"But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace." - John F. Kennedy

Saturday, December 10, 2011

General Updates

It’s been a little over a month since I’ve been here! Village time is pretty slow – I wake up at 6am and go to bed around 8pm – so it feels like I’ve been here for YEARS!!  Here’s a little glimpse of my daily schedule:
·         Wake up around 6:30 am, and take a bucket bath – with warm water – unless it’s too cold outside, then I skip it :)
·         Eat breakfast – usually bread and eggs or bread and peanut butter and a cup of nescafe
·         Go to school – which should be a 3 minute walk but turns into a 15 minute walk because of all the greeting involved
·         Learn Bambara, the local language, until noon
·         Go home for lunch – which is usually rice and some sort of sauce, usually peanut type sauce
·         Then I relax until 2:30 – by relax I mean stay out of the way of the sun and usually fan myself in my room
·         At 2:30 I start class again and we go until 5
·         After class I try to rush home so that I can get back to my house before dark and take my bucket bath (because the bathrooms are enclosed, but no roofs, and they’re outside – so I get terrified that I’ll find bugs/toads or something at night)
·         After my bath, I eat my dinner – which varies – sometimes it’s spaghetti/macaroni, sometimes rice, sometimes fried plantains, sometimes containing meat, sometimes fried potatoes
·         After dinner, I chill with the family and chat
·         I usually get tired pretty early, around 8 or so, and retire to my room to read and fall asleep!
There usually aren’t too many variations in that schedule. The bulk of the day is spent in class, studying either Bambara, Peace Corps policies, or stuff related to my work of small enterprise development.  A couple of times I’ve been to the market, or the tailor, but not very frequently.
The greeting I was mentioning earlier is a pretty interesting part of Malian culture.  Every time you enter a social situation, or are walking down the street, you have to greet EVERYONE! Old people, little kids, adults, etc. There are different greetings for each part of the day – morning, noon, evening, and night. You essentially say good (whatever part of the day it is) and ask how they are, their family, was the day/night peaceful, etc. No matter what the situation is like in reality, you respond with “no problems at all.”  It’s not the same way as it is in America – you have to stop and talk to people, be friendly, and can’t just say “how are you?” and walk by. This is why it takes me so long to walk to school! Or anywhere for that matter! The people in my village seem to be always quizzing me to see if I know what they’re saying or to see if I remember my host parents’ names. In general, the people seem to be really social and welcoming. You don’t need invitations to stop by peoples’ houses, and it’s perfectly normal for you to be walking down the street and have people inviting you over to eat with them!
The market was also a pretty interesting experience.  Some towns have markets every day at certain times, others have a big one on a certain day of the week. Our village doesn’t have a market, but the neighboring village has one every day. I’ve also been to another village’s market which is held only once a week.  The markets are outdoors, and the vendors are usually set up under some sort of roofs or covers above their heads.  At the markets, you can find anything from fabric, shoes, hair products, clothes to fruits, vegetables, seasonings, live animals, etc… In Mali, you bargain for anything that’s not food. The bargaining has been fun so far, but when I get more confident in my language I’ll be able to bargain better.
All of the trainees at our site (seven of us) and our two teachers make dinner for ourselves once every two weeks. For the first week we made chickens, fried plantains, salad, and fries. We had to buy the chickens live and kill them then we paid someone to pluck them for us and we fried them. This dinner happened two weeks after we’ve been staying at our homestay sites, eating Malian food. We FEASTED! Every one of us got so full that it took us a while to get back up and moving! For our second time making dinner, we had guinea fowls, fried rice, salad, and fries. Again, we had to buy the guinea fowls alive and cook them ourselves. By the way, that was my first time eating guinea fowls and they are DELICIOUS!!!
All in all I am having a great time trying to learn more about this culture and integrate into this community! This upcoming Monday I will visit the site where I will be living for the next two years. So far, what I know about it, is that it’s about 125km from the capital, and it will be a semi-urban setting. I won’t be that far away from my banking town and will have my own house with two rooms, my own well, and hopefully my own little concession. I will be working with a cereal cooperative, working to increase their production, and also a savings association. When I get done with my visit and have internet I will write an update about the experience!
Thanks for reading!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homestay Update

So…. I got into Mali Thursday November 3rd at around 10 PM (a little later than was scheduled). There was a representative from the Peace Corps office waiting for me and helping me get through customs and picking up my bags – which took about an hour itself! FINALLY we got both of my bags and made our way through the swarm of people to the car. The ride from the airport to the training center where all of the other volunteers were was about an hour away from the airport. The ride itself was pretty interesting – sometimes a dirt road, sometimes paved, motorcycles, donkeys, bikes, everything on the road! When we got to the training site, it was around midnight – a lot of the other volunteers were already sleeping because the next day we were all leaving for our homestay villages at 8am. I basically got to the training site and went to bed – woke up at 6am the next day, packed and headed off to my homestay site (after somehow squeezing in 3 shots I needed to get). 

Homestay is where the language and technical training occurs. Basically, I am living in this village for about 9 weeks and spend my days learning language 6 days a week – if it’s not language it’s something related to my sector of small enterprise development. The family I stay with cooks all of my meals, brings me water from the well to bathe with (bucket bath of course) and heats it up for me too! Here is a picture of my family! My host parents have five kids, and then my host dad’s younger brother, his wife and their five kids live in the concession too! Also, my host sister, the one sitting in front of me that I am named after (Korotumu), braided my hair! The guy next to me is my host dad, next to him is my host mom, and next to her is my aunt. The rest are their kids and my grandma behind me.

In general, the past couple of weeks I have found people to be extremely friendly. When I try to do something, like get water from the well myself, they won’t let me do it! The language isn’t that hard so far, it just gets tiring studying it for 6 hours a day!  Since I got thrown into the homestay after being in the country for only seven hours, I had no previous language training. My first day was extremely hard! I couldn’t even greet anyone, or say hi. The people in the village though were extremely nice and welcomed us with dancing and music. After that, we went to our respective homestays and met our families for the first time (where more charades occurred because of the lack of language skills). 

Our classes are held outside, underneath a tree – you wouldn’t believe how much cooler it can be in the shade! Right now, since it’s cold season, the days are pretty hot, but nighttime and early morning time gets pretty cold. One of the funniest things I’ve seen is people walking around with winter jackets on and winter hats too in the morning time when it’s still cold! They are freezing! Even funnier is little kids with sweaters and hats on but no pants!!!! Hilarious! 

The hardest part of the whole experience for me is getting used to the little animals everywhere – lizards, toads, frogs, mice, etc. I haven’t seen any big animals or anything, but the other day I moved something in my room and a mice ran out from behind it! I immediately screamed and went to find my host brother to chase it out. Thankfully, he wasn’t scared and chased it out for me – it ran to my other host brother’s room right next door, haha, but he wasn’t scared, just laughed at me, so it was all good! Also, here at the training site, I keep finding toads and lizards/geckos in my room – not cool. 

At our homestay village, people have been used to foreigners because previous volunteers have lived in the area before. This, however, does not prevent people from staring, speaking French to me (because they think since I'm white I'm immediately from France). Little kids will also look at me and scream out Tubabu - which means foreigner. They also will wave and say bye-bye to me -- the extent of their English. Side note: the kids here are absolutely adorable!

Last week, we went to the American club – which is kind of like a country club – you need an American passport to get in. There, we had cheeseburgers, salads, cheese fries and steaks for the first time since we’ve been in the country! The food wasn’t the best quality but it tasted great to all of us! I’m really looking forward to exploring around the bigger cities and trying out the different restaurants! Generally, my breakfast consists of bread and peanut butter and nescafe – sometimes fried eggs. For lunch, I usually get rice with peanut sauce and sometimes fish, sometimes meat (lamb usually). For dinner, I sometimes get spaghetti; seasoned and cooked differently than what you think, or fried plantains, it varies. I don’t usually get a lot of vegetables or fruits but can buy them myself at the local market.  As a treat for myself, I will sometimes bike to the village right next to mine and buy a cold soft drink – which tastes AMAZING after an extremely hot day!And yes, I do ride a bike - on the dirt desert roads and sometimes pass donkey carts too! 

Next week, I will find out where my permanent site will be – the place where I will carry out my 2 year service. When I find out, I will let you know the region! The week after next, I will actually be staying at site for a week to kind of test it out. I don’t know how often I will get to update, but I will try whenever possible! 

Thanks for reading :) Write me letters – I have nothing but time to respond!

Hope to hear from you,


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Big Day

Finally, it's here! The day I embark on my Peace Corps journey! It's been a long wait to get to this day (a little over a year) and I am still in shock that it's finally here! I was supposed to leave last Friday, but because I had to wait on some last minute medical tests, I had to leave a little later. So, I will be departing from the Grand Rapids airport at approximately 5 pm, and will land in Bamako, Mali at about 9 pm Thursday. As my friend Anne put it, I will be arriving in true Ajka form: fashionably late :)

General thoughts about leaving:
  • Nervous: Everyone has already been there for a couple of days and started with learning Bambara so I have to play catch up! 
  • Anxious: I was ready to leave last Friday, and can't wait for this adventure!
  • Excited: I can't wait to experience Malian culture!                                                                                
Basically, all of the above with varying degrees of each depending on the time you catch me. I promise to keep updating this blog, and will post my address as well so you can send me goodies :) In the meantime, stay classy!