Sunday, March 20, 2011

Pony Express

Our mailing address for the next 2 years:

Anna or George Cunningham, PCV
Corps de la Paix
BP 117
Segou, MALI
West Africa

As time goes on we will post shameless requests for treats however letters or postcards are great as packages can be expensive.

Tut Tut - This Is My Hut

 Home Sweet Home

 View of our own compound from the patio

View of a mud house, thatched roof, thached hangar, and a Malian man

Last week we visited our permanent site village for the next two years. We spent 5 days with our counterparts who introduced us to all 8000 people in town one by one, including the big wigs. Our counterparts were extremely patient all week and did a great job helping us plow through a tough language barrier and begin connecting with the community.

Highlight reel:

  • Visited the village chief (dugutigi) with his council, gave him a ceremonial bag of kola nuts (like huge bitter peanuts that old guys chew for a little energy boost). That was a big hit, and the dugutigi said that he approved of our names, which means that we will go by Bintu and Salim for two years
  • Went to a class at the high school with Bintu's counterpart, Salim had to tell the folk tale of his last name in Bambara- many high school students laughed, watched gym class (fyi, the work out shoe of choice for young men here are jelly shoes. no joke)
  • Visited the local radio stations, there are two in town, and WE MIGHT GET TO DO RADIO SHOWS!
  • Visited the Mayor, Prefect, and the Police station
  • Saw the local health center, where we introduced ourselves to the directors and the doctor. We gave our Malian names, and they said their American names were George Bush and Barack Obama
  • Towards the end of one hot afternoon of greeting many people, someone in the village shouted at Anna's counterpart "Where are you going with those red people?!?!"
The village is relatively clean and well organized. It is on the the North side of the Niger river on a raised bank. The river is large now, and full of traditional canoes; we cannot wait to see it in the rainy season, because the riverbed is HUGE. The old part of the city is near the river, and stretches to newer developments as you get away from the river. There is a sort of dirt boardwalk, which seems to be popular. We have some electricity in the village including streetlights! (We cannot post the name of the village per Peace Corps safety rules, unfortunately.)

Counterparts: Bintu has a dynamic young high school teacher, "CAPI", who is a local legend because he is the soccer captain of the city team. He is married with a new baby. Salim's counterpart, "Madou" is a health relay (unpaid, trained health position that does basic healthcare for the community including vaccination days and education). He is a retired teacher who is old and kind. He has two wives who live in separate houses. We also have a third self-assigned counterpart, he is Anna's future boss, and he is THE MAN.

In short: it looks like a GREAT place to spend the next two years, start looking at your tickets to Africa.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


Our week long site visit was a smashing success. We are looking forward to our village and working with our counterparts over the next 2 years. More details to come.

Last night we returned to Segou the regional capital and were warmly welcomed at a hotel restaurant by current volunteers. Segou has far more amenties than we had expected -- pizza for dinner last night! Granted it tasted a little bit like Swiss cheese on a was pizza none the less.

Hope you all had a wonderful St. Patrick's Day. We didn't wear green...just a lovely layer of dust.

We will be in touch.
Salim & Bintu

Sunday, March 13, 2011

On the road

We leave for the Bamako bus station in 45 minutes to spend 5 days at our future site.

While we are there we will tour the village, meet the chief and size up our new housing to assure that everything is in fine working order. We have a housing checklist to review--tasks include making sure the door locks work and the walls don't have holes that would allow snakes or other creatures to set up camp with us, etc.

We will spend Friday night in the regional capital of Segou and will return to the PC training center on Saturday, March 19th. Signing off until then...

Salim & Bintu

Friday, March 11, 2011

Language Misadventures

Haketo, no hablamos Bamanankan...

Anna and I originally thought we were in for a heavy dose of French before we came here, and maybe would learn greetings, and basics in an African language.  Surprise!  We are learning Bambara (Bamanankan) from the deep end of the pool.  It is fun, but hard.

Needless to say, there have been some amusing mistakes we have made, let me share a few of those with you:
  1. Anna introduced herself as my husband to a group of approx. 100 people at the end of a church service- there were hardy chuckles.
  2. I informed my host family that I recieved a Namasa (similar to the word for bicycle), and wanted to ride it to school.  My family said they didn't understand and told me to repeat it.  I did; that didn't help.  Namasa = Banana
Language pitfalls to avoid (it is only a matter of time before I say these):
  1. "Where are you from?" -->becomes--> "Where is your poop?" if you change the order of one word.  I don't recommend this as a way to get to know someone.
  2. There are two words for hand, for some bizarre reason "hand-washing" changes to "circumcision" depending on which one of them you choose...  Riddle me this.

Thursday, March 10, 2011


To our dear friends and family-

Thank you for your soundbites of encouragement via email/blog post/text message! We love hearing from all of you and miss you all though we are settling in well here and looking forward to the road ahead.

The state of the state-
We are back at the training center until Sunday March 13th. Then we hop on Malian public transport (bus, mini van, donkey cart, TBD) to check out our official site post. Site posts were announced last night. We will spend a day traveling, a few days at site, a day at the regional capital to meet current PC staff and volunteers. Then we return to the training center for two days and finally ship back out to our homestay families for a final 2 week stint. We return to the training center the first week of April to prepare for our move to site and the official volunteer swearing in ceremony which is a very formal occasion. The swearing in date is TBD but tentatively April 11 or 12.

For the 2 year volunteer post, all volunteers are matched with a Malian counterpart. Our Malian counterparts arrive today for a two day workshop and then we go with them on Malian public transport to our site. George and I each have separate counterparts as he is a volunteer in the health sector and I am a small enterprise development volunteer. It will be great to have someone show us the ropes and navigate bus station logistics as right now George and I would be able to tell the bus station ticket office that "every morning before I go to the teachers house, I wash my face, greet my host family, and eat bread and drink coffee." I'm sure we will quickly pick up survival phrases to get us from Bamako to our site. According to the counterpart profiles our counterparts speak some French so for the time being we will get by based on George’s French (and Cunningham charm).

We will be posted in a village of approx 7,000 people north-east of Segou along the Niger River. Peace Corps answered George’s prayers to be posted near water. He may turn into a river fisherman and never come home...We have heard GREAT things about the Segou region. The city of Segou is the regional capital. Segou was the former French colonial capital city and apparently has European charm to it.

Once we visit our actual village we will post up additional details, however the village had a PC volunteer from 2005-2007 who wrote up a description of the village. There is a regular market daily and a large market day on Saturdays (vegetables and fruit—amen). Apparently as of 2007 there was also a movie theater that plays English/French movies. Could it be? We will keep you all posted. Our housing is traditional, similar to how we are living now—no electricity/running water but we will have more than one room and our own private bathing area. Again, we will wait to share site details until we’ve seen it ourselves.

I am off to sessions and breakfast. We will do our best to keep you all posted. Life is good. Health is good. We are thinking of all of you in the US, especially—

  • LIZ and WHIT, congrats! We love you!
  • Lent has started. Keep us in your prayers!
  • Mom and Dad (aka Margaret and Dane Gamble) thanks for working through the credit card fraud issues. If  any of you know who went on a shopping spree at an Indiana grocery store with George’s debit card, let us know.
  • Packages. Many of you wonderful people have asked us about our mailing address. We will post our site mailing address as soon as we have it as we would love to hear from you. And we wouldn't mind receiving some American luxuries as well (ahem...Gummies. Salsa con Queso Holly? Great idea!). Currently it is so hot here that any chocolate we have is permanently in a liquid state so I am sure there will be some trial and error when it comes to the Malian postal system and perishables...
We will be in touch. If the internet is down over the next few days we will be back from our site visit on Sunday March 20.