One Year Home

It is hard to believe that one year ago today, I left Africa. I left the life I knew and grew to love. I left Malian and American friends that I had learned so much from! I don’t think that any two years of my life have ever impacted me, and changed the way I think, see, and live more than the two years I spent in Peace Corps. I remember watching an ad for Peace Corps , where a guy was walking around a city and everywhere he went we was talking about his Peace Corps experience, about chickens and donkeys waking him up every day, and things like that. I remember laughing, because I could relate to exactly what he was saying, but I never thought I would talk about Mali like that…turns out, I DO!! I may not talk constantly about it like that commercial but I can honestly say that I talk about Mali every single day! (and I’m sure I get really annoying to others!) There is just something about living in Africa that seeped into my heart and soul and created a longing to return. There is no way to really explain it; sometimes it makes me sad, sometimes it make me happy. It makes me sad every time I do something and I think of my Malian friends who may never experience it. It makes me guilty every time I spend money on shoes, or clothes or an expensive cup of coffee and think of how much rice could have been bought or mouths that could have been fed with that money. I read the news of happenings in Mali and it breaks my heart and brings me to tears to think of the pain, heart ache, and confusion so many Malians are experiencing. There are some days that all I want to do is cry. But sometimes it makes me happy to think of all the fun things I did in Mali- all the stories I have- or all the fun times I had with other volunteers and how much I learned. It feels like a little kick in the heart every time I try to hand something to someone with my left hand, or when I see someone I haven’t seen in a long time the first thing that comes to mind to say is “ I ni fama!” or when I get the urge to carry things on my head or tie my niece to my back. Besides feeling happy or sad I feel most nostalgic, or homesick…a longing to walk down to the boutiki and greet everyone I see. I miss being able to cook in a mud hut, and sit on a tiny little wooden stool drinking hot hibiscus tea with Tenna. I wish I could go somewhere and be alone, yet totally taken care of by strangers. I miss taking bucket baths under the stars. I miss hearing the sound of pounding waking me up in the morning. I miss not having to worry about what time it is or if I am early or late. I miss eating mangos and have the juice drip clear to my elbows. I miss being part of a culture, even though I wasn’t really. I miss answering 100s of questions a day about Ameriki. I miss calling people bean eaters because they had a different last name. I miss dancing into the night to beat of drums! I could probably go on for days talking about all the things I miss! Most of all I miss Tenna, and all that she taught me! I miss going to her house every night, as the busy day of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of kids was done, and everything was quieting down, as we lay side by side on a plastic mat with the heat from the sun still radiating the ground beneath us; we would talk, tell stories, and sometimes just be. It was my favorite way to end every day and I would do anything to do it again someday! I know that everything I miss now was something, I am sure, that I complained about at one time or another, but isn’t that just the way we are? -Always wishing, and wanting something different? Now that I have been home for a year, I can’t help but feel that this is not where I am meant to be, something about it just doesn’t fit. Like being stuck in your favorite shirt, but it’s on backwards. I have a wonderful family, and life here but I have a calling to be elsewhere, doing, helping , serving… I have a Mali sized hole right in the middle of my heart that reaches clear to my soul. I am working on, pursuing and starting the process of filling that hole and I am excited to see where this next year takes me, and my heart!


Evacuation: Saying Goodbye to Mali, and Peace Corps

In Peace Corps we spend a lot of time learning about safety and security measures (16 hours to be exact) we review basic knowledge things like pick pocketing and purse protection, robbery, bribes, but we also spend time reviewing the safety and security in the case of evacuation. When we first get here it seems kind of silly to talk about getting evacuated, especially in Mali. When Peace Corps has been in Mali for 46 years, it is easy to think of Peace Corps as an institution. Malians know more about Peace Corps than most Americans do. Before we are moved into our villages Peace Corps finds out the best way to contact us, whether it be by cell phone, landline, radio, or, call a neighbor, and the fastest way to get to us. We review the fastest, safest and best way for us as volunteers to come together in one area, and who our points of contact are. As part of our required training we learn the three steps of emergency, 1) Stand fast: don’t leave, stay where you are and wait for further instruction. 2) Consolidation: come together in a safe place, that Peace Corps can reach you easily. 3) Evacuation: Peace Corps removes you from danger.

Over the past 21 months that we have spent in Mali, we have put this training to use very few times. The times we have had to do it all had to do with the Tureg Rebellion in the North of Mali, and the kidnappings they performed. Our safety was never a question. The Tureg Rebellion was so far away from where Peace Corps even lets us travel or work. Americans in general were never a target.

The last week of March I spent acting a paintin fool! Painting world maps, Africa Maps ,Mali maps, maps, maps, maps all over my village. When I wasn’t painting I was spending my time with Seydou, tying him to my back and yalaing the village. I had just run out of permanent markers after outlining each country and still needed to write the names of the countries on the map. I was planning on heading into Bougouni to get more markers, stop at the post office, get food at the market, and spend some time on the internet before coming back to village the next morning. I woke up early Thursday morning and jumped on my bike and made my way into Bougouni. My first stop was the bank atm, followed by making all my usual stops at the market and visiting all my favorite vendors, lastly I went to the post office to pick up my mail and I noticed that another volunteer had mail too, so I called her to see if she wanted me to get her mail too and that is when I learned that the there had been a Coup de tait in Mali. My fellow volunteer had just received a text from Peace Corps stating that the military had rushed the Presidential Palace and Mali government was now under military rule. We were advised to standfast and not travel from where we currently were. At this point there were five other volunteers and I stuck in Bougouni. We had little information, but did our best to look up the news online, speculate, and conjure up as many worst/ best case scenarios as possible. This went on for the remainder of Thursday and Friday, when we woke up to a text from Peace Corps stating that all volunteers in villages should travel to the nearest consolidation point and remain there until further notice. By Saturday evening the three room Bougouni house was full and overflowing with people, and emotions. By Sunday morning breakfast I am sure we had speculated every possible scenario we could possibly come up with as to what was going to happen next.
What really was happening was that ATT the previous president was choosing not to inform the Malians as to what was really happening with the Tureg Rebellion in the north. He had demanded the national television and radio stations NOT to report on what was happening. When the most recent troop of Malian soldiers were sent to the North, captured and killed, a few escaped and made their way back to Bamako and started a riot, protesting the presidents’ power, and ability to lead a nation. Elections for a new president were to take place on April 29th, but the military felt that no lead way would be made with the Turegs in the north even with a new president so they decided to take over and attempt to right all wrongs themselves. However, once in power, their poorly assembled plan started to fall apart so they placed curfews on the country, closed the banks, post offices, government offices and limited travel to the capital. The curfew was to be lifted on Tuesday morning.
I can’t really describe the how we got through those first four days of consolidation. We were on a crazy emotional roller-coaster, feeling sad and upset for not being able to explain to our villages what was happening and how it affected us, being tired, tired of each other and tired of so much being unknown. One can only guess and speculate for so long before it drives you crazy! Peace Corps was keeping in good contact, and giving us daily information. Our Country Director was staying positive and kept telling us that evacuation was not eminent, and that we should stay calm and plan to be heading back to village soon.
Once the military curfews were lifted we were still in consolidation and asked to wait two more days, then two more days after that. When the week mark came and went we were sure we were headed home. Then suddenly we all received messages that we were able to go back to our villages for a while as long as we had cell phone service and could keep in daily contact with Peace Corps. Thankful to receive such a good message I ran to the market and stalked up on all the best ingredients to have Tenna cook me my favorite Malian meal. Early the next morning (Tuesday April 3rd) I woke up to rain and thought this must be a sign I shouldn’t go back to village today but I really missed Tenna and Seydou and really needed to get out of the Bougouni House, So I waited until the rain had mostly stopped and jumped on my bike loaded down with food and biked back to Sakoro. Having been away from my house for more than a week I had a lot of cleaning to do which I started right after getting in touch with Peace Corps to tell them where I was. After my floor was mopped and sheets washed I was just about to leave to spend the rest of the day with Tenna when I got a phone call from another volunteer saying I needed to get back to Bougouni as soon as possible that Peace Corps was consolidating us, sending a car and taking us all to the training center in Bamako. I went into panic mode. I started running around my house grabbing things that can’t be replaced, or had some meaning to them, while making a pile for Tenna to take. Once satisfied with my rushed packing job I grabbed all the food I bought and ran to Tenna’s.
As soon as I saw Tenna I started crying, seeing me so upset knowing that I couldn’t be bringing good news, Tenna started crying too. I told her What was going on and that I needed to leave again and probably would not be back. Tenna went with me to see the Dugutiki, and other important people in my village to explain what was going on. In Mali it is culturally unacceptable to cry in public. Tenna walked me back to my house to get my house key and say our final goodbyes. We both looked each other in the eye saying don’t cry! don’t cry! while we were both crying our eyes out. I did a very American goodbye and wrapped my arms around Tenna and kissed her tear stained cheeks and thanked her for being my best friend. Tenna accepted my hug and kisses and offered me her left hand to shake- the most respectable way to say goodbye in Mali. I took her left hand in mine and shook, making the promise that I would return to correct this wrong someday.
I jumped back on my bike and pedaled my little heart out all the way back to Bougouni. Upon arrival I found out that Peace Crops had already picked up everyone in Bougouni and I had somehow missed the car in passing, but they were sending another car in the morning for me and two other volunteers who were unable to return to Bougouni that day. Left in the house all by myself I was finally able to give in to my broken heart, mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion. I showered, scrubbing off the day’s dust and dirt of two bike rides, and a week’s worth of stress and emotional turmoil. Like much of the time spent in consolidation, the next few days were a blur. Upon arrival to the training center we were told that we would be soon be evacuating to a neighboring country for a four day transitional conference and then sent home.
Peace Corps was really pulling out all the stops for us, trying to comfort and provide everything they could for us. We were able to celebrate two Peace Corps weddings, and we worked hard to make the best out of our situation. On Easter Sunday we were flown out of Mali to Ghana on a chartered flight. We landed in Accra, quickly taken through customs and baggage and bused to an amazing five star, beach front resort to enjoy our four day conference. The conference was really great. We met with members of the Peace Corps Washington staff, and completed all paperwork needed, and reviewed the next steps and options each one of us had to continue or complete our service.
I had been planning to extend my service in Mali for another year, but really had no desire to extend my service in an all new country. Choosing to take the plane ticket from Peace Corps I called my Mama and told her I would be home soon
I closed my Peace Corps service on Friday April 13, 2012 and hopped on a plane from Accra, Ghana to Washington DC where I was met early in the morning with open arms by my wonderful family.

Even though my planned projects were not completed, and I did not get as much time as planned to enjoy my village and my Malian friends and family, I have come to terms with the situation, and am thankful for all that I was able to do, all the relationships I was able to create, and all the memories I will carry with me on to my next adventure.


Death Blessings

Death. It is the only thing that is certain in life and it is interesting how death is viewed all around the world. Each culture has their own way of dealing with death. I was visiting Tenna when she told me that we had to go give our death blessing to a family not far from my house. As we started our walk, I could feel Tenna’s mood changing and I knew that I was in for an interesting day. As we entered the concession I was overwhelmed to find almost every single women from my village crowding in the shady spots. Tenna quickly grabs my arms and pulls me behind a woven straw wall before bursting into tears. I quickly noticed that all the women behind this wall were sobbing. In a culture where crying in public in not acceptable, I felt so awkward- like I was intruding on an intimate affair. As most funerals people come and give their death blessings to the family sit or a respectable amount of time before continuing on with the rest of their day, and they most certainly don’t talk about the dead. It became quite obvious that this was no regular funeral. I sat, shocked to be surrounded by sobbing women, looking to Tenna for answers to my unasked questions. Soon I learned that we were there to mourn the death of not one but two of the most respected women in my village. They were known as traditional midwives, and medicine women, and they were best friends

For the next few hours I sat and listened to stories between sobs from women from my village and surrounding villages. Stories of women who were brought here to marry older men when were only 15 and Djenaba came to them with calming teas and promises that they would be taken care of, and everything would be fine, stories of sick crying babies who suddenly found comfort in the arms of Djenaba or Sako. Stories of successful, and some not so successful births delivered into the hands of Djenaba then cleaned and cradled by Sako. One lady with a very swollen belly said she was delivered by the two women as were her 6 other children and she is sad that the one due any day now won’t get the chance. The next lady showed up with one of the tiniest babies I have seen, coming to give her blessings and thanks to Djenaba and Sako for even in their old age, crippled hands, fingers, and backs were able to coach her through a very difficult birth only four days before.

As I sat and listened to the stories of these most respected women of the village knowing I really missed out not spending time and getting to know them- knowing that our relationship never went further than a daily greeting. The longer I sat the more crowded the “crying area” got. When large bowls of rice and sauce came by for the husbands they were followed by a line of curses from the crying women. Out of respect for the ones who have passed loved ones are expected to fast the following day- in a culture where if a husband dies the wife cannot leave the house for 40 days of mourning. And for the two most respected females of the village their husbands show no respect by accepting food and filling their stomachs while the rest of the village mourns.

While the sun floated across the sky I sat and listened to more stories and more sobbing. Having never seen my best friend cry or so sad before, I had no idea what to do or how to comfort her. Before I knew it I had let the stories touch my heart and fill it with love for these two women who I did not even know—took Tenna’s hand and wept with her. The somber mood washed over the village into the evening. Even though the moon was big and bright over us, the night time yalaing had all but stopped so that together the village could mourn the loss of two of its Grandmothers.
To Djenaba, and Sako: May God bless your spirits and May your resting place be cool.



*Surprise for my readers! My Mama was in Mali for ten days so she has guest written my most recent blog! Please enjoy reading and viewing Mali through her eyes.*

Has your heart ever swelled with so much pride that it seeped from your tear ducts without warning? Well, I experienced that over the past 10 days in Mali, many times over, I might add.

From seeing Dani standing outside the airport in Bamako with our taxi driver in tow, to bargaining for the best market deal, to jumping off a hot bus to “chat” with our driver having tea and keeping us waiting, to speaking her peace with the school directors, to loving village children and old men, to eating village food and loving it; my heart swelled and seeped many times.

Miriam, aka, Dani, immersed me into the Malian culture as soon as I arrived in Bamako by securing a seat on a bus to Bougouni. The temperature was 114’ F inside the bus and we were off! We absorbed the sounds, sights, smells and laughter of the market day in Bougouni, then off to village and what a welcome! There is no phone or electricity in village, but within moments of our arrival, the house was surrounded by people young and old! They were so excited to meet Miriam’s Mama – I’m sure it just wasn’t just to see another Toubob in the village!

The day of greeting was heartwarming. We started off in our matching Malian outfits to present the school supplies to the school director, parent association representative, board members, Dougoutiki, and teachers. We were all sitting in a room and the director of the school chaired the meeting. When he spoke, he did so to one member who then shared the information with the next person and so on until the Dougoutiki had the information. His comments to Dani and I were so sincere and grateful. They praised her parents for giving her a good heart and mind so that she will be favored in God’s eyes for all she is doing. Even though she has worked hard and done a lot already, they want her for another year!

The rest of that day was spent roaming the village greeting people and giving gifts from America. There isn’t a person in the village that doesn’t know Dani and always smiles and greets her. You can tell in their comments that she is respected and loved there. So much that by the end of the second day of greeting, she was 8 chickens and 1 guinea richer! People brought her these as their way of showing their gratitude and respect. The village is so rich in that they have their faith, family and food. They have no idea what they don’t have that it simply doesn’t matter. They are rich beyond words.

Friday was my day to really become Malian as it was Toe making day and I had the honor of cooking and stirring much to everyone’s laughter! Then we had henna put on our feet to get ready for the big celebration on Saturday night. The goat was sacrificed in our honor and drummers and dancers were brought in to help us celebrate. The show was spectacular with the dancers in costumes – masks and noise makers! Dani and I were the guests of honor and I literally was “crowned” by one of the dancers! Of course, we were coerced into dancing but somehow our feet just couldn’t keep up the beat! We partied ourselves out shortly after midnight but the village gang still went on strong – kids and adults alike!

Sunday was our day to chill and rest which was a good thing because I awoke to what I thought was a thunderstorm only to find out it was my stomach – yeah, you know the drill! Three days in village consuming cultural cuisine was just a bit too much for my digestive system!

On the mend by Monday morning which was a good thing because we were off to the school to hand out the supplies to the students. Now US students, take heed…this was this last day of winter break and very early in the morning, the school bell rang and over 350 of the 370 students came to school! We visited every classroom and handed out the supplies. We were able to give each student a new pencil and either a crayon or colored pencil. Groups of students received sharpeners, markers, erasers and much more. The bags we made for them to carry their books and supplies were a huge hit. They clapped for us, sang for us and each thanked us.

Then it was off to prepare for our trip to Segou! We secured a bus in Bamako at 11 which was to leave at noon…….at 4:00 we were finally on the bus and moving! But wait, the first police post, just outside of town had a market and our driver stopped, had his shoes shined, shared tea and chatted with friends for over an hour. Dani finally had enough because we still had a four hour ride so off the bus she marches, right up to the driver and tells him her mother is waiting on the hot bus and we needed to get moving! He laughed, telling her to calm her mind, bring her mother out to have tea and chat with them! Finally we were on the road again and arrived in Segou about 7 hours after we left Bamako. But of course, our night was not over yet! We arrived at the Catholic Mission only to find out, after our taxi left that we had no reservation! So Dani once again argues her case, gets us a room and vows to tell Baba about the experience with the catholic nun!

Our day in Segou was incredibly awesome, but of course not without incident!! We took a stroll along the river, watching mothers wash their dishes, clothes or babies, and tend their gardens. We had an African version of a Primanti Brothers sandwich with meat, fries, and plantains all on a fresh roll.

We visited a Bogolon shop and learned the craft of mud dying, even trying it ourselves. Incredible and so pretty! We shopped the artisan shops and had an awesome fish lunch at “The Shack”.

We met some really nice Tuarug guys from Timbuktu and one was actually wearing a Steelers shirt! I grabbed my Terrible Towel and had my picture taken with him. We were invited back later to share tea after our sunset boat ride.

Our tour guide met us to start on the boat ride, taking us to two fishing villages across the river. All was going well, until he took us right back to dock long before sunset. Again, Dani’s negotiating skills kick in just as two other men jump into the boat telling us we were with the wrong guide! He lied to us, telling us he was our guide! After pleading our case, we were back on the river for the most beautiful sunset ever!

Tea with our new friends was so much fun! I never understood fully the idea of three cups of tea until this evening. We were sitting with three men dressed fully in head wraps and robes speaking broken English and having the best time. It truly was the traditional three cups of tea. We drank tea, laughed, listened to stories about living in the desert, raising camels all the while listening to authentic music. Now that I have experienced the entire three cup process….”Strong like dirt, Sweet like life, Sugar like love” it make total sense! There is so much in life that can be relevant to this thinking.

The bus ride back to Bamako wasn’t nearly as eventful or as long! We spent our last night together talking about the week, looking at pictures, laughing, and just enjoying our time together. On Friday, our last day, we went to the Artisan market to finish our gift buying. Sekouba met us and was our person with bargaining power! He was able to secure us some good deals, although I think Dani could have done as well! A perfect way to wind down the visit – market then a good dinner and just relaxing before heading to the airport.

Now as I sit in my 12th hour of flying, I can tell you my heart is proud….I wouldn’t have missed this trip for the world. I realize first hand that my baby girl is strong like dirt, sweet like life, and sugar like love and she is spreading that in a village that desperately needs her and knows it. Thanks for the wonderful time Dani – you make me proud! Strong – sweet – sugar!


November Celebrations

The month of November was chock full of celebrations, and reasons to party! I kicked off the month of celebrating by showing up to village with three boxes of school supplies donated by the attendees of Harrisonville United Methodist Charge Vacation Bible School. It was such a great feeling to walk around the school yard seeing the children showing off their brand new pieces of chalk, crayons, or pencils sent all the way from America! The kids were most impressed with the markers- tubes of paint like liquid they could color with that didn’t need to be sharpened. The elders of school board were simply in awe of pencil top erasers, obviously the greatest invention ever! Leaving the teachers to muse over the need for sticky notes, highlighters, and list all the possibilities one would need a glue stick.
The biggest Muslim Holiday of Tabaski is in November, and my village sure did celebrate! The day of Tabaski the morning is spent praying, and rest of day is spent greeting, blessing, socializing with friends, giving gifts, receiving gifts, and most importantly eating! In the days leading up to Tabaski, the village is full of nervous mewing and calling from goats and sheep who seem to know that their life on Earth is soon to be over.

I dressed in my Malian outfit, (matching Tenna’s ) headed to soccer field to in enjoy the peaceful scene of colorful Malians, bent in prayer as the sun is just peeking over the tree tops. As soon as the praying ended, I was bombarded with blessings for me, my family, my yet to be found husband, and children for years and years to come. I headed straight to Tenna’s with my bag of gifts, to greet and bless, and start chopping up veggies for our feast. Once all the garlic, onions, peppers, and tomatoes where properly peeled, chopped, and pounded I left to make my rounds in the village; timing my greetings perfectly, because just as I got to the Dugutiki’s house he was in the process of butchering, and dividing meat, setting aside a pile just for me! The same thing happened at the next two houses I visited. I returned to Tenna with handfuls and handfuls of raw meat, some goat, some sheep, and all packed full of glorious protein! After the cooking is finished, we spent the afternoon, evening and late hours of the night eating-no gorging ourselves on rice, sauce, meat, noodles, fried plantains, and sweet potatoes in-between courses greeting and blessing people and dancing. This continued for three days, by the third day I was so full from eating meat, my body loved being overwhelmed by protein so much that I hardly cared that I was eating, unrefrigerated three day old meat! I really think the Malians would continue partying for an entire week if it weren’t for all of sugared up children starting to get cranky, along with the old men, who cannot get any sleep as a result from drinking highly caffeinated tea for three days.
In the calm of celebration recuperation, I decided that painting my nyegen with my left over paint would fill the gap nicely before getting ready for my next celebration. My now, fun, happy, polka dotted neygen makes pooping in a hole so much more pleasant. I can’t even look at my neygen without cracking a smile-it is amazing how happy a little paint has made me!

The weekend before Thanksgiving, A small group of volunteers joined me in traveling to Segou to celebrate November birthdays. Segou is a beautiful city right along the Niger River full of artisans trying to sell you their over priced goods. The trip to Segou was quite long, and like any other trip on public transport in Mali, a little frustrating. The first hour of the ride was spent by us getting yelled at to close the window before the blowing air gives everyone malaria, but don’t worry, to make up for the stuffiness of a bus full of sweaty Malians with absolutely no air flow the driver played horrible Malian music at deafening volumes.-needless to say we were very much we ready to exit the bus and start our fun filled days yalaing around Segou. We spent time at a “bogolan” workshop where they weave cloth and die it with mud, wondering in and out of shops admiring wood carvings, beaded jewelry, leather wallets and shoes, all the while getting harassed to make purchases. While in Segou we ate lots of good food, and even spent one evening taking a boat ride up the Niger at sun set. All in all it was a great and enjoyable trip. After a few days we hopped a bus to Sikasso to celebrate Thanksgiving with 85 other volunteers. Thanksgiving was a huge success, complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, and all the fixings, followed by a day at the pool and a Mexican Fiesta .

I made it back to village in time to finish out the month of celebrations by throwing a huge birthday party for myself! The morning of my birthday Sekouba calls me over to ask if we can have wild rabbit instead of beef for my birthday supper- I readily agree, rabbit is by far the best meat I’ve eaten in Mali! In the evening I put my party dress on, and head to Sekouba’s to start chopping veggies for our rice dish, and buy all the other ingredients that are needed. While the meal was cooking, we listened to music, played cards and drank round after round of tea and hibiscus tea. As soon as the music starts kids swarm the butiki and dance their hearts out. When the meal is finished cooking, the women come join the party and we dance until 11:00pm, when Sekouba thinks it time to serve the food. Since it is my birthday I take all the women into the concession and make them eat with me before giving food to the men and kids. (this never happens in Malian culture!) When everyone is full, we then take the meal out to men and fill a few plates for the dancing children. The rice is followed up by water melon, and the night and month of celebrations ends with a seed spitting contest at midnight.

Now it is time to start planning December events, and all the festivities for my Mama’s visit!


I'm NOT a teacher!

Somehow, I managed not to get bitten by the education bug like so many of my family member and friends. As an education volunteer I am here to help the school run better, and teach people how to perform their roles better. I am not a teacher! I could not reiterate this statement enough times over the past year. Just when I thought everyone in my village got it, school started and somehow confused everyone again. I can’t remember how much I have written about the education system in Mali, but to say the least it’s flawed. First of all the children are being inconsistently taught in two languages. Secondly they really aren’t learning anything, unless you consider copying and memorizing so they don’t get beat learning. The government has created many groups, and organizations to benefit the education system, but has yet to provide any money.

The school in my village hardly has enough books to meet the needs of half the students per class. This school kicked off with the first week being spent cleaning and reorganizing the classrooms, and cutting the grass. A good and bad thing I suppose, because we only had four out of six teachers show up, so the those students would have just been hanging out anyway. The second week of school I thought it would be great to stop in and visit each classroom, see how things are going, hoping to see some teaching being done. I walked over to the school only to find all the teachers in a “meeting.” (meaning drinking tea) Why would I think the teachers needed to be doing their jobs, its only the second week of school-they have lots of other time to work! I was told to check in on the first graders and sit with them until the end of the meeting.

I walked into the first grade classroom and was confronted by 64 dirty little smiling faces, excited to learn, and write in their brand new (hand-me down) notebooks. After greeting them all, and sitting down, they wanted to know what I was going to teach them. Now, keep in mind, these children have never been to school before, they don’t know how to identify letters or numbers; they can’t read, write, or even hold a pencil. I do the only thing I can think of, I draw lines and circles on the board and have them count, only up to 5 because after that, they get confused. Well one can only count to five so many times in an hour, and once the children realized I wasn’t really going to beat them with the stick I was using as pointer things got quickly out of control! I made a run for it when children were standing on desks and jumping out windows to pee in the field! After sticking my head in to interrupt the teachers’ “meeting” telling them “I’m NOT a teacher!” I ran to the welcome peace and quiet sanctuary of Tenna’s cooking hut. Everyday for the rest of week I couldn’t conjure up the courage to make another appearance at the school for fear of being put in front of another out of control class.

Maybe next week I’ll venture back to the school…


Put Your Watch Down...

As most of you blog followers know, nothing happens on time in Mali. This is something I am pretty sure I will NEVER get used to! This fact was only re-enforced upon me time and time again this past week, starting with hearing about a Malian telling another volunteer to “Put his watch down and don’t worry about it!” Sunday, myself, and two other volunteers were planning to head to another volunteer’s village to paint a world map mural. She had arranged special transportation for us from Bougouni to her site. We piled into the nicest car I’ve ever seen in Mali, and head south to her village. She doesn’t live near the main road so as we turn off onto a rough red dirt road, we are very thankful to not be on Mali public transport! The further we go, the quieter our conversation gets, and the harder we hang on to the sides, and each other! The past week’s rain sure did lots of damage to the road. Malian’s are horrible drivers, nothing happens fast in this country, except for driving! Malians drive with lead foots, and then when we come upon a bump, or huge ditch in the road they slide that lead foot over and slam it on the break. While we are trying to save ourselves from whiplash, and concussions, we notice lots of motos, and people heading the opposite direction waving to us to turn around. Finally we stop and ask what’s going on only to be answered with one word, “ji!” (water). Thinking well of course there is water in the road, its rainy season…only to be confronted with a running river of water crossing the road in front of us! Shocked! We jump out to get a closer look. Lots of people are standing around, offering to carry us across for $2 not realizing that once we got across that we would still need a ride the rest of the way to the village. We watched as they carried a moto over their heads through the chest deep water. We rode back to town, as our first day of working on the mural got washed away with the river. We made it back to house, put down our watches, and stopped worrying about the work that wasn’t getting done and wasted the afternoon away with old “chick flicks.”

The next morning we were up early and on the road! We were amazed to see a fast flowing river, safely under the bridge when we crossed and made it to village in good time and only suffering slightly from motion sickness and whiplash. Once there, we were greeted with open arms from everyone in the village, excited to see four white people! Ready and anxious to start working, we head to the school where we are to paint a world map in the 7th grade classroom, only to be told that the key to the classroom was in Bougouni (where we just came from) but someone was just sent to go get it. As we watched our work time shorten yet again, we put down our watches and took a nap until lunchtime. After lunch we still have no key to the classroom, but we do have a strong Malian, and a leatherman to open the school so we can finally start working, a day and a half later than planned.- Glad to report that after a few days hard work we had a beautiful world map completed and the Dugutiki even managed to come check it out!

By Wednesday, we were done painting, but exhausted, and ready to get back and celebrate Mali’s Independace Day. I decided to spend the holiday in my friend’s village because there, they celebrate with exciting bike, and donkey races. Due to the late arrival into town after the mural painting, we could not catch a ride to her village that evening. Waking in early in the morning we walk to the bus stop, only to be told that we were crazy to think that a car would be going that way on a holiday! Annoyed, we decided to bike to her village, in hopes we would make it in time to watch the bike, and donkey races planned for later that day. We get back to the house to grab our bikes, only to find out that my bike has a flat tire (that I attempted, and apparently FAILED to fix the previous night!) so I borrow another volunteer’s bike without asking, knowing she wouldn’t be in town for a few more days. Finally we head down the road, hoping to make good time. We have picked up a good pace, but we keep getting slowed down by all the hills, which after each one my friend assures me that this is the last one then it is free sailing from there, until we reach the next hill, by the fourth hill, huffing and puffing between bursts of laughter we decide to stop counting the hills. Almost half way there, and my borrowed bike starts acting up, and every third pedal my bikes falls out of gear. Click, click, clicking down the road, we finally stop to try to fix it but have no luck. We look up and see a crowd of bikers heading right for us! Moving quickly out of their way, we cheer them on and give each other a look that clearly means, “Aww man we’re missing the bike race but I don’t want you to know how disappointed I really am!” jumping back on my bike I click, click on to the next village when I realize that my handle bar is starting to get loose, and is sliding around. Finally I decide I need to stop biking before this bike falls apart in my hands. So we find someone who can fix my bike, and sit down and chat with a lady, who’s most exciting day of her entire life is Independence day and she talks for the next hour telling us about past winners of the bike race, and who she bets will win today. Our lovely conversation was interrupted by bursts of cheers, and hoots, and hollers, as the bikers have turned around and are now headed back to collect their winnings! As the next hour passes we decide it is now time to put down our watches and not worry about missing the events of the day. When my bike is finally finished, I go to get on only to find out that instead of tightening the screw to hold my handle bar on, he thought the best solution was to GREASE the handle bar!! I now have to use every muscle in my hands and arms just to keep the handle bar in the up right position, while pedaling. As far as I can tell my gears are working, and by working I mean they are not slipping in and out they are now stuck on the highest gear, making it quite a challenge to pedal up hills, and hold on to the handle bar, I can’t even attempt to change gears without loosing all control of my bike. We make it up the last mountain of a hill and come free sailing straight into her now empty village because all of the festivities are over.

Today (Friday) we woke up early, ate breakfast, and went to sit by the road to wait for a bus to stop and pick us up and take us back into town. After three hours of “patient” waiting, a bus finally stops. I then have to call the volunteer who’s bike I borrowed and tell her it no longer switches gears, and there is a small chance that her handle bar may come loose again! Afterward I head into to town to see the tailor only to have him ask me to sit and wait until he comes back from the mosque…so I put my watch down and waited…