Friday, April 15, 2011


One more thing before we go:

We checked for packages at the post office yesterday.  WE RECEIVED THREE!!!  It was like Christmas morning, only better.  We want to give a great big thank you to both of our parents, and to Gina B. (I hope nobody had to sell any kidneys to come up with the postage…sorry it was so expensive).  We cannot thank you enough!

Presidential Swear-In

Malian formal wear

Peace Corps celebrated it's 50th Anniversary this year, and 40 years in Mali.  To mark the occasion, our group of 60+ volunteers was invited to the Malian presidental palace for our
Swear-In ceremony.  The Swear-In, typically done at the US Embassy, is the culmination of training after taking language and technical skills tests.  With the milestone this year, the red carped was rolled out for us.

The presidential palace and grounds were quite a contrast from the mud huts and the training center...  This is the equivalent of having a ceremony at the White House with the President in attendance, an awesome honor.


The ceremony was held in the ballroom, and was attended by trainees, trainers, current volunteers, village chiefs, mayors, Peace Corps staff, American foreign service persons, and Malian government officials.  We were sworn in with a Congressional oath, and fantastic speeches from the Ambassador, the Peace Corps Country Director for Mali, our training director, and the President of Mali, Amadou Toumani Touré .  Five trainees were chosen to give speeches in the five different African languages that we had been learning.

I gave the Bambara (majority language) 500 people, the President, and on Malian national television.  My speech was about the occasion, the importance of Peace and building understanding between different peoples, and some Bambara proverbs.  Because I was focusing on keeping my lunch down because I was so nervous, Bintu was responsible for all of our personal photography.

After speaking I met the president and presented him with a Peace Corps baseball cap (apparently he loves baseball caps) on behalf of the Peace Corps.  I had made a joke about his family name in my speech (Joking Cousins is a tradition of teasing between specific family names, and the President just happens to be my joking cousin), and he returned the favor in his speech by making fun of my Malian family name.  He was very warm and friendly, and gave an inspiring speech in French about his admiration for the Peace Corps work.  (He has an interesting history, worth exploring: ATT)

I saw myself on TV the next day four hours away from the capitol, and was recognized by a handful of people on the street, they LOVED that we spoke in native languages.

...Fast forward three days, back to reality, and we are in Segou trying to figure out how to get ourselves, a mattress, trunks, bags, a stove, and two bikes to our village 150 K from here.  We are going to show up with half of our gear at the bus stop today and see what they will strap to the top.  We will check back in on the blog/internet in a month or so, wish us luck...

Saturday, April 9, 2011


No one likes to move. The last time we moved, it involved loading a Budget Moving Truck and driving across North Dakota and Eastern Montana in sub-zero January temperatures. Fast forward three months, increase the temperature by 120 degrees and substitute the Budget Truck with a coach bus full of Malians and our belongings strapped on top. At least that is what we think lies ahead for our move next week. Other than the logistical challenges, this is one move that we can get excited about as it means that we are moving forward into service in our communities.

As our training days come to an end we will soon become official volunteers and make the move to our permanent site. During our first three months at site we will have very limited access to our regional capitol/internet. We hope to write plenty of letters.

Our custom made Malian outfits fit like a charm (though things here don't exactly fit like a glove as clothes are worn quite loosely here) We will do our best to post photos from our upcoming swearing in ceremony before we ship off to site.

All plans here are subject to it stands now-

April 12 - Official Volunteer Swearing In Ceremony

April 13 - Travel from Bamako to Segou, our regional capitol

April 15 - Travel to permanent site from Segou (this is where the coach bus with our belongings strapped on top comes into play)

April 15 through mid June - learning the language and getting to know our communities. During this time we will only come to the regional capitol for two nights to take care of banking, post office, internet etc

Last 2 weeks of June - Volunteer training in Bamako

July 2012 onward - continued integration with host communities and work begins on offical projects

Many unknowns lie ahead, but we are looking forward to the next step in this experience. Keep us posted on life in the US - in our minds USA time was frozen in late January but apparently spring has sprung for some of you. Palm Sunday and Easter are on the way. Baseball and Golf seasons? Anyone wearing shorts on the first 45 degree day? Tulips?

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Malian Homestay Families

Two late additions here of George's host father and mother, who are sort of the Malian version of Phil and Renee:

Host dad, home from work in the tomato field (7 km each way on this bike).  This guy is always cheerful and full of jokes, and despite working dawn to dusk he is never tired.

Host mom and baby Jeneba

George's host father and grandmother dressed in their finest for our departure day.  (Chacka Coulibaly and Jeneba Coulibaly)
 Bintu with her three younger host sisters - from left to right Ma Fitini (which means "Little Ma"), Shata, and Umu. I spent the vast majority of my homestay time with my host sisters and host mom.

 Bintu with host mom (far right, I was named after her), older host sister in-law on the left. The boys lived in my host compound. I guess they would be my host cousins? I don't know their names but one of them once offered George his sling shot so that George could take a turn shooting at the birds in our compound.

 As I mentioned my compound was a bit of a circus. This photo was not staged. From left to right, Fali (Donkey), Saga (Sheep), Tongow (Ducks), Bintu (Anna), Ba (Goat)

View of the compound from my host family's front porch area. My room was directly across from my host family's house...the door to my room was right behind the large tree in the background of the photo.

George's standard lunch at homestay- pretty good by Malian standards: rice with peanut sauce (including a yam, a fish including the head, and a hot pepper).
George's room at homestay- Spartan, but the bedframe is outside for sleeping since the hot season started.  (Margaret, the Hitching Post basement seems like a dreamboat right now.)
Veteran language teacher, Abdoulaye, on break.

Teacher's courtyard with our favorite little boy, who usually doesn't wear pants.
Main street in the village
George and Jeneba (baby sister)
George's host family, including a few neighbor kids.  The family consists of the two brothers at the bottom left, father in the middle, mother standing at the top holding the baby sister, and grandma at the right.
2 Jenebas- generations one and three
George's homestay compound
Practice mural in homestay village for health assignment- The message: wash hands after the field, toilet, and playing outside; and before cooking and eatting.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Things - Attempt #2

Apparently our most recent post had some formatting issues...

We are back at the training center and will remain here until we move to our permanent site on April 13th. Our internet connection is touch and go on a good day. We will try our best to keep you all posted.

In the past three days -
We named a baby that was born on the same day as our farewell party in our homestay village. Her name is Miriam, one of the only names in Mali that is found in Ameriki as well

We are now the proud owners of custom tailored authentic Malian clothing to wear at our volunteer swearing in ceremony. Fashion shoot photos to come...

George was able to satisfy his curiosity about what he would look like if he shaved his head. It was a once in a lifetime decision.

THINGS part deux (or part fila as we would say in Bambara)

Things you can find at the market -
Tomatoes, Onions, Green Peppers, Garlic
Bananas, Lemons, Mangoes, sometimes Papayas and Pineapples
Goat heads
No Fear T-shirts (circa 1997)

    Things you can put on top of a bus -
    Lazy Boy style arm chairs
    Large bags of grain/rice/etc

      Things used to transport people from point A to B -
      - Donkey Carts
      - Moto taxis--basically a large motor-tricycle with covered benches strapped on the back. Holds 6-8 people. Price for a ride in Segou = 100 CFA ($0.20 USD)
      - Coach Busses that were retired from service in other countries 30 years ago, yet are still "operational" here

        Things you can buy at a bus stop from out the window without getting off the bus -

        Cold Coke, Bottled Water
        Other beverages in reused plastic Coke/Water bottles
        Cornmeal Cupcakes
        Root Vegetables
        Plastic sachees of water--including one branded "Eau Bama"
        Papaya slices
        Hot Tea (but you have to give the glass back before the bus drives away)

        Things that...
        Are you wondering about anything here in Mali? Post your query and we will do our best to reply...