Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Dolphin fins

Lying on the beach in Sandbridge I rolled over under the shade of my beach umbrella to look out at the ocean and dig my toes in a new patch of cool sand.  A lanky man in swim trunks with an uneven tan stood next to me and my group of college girlfriends as he filmed the slowly moving waves and the steady trail of dolphins making their way South.  He narrated his film for the folks back home: "Here we are in Virginia Beach, Virginia!" and as a group of fins broke the surface he sighed and said "Do you see those fins - this was worth the 12 hour drive!"  My friends and I turned to one another and raised our eyebrows.  That's a long way to travel for a couple of dolphin fins.

I returned to Virginia Beach, Virginia for one month for my brother's wedding after living in Mali, West Africa for two years doing work as an environment volunteer with the Peace Corps.  I flew into Dulles airport in Washington, DC on June 12 where my mom, brother and sister-in-law were waiting for me and I didn't stop moving until my sister dropped me off again at Dulles airport July 12.  Two years of missed birthdays, holidays, lunches with friends, concerts, weekend trips and hugs from my family and friends made for a lot of catching up to do!  I felt privileged to be home and attend the bachelorette party, bridal luncheon, rehearsal bowling and to be a bridesmaid in the wedding with my sister Lindsay.   

After the wedding I headed North to Boston with Dad, Sheri and Lindsay to tour Tufts University and visit my best-friend from college, Marija.  While in Boston we ate scrumptious food and toured the city including a visit to the Boston common gardens, the seals at the aquarium, Paul Revere's grave and some shopping.  On our way back down to Virginia Beach we stopped in New York City to see James Taylor and Carol King live at Madison Square Garden where they performed songs I've heard all my life to a sold-out crowd of 20,000. 

Back in Virginia Beach I spent the 4th of July with Mom and John where we snuggled on our couches after the neighborhood parade and picnic and watched the firework shows on TV live from DC and Boston.  We beached it the next day and I enjoyed watching them both turn different shades of pink from under the shade of my umbrella.    Mom, John and I spent our evenings eating delicious dinners and I spent my days exercising with Memaw and then meeting Mom for lunch.   

Looking back on my trip I think of that man on the beach and the dolphins recorded on his family video.  How quickly one month goes by but how much I was able to do.  A beautiful wedding, concerts with family and friends, lunches with favorite teachers, celebrations and delicious meals.  Thank you to everyone who made my trip home so special - this was more than worth the 12 hour flight!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Some are the melody and some are the beat: my trip home in pictures!

Michael and Courtney sharing their vows at 73rd street in Virginia Beach
June 26, 2010
The bridal party
A Sister Hazel concert at 31st park with Anna, Amanda and Ann and drinks at the Sky bar Hilton - thank you so much ladies for coming to Virginia Beach!
A great trip to Boston to visit the sweet and talented Marija! 
Checking out the dolphins at Sandbridge beach
Jackie the treasure - I really am blessed to have so many great friends!
Michael BublĂ© in Norfolk - he's so flat in real life! 

See more pictures from the wedding here
See more pictures from my time home here

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Feeling grainy: a cereal bank in my village

Before: Day one of work on the cereal bank
In Mali the principle grains are millet, sorghum and rice.  With these grains women can make the staple dishes of Mali: toh (like firm mashed potatoes), siri (a porrdige) and rice dishes.  Cereal banks are constructed by villages and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to help ensure food security in places where the fluctuations in the grain market are most deeply felt (i.e. small villages where jobs, and therefore income, are scarce).  According to the USAID website “Food security means having, at all times, both physical and economic access to sufficient food to meet dietary needs for a productive and healthy life. A family is food secure when its members do not live in hunger or fear of hunger."  Food security are two big buzz words in Mali right now and millions of dollars from USAID and the United Nations pour into the country to combat the effects of food insecurity and help to provide food security.   
making progress!
The way a cereal bank should work is a family comes to the cereal bank council (selected by the chief of the village) and pays a joining fee in CFA (the currency in Mali) or with 20 kilos of grain.  Then, when hungry season arrives -typically from August-September – the family can take out 100 kilos of grain to get them through and pay the 100 kilos of grain back after harvest with interest i.e. 120 kilos of grain total.  Hungry season is the time of year when farmers work their hardest to tend to their fields but their personal grain banks empty before their own harvest is ready thus leaving the family without enough grain at a time when there is no money to buy more. 
These are what personal graineries look like.  (from Esayi and Annie's compound/yard)
In the fall of 2009 a group of 6 men including Esayi, the chief of the village and my host-dad, drafted a budget for our village's cereal bank.   The budget included requests for funds to cement the floor and walls, iron for the roof, a door with locks and forty-five, 100 kilogram sacks of millet (about 220 pounds each).  After the men drafted the budget I transferred the proposal to an Excel spreadsheet and filed the necessary paperwork to receive a Small Project Assistance (SPA) grant for close to one million CFA (about USD $2,000) from the Peace Corps.  SPA grants require a community contribution of at least 33% which our village contributed in the form of labor. The men hand-made the bricks, transported them to the building site and built the cereal bank for free. We also drafted a time-line for the construction and use of the cereal bank.
This bike is just a restin' its bones
The men took a few months to construct the cereal bank and finished it near the end of April after a ground-breaking in February.  After the completion of the bank an agriculture technician from our area came to deliver a 3-day training on how to manage the cereal bank and keep records of the debits and credits to the bank.  Esayi and I then spent a few week gridding and painting a map of the world onto the front of the bank. 

Breaking ground - I didn't last long!
The painting on the front of the cereal bank struck me at first as an incongruous location for a map of the world.  Perhaps it would have been better to paint a mural about nutrition or good farming techniques but I'm not an artist and there is nothing like seeing someone experience the vastness of the world through a map as I witness when villagers pass by and marvel at the distance and proximity of countries to one another.  What better way for Malians (and me!) to learn where the countries are they hear about most: the USA, Spain, France, Canada, China and other West African nations?  What better way to generate discussions about where all this development money is coming from to help ensure food security? The map on the cereal bank reminds me why I live in Mali and do what I do.  I live, and have stayed, in Mali because I have grown to love the people and I have grown to love the country.  The map on the cereal bank reminds of that and the grain inside also ensures that Annie, my host-mom, can make toh for me and her family all year.

Esayi seals up the cracks inside

the final product!
After: Esayi gives a tour in Bambara of the new cereal bank in our village.  He's a great host!

See more pictures from the process here!
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