My life as a Peace Corps Volunteer...

My life as a Peace Corps Volunteer...

Friday, November 23, 2012

And So It Goes.

I left Mali very unexpectedly on April 6, 2012, and the week leading up to my departure was one of the most stressful weeks of my life. How do you wrap up two years of tears, struggles, triumphs, dance parties, and friendship in just a few hours? How do you express your gratitude and sincere thanks to a new family that showed you how to be a better person, despite the daily challenges that they didn’t realize they presented you with in the first place? And, then, how do you return to the place that you’ve always called home, only to have no one understand that you didn’t just spend the past two years in Africa, but in the very specific and wonderful-in-itself country of Mali? I have been struggling with these thoughts and many others for the past seven months, and that is why it has taken me so long to write “the final blog post.” There is so much pressure to eloquently express my thoughts and feelings while simultaneously “sugar coating” my unique experiences in Mali. All of my friends have written beautiful final posts that speak of a two year journey where they accomplished a plethora of projects, met villagers who positively changed their lives forever, and always felt supported by Peace Corps staff, their families at home, and their small villages full of new friends. Yes, I experienced a lot of positive times in Mali similar to theirs, but I also experienced an equal number of challenges and hardships that, at times, seemed to outweigh the good. To me, these challenges should not be overlooked - but, I have been so worried about being negative in such an important blog post that I have simply procrastinated on it all together. I have not called my village as much as I’ve wanted to. I have not kept in touch with Peace Corps staff, both in Mali and in the States, as much as I’ve wanted to. The most frustrating part is that I have been thinking about writing this post for months, yet I have not taken the time to put my feelings down on paper. I have been so angry at so many things ever since leaving my Malian family, and I think that writing this is the first step in really beginning to readjust to American life. So, my faithful readers, make sure you have twenty minutes (or 40…) to spare, and continue reading…

The week before leaving Mali... 
Around March 22nd, 2012, I was the happiest that I had ever been in Mali. I had great friends in Peace Corps, I had great friends in my village (Katele), I was secretly planning a Malian wedding to Roger to officially “unite” our villages (where I was going to ride into his village on a donkey and it would have been EPIC), and I FINALLY had a project that I was proud of. (I successfully taught my entire village, made up of mostly illiterate people, how to tax in order to generate money for projects. We created a completely sustainable alternative to any outside funding, and raised over $3,000 for village projects and income generating activities for women. Wouldn’t you be happy, too?!) I was going to facilitate a few training sessions and was even planning to have a meeting with Peace Corps staff about the importance of focusing on smaller, non-funded projects. Things were going well, and I was ready to celebrate my 26th birthday and the 24th birthday of one of my best friends. I arrived in my banking town early to celebrate with my closest friends (in Sikasso).

Then, in a matter of days, my happy world exploded. We learned of the military coup in Bamako, and realized how serious it was when Peace Corps consolidated us in our regional house for two weeks. (You can read about the coup on any reputable news site, and I recommend BBC News. If you haven’t heard about it by now, then I can only assume that you live in a mud hut somewhere, or the appropriate equivalent). We could not leave to get food. We kept hearing more and more about the “noise” in the North of the country. We heard that the President, ATT, was in hiding. We heard that all of the other foreigners in Mali were being pulled out by their respective governments. We saw tires burning in the streets. We learned that the airport temporarily closed, shortly followed by a temporary closure of the land borders. The power kept cutting out. Then, the water kept cutting out. For 40 unsure and frustrated volunteers in a confined space, this affected even the most stable ones. None of us knew what the immediate future would hold, and even though we all felt completely safe in the Sikasso region, we did not know what effect the fighting in the North would have on the functionality of Peace Corps Mali. We were stuck in this holding pattern for almost two weeks. The scariest part of all was that we hardly heard any new updates from Peace Corps, which meant that they were taking our safety and security into high account and did not want to say anything to make the situation worse. We were playing the waiting game, and we could not even go back to our villages to console ourselves with our families.

In the middle of it all, I received a call from my mom, and she told me the news that I had been fearing ever since I joined Peace Corps – her cancer was back, she was no longer in remission, and she did not know what the future would hold for her. Considering the state of uncertainty in Mali and the idea that the airport could close down at any time, I made the decision to leave Mali sooner rather than later. I told Peace Corps staff, and they were very supportive and worked very hard to get me home in a timely manner. But, as it turned out, I only came home a few days before everyone else because Peace Corps made the decision to evacuate us two days after I made the decision to go home to see my family.

The Goodbyes… 
After being consolidated in Sikasso, we finally received the go-ahead to return to our sites, but only if we could hypothetically get back to Sikasso within one day. (Keep in mind that Malian transport is not reliable, and sometimes, you might wait 5 hours for a bus to pass you by… and then might not see anything on the road for 3 more hours after that). So, Roger and I headed back to his site to say goodbye to his village. (At this point, we did not know Peace Corps was evacuating us, but I knew that I was going home). I visited his work partner and said goodbye, and he gave me many blessings. He stayed cheerful, as if he did not believe that I was actually leaving. I could not muster the actual words to say goodbye to Roger’s host mom (who was like my second mom in Mali), so he told her the news, we nodded, and we both walked away crying, knowing that we would probably never see each other again. After saying goodbye to a few more people, we hopped on our bikes and headed over to my village, as I mentally prepared myself for leaving the first family that really made me feel at home in Mali.

When I said goodbye to my villagers in Katele - my home - everything felt like, and still feels like, a blur of emotions. I can’t even remember the exact goodbyes. I do remember saying goodbye to so many people, and being surprised at their words about how much I meant to them, and how much I taught them. I do remember taking a final picture with my host mom, Jelia, and hearing her promise to take care of my dog and feed her three times a day. I do remember telling people that they should take whatever they want from my house, and hearing them refuse because they were my things and they did not want to impose during such a sad time for me. I do remember that everyone thanked me and did not get upset when I sobbed at the thought of leaving them, and how some people – MEN – even let me hug them to show my gratitude. I do remember that in the final picture I took of my village counterparts, they ALL smiled when I told them that my mom would be looking at their picture and framing it on the wall. And, I do remember that my village chief waited with me on the side of the road until my transport came, looked into my eyes, thanked me, and gave me a left-handed hand shake. The left-handed, or double handed shake is important in Mali because it means that you must come back to shake hands properly, with the right hand, one day – and, I told him that I would be back to correct that wrong (once Roger and I are married with our brood of honorary Malian children, of course).

I left for Tubaniso, the Peace Corps training facility, to say goodbye to all of my friends and PC counterparts, but it did not seem real until I was actually on a plane, surrounded by ALL of the fleeing Americans. They all seemed happy and relieved to be returning to American or European luxuries, but I felt strange and empty and scared. I called my first counterpart from my first village and told her I was leaving for good, and then hung up before I started crying. Before I knew it, one day had passed, I had eaten the amazing plane food provided by Air France, and it was Easter Sunday in America. I was back in America, in my parents’ house, facing the realities of cancer, and having allergic reactions to medications that almost put me in the hospital. America was not all that I had hoped for, and I felt very incomplete. It was a VERY long seven months, and I’ve lost and gained quite a few things along the way.

I’ve had a long journey since I’ve been back, just figuring out what is important to me and slowly uncovering more and more lessons that Mali has taught me. Every day is now easier and easier, and many thoughts and many people keep me going. I talk to my villages about once a month (thanks to the wonders of Skype and limited Facebooking), I live with my best friend/boyfriend (THANK YOU for being so super), I surround myself with positive and sassy friends (who know when a good margarita, dinner date, phone call, text, soup dumpling, or GH rager is in order), and I try to think of everything that I have gained over the last two years, rather than dwell on the many things and people that I have lost. So, I apologize if I haven’t made as many efforts to talk to you all as I should have, and I apologize for just dropping off the radar a few times. It has taken me a while to finally feel comfortable with my life and to find a positive way to handle the challenges, and my best friends know that it has NOT been easy for anyone. (PS - Friends, you really are AWESOME, and I am thankful for you all).

So, thank you for reading, for listening, and for caring, and please know that all of your comments, letters, packages, prayers, and positive vibes were, and continue to be, a very huge part of this journey. Thank you all, again, for reading, and for continuing to keep me in your thoughts.

N bora so, N nana so. I left my home. I came home. And now, I have two homes.

Thanks for following along!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The End...?!

(Written on April 6, 2012)

As I sit here in the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris, awaiting my flight home to America, I’m not really sure what to think. I had a family emergency that brought me home a few days before everyone else, but no matter my personal situation, “evacuation” is still a difficult word to digest. I am trying not to think about how the political situation in Bamako, the North, and the cut-off of international aid will affect the pre-existing food shortage in my village and my friends’ villages. I am trying not to think about what will happen in Bamako if gas really does run out, since the land borders are all closed. And, I am trying really hard not to think about the looks on my Malian friends’ and families’ faces when I only had a few hours to tell them goodbye, and that another volunteer would not be coming right away, as I had promised. So, instead of mulling about these depressing topics right now, I am going to share a story that will always make me laugh, and that will always remind me of my 21 months in Mali. I need some time to reflect on everything that has happened, and after all of my PC friends have returned from their “transition conference”, I will blog about my take on my last few weeks in Mali. But, for now, all of my faithful blog readers will have to settle for this story.

After being “coup-ed” up in the Sikasso Regional House for about a week, some friends and I decided to go to the one open pool in town. We walked thirty minutes to get there in the high-noon sun and temperatures of 100 degrees and humidity, only to learn that a wedding was being held at the pool all afternoon. Sweaty, irritated, and pained by headaches from the incredibly loud Malian music playing (for the wedding attendants), we looked at the pool, laughed because we remembered that most Malians do not swim in pools (or anywhere else for that matter), and decided to pay the three dollar fee to swim. Then, we went around back, whipped off our sweat-drenched clothes, and jumped in the pool in our bathing suits… with about 30 Malian men and children staring at us. To be honest, watching us was probably something like pornography to them, since Mali is a Muslim country and women cannot bear their knees, nevermind wear a bathing suit in public. But, we had a nice peaceful time (especially after they turned the music down), just watching the men, women, and children dance as they waited for the bride and groom. In Mali, you do not need an invite for anything, so we weren’t even crashing their wedding. Additionally, the bride and groom do not even need to be present for the wedding celebration to happen – you can substitute other people if the bride and groom cannot come, and on the first day, people just sit around and drink tea in honor of the wedding. So, we were not imposing on the wedding at all – if anything, maybe we gave them some more entertainment!

We were sitting in the pool, minding our own business, when a very large Malian man wearing very tight red underwear took a running start, flapped his hands at his side like a ballerina, and did a front-flip into the pool. We could not believe our eyes, and we could not contain our laughter. He came over and we all introduced ourselves, and he told us that he wasn’t part of the wedding party either. We talked for a few minutes, and then we all took turns jumping into the water with him. I wish I had brought my camera. Then, after my friends and I had returned to the shallow end to sit, our new friend swam over to us, picked up both of the male volunteers that we were with, and twirled them around in the water – it looked exactly like a parent playing with his kids, except that a large Malian man was playing with two full grown American men. He helped them float and even threw them up in the air and into the water. It was hilarious, and it was something I will never forget. Our pool date ended with our Malian friend taking some of the wedding food (chicken and fries!), sharing it with us, and then inviting us dancing that night.

We never went dancing, and now, we might never see ournew friend again. However, this story is indicative of Malian culture – you always make new friends, men are very friendly with each other, and, even when Malians have almost nothing to give, they will share their food with you, even if it means they are still hungry. None of this would have happened in America, and this story reminds me of the good parts of Malian culture that I will miss. I’ll be thinking of my new friend when I’m crying at home because I can’t afford or figure out how to work a smart phone, or when I awkwardly stare at someone eating just so s/he will offer me her/his food. I also won’t be able to just pick up random babies that I think are adorable (when I’m on a bus or taking a walk, for example), because I don’t want someone thinking that I am a baby-stealer. I will have a lot of adjustments to make, but at least I’ll be in the comfort of my own home, where crying is acceptable. I will miss Mali, and after I reflect on these past few weeks, I’ll put up a new post. But, we’re all safe and sound… I hope my friends in Mali stay safe and sound, too.

Allah ka Mali deme.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

And, some Resolutions...

1. Whenever Mali or Malians make me upset, I will take a deep breath, count to 10 (or 20), and really think "Is this worth it?" before getting upset.

2. I will try to be more understanding of how I view "communication" differently than my friends in America - for example, I will try not to get upset when I never get emails or letters from people I've tried to talk to, because my idea of "communication" (sending letters, writing emails, and writing Facebook messages) is different than theirs (not having time to send a long email or response). I forget that I have a lot of time to think about existential life questions when compared to other people, but at the same time, I wish other people would realize that even just a quick "Hello, how are you, I'm busy but I'm thinking about you" response makes me smile. (Hint: Please send me those emails). I will just try to be more understanding and less judgmental. (But, again, THANK YOU to everyone who sends me messages of love and support regularly!)

3. I want to get as in shape as I was in high school. (Haha. These are in no particular order).

4. I want to write more about this experience here, and hopefully turn those writings into something publishable and/or graduate school appropriate.

5. I want to make sure that my village understands how our new Tax Committee will help them in the long run, even if they can't see results immediately. This is a pretty lofty goal, and I do have my doubts. Some people already understand what they call "American economics", and I want to work with them to get through to everyone. I am also going to try to not give up when obstacles come up, as they inevitably will, and I will try to remain positive and not cynical about the financial aid cycle and mindset in Mali.

6. I want to enjoy this last stretch here in Mali and not wish it away by applying for jobs too early!

As a very wise and sassy friend recently told me, "The next few challenges in your life serve as a marathon, not a race, so just keep the finish line in sight." I think that's a good way to start off 2012.


I really cannot believe that 2012 is already here! I remember receiving the big, blue envelope in April 2010 from Peace Corps and thinking, "Well, I guess it all starts now...", and then freaking out when I found out I was coming to Mali, one of the poorest countries in the world. I remember being constantly sick through Homestay and wondering, "How the shit am I going to make it through TWO YEARS of this?!" I remember trying to survive every day in my old village and thinking, "Well, maybe when I go home to America for a visit, I'll just never come back." I remember moving to my current site and realizing how volunteers can love their sites and stay there for months at a time, just hanging out and making friends with locals. And now, I am sitting here wondering where all of the time went, and thinking about how in 8 months, I will be home in America! (Mark your calenders, friends, and if you want a visit from me upon my return, you should all probably start returning my emails or remembering which country I've been living in for the past 18 months... just sayin'.)

So, 2012 is officially here! I rang in the new year in Bamako with a few friends, and it was a truly great night. We went out for pizza (which was DELICIOUS by Mali standards), carried our "adult beverages" with us in a backpack, and bar hopped until after midnight. At midnight, the salsa club we were at played American rap music (PITBULL! I knew it signaled the start of a great year), and city fireworks went off all around us. It was an awesome way to ring in the new year!

I also received the great news that my Rotary grant money should be arriving very soon! I found an excellent Rotarian in Bamako to facilitate all of the transactions, so within the month, my tax committee should be functioning. Finally, everything all seems to be coming together for me here.

Hiking through Dogon Country ( on Christmas was an amazing experience, even though it took a lot longer to get there than we thought it would... and despite the fact that we had to scale a LOT more rocks than I thought we would. It was interesting to see a part of Mali so different than where I live, and I really felt like I was in "Africa" - there were cliff dwellings, traditional masked dances, camels, tortoises, monkeys, and animist histories that just do not exist in my little village in the Sikasso region. It was nice to travel, visit new places, and see some old friends that I haven't seen in a LONG time, but I am really excited to go home to my village, my dog, and my routine that keeps me sane and happy.

Thanks again for following my blog, and for those of you who take the time to respond to my emails and blogs, THANKS EVEN MORE! It's always nice to see a new email or new comment after spending a month at site, and knowing that my friends care enough to send me a quick message or two really means a lot to me. I really have tried to send letters in the mail to EVERYONE who has written me letters, but I seem to have consistently bad luck with the Malian postal system. They always get sent back, and the letters I sent before Thanksgiving seem to have been lost in transit somewhere. Sigh, this is Africa. Again, I will keep sending and resending letters until they finally make it to America!

I hope everyone had a great Holiday and a Happy New Year! I'm crossing my fingers that 2012 will be a good year for everyone! See you in 8 months!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Noeli Feti Ke!

Here I sit in Sikasso, having just made three different types of Christmas cookies, onion and cinnamon raisin bagels, and having just eaten a delicious pineapple upside down cake. Temperatures may reach 90 degrees during the day and 60 degrees at night, and my village might giggle at my home-made Santa hat (for me and my dog) and Christmas decorations, but I am on Christmas vacation right now and I could not be happier! Tomorrow, we are heading north to Bandiagara and continuing on to start a three day hike through Dogon Country. With the help of a guide, we will be trekking through cliffs and cave dwellings, and hopefully seeing some masked dancers and Dogon parties along the way. I am really looking forward to having a relaxing holiday with some friends that I have not seen in a while.

I've spent the whole month of December in village, and things there have been going really well. I've read two books, started a third (a long book with small words, so it should take me a while), and have even started cooking to pass the time - we've made sweet potato curry, corn chowder, and some delicious tuna melts with fresh bread that I've helped bake. It may seem like I've had a lot of free time between the cooking, reading, and running (have I mentioned that I've taken up running to pass the time, as well?) but I've actually been really busy with small projects and one large project.

When I moved to my new village, I told myself that I did not want to apply for any large grants for projects, given the many problems that I had in my old village... namely, everyone viewing me as a piggy bank and not respecting me as an intelligent woman capable of helping them become self-sustainable. However, after moving to my new village, I realized that I really wanted to help my new family of 2702 people in any way that I could. They share their food with me, we cook together, we talk about real issues like gender roles and homosexuality without judgment and with tolerance, and we spend our free time together - they helped me integrate, and I decided to help them by finding them money. Let me give some background information: I work at a health center that is not financed by the Malian government. We do not serve enough people to have the government cover the costs of salaries and supplies, so my village works extra hard throughout the year in order to pay the salaries of the doctor, vaccinator, and the guardian, in addition to buying all of the necessary supplies, like cotton, bleach, soap, etc. The money for these things comes from the cotton cooperative, and in addition, that cotton cooperative also gives money to the village to fund all of their projects and to pay all of the teachers. Essentially, all of the money from the cotton cooperative goes directly back into the village, just breaking even, not making any money and not saving any money. While this may seem generous and hard working of them, it is actually an example of poor management, considering that my village ran out of money four months ago. So, the doctor, vaccinator, guardian, and all of the teachers have not been paid in four months, nor have any village projects been finished due to lack of funding. I thought, “What can I do to help?”

I explained the "American economic idea" of taxing for services, and together, my village and I decided to tax all residents over the age of seven 50 CFA (10 cents) each month - half of this money will go into the village fund, and half will go into the health center fund. If all people over the age of 7 are taxed and actually pay (because at age 7, children begin school), then we will have enough money to not only pay everyone that needs to be paid, but to also start up new village projects and small income generating activities for women. So, together, we started a tax fund and micro loan group.

Thanks to a $1,000 grant from my local Rotary Club in Plainfield, CT, this tax fund is really happening! We just had a meeting, and we decided that I will go to Bamako to meet with their Rotary Clubs to discuss wire transfer options in the beginning of January – in the meantime, my village will form a tax committee and begin the taxing in the end of January. This project has been long in the making – since September, we have been formulating ideas and postulating about how to make a tax system work in rural Mali. I have very, very high hopes for this project, especially because it is completely sustainable after I leave… so, cross your fingers for me!

I’ve also been venturing into the first grade classrooms to teach them about water and sanitation. I started by reading them a story about a “big mean elephant” and how a germ was able to jump in his uncovered well and kill him. It was a success because the kids understood, on a basic level, what a germ was – an invisible thing that gives you sickness and eventually kills you. The following week, I went back into the classrooms and did a handwashing formation. I rubbed hot pepper all over the kids’ hands and had them wash with only water, representing how you can’t get rid of the invisible germs with only water (because the hot pepper juice is invisible, too). They licked their hands to show that the water alone did not wash away the hot pepper. Then, we washed our hands with soap and water, and the hot pepper (and the representative germs!) were washed away. They understood this as well, and because the school director liked my presentation so much, I will be going back into the school in 2012 to do more health and sanitation animations for all of the grades. I’m glad to be keeping busy!

So, despite the hiccups that November gave me (my dog got hit by a car and died, I saw a mouse, rat, bat, and snake in my hut, and my water pump broke as I was pumping water), December turned out much better. I’m also really looking forward to 2012… and coming home in September! Please keep the support coming, and I look forward to hearing from you all in 2012!

Happy Holidays! Ala ka Noeli Feti Ke Diya!

Friday, November 4, 2011

It's been a while...

I know that I’ve been slacking in the blog department and that you’ve all been dying to read the latest installment of “what disease does Jessica have now,” so I am sorry for the very long delay. Since I work best in short points (and find them to be the least boring to write), please bear with me as I attempt to sum up the past few months of my life in a few not-so-short paragraphs.

I am always sick in Mali for some reason, and these past few months have been no different. Don’t worry, I do not have malaria (again) or anything serious – I’ve just had another bladder infection, amoebic cysts, and a big toenail that is about to fall off. (I’ve been documenting my toenail in pictures, so if our Internet decides to upload the photos, then you can see the whole disgusting process). I feel absolutely fine, and now that the weather is getting cooler, I don’t even mind these sicknesses. I do have a cold, which is more annoying than painful, but that seems to be on its way out, as well. So, as of right now, I am healthy… keep your fingers crossed!

I spent the month of September in America, courtesy of Jean and Lou Soja. It was great to just lay on my parents’ couch, eat copious amounts of burgers, cheeses, broccoli, and strawberries, and catch up with my family and friends. Even though it was amazing to be home, I really missed Mali while I was gone, and being home really reminded me of the reasons why I left in the first place. As much as I love America (and everyone speaking my language), the bothersome aspects of life in a developed country have not changed. Everyone still looks at their IPhone every five seconds, even if you are in the middle of a conversation, on the Metro in DC, for example; everyone still complains about EVERYTHING, especially waiting for only five minutes in an airport customs and border control line (and yells about how we need to privatize airports because waiting for five minutes is just unacceptable); and when people ask you how you’re doing, what they really mean to say is, “Let me go through the formality of asking how you’re doing so I can talk about myself and how awesome my new desk job is for twenty minutes instead.” Life has just gone on in America, and the only change is that now I don’t understand how to make a phone call on an IPhone because I’m not sure where the numbers are on the touch-screen. Don’t misunderstand me – I loved seeing all of my family and friends, because I love all of them and really missed them. But, I noticed how differently I really am beginning to see things. Why would you order a huge and expensive meal, finish a quarter of it, and throw it away, when I know kids who would fight another person just to have a chance to eat your scraps? Why would you have over 200 pairs of shoes, own only Seven brand jeans, and waste your money on nonsense like a 300 dollar handbag when I live with some great people who own only one outfit because that is all they can afford? Or, why would you complain about a long, ten minute wait at a laundromat, grocery store, restaurant or even Dunkin Donuts when some of my best friends here wake up at 5AM to heat water, start cooking, wash clothes, wash the children, wash the dishes, and then wait for three hours for a bus to take them to their market, where they will only find onions and cabbage because of the food crisis? I just don’t understand how some people can be so self-absorbed and focused on the latest “thing” to not take advantage of the great education system in America (compared to here) and not even know where I have been living for the past year, or even the name of my country. It is very frustrating. Even though I am a lot more laid back than I was when I left over a year ago, I think that coming back in September 2012 is going to be a tough adjustment. I didn’t feel at home when I stepped onto American soil at the Atlanta airport to be questioned, over and over again, about what I am doing in Mali, but when I came back to Bamako and talked to my Malian cab driver (who raved about the Peace Corps and how Americans are in Mali to learn the language and really try to help), I felt a sense of relief. Leaving Mali really helped me see how much I am learning here and how I really have found a new family.

New Village:
Maybe one reason why I am really enjoying Mali right now (besides the fact that I can have a conversation with someone without stopping to ask them to repeat themselves, slowly) is because my new village is simply amazing. Every day, my work partner comes to greet me and takes me to any meetings that the village might be having. My friends invite me to their dance parties in the fields during the harvesting season, and we work and dance together. If I happen to bring anyone the smallest present, even sugar, they are so thankful and give me many, many blessings. Everyone sits and talks with me for hours and plays cards with me, really making me feel at home and like I’m really part of the family. They offer me the first round of tea, even though I am a woman. When my chairs remain outside after I leave village, they look out for me by putting my chairs in their huts for safe-keeping until I return. They share their food with me at all times of the day, help me get water if I need help, and go with me to all of the nearby markets so that they can help me get good prices and find my way around. They never ask me for anything, and are just eager to learn about me, my American family, and American culture. This is what I wish my service had been from the beginning, and now I understand how volunteers stay in village for three weeks straight. I feel completely at home, and I love my new village. I may be farther away from the city and be more “en brousse,” but this is everything that I could have wanted – hard workers, great people, my own hut and concession, and quite simply, respect. My little puppy, Chicken, and I are very happy in our new home.

One of the big lessons that I learned in my old village is that big, funded projects are not always successful, and that they sometimes lead villagers to think that a Peace Corps Volunteer is synonomous with a piggy bank. So, right now, I am just working on integrating and making friends in village. Now that the rain has stopped, my homologue (work partner) has agreed to help me make inexpensive hand washing stations, mud stoves, mud ovens, and take me along on vaccination campaigns to do animations. We have already made mosquito repellant and ameliorated porridge for many families, and soon, I will be heading into the first grade classroom to give health and sanitation animations over a three to four week time period to the kids. The teacher is really excited for me to come, and I am equally excited to talk to the kids about germs, handwashing, covering wells, and the evils of open air defecation. However, I think that my proudest moment in my new village was when I realized that my supervisor at the health center washes his hands with soap everyday before he eats lunch – he forces his family to do the same, even if I am not there eating with them. If one family has understood the importance of handwashing, then maybe I am helping a little! As they say here, dooni dooni, or “small small.”

Thanks for reading this very long blog, and thanks for caring about how I am doing in Mali! I will see you all in September 2012, and hopefully, I’ll be able to post a few more blogs before then. Thanks for your letters and care packages, and I will keep trying to send letters, even though they are frequently returned to me for no reason at all. Oh, Mali…

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A quickie...

1. Thanks to my wonderful parents, I will be home in America in ONE MONTH for THREE GLORIOUS WEEKS! My plans consist of sitting on Jean and Lou's couch and begging them to drive me to all of the fast food chains within a 30 minute drive of our house and watching reruns on Discovery and Bravo. If you wish to be included in these plans, would like to sit on the couch with me, or would like to take me to a fine dining establishment and get some quality time in (like Burger King, KFC, or Chipotle), then please email me! I can't wait.

2. My new site is simply awesome. It is everything that I wished I had for my whole first year here. I have only been there for three weeks now, but these three weeks have been better than my entire first YEAR in my original village. I definitely made the right choice, and once I am in America, I will write a better blog post detailing my new start!