Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Santastic!

 
 Back from site visit in the scenic region of San (in Segou).  All the trainees spent the week at their eventual sites (which we'll go to in September after swear-in) getting to know the officials in the town and establishing rapport.  My site is very much like Kabo-san-Mali (aka Kabe) in that it's very rural, or brusse, the people are lovely and it's beautiful.  

Things of note in Zana (my site):

-Fully grown baobab outside my compound with about 25 birds nests in it.  The birds look like a mix between egrets and pelicans, large but not too noisy and very fun to watch.  If you like birds, you should definitely plan a trip out here because there are tons of different birds at my site in all colors and sizes
-I have my own house!  First time living alone and I have a 3 room place (3 rooms total...) with a bedroom about 10 ft x 10 ft, a "kitchen" a little larger, and a sitting area where there will be a lot of crafting going on.
-My yard is very large and I have a chest high mud wall around my house, outdoor bathroom (it's as romantic as it sounds, really!) and well where all my water for drinking and washing will come from.  There's also a special area for a nice big garden.  I don't think my foods will travel well in packages so you'll just have to come here to taste the fruits of my gardening labor!  
-I'm replacing a volunteer who did incredible work that is sustainable and she set a great precedent for me to follow.  Sometimes villages see foreigners as banks and easy sources of money because organizations will come in and just give away things without making it sustainable - the volunteer I'm replacing made sure all her projects were community supported and run.
-I get to bike about 15 miles every week to get my groceries for the week (just dried fish and dried onions in my village - tasty but not exactly sufficient) so I have a guaranteed exercise program/release. 
-San is my market town and is not as touristy as other cities like Bamako, Segou and of course, Timboctou because it's not on a river or main thoroughfare which means less tourists and also that the locals treat foreigners less aggressively.  Of course I stick out like a green thumb but at least the people just call out "Toubab! (Word for french, white foreigner) and I say "N'amu! (that's me!) and we laugh and move on.  Other cities, you can run into folks being relentless asking for money and things - not what I'm looking for.  
-My host mom is a knitter and has a 2-month old baby.  I knew I had big shoes to fill when they let me know that the volunteer I'm replacing, Tamara, was given the honor of naming their child.  !!!  But they seemed to like me and the baby peed on me which is a sign of good luck!
-The San volunteer house is incredible.  Not only does it foster much needed Peace Corps Volunteer community, it has a toilet, hot shower and full kitchen!  Lots of creative cooking took place this past week when we stayed there as we opened bank accounts and got to know the town.  The current volunteers are delightfully friendly and open and there's a large library (with books, VHS tapes and DVDs).  Nice to have such amenities so close by.  

And PS - definitely check out the Wollersheim Time blog (the link on the side bar)  if you want a cross reference for what I'm experiencing.  I could very well be lying (how would you know??) about how beautiful Mali is and what training is like- but let their pictures and words be an assurance that I'm not :)  

I'm leaving tomorrow for a long visit to my homestay site so I'll be back in touch in early September.  I'm writing everyday so let me know if you want a letter! 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Kabo-san-Mali

This is the view of my host family's kitchen and home (left to right) at sunset.
Talking about the fishbowl feeling in the last entry, this was the normal amount of people who would sit around me and watch me, silently, for the first few nights. Now that I can actually say something back to them, I'm less - though not by much, of an anomaly.
Me and Joelle, a kindred spirit, and another agriculture volunteer with our "dabas" in the test garden in Kabe. We're learning about agriculture through half-day sessions with current volunteers and Malian trainers in my homestay village through hands-on demonstrations. I wear my hat everyday but as you can see by Joelle's outfit, am not required to be in dresses or skirts all the time by any means.
This is the view from my hut in Kabe. The bench in the middle is where my host dad hangs out at night. The structure to the right is one of his wive's huts. Malian men are required to be provide separate homes for their wives and then they have their own place too.
Here is Gibril (at right) and his brother Adama getting ready to head to Bamako to play music. Transportation is funny around here, no one follows traffic laws and motos are always weaving in and out. Gibril charges my cell phone on this motorcycle battery.
It's been 4 weeks today that I've been in Mali and while I do seem to think more than usual about time and it's passing, that still catches me by surprise. It feels like I left for Philadelphia last week (sometimes...) and at others, like it was ages ago. We're getting ready to head out for our site visits this weekend where we'll get to see what our living situation and village is going to be like for the next 2 years. Kabe is pretty separate from a main road which is great for getting to spend time with my host family but not so much for spending time with other trainees. I'd like to be able to meet up with them during the week when we're at homstay but the road to Kabe, like the one to Casablanca (thank you for that movie Memaw!) is a rough one to say the least, so we're a little isolated. Fortunately the surrounding area is enough to satisfy me and when I go to site I will have a bike. In fact, my site is about 5 km from a drivable road it seems so I have to have a bike, even for our site visit this weekend, and I'm very much looking forward to getting to explore the village on two wheels.
It's fun coming back to Tubaniso and hearing everyone's different adjusting stories. It seems to "survive" here you have to have a vibrant sense of humor, or at least an appreciation for it, and an ability to look at what's going on around you and say, "yes, this is wayyyy different, but I'm pushing along." Some of newest, closest friends embrace laughter and sharing these stories and it feels so good to laugh along with them at the situations we're encountering.
Of course it took coming to Mali to realize how small the world really is. I went to Bamako for a quick medical visit with another trainee who wasn't feeling so well and we got to talking with another current volunteer who is one year in and when I asked where she was from, of course she said Virginia Beach. I was hungry and excited to take advantage of being in a city (which means I'm around pizza and ice cream!) so we headed to a nearby restaurant The restaurant had a bar area for passersby and the likes of me to sit and quickly refresh. I sat down to eat my pizza with the VB volunteer and we struck up a conversation with the only other guy at the place. The french reader and motorcycle helmet gave him away as a traveler, and perhaps the English as well, but we got to talking and found out, naturally, that he too was from the 757 - though Hampton and not our beloved Virginia Beach. He's biking around West Africa for 5 weeks on a moped/motorcycle he bought in Mauritania (or Senegal) and just taking in the scenery and culture before starting business school. It had only been about 3 weeks at the time since I'd been in the US but I was nonetheless already very excited at the prospect of pizza. I got my food and as we talked and very politely ate. When I finished, he looked at me with a little awe and commented "Um, you just ate that pizza in about 4 minutes." I looked at myself and laughed at the crumbs all over my pants and said, yes, I was reallly hungry.
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