Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Cell Phone

Here's the 411 on my cell phone.

It's set up like a pay as you go plan and I only pay for calls and texts that I send. Anything I receive is free. So... if you want to talk to me on the phone it's a lot cheaper if the call originates from the US... and even so it'll probably be at least $0.30/min. I think we figured out that if we call the US from our cell phones it's close to $1/min... and we don't get wages here...

This is how to call me or send texts if you choose. Simply dial:

This number includes international codes and whatnot already.
Also, I have voice mail so if I don't pick up you can leave me a message

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

In Sickness And In Health

This entry is going to be about personal and public health issues. Why? Because conveniently enough I was sick yesterday and today the Wat/San group went through water related diseases and health issues. There will also be a special section at the end devoted to flies, who have become my second arch enemy... after mayonnaise.

Item #1: Personal Health
I'd like to start this section with a disclaimer... if you don't want to read about my health issues, simply fast forward to the next section. Don't read this, then become disgusted and scold me.

Yesterday I had my first true Mr. D (diarrhea) experience. I say "true" because it wasn't even on the same order of magnitude as what we associate diarrhea with in the US. In the States you might feel ill and get the "runs" once or twice and then it's over. Right?

I had 19, yes, nineteen visits to the negen yesterday... in 16 hours. Mr. D said "no" to Immodium. He said "no" to Pepto. I decided to say "no" to food of any kind and yet he still kept me company for some time. The strangest part was that I really didn't feel sick... I just needed to stay close to a negen all day. As evening came around I started to feel tired because I'd been up since 3 a.m. and hadn't eaten all day, but other than that it wasn't so terrible... aside from the obvious terribleness of the situation that is. The good news is today i feel fine. It's like nothing ever happened. However, I will be checking in with the medical officer over the next few days.

Item #2: Major Health Issues in Mali
Obviously a big focus of the Wat/San group is getting people clean water and getting rid of dirty water. An important starting point for this is to understand the different health concerns associated with contaminated water and other public health concerns that arise from the presence or lack of water.

Diseases related to water in Mali can be broken up into four basic categories: 
  • Water-Borne (consumption) 
  • Water-Washed (contact) 
  • Water Related (proximity) 
  • Water Scarcity (hygiene)

Water-borne diseases are anything that a person contracts from consuming water. This includes: cholera, diarrhea, dysentery, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, polio, guinea worm, etc.

Water-washed diseases are anything that a person contracts from contact with water. The main one in Mali is schistosomiasis.

Water related diseases are anything that come from water but do not result from direct consumption or contact. These diseases are transmitted through vectors, typically mosquitos or flies. Diseases spread by mosquitos include malaria, dengue/hemmoragic fever, yellow fever, and elephantitis. Diseases spread by flies include river blindness and sleeping sickness.

Water scarcity diseases come from a lack of personal hygiene, which is usually caused from lack of water. The major disease here is trachoma.

Here's an explanation of a few of the major diseases in case you don't know what they are.

A bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. If not treated immediately a person will die due to dehydration and a collapse of blood vessels. An untreated person will die from cholera in under 24 hours, and there have been cases where some people die in as little as two hours.

This disease is caused by a parasite that can reside in the intestines or urinary tract. The urinary version brings with it pain in urination, restrictions in the bladder, and possibly death from potential inability to expel urine (only severe cases). The intestinal version behaves like dysentery, which is characterized by diarrhea and blood in the stool.

This disease is typically caused from being bitten by female mosquitos who carry the parasite. When infected the parasite moves to a persons liver where it incubates and then disperses through the blood. Malaria is characterized by a high, spiking fever, aching, vomiting, diarrhea in children, swelling of the liver, jaundice, and in the advanced stage convulsions and death.

This disease is actually in the family that houses pink eye (conjunctivitis). It results mainly from people rubbing their eyes with contaminated hands, but can also come from flies landing on the face near the eyes. A bacteria gets underneath the eyelid and causes inflammation that then causes the eyelid to curl in towards the cornea. Eyelashes then scratch the cornea with blinking, which causes corneal scarring over time. The final result, if not treated, is permanent blindness.

Item #3: Flies
As stated above, flies are a vector for some water related diseases. Oddly enough, they are also a vector for a lot of non-water related diseases as well. The big problem with flies is they like to land on things like poo... and then the come land on you, or your food, or your toothbrush... And they're everywhere! Honestly, I would not complain if flies were completely eradicated from the world. Yes, ecosystems everywhere would most likely be completely destroyed, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. I think the single biggest complaint from all 67 trainees at this point are the flies. They are clearly agents of the fun-police and are bent on disrupting all instances of enjoyment or periods requiring concentration.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Life in the Village

I'm back at Tubaniso after 11 days in Soundougouba. There are so many things that I could talk about that have happened since my last entry that I just don't know where to begin. I suppose at the beginning would be a good place to start...

Here's what I'll be talking about:

  • Arriving at Soundougouba
  • My Host Family
  • The Water Crisis
  • Language Class
  • Life in Soundougouba
  • Life outside Soundougouba
  • Joking Cousins
  • Social Interaction
  • Illness & Medicine
  • The Good, the Bad, and the Ɲegen

Arriving at Soundougouba

We left Tubaniso on a Wednesday morning. All the people going to Soundougouba are in the Water/San sector, and we were the first group to have our vehicle loaded and ready to go that morning... or so we thought. Just as we were driving away the PC medical officer ran up to make sure we had our water filters. Good thing she did because they hadn't been loaded onto the truck. Everyone was amused at the irony of the Water/San group almost showing up to homestay without any way to filter drinking water.

Soundougouba is a small village located about 2 km off a road that is about 4 km off the main road from Bamako to Segou. We pulled up to the dugutigi's house (village chief) and were greeted by many curious kinds and the music of several different kinds of drums. Everyone was ushered under an awning with a row of empty chairs on one side and a row of village elders on the other. The awning was completely surrounded with kids and the women were in the middle of the dugutigi's compound beating drums and playing other traditional instruments. The music was great.

After some traditional greetings from the dugutigi, one of the guys from our group (John) presented the dugutigi with a traditional gift of kola nuts. The tradition behind this is that when a visitor enters a village he/she gives the dugutigi a gift in exchange for forgiveness in case the visitor commits a faux pas while visiting. This allows the dugutigi to act as our advocate in a possible dispute with other residents.

After presenting the kola nuts each of the seven members of our group were introduced to our host family. Our host fathers gave us Malian names and we also take the last name of our host father. This is important for another cultural item in Mali known as "joking cousins" (more on that later). I was given the name N'Ci (sounds like n-chee), which means "first-born". I found this ironic as I am the first-born... my host family did not know this. My last name is Daou, so my full Malian name is N'Ci Daou. Once each of us received a name we got up and danced with members or our host family and a bunch of women from the village. When the dancing was over we grabbed our bags and set forth to move into our new homes and meet our families.

My Host Family

My host father's name is Braman. He's 75 years old. His wife, Ya, is 58. Apparently when women marry, they retain their maiden surnames, while their kids take the father's surname. However, there are exceptions to that rule, and it happens to be true within my host family. Braman and Ya have a son, Amadu, who's 32. His last name is Kone because a relative of the family never produced male offspring, so Amadu carries that relative's last name to keep it "alive". Amadu is married to Mariam, 28, who happens to be one of the dugutigi's daughters. Amadu and Mariam have four kids, Ashataa, Suleman, Braman, and Leyji who are 12, 10, 9, and 4 respectively. They all live in one compound called a "concession". Braman and Ya live in a house on one side, and Amadu's family lives on the on the other side. The whole place is about the size of a football field and is surrounded by a mud brick wall about four feet high. I live in a room attached to Amadu's house and his family provides for me, so he is essentially my host father instead of Braman. Basically I have an "official" host father and an "effective" host father.

The Water Crisis

After getting settled into my new home I had a few things to figure out. First and foremost was my water situation. PC gave each of us a water filter and they are great! They're dual candle, dual chamber bucket filters. The top chamber receives untreated water. The water then passes through a rough filter that removes particulates and then takes water to the second filter in the other chamber. The second filter is a ceramic that takes out very small particulates and bacteria. The water then sits in the second chamber until it is let out through a valve. The one teeny tiny other detail is that these filters also need chlorine to inactive any bacteria or viruses that make it through the ceramic filter. PC didn't send any chlorine or bleach with us... so after an hour or so everyone was trying to figure out what could be done.

PC sends at least one staff worker to every village to act as a language teacher and translator. They are called LCFs (Language Culture Facilitators) and they stay at a house in town, so they're available 24/7. When people realized that no one had chlorine or bleach for water treatment we went to the LCFs house to see if we could get some. Our LCFs didn't realize the severity of the problem and simply said that they would have someone bring bleach tomorrow. To we, the PCTs, this was unacceptable because it was 90 degrees F out and everyone had used all their water already.

We then asked for a Bambara phrase to have our host families boil water for us. This seems like a simple solution, but the phrase we were given was "give me some hot water". This phrase stipulated that the water need neither to be from our filters or actually boiled... so a bunch of us, including myself, got hot turbid water. Fan-Fing-Tastic! Most people ended up getting rather dehydrated by the end of our first day.

The next morning we reiterated our dilemma several times to our LCFs. The final response they gave was that we could simply buy bleach at one of the corner butigis (shops) if we needed it. This was incredibly frustrating because we could have bought bleach the night before and not had any problems. We're still trying to figure out why this solution was not presented to us the night before. Not to worry though. I now have bleach and have wonderful pool tasting water whenever I want it.

Language Class

Our group of seven has been split into two groups for language classes. I'm in the group of four. We have Bambara class for four hours every morning and then for another three hours in the afternoon. We get a two hour lunch break, which is perfect for going home, having lunch, and taking a nap. I've never been into taking naps, but after four hours of language class and very hot weather, all you want to do is lay down.

The language classes have been both a blessing and a burden. Obviously a blessing because we're learning to communicate with the world around us. A burden because things are slow going. We have so many questions about this, that, and the other thing that our LCF tends to become thrown off because we upset his rhythm of teaching. I'm learning to just keep my mouth shut if I have questions as things seem to get answered in time if I just wait long enough. I just wish some of the other people in my class would have that realization.

It's also frustrating because some people try to make Bambara fit English expressions. This is impossible! Bamabara, while not only having a completely different grammatical structure, is also a tonal language. Whereas in English we have words that sound the same but are spelled differently (bear, bare), Bambara has words that are spelled the same and are spoken the same, but have different meanings depending on the context and how you emphasize the vowels. For example, the word "ba" can mean "mother", "goat", "big", and "river". Needless to say this is confusing for English speakers.

I'm also finding learning the language to be difficult in general. Not because I don't understand what is going on or how things work, but because I don't have any time to digest what I learned. I've gotten used to finishing a class and then going back to my office or the library and reviewing the material for a while. These options are not available and I still haven't figured out a way to get some quite time. I'll figure things out soon enough.

Life in Soundougouba

Soundougouba is a village of about 1,000 people. No one knows the exact population, but given the number of concessions and a general number of people per concession, we figure 1,000 is about right. The village was started by a Diarra family... however long ago it was, and thus almost everyone in town is a Diarra. My family is one of the few non-Diarra families in the area. This also means that everyone is related to everyone because there is only one main surname and the village is small.

The village is actually divided into two parts: old and new. Most people, including we PCTs live in the new village. This area was intentionally planned out before anyone started building, so all the roads meet at nice right angles and the blocks are basically symmetrical. As a civil engineer, this is a simple comfort. The sand/gravel roads are also very wide and maintained fairly well. New village comes complete with dugutigi's house, two mosques, a bank, several butigis, a soccer field, several schools, three India-Mali pumps, several water taps, and an enclosed area used as a dance hall. The butikis, one mosque, soccer field, pumps, water taps, bank, and dugutigi's house are located close to each other in the center of town. The other mosque is located south of town and the schools are on the north side of town.

People have to pay for water access to the pumps and taps. The taps are the most expensive option as the water is piped in from the next village (Baguineda Camp), followed by the pumps, and then numerous pit wells. Water quality also decreases with each option.

The old village is located about 2 km north of new village along an irrigation canal/river. Old village is much smaller than new village, but is where the market is located. Market is every Thursday and everyone shows up. Old village also has several stores that sell agricultural supplies such as seeds, farming tools, fertilizers, and pesticides. Over 90% of Soundougouba relies on subsistence agriculture with rice, millet, corn, and various vegetables being the principle crops. There is no electricity in Soundougouba except for some of the more affluent residents who have generators.

Life outside Soundougouba

As I said above, some of the water in Soundougouba comes from the next town over, Banguineda Camp. This is a village of about 5,000 people, with many more amenities. It's located on a main road, so there is electricity along with a basic water utility. The presence of electricity means that some of the butikis have refrigerators with cold soda. On several occasions we have walked the 2 km and back just to get a cold soda as the coolest liquid available in Soundougouba is at air temperature, which has never gotten below 75 degrees F.

While Baguineda Camp is much larger than Soundougouba, we feel that it is not nearly as nice. It is much dirtier, the streets are uneven, rutted, and narrow, and the city is only mostly set up as a grid. There are 10-12 PCTs in B. Camp that we visit when going to get sodas, or who come to visit us in Soundougouba when they need to escape the throngs of children.

Whenever the B. Campers come visit we always go to the big rocks on the south side of town. The "big rocks" are basically hills made out of giant boulders that go up 4-5 stories. There is a great view of the surrounding area from the top and the locals don't go up there, so it's a nice refuge. White people in Mali are called "Tubabs" (too-baabs), so we jokingly refer to our adventures on the rocks as our "Tubab Time".

Joking Cousins

A big part of Malian culture are the joking cousins. The origin of this tradition is unknown, but it's been around officially since the 1200s. Throughout history different ethnic groups have been dominant in Mali, and this created a lot of tension between the groups. Each ethnic group is composed of particular surnames and there aren't that many surnames compared to the US. The concept of joking cousins is said to have been created as a way to dissipate the tension between these groups. The idea is that you are allowed to mock people with certain surnames and once a brief exchange has been made you are then friends with that person.

For example, since I'm a Daou, I'm joking cousins with Diarras and Coulibalis. Whenever I meet a person with the last name Diarra or Coulibali I am allowed to insult them. I can call them a donkey, a dog, a farter, or I can even say they are my slave. They of course can say the same thing right back and no offense is taken by either party. In fact, it's almost expected that you offer an insult to a joking cousin.

There is a long-standing joke between all joking cousins in Mali. Of course I'm talking about the "bean joke". Everyone in Mali eats beans, but it doesn't stop people from calling each other "bean eaters". The implication of course is that the person farts. Farting is considered very inappropriate in Mali... way more so than in the US, so calling someone a farter is definitely a worthy insult.

The concept of joking cousins is also useful in several other situations. For instance, if two people are having a dispute, a joking cousin can be brought in as a mediator and once the joking cousin has said what they have to say the situation is resolve. End of story.

Social Interaction

There are several social intricacies in Malian culture that are not present in the US. Foremost among these are the greeting and farewell procedures that must be done by everyone to everyone at every possible moment.

When greeting a person you cannot simply say "hello". You must say "good morning", then "how's your family?", "did you sleep well?", "did your family sleep well", etc. Then, if it's a younger and older person talking the older person will give the younger person several blessings such as "may Allah bless your day", "may Allah bring you peace", "may Allah remove your chronic runny stool", etc. Ok, that last one might be made up, but you get the idea. The same goes for farewells. "Good night", "sleep well", "may your family sleep well", "greet your family for me", "travel in peace", etc. There's about 80,000 combinations for all of these to go together and everyone is talking to everyone at the same time where there are more than two people involved. It's rather confusing.

The best part is that you don't simply greet the person or persons that you are going to see. The above procedures are carried out with every person you encounter on your way to your final destination. I must say "good morning", "how did you sleep", "how is your family", and "how are you" about 30 times every morning on my way to language class and I repeat this, adjusting for the time of day, every time I go anywhere. In my opinion it gets a little out of control in the morning when I go running and pass by every person in God's creation. And if that isn't enough, the person who approaches must initiate the greeting (that's me most of the time) and it is considered very rude if they don't.

Needless to say, I've been rather frustrated with this aspect of Malian culture thus far. I don't have any problem saying "Hi" to everyone I see, but having a mini-life testimonial with everyone is tiresome. Most of my frustration comes from the fact that I simply don't know the language well enough yet to say the greeting properly. The other part of my frustration comes from simply not understanding the importance of interpersonal communication here. I'm sure my un-positive opinion will change over time, but at the moment I must be honest and say that this is one aspect of the culture that I don't understand.

Illness & Medicine

I've only been semi-sick for a day or two so far. I had some Mr. D (diarrhea) and upset stomach for a while and was feeling rather sluggish. My host family caught on to this and asked if I was alright. I said I was just a little sick and that they didn't have to worry. I had taken some medicine and would be fine. Well, the next morning rolls around and I'm still not feeling super great and say this when asked how I'm feeling. Then I went to eat a banana for breakfast and when I pulled it out of the bag it was all gross and yucky ( I didn't eat the banana). That night when asked how I was feeling I said I still was not 100%, which my family interpreted as me still being DEATHLY ill. They thought the bananas made me sick and started preparing me some traditional medicine. I had to take my host dad over to the LCFs house and have the LCF explain that I would not be taking traditional medicine and that I was OK.

It seems that when any of the PCTs here are not feeling well the families become over-concerned. We have all had basic stomach issues since getting here and two of the families have taken it upon themselves to call the PC medical staff saying that their PCT is super-crazy-sick. It's good that our families are so concerned for our health, but they don't get the little things, like washing your hands after using your hand to wipe your ass and then use it to make dinner... They understand major health issues, but not the simple measures that can be taken to prevent common illness.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ɲegen

Overall my time so far has been a positive experience, but it hasn't been without its ups and downs. The ups have been things like going to a Malian wedding, playing a full game of soccer (on a gravel field), climbing the big rocks, listening to donkeys bray all the time, and some of the ridiculous conversations I've had with the locals. The downs have been the constant heat, the dust, and the lack of privacy. Being a pessimist by nature I will now elaborate on the negatives.

The heat. It's hot here. I can handle the heat. It's usually breezy which is a big help. The problem is that all the buildings are made out of mud bricks. Brick, while not a great insulator, holds heat very well. That means that when its hot all day, your house soaks up all the heat and even though the outside cools off at night, the inside of your house is still 95 degrees F. There's nothing so fun as waking up in the middle of the night, suffocating from the heat and humidity, and laying on a bed sheet that is completely drenched in your sweat. If you're lucky enough to have a house with a window on the opposite wall from the door the cross breeze does absolutely no good because the mosquito net stops all air movement before it gets to you. Also, regarding the house retaining heat issue - we all keep our water filters in our houses, so the water we drink is usually 85-95 degrees F. Nice and refreshing!

It's also very dusty here. When it does rain, the storm is preceded by strong winds that kick up dust into thick clouds that coat everything. Your pants get covered with dust from the roads and your feet are always dirty. This necessitates a lot of washing - both of clothes and humans.

The lack of privacy has by far been the biggest burden for me. I live to have a little cave time everyday. Some time to be alone, feel alone, and just clear my mind of the day and decompress. I don't get that in Soundougouba. First of all, I'm one of seven white people in the middle of Africa. I get noticed. I'm being watched wherever I go, no matter what I'm doing. It's not as bad as when I was in Bangladesh, but it still happens. Thus, we have eliminated the whole concept of feeling alone. Second, I can't go "hide" in my house because it's so hot all the time... even at night. I stay outside under a tree and try to read or write in my journal or whatever, but people always start talking to me. Thus, we have eliminated the concept of actually being alone.

The worst situation, which combines both "lack of aloneness" elements is bathroom time. First off, bathrooms in Bambara are called negens (ñegen). Usually there is one for numbers one and two and a separate one for bathing. The only difference is the one for bathing does not have a hole in the floor that goes to a cesspit. Negens typically do not have doors, but rather overlapping walls. It is necessary to make noise before entering a negen to avoid walking in on someone. Negens are usually square in shape and do not have roofs. They are open to the elements and difficult to use during a rain storm. They are typically made of mud bricks, but nicer ones will be coated with a cement vainer.

The negen at my concession is located along the main road in town... Main Street if you will. The walls of my negen only go up to my chest, so no matter what I go into the negen for... everybody knows... So if the Tubab is taking a shower... soon everyone will know what kind of shampoo he uses. Needless to say, this lack of negen privacy has created a bit of "negen fear" that I could do without. All I have to say is the negen at my actual site better have 8 foot high walls or someone is going to hear about it.


So, while I have just listed all the things that bother me the most, there have been enough good things to overcome the bad. I'm finding the experience challenging, but tolerable. It's causing me to grow in new ways and see life from a different angle.

I'll be at Tubaniso (little America to us all) from Sunday to Wednesday this week before going back to homestay for another two weeks - I believe. The time here will be spent doing some language, technical and cultural training... along with recuperating from the initial "culture shock" of life in the village. We're getting cake tonight to celebrate several birthdays. Sweet!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Day 7 - Homestay

Tomorrow morning we leave Tubaniso to begin homestay... but before I get into that, I have a bunch of stuff to say about training thus far.


We've covered a multitude of topics including: cross-cultural stereotypes, language, culture shock, gender roles, cultural values, etc. We got tutorials in bike maintenance, clothes washing, dress, greetings, and how to eat. I want to comment on each of these topics individually, but this entry would go forever, so I'll just plan on talking about them more in the future once I've been on my own for a while.

Our trainers have been fantastic. We're being trained by PC staff (all Malians) and current PCVs. There have been points when things have become very serious and discussions have gotten rather heated (especially regarding stereotypes) and other times when people can't stop laughing. Our Malian cultural instructor, Demba, actually dressed up in women's clothes for a skit today... needless to say he created quite a commotion from both Trainees and Malians alike. 

Up until today the weather has been very hot and humid. I think yesterday was the worst that it's been so far. I went running before breakfast and couldn't stop sweating. I went to the first session of the day after breakfast and people asked me if I had literally gotten out of the shower and put clothes on without drying off. I was completely wet. Hair soaked, shirt soggy, feet moist. The problem is that it's so humid here that once you get your body temperature up, it's really difficult to get it back down. I think I drank close to 5 liters of water. Beat that Sam... That's close to 20 glasses!

I also had my first water/sanitation sector meeting yesterday. We watched a video on the India-Mali pump and guinea worm, and then took a tour of all the water and sanitation facilities at Tubaniso. Interestingly enough, there is a small biogas digester here! A Volunteer put it together a few years ago, but it's not in use because no one knows how to use it. For some reason I think this might be an omen for the future as right now I'm interested in researching biogas digesters for my Master's report.

We also experienced our first real rain in Mali since arriving. It was something to behold. It went from being a nice day one minute to high winds and torrential rains the next. Most of the site was covered in several inches of water in less than 10 minutes. The rain showed up right during the middle of a session on malaria. A bunch of people, including myself, had done laundry the night before and had stuff out on lines, and right before the rain started there was a mad dash back to the sleeping area to rescue our things. We made it just in time. The rain also brought with it a nice drop in temperature. Everyone went from being uncomfortably hot to cold and started putting on extra layers. It's amazing how cold 75 can feel when you're used to 85 and high humidity.


So, homestay is the the PC term for living with a host family. This is the part of training that is supposed to be full cultural immersion with language classes 6-8 hours per day and some cultural/technical training on the side. The 66 trainees in my "stage" (or class)(pronounced French-like) have been split up into 9 different groups, each in a different village. Some groups have people from only one sector while others have people from several sectors. Each village also specializes in different local languages. The languages include: French, Bambara, Fulfulde, and a few Dogon dialects. I will be in a village called Soundougouba (pronounced Soon-doo-goo-ba) with several other water/sanitation people. We will all be living with different host families and learning how to speak Bambara. While I wish that I'd be working more with French, I'm glad to be learning Bambara instead of some of the other languages, because Bambara is spoken in other West African countries as well.

I'm excited and nervous to be going to homestay. Excited to get out of the insulated life of Tubaniso and experience the "real" Mali... and nervous for the exact same reason. We will have language instructors living at our homestay villages that can act as translators should any problems arise. It's not like PC just drop us off somewhere and say, "good luck"... That comes in a few months. 

Finally - I got a cell phone! Huzzah! And it only cost me 20,000 CFA (about $40). All the cell phones here operate on a pay as you go system and you only pay for the calls and texts you send. That means if anyone calls me... from anywhere... I don't have to pay. (the US cell carriers should be taking notes) So basically, all the Volunteers just keep enough minutes on their phone to make a few quick calls in urgent situations and just have friends and family from the US call them. And it's cheap for people in the US if you get a pre-paid international phone card, so it's a win-win in my book. In case you're wondering why I haven't mentioned what my new cell # is yet... it's because I don't have it. We should get those tomorrow. When you have 60 people order cell phones at the same time is slows down the process a bit.

There are supposed to be pictures here, but the internet isn't fast enough to upload them, so I'll have to try again somewhere else.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Day 4 - Training Commences

I arrived in Bamako last night. Moving through customs was easy, but I think collecting your baggage is the actual Malian way of proving if you are worthy to enter the country. It's more free than a free-for-all. We soon discovered that using a "fend for yourself" approach would solve nothing, so we decided on a "bucket brigade" strategy for collecting bags. Before we left everyone put yellow yarn on their bags so we could identify them at the airport. At the baggage claim we simply formed a line, the first person picking out all the yellow yarn bags and then handing them down the line where we piled everythnig in a corner of the airport. Then we regrouped, found our own bags, and then made our way through the baggage screener to leave the airport.

We started training today at Tubaniso (the training center) located about 40 minutes outside of Bamako. It's a secluded facility that is set up like a camp. Dining hall, meeting centers, outhouses, showers, sleeping huts, and an athletic field. I'll try to upload some pictures in the next day or so.

Our training today included the following:

  • meeting the PC country staff and Tubaniso staff
  • filling out tons of paperwork
  • doing a language competancy interview
  • medical safety meeting
  • cultural awareness training (fyi: burping ok, farting not ok)
  • getting shots (Td, Hep A, Meningitis) (more shots in future)
  • starting malaria meds
  • meeting current PCVs

PC has gone to great lenths to make sure everyone is safe and comfortable here. This place would be just like any other "camp" in the US if some of the main buildings were air conditioned. The food is great. There are showers. Squat toilets... yes - but we get tp. The biggest nuisance are the flies, but they don't put up much of a fight.

It is fairly humid at the moment, but the temperature was probably only in the low 80's today. You don't sweat to the point of being wet, but simply damp from time to time.

I'm enjoying my time so far and learning a lot of new things... from the training staff, current PCVs, and fellow trainees. Everything here has been set up to make the first few days in a new country as easy as possible. The real test will begin in a few days when we are taken out to live with host families for much of the remainder of the training period (about 2 months). I'm trying to take in as much as possible in order to make a good first impression with my hosts.

Lastly, if you wish to send me mail, use the following address. Also, if you are sending any kind of item other than a letter, you need to include a customs slip which can be found at any post office.

Matt Seib, PCV

Corps de la Paix

B.P. 85



Thursday, July 9, 2009

Day 2 - Staging

I'm in Philadelphia right now for the second day of staging. I flew in yesterday morning and went straight from the airport to the hotel for registration and then some mixers and seminars. No time for lunch... but I survivied.

There are 67 new Volunteers here waiting to jump on a plane this afternoon. People from all over the country. Quite a few are from New Jersey, which everyone seems to feel is rather odd seing as how it's not a very big state... geographically. I've been getting to know quite a few of them already, but there's just so many new faces that instead of greeting people with some normal salutation, the preferred nomenclature is "Who are you, again?"

Two things that seem to set me apart from most people are:
  1. I didn't bring any blue jeans.
  2. I only have one check on bag.
Almost everyone feels the first is absolutely a necessity, and the second seems to go as some natural law of the universe. Whatever. I'm sure whatever I didn't bring I can just mooch from someone else.

So far today has been fairly slow. We went to a federal building a few blocks away and got our yellow fever shots. The rest of the shots and medications come once we arrive in Mali. On the way we passed Ben Franklin's grave. Now everyone is kind of in limbo for a while as we had to check out of the hotel at 11 am, but aren't leaving until 1 pm.

I've been told we have an 8 hour layover in Paris. We've been strictly instructed NOT to leave the airport during that time, but they can't stop us... technically. There seems to be a small cohort of people who think they are going to venture forth and explore, but I'm planning on just staying in the terminal. Besides... can you really get a feel for Paris in a few hours? I think not.

Thanks again to everyone who has sent me well-wishes. Keep in touch. I'm still out here in "the tubes" somewhere.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Day (negative) 1.2

Wednesday will be my first day in Peace Corps. It feels weird to say that. And while it will be my first day in PC, it will not be my first day as a Volunteer. Here’s what the next few months have in store...

Wednesday morning I get on a plane at about 7:30 am in Milwaukee and go to Philadelphia for staging. Staging is were all the people going to Mali come to prepare to leave the country. Wednesday afternoon and Thursday morning will be used to give everyone shots and get up to date with paperwork. Thursday evening we go to the airport in Philly and set off for Mali. Since there are no direct flights to Mali, we have to fly through Paris. We’ll have a layover in Paris for several hours and then fly to Bamako, the capital of Mali. All said, it will take us over 24 hours to fly from Philly to Bamako.

Once in Bamako, we go straight to a training facility a few miles outside the capital. At first we will spend most of our time at the training facility. The training will consist mostly of language training along with cultural and technical training. After about a week all the new Trainees will be divided up and sent out to satellite locations for community-based training. The idea is full immersion so that we are forced to speak the language. We’ll live with host families and spend a lot of time with locals and learn how to live in a strange new place.

After the first two months of training, all the new Trainees have to take some tests that evaluate our newly acquired language, cultural, and technical skills. Assuming I pass, at that point I will be sworn in as a Peace Corps Volunteer and will head out to my assignment post for the next 24 months. I don’t know where I’ll be posted yet. I’ll figure that out sometime during the training process.

A lot has happened so far this summer, but I’d be lying if I said I felt prepared for PC. Besides, that’s the whole purpose of staging and training anyway. What I can say is that I’ve enjoyed my time home. I’ve had the chance to see friends and family and enjoy the strange summer weather so far in Milwaukee.

I was thinking about posting some contact information, but I think I’ll wait to do that at a later date. I’ll still be checking email and the facebook. Those will be the best ways to contact me. I’ll have a physical address in Mali, so I will be able to receive mail or packages, but I’ll put that up when I’m ready to start getting mail. Also, apparently many Volunteers are now getting their own cell phones in Mali, so I may have a phone at some point.... but let’s not get carried away just yet.

And speaking of cell phones... I will no longer be using the cell phone number that I've had through all of college. The account will be closed and I'll get a new cell phone when I come back at the end of 2011. Please make a note of it and keep an eye out for one of those "I got a new phone number" facebook events down the road...

I said before that I would list all the things that I’m bringing with me to PC. This is most of what I’ll have. Keep in mind that while the list may seem like a lot of stuff, it all fits into an 85 liter backpack (size of a large suitcase) and an carry-on... and most things are very small items.

Packing List:
  • 85 liter backpack
  • 40 liter backpack (carry-on)
  • 3 liter Camelbak
  • Ipod
  • TC2 Ipod charger
  • digital camera & extra battery
  • rechargeable AA batteries & charger
  • power outlet converter
  • short wave radio
  • journals
  • reading material
  • toilet paper
  • hygiene products
  • 2 pair convertible pants (zip off into shorts)
  • 2 pair khaki pants
  • 2 pair running shorts
  • rain jacket
  • sweatshirt
  • 2 dry-fit long-sleeve shirts
  • cotton long-sleeve shirt
  • cotton polo
  • 3 cotton t-shirts
  • 2 weeks undies
  • 3 pair socks
  • ASICS running shoes
  • Chaco sandals
  • soccer ball & pump
  • 2 decks playing cards
  • hand scrubber
  • small frying pan
  • silicon spatula
  • mosquito net
  • travel pillow
  • inflatable sleeping mat
  • broad rimmed had
  • head lamp
  • multi-tool
  • pocket knife
  • ear plugs
  • xl travel towel
  • sunglasses
  • world maps