Monday, September 29, 2008

Two weeks in, chugging along!

It was my first Saturday night in Zana and I heard the tinkling of keys and a tap tap on my corrugated iron window shutters which means Esayi, my homologue, was coming to give me a visit. He announces when he's coming by making these noises because I'm so jumpy and I really appreciate it because it means I don't scream every time he comes to see me which is daily. I was in my kitchen cooking dinner, my hair still dripping from my nightly bucket bath under the stars. Esayi said folks were meeting at the church to sing and if I'd like to come, was welcome to join. I finished making dinner and eating it and made my way over to the church which is an unassuming mud structure no larger than my house, which is just the right size for me, but makes for a very compact worship space. I sat in the back on a cement bench and watched the evening unfold before me. Esayi stood at the front of the church with another boy, Emmanuel, and they led the singing. There were maybe 10 people there, but as the singing progressed, more people came out of the woodwork and joined me on my cement bench and others. I felt cozy and at home sitting there, listening to music I couldn't understand but could feel the emotion in the people's voices. A single kerosene lamp was all we had to light the room and it made the two men up front's shadows loom large before me and made everyone around me glow.



Top Ten Zana:

1 Cute little pigs run around everywhere

2 No cars - it's safe and eco-friendly out here!

3 Stunning sunrises and sets

4 While it's hard on the back, it is very soothing to sleep outside under the stars and with a breeze

5 Zana is filled with patient people who like to laugh

6There's an interest in ultimate frisbee! Little by little (Donni donni in bambara) we'll get a team going so we can play a game

7 Folks will listen to me play "Lyin' Eyes" ad nauseum (just like my college roomates :)

8 I don't have to worry about cutting the grass (or neighbors eyeing my overgrown lawn with weary eyes) because people just come into my yard and hammer stakes - with their livestock attached - into the ground. It's like my own petting zoo - goats, horses, donkeys, chickens. You name it, it's likely in my front yard.

9 There's a harmonious mix Christianity, Islam and animism which means I get to celebrate 3 times the holidays!

10 There's an endless supply of babies to play with and coo over.

And here's a little anecdote to give you an idea of what life is like here when I come to San, my market town:

Two of the other newly installed San volunteers were out shopping for house things at the market and as they walked, a child wouldn't stop pestering them. The kid kept waving an old book in their faces - and they kept shooing him away and, with their fragmented Bambara, trying to explain they weren't interested. The kid followed them throughout the market until he gave up and handed the planner to an older man who then approached the two volunteers. Now, with the children here, it's expected that they'll accost "toubabs" or foreigners, but older people generally tend to keep to themselves. The older man didn't bother with words - he just put the book in the volunteer's basket and left. The two volunteers were so confused - so they opened the book, which they now recognized as a planner, and flipped through the pages and found, written in small print and in pencil, the name of a volunteer who has ben here for two years and is extending for a third. The little boy had just wanted to return the lost book and knew our community is so small here, he knew toubabs would return this book to whomever it belonged.

This is just one example of why I know I've found another place to call home here in San/Zana.

Monday, September 22, 2008

First week at site

After an initial mix-up about the location of my water filter - move-in was great. I thought folks would swarm in on my room, eager to see the new person in town but folks kept their distance until the next day when I went around and greeted everyone.
My house is all moved into and I've got all my furniture except a bookcase. I spent this week getting started knitting with my host mom and greeting folks. My cat, Caya, is a great companion even if she does take up too much space in my bed. One thing, of many, that's lovely about my house is there's a wall around my whole yard, but also a smaller one right in front of my house so I can sleep outside in my mosquito tent without anyone being able to see me. Star gazing here is a big past time of mine and every night it seems I manage to see a shooting star.
I'm loving my village and feel like I really lucked out with my homologue and his wife who are terribly wonderful. More next week- I'll prepare a blog post before I come to the internet cafe.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

It's official!

Kamaje, my beautiful host grandmother that would clap as I danced and rub my belly when I said I'd eaten dinner and was full.
This is my out door bathroom, called a negen (with funky e's). Inside there's a covered hole that you use as the toilet. I'll bathe here as well and it's beautiful when the sun is setting because there's a perfect view of it from these mud walls.
Here is one such sunset in Zana.

Yesterday, (Friday the 12th), all the trainees loaded up onto one big bus and we headed to the American embassy. Once there, we listened to speeches by our country director, the acting ambassador, and our training director about our decision to join the Peace Corps and the completion of our training. Three trainees gave thank you speeches in the three languages folks learned: French, Bambara and Bomu. It was a little surreal looking around at the other volunteers newly sworn in and thinking about the past two months we've spent together learning about Mali as we studied our respective languages. Just to remind us of our roots, the ceremony was followed by a pool party at a club complete with hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad.
Later in the day all the new volunteers and the older ones who came into Bamako to see us swear in celebrated together at the Pirate's Bar and then No Stress - night clubs owned by some Lebanese folks (like many of the restaurants and clubs are in Bamako). I haven't done much clubbing in the States and it was a lot of fun to get dressed up and go out dancing with everyone. We've all been going to bed early these past two months - usually no later than 10, 11 is pushing it. But last night, we didn't get back to the hotel until 3 in the morning, get crazy!
Nouhoum, the man in charge of our language training and a cousin of Malick Sidibe's, said we could meet this morning and travel together to Malick's studio which is within walking distance of the Peace Corps office. So I dragged myself from the mattress on the floor in the hotel room we stayed at in Bamako and walked over the peacefully sleeping bodies of exhausted volunteers to get ready to meet the man I spent 4 months studying last fall. I practiced my Bambara greetings with Nouhoum on the way and how I would say that I had studied him for my thesis only to find that he's on a trip to Europe for 10 days and won't be back until next week. But Nouhoum showed me his studio (pictures to come) and I'll be able to go back when I come back to Bamako in January for training. While disappointing, I'm glad that my Bambara will be at a conversational level by the time I meet him because even though Sidibe speaks French fluently because he went to high school, it's a palpable difference in the way Malians treat you when you speak Bambara and when you speak French. The interactions are so much more jovial and full of laughter and smiles when I communicate in Bambara than when I use my French.
I leave early tomorrow to take a bus to San to go shopping for my new house and to meet the police in San and find the post office. There's a nervous excitement in the air - after two months of training we're yet again moving away from those close to us (this time it's friends we've known for only 2 months but we've still developed strong rapports in the short time) as we did in July. I've got quite a laundry list of things to get for my house but am most excited about getting yellow paint to spruce up the mud walls.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Pictures from my site

This is my bed at site, with the current volunteer's things but you get the idea :)
Here's my cooking area, I'll try and duplicate this because it seemed to work pretty well.
My front room with the tent I slept in set up.  You too could sleep in a tent in my home!  Or we could sleep under the stars and on the roof.
This Baobab is right outside my compound.  The birds that live in it are really large, as you can tell by the size of their nests.

I just wanted to put some pictures up (I woke up early and not many folks are using the internet so it's faster). 

One week to swear in!


The smiles and laughs of children!  The one on the right is Umu who, although a bit of a pain in the butt at times, was my favorite at homestay.   Whenever music would play, her hips would get a little twitch and she'd just start dancing.  
This is one of my other sisters, Jatu, who often came over to see what I was up to and silently observe.  
Usuman!  This baby always had a smile on his face and was my favorite baby because of that cute smile and sweet belly.
This is Christine, the baby at my site who is 2 months old.  Isn't she precious!
My new house!  The structure in front and to the right is a kitchen, but I'll do my cooking inside and use that place as storage (?).  

I left two months ago today for Philadelphia, and interviewed with the Peace Corps one year ago to the day, and I'm having a hard time deciding how fast the time has gone.  But it definitely feels fast!  Just one year ago I was starting my senior year of college, beginning my thesis on Malick Sidibe and trying to take advantage of living with 4 of my closest friends while living in the unbeatable city of Fredericksburg.  This past year has certainly brought a lot of changes!
  But I digress.  
  Homestay is over and leaving was harder than I thought.  My host family took such good care of me- going to get my teacher when I was sick and giving me consistent meals (no surprises with them, I ate bread and egg for breakfast, rice with sauce for lunch and boiled potatoes with a bouillon cube for dinner every day these past two months).   We swear-in this Friday as official volunteers and I am chomping at the bit to finally settle and move-in to my very own place!  
  We take our language tests (for Bambara) tomorrow and I'm excited to see how my language has (officially) progressed.  Hand gestures and body language speak volumes, but actual words are pretty good too so I'm interested to see how I communicate in a more formal setting where me pointing and jumping around won't really cut it.  Bambara is a really cool language and I'm enjoying playing around with the new sounds and testing them out as I learn.  Our language teacher (for the 4 of us in Kabe) was a sweet, older man who often wore a t-shirt that said "Souled Out for Jesus" and was always there if I needed to talk or process anything. 
  There's a talent show on Thursday and I have a couple ideas a brewin' for my talent.  One is definite.  Becky, another trainee from St. Louis who was a horticulturist before coming here (and who has a good sense of humor and was a great friend to me at homestay) and I will dress as the Kabe-kaw (Bambara for people from Kabe and kaw pronounced "cow") girls in half Western (America) half Malian outfits as we sing along to rewritten lyrics of the Dixie Chicks "Wide Open Spaces."  If you're missing my singing, don't shed no tears, just get skype and I'll sing to you over the ocean.  I've also selected some of my favorite excerpts from the renowned author and performer Jack Handey, but we'll see.  
  I'm spending nothing but time thinking about my family and friends back home - life is going great but I miss you all and hope you know it!  I'll be at internet all week (until Sunday morning) and then after that, once a week.  
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