Monday, April 12, 2010

I know we'll have a good time then

I am lying on a woven plastic mat rolled out on a packed-dirt clearing with my head cradled in Annie's lap as she works on yet another knitted baby hat and I absently swat at termite-sized ants scurrying around us.   My legs are tangled in between her children - Batuma, Emma and Le Vieux - who are working on a 100-piece parrot puzzle Mrs. Shellnutt sent while Christine is curled up on the other side of Annie's legs, fast asleep.  A single kerosene lamp lights the little cove in front of Annie's house and the warm, smoky smell of its fumes fill my nostrils as I snuggle closer to Annie and watch our shadows dance on her mud-brick wall. 
Soap production at Siby a Shea cooperative 45 km from Bamako

My thoughts wander to how everyone in village has been so busy lately.  Annie was recently in the bush everyday collecting firewood and now her days are filled with teaching women to read and write Bambara.  She comes home exhausted from long days of chopping wood or teaching to cook in a smoke-filled kitchen and pull water from the well for night baths.  Esayi has a steady stream of forlorn, blown-out horse-cart tires piled under his hanger waiting to be repaired and his duties as chief of the village, especially between January and May (the non-farming months of the year), frequently take him to meetings at the mayor's office in a village 2km away.  At night Esayi entertains a steady stream of neighbors who install themselves on various lounge chairs and stools in hopes he is brewing a pot of sugary tea to share.  I have been in and out of village since February attending various conferences, trainings and formations on food security and shea as well as planning and implementing our Segou regional training.  I try to be present, physically and mentally, at times when the family is together but the draining heat - it's sometimes still 105 degrees Fahrenheit at night these days - and my daily chores, few as they are, sap my energy and put me in bed by 10 each night just as guests are leaving and it is a prime time for sitting together as a family to talk.  

I think this is just after Esayi finished shaking his head at me for asking a silly question, as Memaw would say - he's a good sport 

When I complain to Annie about our lack of time together she looks at me and frowns - 'Wajibi-don, Djelika' she says - it [work] is an obligation.  While I would like to believe life here is slow and vastly different from life in America, the stresses of work and travel still manage to affect my relationships.  Long days, though not in an office, leave me drained and I struggle for balance between my 'dugu-ba' (big city) life and village living as I am sure I will struggle to balance living away from my parents in the States and my visits back home.  One thing that is different for me here that I will likely not encounter in America is how my work is so finely intertwined and dependent on my (Malian) family.  If I feel like work is not up to pace or that I am not doing enough I only have two places to turn for an explanation: myself and my work partners who also happen to be my host parents.  Thankfully work and family have reached a happy medium this past month with Esayi attending the Segou training and Annie and I traveling together to spend Easter with another volunteer and her Christian village before attending a formation together in Bamako.

Beautiful Easter balloons in the church in Monica's village!

A lonely yet comforting feeling washes over me as I think about the culmination of my work with Esayi and Annie and how I will soon be gone.  The cereal bank is complete (blog post pending!) and a Peace Corps trainer is coming to our village next month to train the council on how to properly manage the grain.  This past week I, along with Miriam, president of the newly formed women's association, and Annie, my host-mom and association secretary, attended a three-day shea butter workshop in Bamako (this one being for 'brusse' Mali women's associations whereas the conference that took place last month included international actors in the shea market).  Upon our return to San we met with a woman to file their cooperative papers thus formalizing their organization and bringing credibility to their future requests for credit to be put towards projects such as a community garden or cotton work.    
Ladies only party on Easter Monday

The flame in the kerosene lamp flickers down and the children abandon Mrs. Shellnutt's puzzle in favor of sleep while Annie sets aside her knitting needles and slides down on the mat, her body becoming a part of the mass, and I am the only one left awake.  I carefully untangle my legs from the collection of sleeping bodies and slip away to my own mosquito net and mattress where I snuggle into my chips-a-hoy sheets and count stars peeking through my straw hanger.  While the urgency of work can be overwhelming, travel for conferences and workshops exhausting and time away from home (both village and America) heart-wrenching, it is nights like this one, snuggled next to Annie and with Christine's little baby arms draped over me, that remind me why all those stresses are worth


Cassady Walters said...

Christine sure does make everything worth it. And so do you!

Oman Collective Intelligence said...

Great admiration for people like you, there should be more on this planet! Greetings from Oman.

Erika Schaubach said...

I don't know when you return to the U.S. but I'd love to meet with you and talk about your experiences. I love your blog!

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