing, running, biking, organization, etc.

WHAT'S NEXT (Mun ye kofe ye)
So as Aunt Lori asked, when do you start doing real work? The answer, doni doni (little by little). Just in the two days that I got back where I was resettling in and having to answer the countless questions and exclamations that I had been gone a long time, my homologue wanted to start the WATSAN committee and my tutor's women's organization wants to know what they can do with their 175,000 CFA( $350) they have saved over the year. So here is the general goal in the next six weeks before I got to Senegal for the West African International Softball Tournament (WAIST) and GAD conference and spend a week traveling with MEGGIE!!:
•Form a WATSAN committee with my homologue and village chief based on my site mate’s model of 6 women and 6 men.
•Participate in pilot project “Take your Daughters to Work Day” in my region which includes selecting 5 girls from my village’s 5th/6th grade to travel for a four day formation where they will shadow working women of Kati/Bamako Jan. 17-21.
•Conduct PHAST(Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation) activities with the new WATSAN committee and begin to prioritize, select, and organize our first projects in the community
•Conduct PHAST activities and other health and WATSAN formations at the school in my village
•Conduct PACA(Participatory Assessment of Community Activity) such as seasonal calendar and community mapping with the WATSAN committee and some of the women’s organizations in my village
•Complete food security baseline survey in my commune capital (part of pilot project with USAID and PC-Mali)•Complete the GAD baseline survey in my village and CSCOM (health clinic) in my commune capital
•Explore project possibilities in Life Skills (HIV/AIDs) education at the higher grade levels in my commune capital and radio shows in my site mate’s village at the catholic radio station.

So, wish me luck. I am a bit nervous/excited/overwhelmed. There is pressure to get things done but it needs to be done sustainbly so I don't waist PC, my village, or other money. Thanks again for your continued support, letters, and packages. I just got a package from Kay and Mike (two soccer balls, a pump, lots of magazines, yarn, Trader Joe's CHOCOLATE!, and dried fruit!!!) THANK YOU. Apparently there are more on their way!!! I hope a lot of your received my Christmas cards and post cards. I sent a lot via returning volunteers for the holidays with US postage.