"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

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Site Visit, End Of Homestay and Swearing In

I know it’s been about a month since I updated, so I will try to include a lot of details in this one.  From December 12th until the 16th I stayed at my future site for a week to get a sense of the community I will be living in.  It’s a smaller village that is about 25 km away from a bigger village. The bigger village has electricity, water pumps and internet – mine has no electricity and a well – quite the contrast. I will be the first volunteer in my village, so the people haven’t been exposed to a lot of foreigners. 

For the first part of my journey to my village Peace Corps drove me. When I got to the bigger town, Dioila (where my mail will be coming to), they dropped me and my counterpart off and we waited for public transport to take us the rest of the way. Now let me tell you something about public transportation in Mali – it is CRAZY! The bus we took was a little tiny bus that is supposed to fit maybe 12-15 people max. When we got in, there were about 25 people on it, and they still picked us up!! They also climb on top of the roof and put all of the luggage up there, sometimes goats too! They let me sit up front since I was a foreigner. Sitting next to me was a guy that kept asking me to take him to America and marry him. My Bambara was a little more developed by this point, so my response was “I can’t wash clothes or cook, can you do that for me?” This instantly turns them off! In this country, specifically in the village, women are expected to cook, clean, wash clothes, cut up firewood, fetch water, etc. The list is long – and it’s all in a day’s work. But anyways… when I got to my village, people flocked me and my counterpart because they were so excited. It was kind of overwhelming at first, but I think by the end of the week they got used to me.

For the whole week, I didn’t have to go to any class or training sessions. I would spend my days talking to my host family, walking around, talking to the villagers, and reading. I ate all of my meals with my host family because I didn’t have anything at my house to cook with.  In general, I think that my site placement was a good one. I’m not too far from the capitol of Bamako, or internet, but the community is small and rural, so I will still get that ‘Peace Corps experience.’ Site visit itself wasn’t anything too exciting, but at the end of site visit I got to go explore the capitol of Bamako. I had lunch at this Lebanese restaurant and it was GLORIOUS! I had a chicken sandwich and French fries – SO GOOD! It was especially good after site visit because I ate this food called toh for a lot of the week. Toh is really hard to describe. It can be made from corn or millet. When it is made out of corn it kind of tastes like uncooked corn bread. Here is my host mom making toh:

Bamako itself was pretty cool. It is such a huge contrast from the rural village where I’ll be living. In Bamako, there are tall buildings, nice cars, and good food! At the same time though, in between the tall buildings, people still have gardening plots and are growing vegetables. Quite a stark contrast. 

After site visit and my outing in Bamako, I went back to stay with my homestay family. We came back to the training center for Christmas, and the last day of homestay was New Year’s eve. Otherwise, the rest of the time was spent in my homestay village. The last couple of weeks of homestay were pretty hard because I knew that my time was coming to an end. I was at a point where I was getting used to my host family, and it was sad to leave. On the day I left, my host brothers and sisters carried all of my stuff to the meeting point. Picture Below:
I definitely teared up a couple of times, but held it together for the most part. One of my host sisters even started crying! It’s amazing to think about how far we came: When I landed in Mali I knew zero Bambara, knew almost nothing about Malian culture, and my host family were complete strangers to me. Today, I know a lot more Bambara, know about Malian culture, and truly feel like I am a part of my host family. It’s weird to think that it’s only been a little over two months and so much has been accomplished!
After the end of homestay, we went back to the training site to finish up training. At the end of training, we had a swearing in ceremony – which was held at the ambassador’s house. We all dressed up in our finest Malian outfits. The fabric that my dress was made out of felt like paper, and it sounded like a paper bag was rustling every time I walked!

After our ceremony at the ambassador’s house, we went to the American club to relax by the pool for a little while. We also had a buffet lunch – burgers, fries and potato salad. After the American club we went to our hotel rooms and got ready for dinner. The group that I was with decided to go to a Chinese restaurant. I was so excited to practice my Chinese! When I got there, however, I realized that I forgot most of my Chinese and kept speaking Bambara instead. I couldn’t even remember how to say the word rice! After I started thinking about it though, more and more Chinese started coming back to me, so I think the next time I go I should be able to communicate. 

The next day we came back to the training center and started leaving for our individual sites. Since my region is Bamako, I stayed at the training center and got to go to Bamako to shop for my house. I bought a bed, a dresser and a table – all made out of bamboo. I was supposed to go to my site tomorrow, but today I found out I have malaria! Pretty crazy, right? Considering I take my prophylaxis every week! So, instead of leaving for my site tomorrow, I will be hanging out in Bamako and taking medicine in order to treat it and will hopefully be able to go to my site on Monday or Tuesday. I don’t think my case is extremely serious – I only have minor aches and a relatively low fever – so I’m hopeful that it will go away soon! 

So, until Monday or Tuesday, I will be hanging out in Bamako - air conditioning, good food, internet - not a bad deal right? I will keep you guys posted on the status of this malaria and my new site. Thanks for reading!

Until next time,


  1. Ajka, thanks for the update! I've been wondering how your adventures were going. I'm so glad that you like where you've been placed, and that you are starting to feel more comfortable with the language and culture. Take care of yourself--I hope that the malaria is a mild case as you suspect. Keep the updates coming! :)

  2. 1. "I can't cook or clean." Most amazing rebuttal for a pick up line ever.
    2. That's quite the curve ball to throw in at the end of that post... "oh bt-dubs, I have malaria, no big deal."
    3. Glad to hear you're doing so well! (you know, minus the malaria)

  3. haha.. the bus ride story was cute. :) I'm super sad you have malaria :( But at least you're in a good place to recover. I love your posts - the amount of detail is awesome! Especially for someone like me who always has endless questions, right? I miss you and can't wait for the next update. Also I hope you get my package soon.. love you and hope you get better quick!

  4. It was the rice that gave you malaria! Didn't they teach you anything in training?