Tuesday, January 13, 2009

January in Mali

This is in Tonka - a small port town on the Niger. These camels are sassy.

I'm at the beginning of a three week technical training with the 70 other volunteers I came with in July learning skills specific to our sectors. Each day I meet with the other environment volunteers for morning and afternoon sessions to learn about making garden plans, beekeeping, chicken raising, nutrition formations, live fencing, mud stoves, ecotourism, GPS tracking of shea trees, grafting and starting garden associations just to list a few. It's certainly exhaustive in terms of subjects covered but the general feeling of the volunteers is give me technical skills so now I can use the language I've been trying to master these past 6 months.
Our role as volunteers is becoming clearer as we meet with handfuls of researchers from the countless NGO's here in Mali to learn how to implement projects like an improved rice planting technique and how to conduct Farmer's Field Schools. There's a unique relationship between these researchers and Peace Corps volunteers because we're eager to find out new information and they're looking to move their information from the lab to the field (or to find new locations to implement their practices). While I'm still no expert and not trying to be, I am making invaluable contacts and learning new information to share with my village who wants to increase crop yields, build a cereal bank, install pumps, basically improving upon techniques they already practice. I'm excited for Annie (and baby Christine) to come in a week when we'll focus on shea work and hopefully she'll teach me how to knit baby booties (we've spent the past 4 months doing hats, sweaters, shirts and pants).
It's been great to hear what volunteers who have already been here a year are doing (or have done) for projects and learn about the struggles and successes they've encountered in their service. Sometimes it feels like I'm non-stop processing what I'm doing with other volunteers which can get a bit repetitive - sometimes negative - and exhausting but maybe that's just life.

As an unrelated (to this post) side note, I had a great New Year's with the Wollersheims, Joelle and Bubba - Ashley's brother, in Dogon country. I didn't hike with the other volunteers over Christmas but we did take a wonderful boat trip on the Niger. It's incredible the power of surrounding yourself with positive people who love being goofy. I've certainly been blessed with friends here (and of course at home in Ameriki!) which has made living here a lot easier.

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