Monday, November 21, 2011

Turning a Corner

9 November 2011
My house

First off, I want to say that I feel as though I’ve turned a corner. I was hesitant to write another post until I was sure I could be positive, but today is definitely the day for it. Thanks for those of you who sent me some words of encouragement during the last six weeks or so. I’m feeling much better about my site, about being here, and I’m healthier in general. All good things.

So, what changed? Well, first of all, I finally took Fasigyne, which is an ass-kicking anti-parasitic that made me feel MUCH better. It’s amazing how little things seem colossal when you’ve had diarrhea, nausea and loss of appetite for a month. The only good thing that came of my prolonged illness was my loss of about eight to ten pounds of weight I’d put on since I came to Mali. So that’s good. I also spent a lot of time talking to my fellow PCVs. I know I’ve said this before, but my friends here are absolutely wonderful people. I feel so very lucky to be around such a diverse and supportive network of friends. So many of my friends spent time listening, hashing out details and empathizing, and I’m grateful. It’s easy to forget that PCVs, no matter where they are in Mali (or in the world, for that matter) go through nearly all of the same issues, emotions, and problems as other PCVs. Our sites, regardless of location, size or ethnic group can be terribly isolating. While each of our services is different, we share a common bond and understanding that’s impossible to replicate. Judge me all you want for the drama I’ve described, my whining, pouting, or gross bodily-function talk, but you just don’t know unless you’ve done it. “It” being Peace Corps. Talking it over with my friends and getting fresh perspective has made all the different in my attitude and outlook these past few weeks.

I realize saying that those outside of PC don’t get it makes me sound exclusive, possibly haughty, but it’s not like that. It’s just hard for any PCV to fully explain what’s bothering them, what’s going on with their site, how things affect them, etc. And unless you’ve lived in a developing nation at the level of locals speaking their native language and trying to figure out how to best help them help themselves, I imagine that some of the stuff I talk about even in this blog makes me sound like I’m on another planet. Peace Corps wasn’t kidding when they said this was the toughest job you’ll ever love. It’s tough, and most days, I don’t love it. But recently, I’ve had more days of loving it and fewer days feeling runover by a sotrema. So that’s also a good thing.

Sock Head
Sock Nap

My puppy, Scout, is an endless source of wonder, frustration and happiness. Puppies rock. Seriously. She’s just so cute that I can’t help but coo at her when I should probably be popping her on the snout for one thing or another. I’m focusing a lot of energy right now on making her come when she’s called both so I can show off how awesome of a dog trainer I am and also so she stays safe and out of trouble. She can sit pretty well, and almost knows lay down when I tell her to. She has really taken an interest in my laying hens, Dolly, Tammy, and Loretta Lynn. Two have recently starting laying eggs, and Scout usually finds them before I do. She hasn’t broken any yet, so fingers crossed she doesn’t discover how. Scout just likes to trot around the yard with them in her mouth, as if they were just another stick or bone. It’s kind of comical and she looks genuinely sad when I gently pull one from her mouth.

Fatoumata and her friend
I’ve started outsourcing my water-fetching to the shopkeeper’s two daughters, Sumba and Fatoumata. Fatoumata is the five (maybe six?) year old who precociously threw a buck of her own poop over my concession wall after I yelled at her for being in my yard without my permission or presence. This was several months ago, and she’s warmed up to me quite a bit since then, especially since I’ve stopped giving her the evil eye. I have a feeling she got a good thrashing when her dad found out about her poop tactics, and she was very afraid of me for awhile. She’s one of the few children in this village who understands Bambara (her parents are affluent by village standards, and therefore are educated and speak Bambara). They also own a radio and a TV they hook up to a solar panel, so Fatoumata and Sumba are exposed to lots of Bambara and even some French. Lucky girls. Anyways, I bribe them with candy or Kool-Aid (from drink packets) sent from America in exchange for a bucket or two of water a day. As an added bonus, I can practice my Bambara without being made fun of as well as virtually ensure that no more shit appears where it shouldn’t. It’s a win-win.

I’ve made some progress with work, too. Today I had a meeting with my men and women about reinstating the adult literacy classes, as well as how they want to raise money to repair their two broken pumps and possibly get another pump with Peace Corps help. One of my friends, Mamu (a total rockstar, also accompanying me as my village representative to the second half of the Shea Business Boot Camp shortly after Thanksgiving) made a list of the women who want to attend the classes. We’re working on setting up a meeting time with them and the teacher so we can make sure we find good times to hold classes for maximum attendance. I’m very hopeful.

Me and Mamu dressed up for Seliba
The men, after listening to me talk about the money they’d have to raise to get a new pump, have decided to take up a monthly tax. This money will be used in the immediate to fix the two broken pumps and then to save up for their mandatory (for PC funding) 35% community contribution for a new pump. They proposed collecting 500 CFA (~1 USD) per family, per month. If they do this, it will take them about seven to eight months to raise the required amount (about $4,000 of the project’s estimated $12,000 total). Five hundred CFA a month is a lot of money, so I’m a little wary of the plan, but I appreciate the enthusiasm. Just to put it in perspective, in Sikasso, I can buy a meal (a plate of beans, plantains, and two hard-boiled eggs) for 250-350 CFA. In Bamako, I can take a ten to fifteen minute taxi ride across town for 500 CFA. In my market, I can purchase a kilogram of the best rice available, a pile of tomatoes, and three heads of cabbage for 500 CFA. In my village, I can buy two Cokes and a cup of sugar for the same amount.

 I am in the process of talking to the Water/Sanitation Program Assistant, Adama, to get estimates and get the ball rolling. He is planning on coming to my village in early December to talk to my villagers about details. We are not the first Peace Corps village to seek a pump, so I want him to talk about what it will take and realistically if this tax will work. No sense in reinventing the wheel if something else has worked better in the past. In the long run, I’m hoping that I can turn the pump project into a sanitation project and continue the tax for future pump repair as well as soak pit and hand-washing station construction. My women asked me to talk about cleanliness at next week’s meeting, so I’m going to talk about hand washing and getting kids in the habit of going to the latrine (instead of out in the open). Again, I’m hopeful, but I’m not promising myself (or my village) anything until I can gauge their commitment to the project.

On a more personal note, I’m getting really excited for Thanksgiving. Every year, certain cities in Mali host the Peace Corps get-togethers. Christmas is always in Dogon Country, St. Patrick’s Day is in San (San Patrick’s Day, get it?), Fourth of July is in Manantali, Halloween was in Bougouni this past week (BOOOgouni! Ah we’re so clever) and Thanksgiving is always in Sikasso. It makes the most sense, since Sikasso is the agricultural center of Mali. If it’s grown in Mali, you can find it in Sikasso, and often for much longer than in other cities’ markets. Our close borders to Burkina Faso and Côte D’Ivoire give a steady influx of awesome things, like pineapples and avocados. In short, if you like to eat fruits and veggies, Sikasso is the place for you. We’re anticipating about 70 volunteers this year, so we’ve been planning and asking for essential supplies for months now. My friend Lauren and I are in charge of making the stuffing and fruit salad. I’m really excited to see everyone and relax and have a good ole American holiday. The day after Thanksgiving we have a Mexican food day by the pool. Sadly, I won’t be able to enjoy a margarita, but we will have queso. If Kraft Foods, Inc. knew how much Velveeta we asked to be sent over, we maybe could have gotten a deal straight from corporate. I’ll keep it in mind for next year. But yea. Queso. Mmm. If someone nine months ago told me I would be looking forward to eating Velveeta for weeks, I would have called them crazy. But it’s true. It’s the little things like imitation cheese that make us really happy.

And even MORE exciting than celebrating a national day of gluttony is my impending trip to ROME! I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned this before, but I’m going to meet my boyfriend, Matt, in Rome for ten days, including Christmas. I’m beyond excited. I am fairly certain my friends in PC know the countdown as well as I do (41 days as of this writing) because I talk about it so damn much. They probably actually want to revoke my speaking privileges I talk about it so much. I can’t help it, and I’m not even sorry. It’ll be my first vacation since joining PC and my first time seeing Matt since he walked me to my terminal in Nashville on January 31st of this year (but who’s counting?). Speaking of gluttony, Thanksgiving is just going to be a warm-up for the damage I intend to do in Rome. I’m looking forward to eating my weight in gelato/pasta/tiramisu and pickling myself in good wine and espresso. I am also very excited to use hot, running water, wear cold weather clothes, celebrate the end of Matt’s first semester of law school, and most of all, make new memories with the man I love. His parents are also going to be there to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary. I can’t wait to cook and go sight-seeing together. And it’s coming up so soon!

The Mall in DC, last August

So, in light of my recent frustrations and melancholy, I’m very happy to say that I’ve got a lot to look forward to. Oh! I almost forgot: since I used an entire aerosol can of RAMBO bug spray in my house, the cockroaches have been held at bay. But now I have bats and mice. The squeaking is kind of cute… but also eerie at 3 AM. I plan on resealing the gaps between my roof and walls ASAP after I get my hand on some cement. Until next time!
Oumar, remudding my walls

Miss Mali