Sunday, June 6, 2010

Wrapping up

With only a few weeks left to go, I am headed to Bamako for our close-of-service conference. This is supposed to help us get ready for adjusting back to life in Ameriki, getting ready to look for jobs, go back to school, etc. Lately, I've been having very mixed emotions about leaving. I know it's going to be really hard to leave the people here, especially since I know there is a good possibility I might not ever see some of them again. Up until this past week, I was pretty much avoiding tell anyone exactly when I was leaving, instead simply saying "soon, soon" which in Mali could mean tomorrow or next year. However, since I effectively have about two weeks left in Djenne, this past week I decided it was time to be a little more specific, but unfortunately it didn't go exactly as I hoped. While many of my friends said they would miss me, and wanted to make sure I would still call, about an equal number took the opportunity to ask if I was keeping all my buckets, if I had any clothes I didn't want,if I could help them get to America too, or if I was going to wire them money from America. While I know this isn't meant to seem rude, even after almost two years here, it's still hard not to react like an American. It makes me wonder, were we really even friends, or are you just using me? Do you even care that I'm leaving or do you just want my stuff? I know a number of other volunteers have had similar experiences, but it's just a little discouraging after all this time. That said, just as many people have seemed genuinely sad (which in some ways is almost harder, because then I can only be sad as well, instead of mad/annoyed, which I am when people ask for things). Should make for an interesting last two weeks, but for now off to Bamako!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's been a while!

How the time has flown by since my last post! I know I've been a bad blogger, but with limited internet time, something else always seemed to be more important than updating my blog, but now I'm going to try and post a few more things before I leave! And speaking of leaving...I am officially closing my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer on July 2! That means I should have a few months at home before I have to start graduate school. I'm still holding out for some sort of miracle in which at the last minute another school offers me a full ride, but if not, I'll be heading to Denver in the fall. I'm really excited to get back to America and good food, hot showers, etc, but I'm also going to be sad to leave my friends in Djenne. Especially since I might not see them again for a very long time (if ever!). That said, I'll be trying to put in some quality time in the next two months.

As for work, I've been trying to keep up with the schools, but they seem to be either on strike, on vacation, or playing soccer (the latest reason for cancelled school this week). Also, I've been hoping to finish up an art project, but the teacher has been on vacation since she just got married! Hopefully when she gets back we'll be able to finish everything up.

A few weeks ago, I went on vacation with Shelby (a friend from college) to France and Italy. It was absolutely amazing and extremely COLD! A very nice break from the ridiculous weather we've been having in Mali, but I was definitely not prepared or well dressed for the cold! We hit up all the major tourist spots in Paris and Rome, and made a few other stops along the way. I'm going to post some pictures to my Picasa account now if the internet cooperates, and I'll try to update again soon!

Saturday, November 14, 2009

School and such

School has finally officially started in Mali, after a little bit of a rough start with the teachers being on strike...again. Luckily though, they've been going to school now for the past three weeks without interuption, so hopefully this means the teachers have worked out most of their issues and will keep on teaching! I've started working at a couple of the schools in Djenne teaching basic health topics to 6th graders, a series of reproductive health classes to ninth graders with another volunteer, and just recently I did an art project with a fourth grade class my friend teaches. We had the students each draw a picture of something that they think represents their lives in Djenne. I supplied the paper and crayons (not every child is required to show up with crayons on the first day of school like in the States!) and they went to work. It was definitely very interesting to see the ideas they came up with. I had to really stress that everyone not make a drawing of the same thing, and some students did get creative, but I also have lots of pictures of the Mali flag or drawings copied from their book. Creativity is just not valued as much here as it is back home, but hopefully this gave them at least one opportunity to do something fun and artsy! I will be mailing the pictures in to OneWorld Classrooms who will then send us back a bunch of drawings done by students from all over the world! I'm excited to see what kind of pictures we'll get, and we're thinking of doing a mural of a world map so that when we get the drawings we can locate the countries (and also clarify that you cannot, in fact, drive in the bashe to get to America!).
Other than that, life in Djenne had been good, Sally is still hanging around (although she seems to have scared her only remaining child away) and it's finally starting to cool off a bit!

Monday, September 28, 2009


Ramadan has finally come to a close, and I have to say, I was more than ready for it to be over! I believe in Islam they follow the lunar calendar, so for the month of Ramadan they started towards the end of August, and finished up a week or so ago. Every year, it moves up a little bit, but this year luckily it wasn't in the hot season! For the entire month, between sunrise and sunset, you cannot consume food, no water, and if your mouth is watering you are even supposed to spit that out (which they do!). Since you can't eat after sunrise, everyone wakes up before then to eat some food and drink lots of water and then they all go back to sleep for an hour or so. In the evenings, they would play a special thing on the radio so that everyone would know it was time to break the fast. They drink a certain tea, eat some porridge, and then go to the night prayer before eating a big dinner. I fasted for two whole days this Ramadan, just to get an idea of what is was like, and let me tell you, it's hard! Not so much the no eating part, because around lunch time I got pretty hungry, but after an hour or so of just not eating, I stopped being hungry. I cheated a little bit though because I still drank water (it was too hot not to!), but I definitely didn't drink as much as normal, and even that was difficult! I was ready for it to all be over though because by the end of the month it really seems like people start to get cranky and you can tell they are definitely ready to be done. Seflfishly, I was also ready because it threw off my usual schedule of going to visit people or eating lunch with friends (obviously since they weren't eating at all). I would also eat or drink water in secret, since I didn't want anyone who was fasting to see me eating. They also stayed up much later than usual, because after eating so much and drinking all that tea with sugar, no one was ready for bed around the usual time. At the end of Ramadan though, they usually have a celebration with lots of food and meat. This year, someone told me that for this holiday since it's the small one(seli means prayer in Bambara, and fitini is small), they just buy meat and good ingredients for sauce and then mostly relax. Having to buy good food and lots of sugar all month I guess leaves most people running low on cash, so they don't always have a big celebration. For Tabaski, which is 70 days after the end of Ramadan, they will actually buy a whole sheep to kill and eat (that holiday is seliba, ba meaning big). Everyone does get new clothes for the party though and it was really cute to see all the little kids walking around town all dressed up, with their hair done and all. In Djenne, they would go into people's concessions to sing songs for small change. I didn't have much in the way of small change, so I pretended it was Halloween and gave out candy. This was going really well until word must've gotten around and tons of children started coming to my door! Thankfully my host mom got them under control, but all in all, it was quite the interesting holiday!

Friday, September 11, 2009


Even though we should be nearing the end of rainy season, it seems like it's only now really been raining a lot in Djenne. This is going to make for an interesting year in the fields, as so many people in and around Djenne (and pretty much everywhere in Mali) are entirely dependent on their crops for food and money. They've been holding special prayers at the mosque to pray for rain, and they say that Inshallah (god willing) it will come. I'm hoping that this last bit of rainy season will be enough! One interesting thing did happen a few weeks ago. There was a huge storm that we had seen coming towards us practically all day. Finally in the evening it looked like it was going to reach us, but then the wind got so strong that we wondered if it would just blow over. Instead of passing us by, it hailed! It was strange because even though it cools down some in rainy season it didn't seem cool enough for golf ball sized hail! The kids all went wild, running out into the storm to collect the pieces and eat them. I didn't eat any (as most of them were a little muddy) but later a friend at the clinic told me I should have. She claims that if you are having trouble with your heart and the hail comes, it's a sign that things will change and you should eat the hail because it has medicine in it that can cure you. She also said it's good to eat it just in case since it doesn't come very often and you never know when the next time will be. If there is a next time while I'm still here, maybe I'll wash some off and make a cold drink, just in case!

In other news, the new kids had their swearing in ceremony and party and are now getting ready to head out to site to start working! I'm going to help them do some shopping for their houses when they come up to Mopti since a lot of them speak minority languages that you won't necessarily hear in the Mopti market. Also, the volunteers that have been around have a better idea of what the prices of things are supposed to be, so hopefully we can keep them from getting the toubab price on everything! Then it's back to Djenne for hopefully the start of the school year!

Sunday, August 16, 2009

1 Year Down, 1 to go!

So hard to believe that the day I flew back to the States for vacation was one year to the day that I was leaving for Mali! I gt back and had to do my mid service medical check up, which was also strange, because that means I have only about one year left here n Mali! While some of the days have maybe been a little long, it seems like the year has just flown by. Hopefully I will be able to get a lot more done this year, since I finally feel like I'm able to work in Bambara and French, but that means this year will go by even faster!
It was nice to come back to Djenne and see that they hadn't forgotten me and were really excited to see me. Also, they were excited to tell me that I was locked out of my own house! I had given my host family the key to my porch in order to watch my cats while I was gone, and apparently somehow the door handle had fallen off but they still managed to lock the door (with the handle inside). Then it finally started raining in true rainy season style, and the door warped so we couldn't get it open! My neighbor was eventually able to pry the door open and I got a new door handle, but it was still pretty funny that before I even made it to my street kids were telling me about it.
Tomorrow I head back to Djenne with the new volunteer who will be living in Senossa, about 7k from me! I hope I can make her site visit a little less traumatic than mine was (ie no mouse bites!). We'll be back in a week for the annual site visit party!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Mudding of the Mosque

This past Thursday, after much speculation about what the actual date was going to be, the mudding of the mosque in Djenne finally happened! Hot season is also construction season in Mali, since people aren’t working in the fields or gardening, and they want to repair/build things before the rain starts. Being the largest mud structure in the world, the mudding has a big tradition in Djenne. Lots of people from the town all get together to help, especially the kids. They started the afternoon before the official day bringing mud up from the riverbanks to the front of the mosque. I was told that each quartier in Djenne is its own “team” and so I think those were the groups I saw that afternoon running with Malian flags, chanting as they went back and forth for mud. Supposedly each quartier team has its own section of the mosque to work on and they kind of have a race to see who will finish their part first. I’m not sure who one this year, but I think they had to switch things up a little since an NGO doing repairs to the inside of the mosque had already done some parts.
The morning of the actual mudding, they started at around 6am (to beat the heat that is pretty intense even by 10am). Boys were in charge of transporting mud, hauling it up and down the sides of the mosque, and mixing it by jumping up and down in it. Girls carried water on their heads to and from wells or the river to mix the mud. Of course, all the children participated in the throwing of mud at each other, which at first seemed mostly to be boys versus girls, but quickly escalated into hit anyone you can (and probably bonus points for getting a toubab, but I’m just guessing). Needless to say, but about 10am everyone was splattered with mud and people were starting to get a little wild, so my friends and I made our escape. I don’t think this blog entry really does the whole day justice; it really was amazing to watch people scaling the walls of the mosque barefoot and throwing baskets of mud up and down to each other. Thus, some pictures hopefully to follow so you can get a better idea of what it was like!

The Cat Came Back

I almost lost a member of my Djenne family this week, but thankfully she narrowly escaped death (but not a traumatizing bath afterwards!). Sally and Jack (mom and one kitten that are left at my house) have been spending more and more time outside when I’m not at the house so they can catch lizards and run around. Usually, they come in when I get home in the early afternoon or evening, since their food and water bowls are on my porch. A few days ago, however, only Jack was waiting by more door when I got in. I figured his mom had probably come while I was still gone, given up, and found somewhere else to hang out. By 10pm though, there was still no sign of her, so I asked the Aminata (woman who lives across from me) if she had seen her. She told me to check the roof, and I knew there was a little room up there where the cats sometimes go, so I headed up. Turns out, she was not in the room or on the roof, but had fallen down the nyegen that’s upstairs! (Note: the nyegen is basically the latrine, and in Djenne most of them are on the second floor. Luckily, this nyegen is not the one that everyone uses, so it was basically just a whole with a dirt floor). I could look down and see her in there, and she didn’t look hurt or even like she really wanted to come out. I went back down, and told Aminata, who seemed to think Sally went down there often and could get out on her own. I figured maybe this was why they didn’t use that nyegen, since there was a hole to the outside or something, so I waited until morning to see if she could escape without help. When Kate and I ventured up the next day though, she was still in there! She wasn’t really crying, but you could tell she was getting hungry and thirsty because she wasn’t moving to fast. We tried everything we could think of to get her out; everything from lowering baskets of fish down to tying a hole in a rope and attempting to loop it over her. After over an hour and one sacrificed basket, we had to give up. It was really hard to do, but we just couldn’t think of anything else. My host family still kept saying she would get out, but we didn’t know how. The next day I spent the day in another village painting a mural, and when I got back everyone was asking about the cat. I was kind of wishing they would stop talking about it because they kept saying how she was probably still alive (which made me think of her starving down there). My host mom told me I could call someone to get her, but I don’t know anyone in Djenne who rescues cats, so they said they would get someone. I really thought there was no way, since Kate and I had tried for so long, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to try. And lo and behold, after only 5 minutes with a rope and some sort of special knot, Sally was free! She was definitely starving, and still didn’t smell good, but other than that no worse off than before! In fact, I’m pretty sure the bath I gave her (with antibacterial soap!) was more traumatizing than falling down the nyegen. Jack was very happy to have his mom back, and my host family is going to cover the hole so she can’t fall down there again. Always something to keep it exciting here in Djenne!

Wedding Weekend

I know it’s been a while since I’ve updated, but I had typed these entries as they happened so I’ll just post them all!

In between stopping at the med unit in Bamako and heading to Segou for a training session with an NGO, I spent the weekend with another volunteer in her site (rather than come all the way back up to Djenne for just a few days, and also it’s always fun to see everyone else’s villages!). I couldn’t have picked a better time, because it turned out to be wedding weekend! In her village, all the weddings take place on the same weekend. We think this is to prevent each family from having to give money to every griot, because if the weddings are all happening at the same time, they have to split up and can’t all be at the same one. Usually you are born into a griot family here, and they generally attend weddings, naming ceremonies, and other events and give people blessings. They sing songs about the people and how they are going to find money or peace in the future, and then whoever the song was about gives the griot money. In a bigger village, if your wedding was the only one happening, you might have to pay a lot of griots for coming (even though you didn’t invite them!). Anyway, it was really great to be in her village that weekend since a member of her host family was getting married and we got the inside scoop as to weddings in Mali (or at least in her village). Marriages here seem to just be about totally different things than what I was used to in the States. For example, it’s possible that the woman has never met the man she is going to marry, and normally the marriages are arranged by family members. Also, in the case of the man we knew, he was marrying his second wife, who was probably not more than 16 years old. The saddest part for me was that these women are basically leaving their families forever and going to live with someone they maybe don’t know at all. Obviously, that’s pretty upsetting to think about, and the women cry during a lot of the wedding events. I’ve been told that this is what they are supposed to do, because they aren’t supposed to seem excited, but I also think they are probably genuinely sad to be leaving their families and friends. One girl’s husband had even come from a different country just to marry her, and then they were returning, so she may never see her family again.
I don’t want this to sound like weddings are all bad here, but there are definitely some sad parts. There’s tons of eating of good food, dancing, and visiting, and family members travel from far away if they can to be there for the wedding of a relative. The bride also gets to stay inside for at least three days, which might sound boring (and probably is a little) but I think it’s probably also nice for the women to have all their meals cooked, and not have to work so hard for a little while. They also get really dressed up to go to the mayor’s office, and everyone comes and gives blessings and greets the new couple.
All in all, it was definitely interesting to see, and something that I probably wouldn’t have gotten to experience unless someone I knew well in Djenne was getting married (and pretty much everyone I know already is married!).