I ni faama blog! It has been a long time, almost two years since an update. I was hoping to have my formal website and blog up before I left for Mali though journal submissions, moving, and visiting family in Michigan before I left sort of postponed that a little. I am back in Mali for about 10 weeks (arrived June 3rd, leave August 6th) for more research and also continuing work with African Sky. It is great to be back. It always feels like not that much time has passed (I was last in Mali June 18th-August 2013) though there are usually more babies and some new buildings.
So far security wise, Mali seems about the same or better despite continuing tensions in the North of which there have been more Peace talks recently in neighboring African countries. The Malians themselves seem more confident and set that Mali should not be divided (look how well that worked for Sudan...). When I arrived at the airport, there were two new additions: heat scanner and finger print machines as well as a few French troops. There are some areas blocked off by either the UN or French military in Bamako that were not before.
PEACE CORPS MALI IS ACCEPTING VOLUNTEERS!
Good news though is that I visited the Peace Corps office today and they are accepting applications for Peace Corps Response Volunteers for the Sikasso region starting as early as this September!! Since we were evacuated in April 2012, there have not been any new volunteers and many of the staff had to be let go at the PC office. A 41 year old program, shut down in a matter of weeks. However, this is a good sign and may even mean full, new two-year volunteers could return next year!
I have really enjoyed reconnecting with the women from the Water and Sanitation cooperative I worked with in Bamako, COFESFA. They are an amazing group of women that founded their own cooperative after graduating from University and not being able to find jobs. Hoping I can finish the work I started on their compost project sometime after the PhD.
It will be nice to get back to village, see everyone, give them pictures (particularly the professional ones from www.lylehansen.com), and start on research (as well as get away from French soap operas that are always on televisions here). However, going back to village won't quite be the same as my close work partner and friend, Jean-Claude, passed away last year suddenly from pancreatic cancer and the village chief also died. Though I was there for Jean-Claude's funeral, it will truly set in when I return. I also recently heard that my host father's wife, Jeneba, has become blind from some sort of disease. She acted as my mother throughout my two year service particularly in those first 3 months and year where she taught me how to wash clothes, fetch water, garden, farm, etc. This is very sad news but I hope there may be some way she can get treatment in Bamako. Unfortunately, this is the reality of life (and death) in Mali. Last year, I remember giving my close friend, Alima, a picture of her and the daughter she named after me. She quickly turned the photo over, and averted her eyes, she said that she had died.
Though, not to be too sad, the wives of the Zeala school director and one of my close friends in market both had babies and I bought them some baby clothes from the states that I hope they appreciate. It is hard to judge what size to get since I'm sure the 3-6 month sizes of American babies are much larger than those for Malian children.
So what exactly will I be working on research wise? I plan to complete collecting ethnographic interviews (2 hour, detailed interviews with different types of questions) about the importance of Shea butter to women and their families in Mali. Shea butter is a process primarily controlled by women in Mali and the profits usually go directly to food, clothes, and school fees for their children. After taking a few anthropology courses, I'm trying to use these more qualitative methods to add to the other parts of my research that are more quantitative (mapping the Shea butter belt across sub-Saharan Africa and calculating the production potential, weighing nuts and fire wood to determine Greenhouse Gas emissions from the Shea butter process, and an overall life cycle analyses of the Shea butter process for the human and material energy). I also
hope to collect some samples of Shea wastewater for analysis. Yes, that is all a mouth full. Hoping to finish with my PhD in Civil Engineering by the end of 2015 (n'shallah).
As the Assistant Director to African Sky I will also be evaluating the literacy project there, now in its' second year. We will also have a celebration for the women for their hard work over the last 5 months, learning to read and write in the local language. We are hoping to build a literacy/community center in Zeala so that the women will not be exposed to the heat and dust as much under a hangar during the hot season. So, the executive director, Scott Lacy (who will also be visiting Mali this summer), and I will be trying to get this project started and maybe even making some bricks while I am still in country.I hope to be updating twitter, facebook, and this blog while I am at site since I had an electrician friend help me purchase a solar panel set up that I can hopefully charge my computer with... Good thing I brought the one that is mostly dying anyways if it doesn't work (everything is backed up).
Wow, that is a lot more than I anticipated writing. I am leaving in less than 6 hours to get the early transport to village. I always get overly excited and nervous before going back to Mali and then to village. Thus, I don't get that much sleep and I also trying to get in all the internet and electricity before I leave...
I also am easing back into running while in Mali after my five month injury since my half iron race in Key West January 24th. After much physical therapy, and having dye injected in my hip and an MRI, I was diagnosed with a labral tear in my right hip (a tear of the cartilidge in my hip joint/socket). Usually the only way to treat this is through surgery since there is not enough blood flow to the area for it to repair itself. They said I had a thin enough tear (1-2mm thick but 7 mm long) that the doctor did not recommend surgery which may do more harm than good. This tear was most likely caused by biking with aero bars though running aggravates it too. I may have damaged it a long time ago with a fall as well.
I went back to the physical therapist after this diagnosis to get new exercises for the injury and we're hoping to strengthen the muscles in the area so as to hold the hip joint in place. It has been a very slow recovery. But I have gotten back to running over 6 miles with shorter and shorter recovery times afterwards. So I am hoping to build slowly and get back into distance running...::crosses fingers:: Unfortunately, there is no ice readily available so I really need to be careful not to aggravate it. I am also taking a number of natural supplements to help specifically with this type of injury in addition to a daily vitamin. I have ibruprofen as well.
Well that should cover it for now. I also have a nice, new camera. Sorry no pictures yet but the internet is very slow... May need to wait for my return, though it would help to break up this block of text. Thank you all for reading and your support!