Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Journal: August 27, 2009

This morning I ate some breakfast at 5:00 am (easy to do since it's the month of Ramadan and my host family is waking up around that time to eat and drink water to prepare them for fasting the rest of the day), went back to sleep for a while and then woke up again at six to get dressed and out the door. Today was the day of my "half marathon" that I've been planning to do since I started running nine months or so ago. On my regular runs, I usually make it to Station N'Tarla, the village where I did the garden project, about 5 km down the road. Today I passed Station, stopping to drink water at the house of the president of the women's organization there, and continued another 4 km down the road to N'Tarla, a larger village in the "brousse." All in all, the run was probably about 15-16 km, not quite a half marathon, but close enough as far as I'm concerned. It feels good to have made my goal, after working on running for close to a year. I can't say I'm very fast (clocked it at a bit over 2 1/2 hours this morning) but it is definitely satisfying to have made my goal.

I feel as if I've been making a lot of goals lately, in preparation for leaving Mali. Yesterday, for example, I cooked zamen, or riz au gras, successfully for the first time in Mali, all by myself, without burning or undercooking the rice, which has been my problem in the past (rice here seems to cook faster for some reason).

I've also been busy the past few months seeing some parts of Mali that I hadn't seen much of, and making some other athletic goals. In June/July, I took off for Manatali in the western region of Kayes, along with my bike. I rode first up the paved road from my site to Segou, about 110 km (60 miles), the first 75 of which I did the first day, spending the night at another volunteer's site, and then finishing up the next morning.

I then bused to Bamako and then Kita with my bike, where I met up with Calita, another volunteer, and we spent another day and a half biking to Manatali, about 150 km (90 miles). That trip was particularly beautiful, as it is rainy season and everything was lush and green. That part of the country is also pretty hilly, with some red cliffs sticking up along the side of the road as we went alont. About a quarter of the way was on a paved road, the rest on a red dirt road. We biked from the afternoon until dusk the first day, stopping to pitch our tents on the side of the road for the night and leaving early again the next day. Manantali itself was beautiful, the site of a hydro-electric dam that provides electricity for a huge chunk of West Africa. About 20-30 other volunteers showed up that weekend to celebrate the fourth of July, and I felt almost like I was on Cape Cod, relaxing in the river and playing cards for a day or two. There were a couple of hippos bathing in the river the first day, not quite Cape Cod, I suppose.

After getting back from Manatali I spent another month or so in the Koutiala region and at site, mostly just hanging out. I did manage to start a mural of a world map on the wall of the primary school in Ferme, which I just finished this week.

At the beginning of August, I left site again, this time for the Dogon region in the north, where some fellow volunteers had planned a 2 1/2 day hike. About eleven of us set out with a Dogon guide named Amadou, making a circle from Sangha, a village at the top of the cliffs in Dogon, to the bottom of the cliffs, then up onto another cliff, where we viewed the palace of the Tellum people, a group of pygmees that used to live on the cliffs about a thousand years ago. The last day of the hike, we walked along the cliffs for a few hours and then climbed a steep staircase leading back to Sangha.

Since getting back from Dogon, I've mostly been preparing to leave Mali, packing up my things, spending time in my village. We've had two parties since I got back (we did them both a bit early to avoid falling in the fasting month), the first at Station N'Tarla, the second in Ferme. At Station, the women hired local drummers, balaphone players (a xylophone-like instrument), and a singer to see me off to Ameriki. Everyone danced and rejoiced and so on. I also got my fifteen minutes of fame, because someone had called the radio from Koutiala, and they sent a guy to do a piece on the toubabu woman leaving Mali after two years. Though I never managed to actually hear it over the radio, I've been getting a lot of "I thought you had already left"-s from pelople around here since then.

We had a similar party in Ferme on Wednesday last week, pretty much the same minus the radio man and plus an hour or two of technical difficulties with the sound system. It turned out okay, though. Three other local volunteers, Hannah, Jenn, and Maridee came as well and hung out for the night.

Now I only have a day or two left at site before heading to Bamako to do paperwork until my flight out on Wednesday night. After that, it's three weeks on an organic farm in the south of France, and back home in October. Looking forward to that job market . . .

Hanging out by the water in Manantali.

The Tellum palace.

Drummers drying out the drums by the fire at the party in Station N'Tarla.

Dancing in N'Tarla.

Dancing in Feremuna- see Maridee . . .

The World Map. Finished.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

So, it’s been a while (again) since I wrote in here. Sorry, can’t think of any other way to begin this entry. My instincts tell me I should think of some catchy phrase to get your interest, but my brain is not cooperating.

The last three months or so have been pretty busy work-wise, but also pretty low-key in general. I spent most of March getting prepared for the work at the maternity that we were organizing with the women’s group and the local clinic and also writing up a proposal to do a cloth-dying training with the women’s organization in Ferme. For the most part, that went pretty smoothly. At the maternity, Adiaratou (the midwife) and Hamadoune (the medical technical/director of the CSCOM) and I met with the women’s cooperative from Ferme to organize everyone into four groups, one group for each week of the month. Adiaratou and I also told the women coming into the maternity on Wednesdays for baby weighing days throughout March to bring the ingredients for making improved porridge (those ingredients being corn, millet, sorghum, peanut and bean powder).

When April arrived, each week the group of women from the cooperative that was going to come give a presentation would go to Adiaratou to go over the information they had to communicate and then head to the maternity on Wednesdays and Fridays to convey that information to the women coming in and to give porridge demonstrations. It all went over pretty smoothly, and I think it’s the project that I’m the most proud of since I’ve been here- it’s sustainable, didn’t involve giving people money, and involves teaching people new things. The women have been pretty good about coming in as well without me bugging them about it, and most days that there have been presentations at the maternity, the whole women’s cooperative shows up to listen to what the day’s presentation is.

The past few weeks, we’ve put the maternity project on hold, however, to have our cloth dying formation. I had written up the proposal in March after a few months of searching for a trainer and discussing with the ladies what they wanted to study. The idea for the formation began in November when I had a meeting with the women’s cooperative in Ferme to ask them what they wanted to do with me as far as work was concerned for the rest of my time here. They said they wanted to do a more advanced cloth dying training to learn more about mixing colors and tie dying. We decided on Awa Keita, who had been working in the garden with the women as an agricultural extension agent and who also had knowledge about cloth dying, as the trainer. A few weeks after I submitted my proposal, we got the funding, and we spent a week or two making purchases and meeting with Awa to discuss the training. When I got back from close of service conference in late May (more on that soon), we made some final arrangements and began the training. In general, it went pretty well. Awa taught the ladies a whole bunch of new color combinations (they had said they weren’t very strong on mixing colors and to tell the truth a lot of the time I felt like the colors they produced were too bright or just off in some way) and helped them prepare swatches of cloth to use as samples to show to potential buyers. They also practiced some more complicated tie dying patters. See pictures of the training (and also the maternity work) at http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2031291&id=10301328&l=63ed1be532

Aside from work, things have been pretty low key and probably will be for the next three months. In mid May, I went to Bamako for COS conference and got a date for when I will be leaving Mali, September 2. I think I am going to go to Europe for a few weeks before coming home- my plan is to go WWOOF-ing- find an organic farm or two to work on, either in France or England or both. Or maybe Italy. Who knows. After I get back, who knows what I’ll be up to . . . I’m feeling pretty much at loose ends right now. Part of me wants to go to graduate school and start a career and settle down, but part of me still wants to travel more or feels like there is other stuff for me to be doing. I’m not exactly sure how to reconcile the two, but I guess we’ll see. Life goes on, right?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Hi all,

I’m back in Koutiala after two weeks at site (first full two weeks I’ve spent there since Septemberish! I’m so proud of myself). Things are going well. I was on vacation for most of February with my parents, who came right at the end of January and then toured Mali and sat on the beach in Senegal for a few days with me. We had a good visit, spending four nights at my site the first week and then heading up north to Dogon country to tour the cliffs up there (sort of an American southwest-ish scenery) with our guide Hassimi. In Senegal, we headed straight to the beach and spent three nights in Toubab Diallo, a beach community not too far from Dakar, where we ate some good fresh fish and sat on the beach. Back in Dakar, we took a day trip to Goree Island, a small island right off the coast where there had been a colonial settlement.

After my parents had gone home, I spent another week or so in Senegal to play softball in the annual softball tournament put on by Peace Corps Senegal. We had about 27 volunteers from Mali- we didn’t win any games (and I struck out while batting . . .) but we had fun, and it was great to meet with other volunteers from West African countries. People came from most of the countries surrounding Senegal- Mauritania, Guinea, the Gambia, etc. After the weekend of playing softball, I headed to the beach again with about 20 other volunteers, where we rented a house on the beach for two nights and played a lot of Spades and once more ate a lot of fish and drank a bit of beer.

Back at site, things have been going well. I’ve been trying to finish up my project with Badenya Ton at Station N’Tarla. We put up the fencing in February and are currently working on resolving the water situation in the garden- the women have hired someone to dig the wells which had gone dry a bit deeper and are planning to dig two more; I’m just hoping the new wells will have enough water in them. At Ferme, I’m still working on organizing the nutrition education project at the maternity, getting the women’s organization together to learn how to do porridge demonstrations that we’re scheduling to take place in April. We’ve also been talking more about doing some further training on cloth dying techniques, hopefully including some business training along with the cloth dying.

I’ve been keeping myself busy working out (been jogging pretty consistently since I got back in December, though I had a lapse during February while traveling) and cooking for myself since I finally (I know, 20 months into service) got a stove. In Koutiala the past few days, I’ve been enjoying the privilege of having an internet connection and a stove/oven at our stage house- both of which we had been waiting for for months.

Hope everyone is doing well, I’ll write again when I get a chance.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Journal: Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The past week or so has felt like what I always thought Peace Corps should be. It's weird it's taken 18 months, but here I am at a place where I'm actually more or less happy with the way things are here, and it's kind of almost over (if 8 months left is almost over). I don't know whether to take this positive feeling and go back to Ameriki with it or to take it and extend for a third year . . . a debate for another time, though.

I've been very busy since I got back from all my vacationing for Christmas, New Years, Thanksgiving, etc. Last week I made a trip to Koutiala, partly to hang out with local volunteers, but largely to meet with someone about the possibility of doing more training on cloth-dying with the ladies in Ferme. I got in contact with a woman who dyes cloth and does training through the local artisan organization that Koutiala volunteer Maridee works with, and she showed me photos of some of her work and around her work station at her house. She seemed like she'd be great for them, except for her price tag, which was 45,000 CFA a day (about $90), an astronomical sum, considering a full time teacher in a Malian primary school might get paid only about twice that in a month. So I don't know if that will go anywhere, but we'll see if we can either get that price down some or find someone else.

When I got back to Ferme, I started the week with some work at the maternity. I've been talking with the doctor at the clinic in town lately about doing some work on malnutrition at the maternity for the remainder of my service. I helped him put together some statistics on malnourished children coming into the maternity in the past year for a report he's doing. Looked over the registers and found the number of children at 70% of the ideal weight and under (about 9 over the year, out of about 170 childre aged 0-10 months or so coming into the maternity), and a few other numbers. I worked on that in addition to the ususal work on the baby-weighing and pregnancy consultation days. Today we talked about the prospect of possibly training some women in village to go do education at the maternity on a regular basis. I'm supposed to ask some of the ladies from my women's organization if they'll be up to it. I hope they will be.

Outside of the maternity, I've been working in the garden with the ladies when I can and getting a fair amount of exercise, two activities that have left me physically exhuasted much of the time. I've been keeping to my regime of jogging and bike riding, working towards that marathon . . . All last week, my back was aching unpleasantly, I think from the bike rides to and from Koutiala, but from weeding and watering things in the garden as well. Watering the garden now takes the women about two hours each day, pulling water from the well and watering 40 beds (1 by 5 meters each). The potatoes have really sprouted up and the cabbage and tomatoes are also growing, though the cabbage isalso being attacked by some small pests. I've been trying to get things together to try the urine fertilizer on some tomatoes as well, but it's slow going, as I haven't had a lot of time to go work in the garden myself, and these things don't magically happen by themselves, though the ladies have been helping me.

To add to the physical exhaustion, I've started hanging out with some of the female students from the Centre d'Apprentissage Agricole, working out together in the evenings. It's not much of a workout, to tell the truth, just two laps around the soccer field and a few jumping jacks. But I'm really excited to hang out with a group of women more or less my age who are educated. And to hang out with some more students from CAA- so far most of my contact has been pesky male students coming to my door to woo me or ask for money (a sneaking suspicion that they are one and the same . . .). So yay, female friends! Unfortunately school is over mid February and they're all going home then, but I'll take what I can get.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Journal: Thursday, December 11, 2008

I've been back just about a week now, and things are going well. The trip from the US was a bit exhausting. I left on the first and spent two days hanging out in Paris. I can't say that I actually did much, which I blame on jet-lag. I got there on Tuesday morning and spent most of the morning and early afternoon finding a hostel and some food . . . I had been hoping to walk around and do some more site-seeing, but instead I decided I was exhausted and was back at the hostel in bed by 4 pm. The next day wasn't any better. I couldn't sleep Tuesday til four in the morning or so and then managed to sleep until 3 in the afternoon . . . so much for wandering the city of lights. Still, I had a good afternoon that day- I found a cozy tea shop with a fireplace and sat down to read for a while before heading back. I stopped in Notre Dame on the way, where they were having an evening service, very beautiful singing. Back at the hostel, I couldn't sleep most of the night again.

Since I got back to Mali, I've felt oddly relaxed and clear-headed. I got in early Friday morning around 4 am and hung out at the Peace Corps Bureau until the car that was supposed to make the circle from Bamako to Sikasso to Koutiala and back to Bamako left. We traveled all day, spending the night in Sikasso, and I was back "home" by Saturday morning. Monday was Tabaski, so things have been pretty relaxed all week. Monday was spent hangning out with my host family and visiting friends, Tuesday more of the same, and Wednesday working at the maternity and then attending a tea party at Koko, one of the family compounds out in the country.

Today was a particularly nice day. I woke up early (my internal clock seems to have re-adjusted to Mali) to go for a jog (definitely needing some exercise after all the wonderful Ameriki food) and then off to the garden to work with the women from Ferme. Since I left, they've been working with a local woman trained by the FAO in gardening techniques to grow potatoes in the garden. Right before I left they cleared a space for the communal garden they would be working on, and since then they've been working together each Thursday to prepare beds and seed potatoes. There are probably forty beds, one meter by four, in preparation, fifteen or so of which already have potatoes growing. The women have more seed potatoes in preparation in a potato nursery as well as a nursery full of tomato and cabbage plants, protected by a mosquito net held up by a few arched branches.

We spent all morning watering things and digging beds, then ate lunch and drank tea for a hour or two under the big mango tree. The woman who's been studying with the women never actually showed up today, but we still got a fair amount of work done, and it was nice to spend the day with the women. We also talked about possible projects for the time before I leave to go home, and decided to try setting up some training sessions to help the women improve their cloth-dying techniques. We'll also spend a few days in January working on the bilan for 2008, hopefully getting our paperwork in order again.

That's about it for now. If I don't write again before Christmas, Happy Holidays and all that. It was great to see everyone for Thanksgiving.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I'm in Morocco!

I'm in Morocco and it's amazing, just like being back home except not. When we got off the plane, it was cold enough out that I could see my breath and I was really glad that I had bought a winter jacket in Koutiala before leaving Mali. I'm a dork and I took a picture of the airport. Paris in T-4 hours!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Oh Yeah . . . .

News I forgot yesterday - my dog Tozo gave birth to seven healthy puppies last Tuesday. They all look mostly like sausages at this point, but I think they are destined for immense cuteness in the coming weeks. See a picture of them with their proud mama.

Also equally cute, see a picture of my little host sister Asha and my host father Drissa. Asha and her mom Ami are relatives from my host family's village, and have been visiting for a few months. Asha's almost one year old and is good fun to play with (she can clap her hands!).