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

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Half way there...

So I have been back in Mali a little over a month now. Wow, the time is going by fast! Now I only have a month left in village and a few days in Bamako. I am sure that will go even faster. Things have been going really well after an initial adjustment to the food and climate. I think it takes me longer to adjust as I get older. Had an incident where I almost fainted in the market and spent that night in the fetal position in my bug hut thinking I had Malaria though I took my malaria medicine that night and started on an anti-diarrheal that the USF travel nurse luckily convinced me to fill before I left and I was fine within a few days.

The first two weeks I was really busy with evaluating the literacy project that African Sky has been funding in my village. I arrived earlier this year so I was able to see the literacy teacher, Elizabeth, in action which was great. I wish I could be there for the full 5 months since there is still some Bambara I have yet to learn and I mix a lot of the French and Bambara spellings. I evaluated each of the 35 students and was really proud of a lot of their progress. Several of the girls where relatively younger (early teens) who had never went to school since their father’s wouldn’t let them and had made a lot of progress in just one year.

Though ofcourse there were a few students even after two years that still could not write the entire alphabet by memory and that was frustrating but then I had to remind myself that these women that are over 30 years old and never have set foot in a classroom cannot learn what we did in Kindergarten in two 5 months stints separated by 7 months, 3 days a week. They even have to be taught how to open and write in a notebook and how to hold a pen. The fact that they can still write even 10 letters of the alphabet, their names, and numbers and read a few words is a lot. It just goes to show that literacy training takes years of work just like primary school so I am very happy that African Sky is continually funding this project and we are looking to build a literacy center for the next, 2015 school year that will start in January.

We had a big celebration at the end where those that passed the test to be able to write and read the alphabet, their name, and numbers received fabric and we all showed up in matching outfits to talk about the importance of literacy, dance, and eat and dance some more. It is really a great motivator for the students and helps attract new students for the next year.

During those first few weeks and up until now I have been busy conducting ethnographic interviews on Shea butter and its importance to the women here, their families, and in local traditions. These are usually 4 one hour sessions with each woman where I spend about 10 hours transcribing each interview. I have been learning a lot about the importance of Shea butter and also how much women contribute to the household.
Just this past week, the Shea harvest has begun and I have went out to collect nuts. I hope to make some of my own butter again to bring back to the states. I’ve been taking a lot of pictures and videos with my new Fujifilm 100xs.

So the plan from now on is to collect and transcribe as many ethnographic interviews as I can before I leave. I will still weigh shea nuts, firewood, and butter as before to calculate the amount of firewood needed in the process and the butter yield. I’ve already taken a sample of the waste water from extracting the butter to be analyzed to see about its’ use as a fertilizer. As well as plan for the literacy center construction. So enough to keep me pretty busy but it is still a bit more of a relaxed pace here than when school is in session at Tampa.
I’ve been able to get a lot of reading done (finished the Hunger Games series) which has been really nice. I love reading books and most of graduate school has consisted of reading scientific journal articles which can be exciting but it isn’t the same as a book you can’t put down for hours on end and that leaves you with a sort of reading “hang over”/depression since the series is over and there is no more. I usually read in the evening before bed.


I’ve been sticking to my running plan and had a good 8 mile run this morning. It was a taper week after an 11 mile long run the week before. I run about 4 times a week and bike twice a week to the markets. I’ve been keeping up with the physical therapy exercises and only have minor soreness in my hip every once in a while ::crosses fingers:: Thus, I decided to register for the Detroit Free Press marathon in mid-October. Next week is a 13 mile run and I hope to add a speed work out so hopefully the hip will hold up. I already have my sights set on an Olympic triathlon at the end of September but we will take it dooni dooni (Bambara little by little) for now. I am running mid to lower 9 minute pace so not as fast as before but it has been great to be able to run again after those 5 months of torture where I didn’t know if I would be able to run again.  

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