Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Reminiscing after Phone Calls to Village

Yesterday was a big holiday for our neighbors in the village of Ke-Macina, and we called a handful of them to wish them well.  It was a great opportunity to catch up and also brought back some great memories.  Here is a video and some of my journal entries to remember some moments of the past year.


No, we did not take this video, I believe it was a visitor of another Peace Corps volunteer in our region.  I love it because it is so similar to the scenes we saw, and it is a brilliant compilation of video taken on a point-and-shoot camera.  It features the capital, Bamako, our regional capital, Segou, and a village in the Segou region that looks similar to Ke-Macina.

A few journal entries of mine (edited to change local terms for broad understanding):

8/20/11 Visited the local clinic, yard work, picked up some tomato poles, made some places to walk through the mud outside our front gate from old rice sacks...

8/21/11 Tied tomatoes, other yard work.  Beautiful quick afternoon storm.  Chacka over for dinner, showed him Outside Bozeman magazine and decided we are sending them a photo from Mali to feature...  Really enjoy musing about our Close of Service and homecoming blow-out adventure.

9/19/11 Writing this while den kundi (baptism) dance party music is playing nearby.  Went to fish raising formation this morning.  Great convo w/ Mr. Coulibaly today about potential fishing farming in the rice fields, health murals, wanting to attend the clinic's board meeting, and world map murals.  Good conversation with his wife about the importance of hand-washing for children.  Picked up some water jugs this afternoon- one formerly for diesel engine oil, the other formerly for palm oil...  Learned about personality stereotypes of the ethnic groups in our area - very cool.  Thought a lot about American food and beer today, this experience will help us take NOTHING for granted when we return home.

11/15/11 Went to the clinic for work, high school chemistry teacher running the show b/c nobody else is there (MD and nurses out of town).  Had a great African history discussion w/ my host father.  Learned that president Toure aka "ATT" is coming to town and so is the NGO Luxembourg Development- when it rains it pours!  Great week so far!  Mike Williamson called today, is buying a plane ticket to come here next March!

12/2/11 It hit me today that I am really beginning to feel as if this place is a home away from home.  I was so excited to get back here after going to another region for Thanksgiving, what a great feeling.  December is shaping up to be our best month yet; many small projects to work on, maybe on big one.  It doesn't exactly feel like Advent or the Christmas season though.

12/13/11 Back from a lovely Xmas in Segou with Miriam and Rob's families who came from the US to visit.  It was far from conventional, but felt good none the less.  Mass at the church in Segou was wild, decorated like a Mexican fiesta, with the nativity scene in a Malian grass shade hangar, and a dance party at the end.

A few good stories we heard from other volunteers in town: 1. Miriam's village children think she is a real live doll and some kids are afraid of her because of that (all dolls in Mali are white with long blond hair), so her family brought some black barbies to Mali to show them that dolls can be black too.  2. David B. tried to explain dinosaurs to his village when he saw a child playing with a dino toy at his local clinic.  It was an unsuccessful explanation.  One person listening said that he understood what David was talking about because his brother had "killed one of those animals while hunting last year"...

1/5/12 Went fishing in the canal- unsuccessful, but beautiful to be out in the rice fields at dusk with a nearly full moon.  The clinic was boring today.

1/6/12 Started a new tree nursery: 53 moringa trees, 30 custard apples, 5 ziziphus, 10 flowering trees from the mission grounds in Sikasso, and two other random trees.  Gave a huge zucchini from the garden to our host family which was grown by Coulibaly's wife after I gave her zucchini seeds awhile back.  Tata and Kadi from our host family finally returned yesterday from Bamako, it is great to have them back.

1/17/12 Full clinic for baby vaccination day, 63 women with babies showed up for my discussion on what diseases are prevented and how many times to come for vaccinations. There is an overly complicated bunch of documentation that is done for this, but I am always grateful to Abdoulaye Ba for his help on vaccination day.  The shade hangar in our yard was built today.  Tata sprained her ankle and Safi has a toothache.  Also a friend from home called, seems to be in a great deal of distress.  I will try to get more phone credit tomorrow to touch base with him again.

*I only really started to journal in July of last year, unfortunately.  I wish I could read some of what happened prior to that.
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Stay tuned, I will post a link to ALL of our pictures from Mali, and maybe a little about our return road trip before we finally put this blog to rest.






Friday, May 11, 2012

Silver Lining

Well, we're officially back at home in the USA after a whirlwind of traveling.  After Peace Corps Mali was evacuated to Ghana, this is what we did:

Beach hostel near Butre, Ghana
We headed West on the coast of Ghana to a remote beach hostel and then a less-remote beach town.  Highlights were final moments with Peace Corps friends, watching a Champions League soccer game at backstreet bar with Ghanians going wild, a hike to the next beach to surf, and a $2.50 lobster dinner behind a fisherman's house cooked by his sister.

12'x12' tree house we rented
We headed back to Accra, and crashed at my high school pal, Vicki's house.  We had a great weekend with Victoria and her pals.  We ate well, slept in AC, and washed the sand out of our clothes.  She also took us to an awesome Ghanaian second hand clothing market where we were able to stock up on a few essentials for the colder climates to come.


Brunch at Victoria's
Thanks to a well-timed invite from my aunt, we decided to spend a week in Switzerland with my aunt and uncle's house in Basel.  After seeing all of my siblings go to Switzerland, this was something I had been pining for my entire life.  It was everything that I imagined and more.  Anna also remarked that Switzerland was infinitely more exciting than her Heidi and Swiss cheese mental picture led her to believe.  We had a decadent week back in the 1st world (Switzerland and Mali are about as far apart as you can get on the spectrum of wealth) and were spoiled rotten by my aunt and uncle.


On the Rhein in Basel, Switzerland
The Rigi near Lake Lucerne 
Switzerland was just beginning to see Springtime.  It was beautiful with buds and flowers beginning to pop everywhere.  Thanks again to some last minute clothing and shoes we picked up in Ghana, and many loaners from my aunt and uncle we had more than our weekend bag of hot weather clothes from Mali (most of our clothes are still in our mud hut in Ke-Macina, Mali because we were unable to go back to village after the coup).


Out for a drive in my uncle's 'new' ride
1937 Rolls-Royce Phantom III
The princess in her chariot (with throw pillows)


My aunt and uncle took us on some wonderful tours of sites throughout German speaking Switerland as well as over the border into France and Germany on day-trips.  My uncle shared some of his vast knowledge of sight-seeing history and family history throughout the week.


Day trip to Riquewihr in Alsace, France with my aunt
Alsacian vinyards
Animal preserve in Alsace
Mouret from the old city wall
Day trip through central Switzerland with my uncle
First snow sighting in 15 months


We had a blast spending time with my family, and were even able to pick up my cousin from school in Lucerne for a weekend of tram, train, and a ferry rides in beautiful locations, as well as a pottery market in Germany.  Our Swiss relatives are VERY fun hosts.




Lucerne (with Montana hotel in the background, top right)
Vitznau turntable
Waiting to go up Mt. Rigi
Patio dining in Basel


We didn't suffer in the food department.  My aunt is an incredible cook, and fed us gastronomic wonders every day.  I wish I had taken more food pictures, particularly of her skate wings and horse steak, which  were my absolute favorites (maybe of all dishes in my life, no joke).


Foie gras
Dinner
Austrian bread pudding


After Switzerland we jumped on the train to Paris where we found the General.  Joe, better known as the General in most circles, and his girlfriend Adrianne had come from visiting another Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal.  They originally had a ticket from Senegal to Mali to visit us, but settled on Paris after the coup.  We only had two full days in Paris, but packed in the fun wandering around the city.  The General and I managed to pull an all-nighter before our flight back to the US.  It was really fun to see him and to meet Adrianne.


With the General in Paris


Arc de Triomphe
My favorite cafe in Paris
Louvre
Had fun with the General's girlfriend, Adrianne
Back to basics
From Paris we took the uber economic flight to Washington DC with Delta's Russian affiliate including a layover in Moscow.  At the check-in desk at the airport in Paris, the booking agent said he had never seen a ticket from Paris to Washington DC through Moscow.  Highlights: none.  They are still using the sickle and hammer with wings logo.  If you like watching old Bambie era nature cartoons in Russian on a single airplane-aisle TV, then I recommend this carrier for you.

In DC we had a wonderful weekend with my brother, Tom, and his girlfriend, Laura.  They fed us well, and tried to catch us up on 2011-2012 new media and gizmos like Apple TV.  I also went the wrong way on a one-way major parkway with my brother's car, which was scary.

We are now in Montana, getting spoiled again by Anna's family and friends.  It is nice to no longer be living out of a suitcase and have a real bed and some of our clothes and things back.  While so many things are easier here due to lack of cultural and language barriers, there are some complicated things I didn't miss like the DMV and forms at a doctor's office.  Our confusing travel/residence history really complicates things with the paper-pushers at these places.

We are starting to process what actually happened in the past two months and what our experience means for us.  We are also trying to come up with a game plan for the future.  I had envisioned many hours of thinking about our next move in life in our mud hut through 2013, but we have to figure it out on the ground here.  First we are road-tripping around the US this summer, then possibly work and/or school this Fall.


Settling in, back in Montana, May 10th 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Where's Waldo?

After weeks of silence, rest assured we are safe and sound. 


Unfortunately our time in Mali ended prematurely due to continued instability. Leaving was so hard, that explanation is a blog post we are not yet ready to compose. However, leaving was the best decision as the current situation in country did not allow for us to do the work we came to do effectively or safely. 


Peace Corps Mali was evacuated, all volunteers left together and spent a week in Ghana for administrative processing. Our service has officially closed and the PC Mali program has been suspended until the situation in country stabilizes. We spent an extra week in Ghana on the beach with friends and a weekend enjoying the best of Accra with George's high school prom date, Victoria. We are en route to America visiting family and friends along the way.


We are currently enjoying WONDERFUL hospitality, chocolate, wine and cheese at James and Claudia's in Basel, Switzerland. We continue on to Paris and Washington DC before arriving in Bozeman in early May. Planning many road trips this summer to visit family and friends. Have a place on your couch for two? -we just might show up at your house

Monday, April 2, 2012

Waiting...for now

While the initial 30 hours of this coup were intense for those of us in Bamako, the past week has been rather un-extraordinary in the neighborhood where we are in Bamako.  We are in a comfortable house with a number of other Peace Corps volunteers, vacillating between boredom and anxiety.  The anxiety comes more from an uncertain future than from any safety concerns.  This coup has been relatively non-violent in southern Mali.  One wonders how a small number of junior soldiers could pull off a coup.  By most reports, it appears that there was little resistance.  Many average Malians we have encountered in the past few days are in support of the ideals that drove the coup, which initially surprised me, since the aims of the coup - to put someone else in power - could have been attained at the end of the April with the planned presidential election.  It seems that Malians are fed up with the government, corruption, and had little faith in the upcoming elections, or maybe more generally were upset about chronic poverty and challenging lives.


For those volunteers who were in their respective villages at the time, they learned the news from texts messages or the radio, though their villages continued to go about their normal life.  We have been in touch with our friends and host families in our village and they are all well and continue to be optimistic that we will be able to return as daily life and work in village continues to move forward.


Northern Mali is a different story right now, and the rebellion there appears to be taking ground and quickly winning battles working toward their objective of securing the entire North to be an autonomous state of its own.


While we do not know the outcome, and much of the past week has been full of political events that do not look promising, we are invested in waiting here for the time being.  It is a fluid situation, and things could improve or get worse in a hurry.  If it gets worse or becomes dangerous for us, we are confident in Peace Corps pulling us out.  For those of you who have not been here, it is impossible to explain the reasons we have for waiting for this to play out.  Beyond the 41 years that the Peace Corps has been here in Mali, and the staff of Malians and Americans it employs, there is a human element in our village.  We have friends, co-workers, neighbors, and a home in our village, and while we are safe and a chance remains that things could return to normal we want to wait here.


Thank you all for the prayers and concern.

Holiday fam, Diane L, and 36th Street Cunninghams - you can be relieved that your goodie packages were not in vain, our pal Miriam picked them up in Segou for us yesterday.  Thank you!


Here is another perspective on what's going on here.  This blog is written by a Fulbright scholar (former PCV in Mali and a Carleton College grad) and has some more eloquent details on the political situation here- perhaps can put some context on how/what happened here in March:
http://bamakobruce.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/good-riddance-att/

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Coup d'Etat au Mali

This is not a post to cause drama but to provide information. A Coup d'├ętat was declared by members of the Malian military last night in Bamako, Mali's capital. For information or background on what transpired yesterday, check news coverage online (BBC, Reuters etc).


George and I are currently in a very safe location. We are not afraid for our safety and will continue to stay where we are until we receive further direction from our superiors who work closely with the US Embassy on security matters. As far as what may happen in the long term, resolution of the coup remains uncertain. Our lives as Peace Corps Volunteers could easily return to "normal" or on the opposite end of the spectrum, we could be sent home. I want to emphasize that we do not yet have confirmed news one way or the other. Most importantly, we are safe where we are. We will keep you all posted if we learn of any new developments.


Pray for peace.    

Monday, March 19, 2012

Guest Author: Michael Comes to Town

Travel Warnings Be Damned

            First things first:  George and Anna are great, remain in wonderful spirits and look healthy.  If you’re worried about their well-being, stop - there’s not much need.  They’ve adopted well, have meaningful friendships, and know how to navigate daily life very well here.

Now for my actual post:
Mali, eh?” was the standard response when I told people I was visiting Anna and George.  Most Americans know next to nothing about Mali.  Admittedly, I didn’t know much about Mali myself.  I still don’t even after spending eight days here.
            I came into this trip with few expectations.  Don’t misunderstand that as low expectations.  I was very excited to see George and Anna.  I was curious to see how they lived and for them to show me around Mali.  But, beyond that, I really didn’t know what to expect.
            As my trip grew closer, a flurry of articles regarding the ongoing Touraeg rebellion in Northern Mali worried me.  George and Anna assured me I would be safe.  Plus, I don’t believe the Peace Corps would put their volunteers in harm’s way.  My worries proved completely unfounded.  The travel warnings issued by various countries seem almost silly compared to the situation on the ground in Southern Mali
            A short blog post can’t adequately describe the thoughts and emotions I’ve experienced here.  I’m incredibly grateful for George and Anna for showing me around this astounding country.  Though Dogon Country was an unbelievable experience, I am most grateful for the visit to their village in the Segou Region.  George and Anna’s friends and neighbors in the village are so incredibly generous, even though they are quite poor by American standards.  I wonder if I will ever experience the generosity offered by the villagers ever again.  It’s unlikely I will, but I hope to replicate it throughout the rest of my life.  Also, I am still astounded by how happy the villagers seem (and most likely, are), despite conditions that seem insurmountable by most Americans.  Malians are a resilient people and know how to make the best of the many obstacles that pop up daily. 
            This has been an incredible trip.  It’s renewed my appreciation for the US and the many opportunities afforded to me there.  Though I know I’ll quickly return to complaining about some of trivial annoyances that daily life in the US presents, I hope the memories of the many struggles faced by Malians on daily bases remind me that I don’t have it so bad after all.  Thank you, George and Anna, for this completely unforgettable experience.


Day Hike in Dogon Country










Segou at Sunset




Village 





Monday, February 20, 2012

Le Festival sur le Niger

 The main stage sur le Niger
Confession - this photo was taken at the festival last year and I pulled it off of Google Images. Same look this year.

The biggest music festival of the year in Mali wrapped up yesterday in our very own regional capital, Segou. We spent 4 nights in a row listening to musicans on the banks of the Niger River and catching up with friends who came to town for the show. This year has been a particularly tough year for tourism in Mali, so it was fun to see Segou come alive with people, food stands, outdoor patios, dancing, and a pop up market. The festival draws primarily a Malian crowd and pockets of toubab festival junkie tourists. Unbeatable people watching.

Before coming to Mali people would always tell us that Malian music is world renowned. While I knew next to nothing about Malian music, the festival was a way for us to see all of the big names at once. Our personal best in show award goes to:

Kar Kar
Baba Sissoko
Pape Diouf (of Senegal)
Habib Koite
Sauti Soul (of Kenya)
Nafi Diabate
Cheik Tidiane Seck
Salif Keita

I am sure you can find some of these musicans on You Tube...if we tried to find videos for you the internet files would still be loading by the time the festival gets underway in 2013. For more info - festivalsegou.org

Naturally at a music festival in West Africa, we ran into a St. Olaf connection. Prior to coming to Mali, we learned about Cherif Keita, a professor from Carleton College who brings students here on a study abroad trimester every other year. Cherif's daughter also happens to work in Admissions at St. Olaf. At a late night performace we ran into Cherif's brother-in-law Oumar who runs a hotel in Segou. Oumar invited us to lunch the next day to meet Cherif, a wealth of knowledge on Mande history and culture and a friendly face who also allowed us to reminice about Northfield. Small world. Cherif has recently published an English version of his book on childhood friend Salif Keita (Outcast to Ambassador: The Musical Odyssey of Salif Keita). Salif Keita is THE most accomplished living musican in Mali and he brought down the house at the festival on Saturday night.

Thanks to our gracious host in Segou, we washed our clothes in a washing maching for the first time in over a year. What a treat. No need for a dryer though, clothes dry in no time when it is 100 degrees outside. I guess "cold season" is over.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The World Map Project - A Peace Corps Classic


When we are not at our "jobs" (Anna at one of four weekly women's savings group meetings and I at our local health clinic), drinking tea with the neighbors, hauling water from the pump down the street, or at our host family's house hanging out, we try to keep busy with other small projects.  One such small project was painting a world map.  One time-honored Peace Corps tradition is to paint a world map in a local public space or school.  After getting permission from the school director, we were given the wall space in the sixth grade classroom to paint ours.

Why a world map?  Other than the fact that we like maps and it was a good way to keep busy for quite a few weekends, it creates a simple educational tool that will stick around in our community for a handful of years.  Education in our town is quite robust compared to nearby villages and towns, but is nothing like what we have in the States.  Most classrooms are spartan cement buildings.  This particular sixth grade classroom holds 74 students, 1 teacher.  Students copy all subject matter by hand from the blackboard into a notebook.  Textbooks and other materials are almost non-existant.    Couple that with most peoples' lack of travel, and you get a limited geography knowledge.  For example, I am frequently asked questions like, "how long is the bus ride to America?" or when gone for a long weekend, "how was your trip home to America?" and even more frequently villagers confuse the United States and France as the same place.

We spent quite a few weekends working on our map.  Like most things here, it ended up taking longer and being harder than planned.  I have to admit that I thought my geography was pretty good before this, and was a little surprised by how little I actually knew.  Here is a quiz for you - Without looking, name the following: one island between the African and South American continents; which countries replaced the former Yugoslavia; where is Azerbaijan; what countries border El Salvador; and which US state is closest to Bermuda.  If you got two of those right you know more than I did.