Thursday, October 9, 2008

What am I doing here??

So you're probably all thinking (at least I would be) nice pictures Jennifer, but what the heck are you doing over there anyways? And so I'll take this blog entry to try and explain a little.
I spent two months (July-August) studying Bambara in a small village outside Bamako and 3 weeks ago I moved into my own mud house to continue to learn Bambara and get to know the people in my village. Peace Corp's approach to development is a slow one, and rightly so. We don't just plop into a village and start projects but rather take time to get to know the people with whom we'll be working and perfect our local language skills. In January I'll go to a two week training where I'll learn more about environment projects I'll be working on (we also had technical sessions for our various sectors during those two months in Bamako mine being environment) Some possible projects are: working with shea butter and nuts (exporting, selling, finding buyers), a women's garden, building a chicken coop to raise chickens for eggs to sell/eat, and various tree plantings. These are ideas suggested by the community I'm living in and I'll spend these three months and the next two years trying to see if they're feasible (financially and time wise). Since I'm not an agriculture expert (although art history and french are liberal areas of study, they didn't cover much composting or tree planting), I'm relying a lot on the people I live with to teach me what they do and what is and isn't working for them. I'm not going to be able to learn how to farm/garden in a way that I could possibly know more than what they do already - they've been doing this their whole lives! But what I am hoping to do is to connect my fellow villagers with resources to improve what they're already doing. To find a higher paying shea nut buyer. To dig more wells or install pumps for cleaner drinking water. It's really, like I said before, a matter of connecting the people I live with to outside resources. The village I'm in is pretty far off the main road and most people don't travel outside the village. But I am in and out with access to internet and other resources.
As for what I do on a daily basis, it's pretty relaxed. I wake up early (5:45) to my cats jumping on me and asking for breakfast. Then I wash my dishes from the day before and try and help my host family with their chores like pounding millet or sifting the millet once it's been ground. I also play with my 5 month old host sister a good bit while her mom works non-stop. I tell you something, they need to make Mother's Day a national holiday here because the women here are incredible. Non-stop manual labor and they take care of all the children. While I'm sure the men work hard, from what I've seen, the women do everything they do and more (hey, is this like the states?? :) Juuuust joking. I cook all my meals on my gas stove and have a fun time being creative with my somewhat limited resources. If I get tired of pounding millet (physically tired that is) I'll sit and knit. I'm a knitting fool now! Or I'll sit and read or write letters. My host mom and I go out to pick peanuts or chick peas and cut okra. Did you know okra is prickly?? I have to wear gloves because it feels like I'm picking cactus pears! At night I do some yoga, cook dinner and then go outside to sit and talk. My family watches t.v. that's connected to a car battery (charged by a solar panel during the day) and I try and understand what's going on but usually just talk with my host mom Annie as she knits and we sit and shell chick peas to eat.
Here's another anecdote highlighting the small-town nature of where I'm living.
I was in San on Monday and saw some women from my village. We greeted each other and they had seen me dance a little at the women's meeting last week and asked for a repeat performance. Never wanting to disappoint I agreed and gave a little shimmy and shake there in the market lasting maybe 10 seconds. On my way back to my village the next morning I was biking hard and sort of zoning out. The road is two lanes and not many cars at all pass by (mostly just donkey carts, bikes and some motorcycles). Well, I was getting close to where I get off the paved road and bike for about a half hour in the dirt and I wasn't sure where to turn off. I pulled up to another bicyclist (worried I wouldn't see another) and greeted him. After we finished our greetings (still biking) he said, oh, you're from this village, you take this road, before I even asked. Surprised, I asked him how he knew what village I was from (this was about an hour outside of San and he was one of about 5 bicycles I'd seen on the road). He said, oh, I saw you dancing with the other women from your village at market yesterday. Unbelievable! When I got home, I told Annie, my host mom, about it and she shook her head and said, Djelika, you really shouldn't dance at market, people will see you! I said, Annie, I think people notice I'm different anyways... :) But it reminded me so much of my own mom or someone telling me, Jennifer, now don't do this it's not a good idea so I couldn't help but laugh. If you were worried whether or not I'm laughing over here - have no fear, it's happens daily with all my social and language blunders. Not so different from the US!


Andrew said...

Right on.
In Q'eqchi' we say, "K'aru yookin?" which literally means what am I doing? And when I say we I mean me. No one else ever seems to wonder what they're doing.
Keep up the updates!

Monica Garcia PCV said...

Jen! I love reading your blog, and I am doing the same thing as you! You are very entertaining, although you are in person as well! I plan on coming to San sometime in Nov. So see you then!

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