Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Survivor Man (and Woman)

Anna found this under a water container in the house; sharpie is there for perspective

Still wondering what we are up to?  Understandable question- there is a stereotype of some Peace Corps Volunteers doing quite a bit of vegging and not much work.  Well I can assure you, we don’t fall in this category, and nor do many of our fellow volunteers here.  Life is HARD here.  After posting a fair number of photos of our break weekends in the regional capitol, or our fantastic visit to the presidential palace, per suggestion from home (Margaret, I think you get credit?) it is time to give you a picture of our glamorous daily lives.

65% of our lives here are all about survival up to this point, honestly.  Our actual work is nowhere near 40 hours per week yet, as our language is still somewhat limited and so are our relationships with villagers.  But, if you are picturing a nice camping trip-esque life in the tropics with rice dinners and plenty of relax time, let me set your record straight.  To really picture this, think about your daily routine, then substitute items and scenery for ours here in Africa.
The nyegen and your morning bucket shower, the hole on the left is for shower water, the right is the toilet

Ameriki: Wake up, get out of bed, relieve yourself, shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, make some coffee and breakfast, and then get in your car and head to work.
Mali: Wake up and get out of your mosquito net tent, dismantle it.  Go to the nyegen, our open-air latrine, and wash your hands afterward with a plastic teapot called a salidaga.  Go get water (see WATER below).  Pour yourself a bucket of water to take your shower, which is also done in the nyegen.  Brush your teeth, many Malians use sticks but I continue do the brush and paste routine.  Make some coffee (real coffee, thanks to packages from you!), ride your bike to the bakery to get a loaf of bread for breakfast- bread that is 24h+ old is generally moldy so you actually need to get this the day you want to eat it.  Look in your fridge for breakfast, psyche, no power=no refrigeration.  I recommend peanut butter on bread for breakfast.  Get dressed with your choice of outdoor clothes you brought from America or some Malian clothes.  Put on copious amounts of sunscreen.  Walk to work, sometimes in boots.
Coming back from the pump with 88lbs. of water

The pump

Ameriki: Want a drink, turn on the faucet.  Want to flush the toilet, well, flush it.  Want ice, open the freezer.  Want to water your garden, turn on the hose.
Mali: Want water, go get it from the pump or well.  We don’t have a well…yet (the landlord told us he would dig one after rainy season which will allow me to have a much bigger garden- happy face).  We do have a neighborhood pump, and there is a little lady who sits in front of it collecting $1 fees per month or 25 cents to fill an individual bucket.  To get your water, you need to buy a 20 liter empty cooking oil plastic container from the butiki for $1.  After cleaning these with soap and sand, you can put this on your wheelbarrow, cart, or carry in your hands during rainy season.  1 liter of water converts to 2.2 pounds (physics-inclined brothers, this probably depends on the temperature, right?) which means that carrying two of these is about 88lbs.  When you return, you can put some of this in your water filter and add a little bleach as an extra giardia-killing measure, and after 15 minutes drink away.  The remaining water in your plastic containers is for bathing, flushing, washing hands, washing clothes, washing dishes, and watering plants.  If you want ice, you can go look for the ice lady in the center of town who has a cooler of frozen baggies of water that have been transported into town from a big city down the road.
Neighborhood butiki and the cashiers for the morning

Ameriki: Drive your car to the supermarket, Target, etc. and purchase away.
Mali: There are one room sheds, called a Butiki (Boutique said with a Malian accent) who have all of the soap, cigarettes, tea, nescafe, bags of sugar, few loaves of bread, mini bags of cooking oil that once lived in your water container, and a few other random items.  These all generally carry the exact same wares and can be found every 500 meters.  If you want anything else you go to the town market, where YOU are the spectacle.  You can eat whatever you bought in the market the previous day, as long as it is in-season.  You will need to make frequent trips because food storage is next-to-impossible.  There is one big market per week when you can get specialty items like those green peppers or bananas you have been coveting, but you should be ready to push and shove your way through the crowds and beware of aggressive old ladies.
I could keep going, but you would probably stop reading- transportation, animals, house repairs, seating, entertainment, etc.  You can see how some seemingly mundane parts of the day take significant time and effort.
I will never take electricity, running water, and transportation for granted again… or maybe I will, but at least not for a 6 months after we come back to Ameriki.
A couple extra unrelated photos:

Storm rolling in, first dust, then rain

The street in front of our house in rainy season

 The street toward the pump

 Buses that we take to the regional capitol, I think they were purchased from greyhound 50 years ago

Friday, August 12, 2011

Month in Review

July Challenges -

Coming home after June's training session to a house that had been flooded after our village got 12.8cm of rain in one day. Moldy books, moldy clothes and a leaky roof. Weeks of working with our landlord and house repairmen. When rain falls on a mud house, small amounts of mud wash away as well, so parts of our house literally wash away whenever it rains.

Rainy Season + Rice Farming Season

People are in the fields all day every day as July-Sept is the peak in workload for rice farmers in our village. Almost everyone in our village owns a rice field or works in one, including govt officials, teachers, office workers etc. People are busy, tired and soggy which makes generating excitement to start new projects somewhat challenging.

Wuluwulu Ji
The liquid waste that drains from the nygen (bathroom) onto the street is called wuluwulu ji. When the rains fall, roads turn to rivers carrying the wuluwulu ji all over town.

Reasons Why We are Still Here -

Rainy Season
Wuluwulu ji aside, rainy season means that hot season has come to a close. Temperatures are more manageable, we see clouds on a regular basis and typically fall asleep to a breeze at night.

Basil etc.
Salim's garden is thriving which means tomato sauce with fresh basil. Pasta is available in any village here though the name for all pasta is "macaroni" regardless of the pasta's shape. The garden is still in its infancy, two large piles of compost are slowly cooking and will be ready for peak garden season in a few months. We are also growing a handful of trees thanks to seedlings donated by Bintu's work supervisor--mango, pomegranate, guava, flamboyant and a tree called moringa that Salim grew from seed.

As difficult as it can be to communicate in Bambara some days, we have been blessed with a very supportive network of hosts or friends in village. We have places to go to "hang out" instead of simply hiding out in our house waiting for the days to pass. Our friends are also supportive and willing to listen to us ask questions about the tough times we've had.

Dooni Dooni (little by little) things do get easier
We are gaining the confidence to work through things that were so challenging in the beginning--Bintu danced in the town square with a circle of women in front of hundreds of people during a celebration for Pan African Women's Day. It was one of the fastest ways to earn street cred from the most powerful women in village.
Salim lost his cell phone in a cab in Bamako and was able to call the phone, explain the situation to the person who found the phone and pulled a nearby construction worker into the conversation. The worker then sped off on his moto to retrieve the phone 5km away for a cash reward. Negotiations conducted 100% in Bambara.

It's impossible to sum up the entire month in a single post, but we tried our best to share the highs and lows. We are now headed back to village after a Bamako whirlwind wedding anniversary celebration weekend. In Bamako we attended the swearing in ceremony for the newest group of volunteers. The ceremony was held at the US Embassy (not quite as amazing as our ceremony at the president's house, but good nonetheless). We are now officially not the least experienced volunteers in country.

Thanks to a connection from Tom we were invited to a lunch event at the acting ambassador's house. It was enlightening to hear development workers' perspectives on Mali and the people at our lunch table enjoyed drilling us with questions about life in a real live village. The food - fantastic. Tables and silverware too.

We celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary at a small hotel in Bamako and enjoyed a peaceful, quiet retreat. It's hard to imagine going through this experience solo, I am so thankful to be one of the few married couples here.

Work wise we are continuing to network in village and have started small projects, though it is too early to tell what will take off and what will flop.

The month of August this year is Sunkalo which means "fasting month" in Bambara (aka Ramadan). There is a celebration at the end of Ramadan followed by the largest feast day of the year in early November.

Signing off until next month.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Two Seasons

View from the house, hot season

View from the house, rainy season (now)

View from the front gate, hot season

View from the front gate, rainy season

We've done more in the past month than simply watch the grass grow.
Updates on the way.