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.
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.