Monday, February 27, 2012

Year one in country: DONE.

Wow… So I guess blogging is not really my thing.  Here are a few highlights from these last few months…
Christmas: I thought it’d be interesting to do Christmas in my village. Well, funny thing is though, one Christian family in a village of 3,000 doesn’t really make for a great Christmas. Oh well. I wanted one to remember! I went to the Church a Protestant NGO built in my village for the 7am mass. I sat there for two hours to find out that the minister couldn’t come so the Christian family’s 18 year old son did our 20 minute, all Bambara mass for us. Then I biked to the market and got some salad and cooked macaroni (6lbs) and super acidic tomato sauce for my host family. Pretty funny and embarrassing as they all watched my prepare something I barely know how to cook in a quantity I’ve NEVER made. All in all it was alright but I think I’ve checked that off my list and don’t need to do another xmas en brousse. It’s just not that fun in a Muslim village.

Lately I’ve been going to a lot of trainings. Mid January I took two women from Kouna to a shea training in Bamako where we learned all about shea, cooperative, associations and how to make shea. It was pretty interesting. When we got back to village we made soap and are now trying to sell it and see if this could be a profitable business for them… We need to go real slowly though or else I see this not taking off…. Here’s for hoping it works!

Then I was invited to a 10 day Malaria formation in Senegal at their training center in Thies. This was great! We learned all about Malaria, the epidemiology and what organizations are doing about it. April 25 is World Malaria Day so come April I’ll have more malarious updates! But basically, we’re going for no more malaria by 2015. Pretty ambitious but okay… I’m down to try ;)

Last week was the Segou music festival. We saw Salif Keita and Habib Koite and many others. Really fun festival!  I went with my friend to her site for a night then down to Bamako for a tree nursery training.  So many trainings! But this one was really interesting… we learned about planting and caring for tree nurseries, and grafting… so many trees! I love trees. Especially in the Sahel. To site again this afternoon!

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Nine months in!


So I realize it is now November and the holiday time in the US but I have some catching up to do. September and October was a lot of travelling and thus a lot of fun. Early September I went to a shea business bootcamp just outside of Bamako where we learned about shea, cooperatives and how and if they work here in Mali. I guess Burkina shea is superior to Mali shea so Mali doesn’t export much. Little by little maybe they will. The training was super interesting; we wrote business plans for shea groups in a week. So much more work than I anticipated but it felt good. Like school. EXCELLENT.

Then I went down to my friend’s site in Sikasso where we built a mud oven, then hopped on a 36 hour bus to GHANA! Coming from Mali, Ghana’s paradise.  They have food, the beach, they are pretty nice and more used to white people (and thus less harassing). I was there for about 3 weeks and did a huge tour of Ghana which actually means a lot of time in buses but we were a good group and it was a blast. I went with 11 other girls to Kumasi, Dixcove (the green Turtle lodge – really nice), Cape Coast where we saw the castle… the holding place for the captured slaves before they got shipped off to the west, assuming they didn’t die in the crowded dungeons or on the ships. The casle was really pretty but disturbing too. The church was built on top of the male dungeons and the governors quarters were above that. So essentially, the governor lived in rooms that held 200+ men two stories down (separated by the church). Hmmmm not cool yo.

From Cape Coast we went to Accra to run the marathon! Well, ok so only one guy from PCMali ran the whole thing, most of us just did the half. Survived for sure. It was fun but there was no shortage of pedestrians and traffic throughout the entire run. Accra is a great city as well. Beautiful supermarket. And restaurants… We all ate a lot in Ghana. Oops. Most people went back to Mali after Accra but three friends and I, reluctant to leave Ghana, kept going.  We went east to Hoe where we went to a monkey sanctuary (a monkey jumped on me for its banana! First time for everything!), and the tallest waterfalls in West Africa. It was incredible! The water was coming down so hard the splash was like a million needles in the back. But really an incredible experience. From Hoe we hopped on a little wooden boat across Lake Volta where we spent about 15minutes under tarps as the rain pummeled us and got a series of tro-tros (the white vans for public transportation) and another boat and more tro-tros to Kumasi. The next day we went up to Tamale and Mole national park. Unfortunately we didn’t see any elephants, only warthogs, antelopes, monkeys and the baboon that stole our bread as we swam in the hotel pool.

After Mole we spent another night in Tamale and went up to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. We rolled in and were immediately struck by how much it felt like Mali. Francophone for starters, in addition to really, over helpful people, much fewer paved roads and more dirt roads and the disappearance of Ghanaian quality street food.  We did however, find an amazing restaurant run by an Italian man and his Ukrainian wife, called Cappuccino. I think we spent the majority of our day in Ouaga in the air conditioning, trying various pastries and salads… I completely understand how Peace Corps volunteers gain a lot of weight when they go home. Things just taste good. Our last night in Ouaga we were hanging out on the roof when we heard some music playing. It sounded live so we decided to follow it and ended up at a nearly empty bar, save for a few customers and an amazing band. We only made it for two songs but they were a great group and had an African/ Latin sound.

Unfortunately all things must end so we parted ways the following day and I made it, 27 hours later, to Sevare and two weeks at site. Site was alright although this has been a bad year for rains and my villagers (and me too) are worried about their crops. The river didn’t rise much and therefore the rice fields are not as wet as they usually are and the millet is dry dry dry. We will have to see. After 2 weeks at site I left again for Bamako and spent 5 days in Siby (60km from Bamako on the road to Guinee) rock climbing. It was an amazing trip, lots of climbing and camping, and finished off the trip with a giant hanging repel down the middle of the arch. Then it was back to Bamako, up to Sevare and back to site for me! I am working on a garden now… Hopefully it will work out! I have to keep expectations down though because what would take about 15 minutes in the US takes about 15 days over here. Sometimes, all you CAN do is wait, read, chat and drink ridiculously sweet green tea.

Also, a new stage just arrived on Monday making us like, juniors (one stage ahead us, two behind)! Not bad for 9months in country ;)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Keep your mouth shut when biking… you never know what kind of bugs may fly in

So, let me begin with a thermometer update… I put it in the sun thinking, this will be so interesting to see how hot it gets! FAIL. I broke it. Well, I suppose if I am to be technically correct, the beaming rays of the African sun broke it. I guess that means it past 120F… I’m sorry I can’t give any more temperature reads!

Village life never changes much so I forget what I wrote about. I’ve moved on to rough embroidery instead of weaving with my neighbor lady. She’s nice but apparently the only reason we were weaving was because she had the money to buy the grass. Which is actually me buying the grass for her in an attempt to be nice but she was selling the hats and mats we were making so I didn’t feel like I should buy all her materials for her ‘business’. I don’t know what she did with the money she made but it didn’t buy more grass so I got a piece of fabric and yarn and we’re embroidering that now. It’s not beautiful but works. That’s most mornings.

I was eating lunch with my homologue and his family but with Ramadan, we switched to dinners. Ramadan! I fasted one day and kinda liked it! I was super thirsty but it wasn’t bad not eating for a day. We broke the fast with dates, as is tradition, and then ate rice and sauce. I’m getting pretty used to their food. Definitely not scrumptious but not terrible ;)

This past week I spend away from site in Sevare and Bangiagara. My friend’s birthday is a few days before mine so we had a birthday party in Bangiagara! We got there Saturday evening, spent Sunday at the pool nearby, and Monday we hiked to the Falais, the cliffs in Dogon country where the pigmy people build houses into the cliffs. It was beautiful and really interesting! While everyone else went back to Bangiagara, a couple friends and I stayed and hiked a bit more in the cliffs, built a fire and camped out. Tuesday, we spent my birthday morning scrambling over big rocks and hiked back to Tile where there is a hostel. We ordered lunch, went for a walk and then tucked in to a 2.5hr lunch complete with giant fried dough balls – birthday cake! It was definitely a birthday to remember. We caught a ride back to Bangiagara Tuesday night and Sevare yesterday. It’s back to site today but my friend is coming to hang out with me for a couple days at my site which should be really fun. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

If the kid doesn’t cry when you hit him, you didn’t hit hard enough.

Alright so that probably sounds terrible but in a country where the average woman has 7 children and up to 30 en brousse (where we volunteers generally live), you have to keep those little buggers in line somehow. That somehow is generally with a solid smack of hand on kid. Apparently though, the hitting can only be done by an older person to a younger person… So, for example, a sister who is say, 8 sees her younger brother, say, 6, doing something she doesn’t approve of… smack. But… it is only supposed to go in that direction; unless of course, the younger kid has yet to learn the proper etiquette of hitting in which case a smack will lead to another, reciprocal smack.

Alright… since I last wrote (which I realize it’s been a while…) I spend a couple more weeks at site where I read, chatted, wove straw hats, drank tea and painted a mural at the maternity.  A couple fellow Fulfulde speaking friends also did murals around the same time. While I chose my mural location because I wouldn’t be seen by anyone while painted it, Penda (Meredith, in another life) invited the whole village to help her paint (a much more Peace Corps way to do it). I think both of our murals turned out pretty well having taken opposite approaches. Working with Malians can be super frustrating… she’s got stories of no shows, delays, globs of black paint on white backgrounds, red people... All of which were fixed to be beautiful but after perhaps a little stress…

June 10 I came into Sevare via random ngo worker. Because that’s how it works here. If you have a car or means of transport you have to expect people asking for rides. Malians are super generous people and I have yet to have been turned down… although there’s, of course, a first for everything. We had a COS (close of service) party for one of the volunteers in Sevare the following day so I made a chocolate cake which turned out better than I thought it was going to. Inspiration for future culinary adventures, hopefully.

July 13 we went down to Bamako via African Tours. For a country with such terrible transportation, this was pure luxury. Air conditioning on the bus, we only left a few minutes late and made very few stops, one of which being at a lunch place where we were given a 1000CFA voucher for lunch! Regardless, I was beat when we got to the Bamako stage house (probably a result of the 2 hours of sleep I had gotten the night before… miiiight have had something to do with it). Monday morning, day one of our In Service Training (IST for acronym happy Peace Corps staff) I ran a half marathon from the Bamako house to our training center with a few people. Averaging about 10 min/ mile… with no expectations that was juuuuuust fine. IST was a blast. The first week was just for volunteers and while there were sessions to attend, there were also 60 friends to chat with, bonfires to make and even a little Bamako exploration to be had. The second week brought our homologues. Regardless of their presence, our little American haven wasn’t broken.

With the end of IST, no one was ready to call it quits so a bunch of us went to a little resort behind our homestay village. We were the only guests and definitely took advantage of the pool and service. With the 4th of July just around the corner, a bunch of people are headed to Manitali (a damn in the west of Mali where Peace Corps has another house) to celebrate. After being away from site for three weeks I decided to come back up north and postpone Manitali until a later date… Although I’ve heard it’s gorgeous so I can’t wait to go! I’m in Sevare now and will head back to site via bike in a couple hours when the sun cools down a bit ;)
Speaking of which…. I just got an amazing package with a thermometer so I can see just how hot it gets! For instance it read last night around 8:30pm, 95 degrees farenheit! Oh the records it shall read.

Friday, May 20, 2011

"Jam won, janngol wala"

Why Mali is sweet (according to one man in my host family): "Jam won, janngol wala," there is peace, and no cold.

I hit and passed my one month mark at site! It’s amazing how time works here. There are times when the afternoon will fly by or all of a sudden a week has gone by but at the same time my 3.5 months here seem like a lifetime. American life is so far away from anything I know at site.

Last week Peace Corps sent me my language instructor to tutor me at site. It was great. We studied for about 5 or 6 hours a day which would usually include (if I was successful) at least an hour or two of some quality chatting in either French or Fulfulde. My language is definitely improving but I still have a long way to go. Unfortunately the women with whom I should be spending a lot of time, speak Malinke among each other so I don’t understand. Recently I’m feeling more comfortable telling them to speak Fulfulde but they usually revert to Malinke within a couple minutes. It’s funny, in a place where education is next to none and people spend their entire lives in one village farming or cooking, they can speak upwards of 5 languages. In my village alone they speak, Bambara, Fulfulde, Bozo, Chetankore, Malinke and at least two others whose names escape me…  There is definite pride in language. No one asks me to teach them to do math or science or anything like that but EVERYONE asks me to teach them either French or English. If I were here to teach English, the enthusiasm is definitely there…  maybe I’ll talk about health education in French or English… although then they wouldn’t understand… hmmmm.

I cook for myself but en brousse, there are pretty slim pickings. I eat a lot of noodles and tomato sauce and never miss taking my vitamins ;) I’m in Sevare now to bank and go to the post office for some delicious protein powder, and stopped at the market yesterday for some vegetables. I think my body might go into a happy shock with all the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and green peppers I ate but it was amazing. Vegetables are really great. Everyone really likes the fish from the river in my village but unfortunately I haven’t seem to have developed a taste for it…

As for the environment, it’s still pretty hot here. I was recently asked how hot it is and I really don’t know. All I know is I was not a sweater in the US but here I regularly have sweat dripping down my back and take at least two bucket baths a day. Once the rains come the river is going to flood and people will take to the fields. I’ve been promised that I can help in my friend’s rice field which I’m pretty excited about. Some men were building on my neighbor’s house and they told me to join them but when I was coming they freaked out and told me I couldn’t. They were joking but I wasn’t. I was really excited about building a house! They make bricks out of mud, use mud as mortar then cover the whole thing in mud. I haven’t been taking many pictures because everyone already assumes I have copious monies floating around so I am trying to convince them that I don’t before breaking out my new, shiny camera.

There aren’t that many crazy cool Africa animals up here in the north but I live amongst a ton of lizards, cows, donkeys, goats and chickens. Animals are part of the community, they roam the streets, live in the family compound…

I am slowing figuring out what I will be working on… I am currently going to people’s houses to complete my baseline survey where I ask people about their health practices… where they get their water (wells), if they bleach it (rarely), if they wash their hands with soap (rarely).  I talk only to the women because then I ask them if they know SIDA (AIDS) or other sexually transmitted diseases, family planning and contraceptives. That’s pretty interesting because some people have heard of these things but don’t know much about it so I have been telling them about STIs and contraceptive methods. Something’s gotta give with this population (50% Malians are under 15). I’m going to try to be culturally sensitive and all that but I will definitely try to talk about the benefits of fewer kids to anyone who’ll listen.

Otherwise I have been told to fix a well, dig a new well for the women’s garden and build a couple fences. The maternity at site is really nice, built my villagers in November 2010 but funded by Aga Khan Foundation (which the more I learn about the better the organization is). The building has solar panels so I’m also going to try to get them a vaccine refrigerator … Anyways, my plans are big but I need to see what’s actually feasible. In-service training will be very welcome June 13 in Bamako.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

New Address

Oooo Quick update on the address change... Now I am:

Susie Vulpas, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 104
Sevare, Mali, West Africa

(I guess the West Africa part is key for postal workers ;)

Naange ana wuli

“Naange ana wuli” translates to “the sun is hot.” Never a more accurate phrase.
I’ve been at site for 2 weeks now and am slowly starting to get used to life here… slowly. To summarize, I live in a mud house in my village which is about 12km from the road. I am, as they say here, “en Brousse,” or in the bush. The village is about 3,000 which is a pretty decent size, but for such a size we have no market or anything like that. I’m still figuring out where people get their food to eat. It seems that everyone has a stack of rice sacks, salt and dried onions and fish in their house that they cook from. Other than that, some people grow food but right now is the hot season which means sweat galore and nothing grows. Not until the rains (and subsequent floods) come!

I haven’t really figured out a daily schedule yet but so far I have been getting up around 6 with the sunrise and running every other day. I run through fields or along some paths which is both exciting and extremely frustrating when the path through the field suddenly ends. I get back, have a little bucket bath, and some breakfast and then mosey over to the bitiki where the men hang out, chat and drink tea. I started teaching one of them English. He’s super nice and gives me fruit and bread when he gets it from Mopti. I head home for lunch and go to my tutor around 2pm, hang out for a while and go around to say hi to various people. It’s a lot of sitting and listening right now. When the sun goes down I generally go back to my house to make dinner, write in my journal, read, sometimes do some yoga and then go to sleep. I generally go to sleep by 9pm and start over all over again in the morning.

Every Sunday is market day at the town at the road so last week I bought a bag of candy and gave it to one of my host brothers to distribute. It was a hit. I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing here and I hope that I am able to do something helpful…. Inchallah!