Tuesday, May 24, 2011

A Day in the Life?

 So, I know I should update this with something less selfish than material things that I want. I also realized that the particulars of "being at site" don't really mean much to you without some context. So although it's not going to be very eloquent, I do owe you some details. Humor me.

My site is in the Sikasso Region, about a 25 minute bike ride off the main road. My village has about 1,230 people in it. We have three water pumps and various wells. Most people are farmers of corn, millet, sorghum, and hot peppers. We have a kindergarten, elementary, and middle school. There are two little stores where I can buy soap and small grocery items. The roads going in and out allow motorcycles and only the most intrepid of car drivers. It's beautiful and surrounded by forests and rolling hills and even a few small streams. Since the rainy season is coming, everyone is getting their fields ready, the mangoes are plentiful (I bought six this morning for the equivalent of two American cents, and that's paying a lot for this time of year), and it's cooling off ever-so-slightly. My own garden is pretty badass, if I do say so myself. I am really thankful that I brought seeds from home. So far I have beans, peas, lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, zinnias, sunflowers, cilantro, basil, parsley, cantaloupe, watermelon, zucchini, summer squash, bell peppers and eggplant. I hope that some of that actually comes to fruition so I can introduce new vegetables to my village's diet. We'll see.
Just you wait.
Drissa, my host dad, with my seed nursery behind him
I usually start my days early, around 5:45 or so with a run. I'm doing a half marathon in a few weeks (seriously I think I'm certifiably crazy some/most days) so I'm trying to get ready. It's hard to judge the distance but I'm having fun exploring the rambling trails that go in and out of my village. After that I go to my host family's concession to have breakfast, a porridge of millet pearls called moni that's been hulled and boiled like oatmeal. With a little sugar and cinnamon it's downright delicious. It's actually one of my favorite Malian dishes. After that I go to the pump and fill up my two giant plastic canisters and drinking water bucket. The pump is about 300 meters from my house, so I use my bike rack to carry the weight of the jugs. I make it in three trips, and depending on the line at the pump, it takes me around 30 minutes total.

Nnere (Nin-yair-ray), my 4 year old sister
After that, I water my garden and do some general upkeep, take a bucket bath (with a bucket and a cup), and start my day. Sometimes I do laundry, sometimes I read, sometimes I study Bambara. Sometimes I go back to my host family's house and just hang out. Sometimes I get visitors, and I bumble along in my Senufo greetings and 2 year old-level Bambara. My Bambara is progressing really slowly (I am chiding myself as I write for comparing myself with others, but what can I say-- you can take the girl out of America but you can't take the America out of the girl) because Senufo is the primary language of my village. I can speak it with my host parents, my oldest host sister, and a few of the adults I've met. If it's a Thursday, I ride my bike to the commune capital to go to the market and get vegetables and other essentials for the week. Usually it's potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, and onions and some credit for my cell phone. Also fried plantains. Mmmmm. :)

For lunch, it's toh. I think I've written about it before but it's just a powdered grain, such as sorghum, millet, or corn that's made into a pudding/porridge consistency and eaten with any number of sauces. It really tastes like nothing, so I'm indifferent about it, except sometimes I want some dang variety! We eat rice every few days. It's expensive to eat rice, so it's a rarity for most people in the village. After lunch it's more of the same- sometimes I stay to shell peanuts and chat, sometimes we make tea, sometimes we just chat. Each afternoon I go to one of the school teachers' houses to study Bambara and teach him English. He speaks French so he helps me with mine. That's our primary language of communication, and it's nice to be understood every once in awhile. Sometimes we play Uno. It is easily the funniest part of my day when Secou yells "UNO!!" across the yard and people stare. I mean, wouldn't you? We have some pretty interesting conversations about America, education, and language. It's a good place for me to test out some hot-button issues like gender and development before I think about addressing them with villagers.
Madium, the older of my two host moms, grinding millet to make toh

In the evenings I take another bucket bath (don't judge me, I smell. It's hot here and I sweat a lot, more than normal people, I think, which the Malians love pointing out to me-- "You have sweat on your chest and face and arms and your shirt is dark." "Why yes, that's because we live in Sub-Saharan Africa and I have white skin that doesn't know what to do with so much heat." Well, that's the smartass response I give in my head because I can't say that in Bambara). And then I go to my host family's concession again to help with dinner and to hang out until afterwards when we look at the stars, shell more peanuts, or just play with the kids.

I know it doesn't sound like much. In fact, it looks rather boring to me now that I've written it out. Each day is different, so it's hard to give you a complete picture. I do have a lot of down time and I have read a lot of books so far (see earlier post). But in a few weeks I'll be going back to Bamako with the rest of my stage (pronounced "staj" -- the group of people I flew in to Mali with and trained with) for more training about beginning projects and using our various community assessment tools to better understand the needs and wants of our respective villages. Actually, it's interesting, because a new stage of Water/Sanitation and Education trainees is coming in just under a month. I don't feel ready to be a sophomore, yet that part of my life before starting PC service seems so long ago. Life is just funny like that.

Anyways, this is far too long, but I hope that it gives you a better idea of what my first six weeks at site have been like. That's it for now! I apologize for not making this very funny or provocative. Maybe next time. I hope I have sufficiently distracted you with photos. Don't forget the chocolate- it's cruel to leave a fat kid stranded. For added emphasis, see below:

behold, toh.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Sending Me Things (A Hobby For You)

This post has been a long time coming, I realize. I know that several people have inquired as to what things I like, what they can send, and how to do so. Wait no more. My address is:

Chelsea Barker, PCV
Corps de la Paix
B.P. 227
Sikasso, Mali
West Africa

I have had good luck receiving packages and most letters. I think it takes about 98 cents to mail a regular letter. Packages are a little more expensive, depending on their heft, just so you're aware. Send at your own risk. I recommend using the USPS Flat Rate boxes. I think letters take about three weeks, and packages take anywhere from two to four weeks. I've compiled a list of things that I can always use, in case you feel like being generous:

  • Powdered drink mixes, especially Gatorade, but not Nescafe (I can get that here)
  • "Just Add Water" mixes, ex: pancakes, oatmeal(!), macaroni and cheese (just the cheese, because I can get noodles here)
  • Magazines, books
  • Granola bars, Clif Bars, dried fruit, snacks (but not peanuts or peanut butter- I get that here)
  • Pictures of random American things: the more mundane the better. It's good cultural exchange fodder.
  • Oreos, chocolate, M&Ms, Twizzlers, baked goods (<--- pay special attention to this line if you value our relationship)
  • CDs or thumb drives with TV shows, movies, or music
  • Nailpolish (I have three colors and the girls in my village love it! Just in case you are feeling frivolous)

There's nothing specific that I'm in need of at the moment. If you're thinking of sending off a package and want to know if there's something in particular you can send me, shoot me an email, Facebook message, or text (fastest method) and I'll let you know. This goes both ways: if you send me your address or a letter or any goodies, I will absolutely write to you. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

After some thought, I realized that I have plenty of lotion, chapstick, sunblock, gum, toothpaste and toiletries in general, so don't waste your money on that. I also have plenty of clothes between my mom's awesome last package and the tailors here, so I am good there as well.

Books I've Read So Far

1) The Bartimaeus Trilogy (started in America, finished in Mali, courtesy of Mr. Matt Fritz-Mauer) by Jonathan Stroud
2) Bartimaeus Prequel: The Ring of Solomon (courtesy of Jan Fritz!) by Jonathan Stroud
3) Midaq Alley by Maghib Mafouz
4) The Thief and the Dogs by Maghib Mafouz
5) Miramar by Maghib Mafouz
6) Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
7) How to Expand Love by The Dalai Lama
8) The Space Between Us (courtesy of Niki and Chad Schrock) by Thrity Umigar
9) Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier
10) The Rodale Guide to Composting
11) Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
12) The Passage by Justin Cronin
13) Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
14) The New Seed Starters Handbook by Nancy Bubel

Currently Reading: Goddesses in Everywoman, by Jean Shinoda Bolen

Next Up: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan