The last few days have been the end of an era in PC Mali. Two third-year Volunteers (Kyle and Mary) are finishing up their last days of service this week, so to celebrate their successes and departure we've had a few things scheduled the last few days. The main event was the opening of the school at Mary's site that they both have been working on for the past few years. They invited all the other Volunteers in the Segou area to come and party at Mary's site for an afternoon with the rest of her village. But before I jump right into that, let me go back a bit and give some background details.
Kyle and Mary both came to Mali over three years ago. Kyle actually got here several months before Mary, but had to go back to the US for a while after breaking his leg soon after arriving... yet he came back. They ended up being placed about 20 km apart and got to know eachother fairly well during the first year of their service while doing projects at their own sites. Then somehow they got this crazy idea to build a school at Mary's site, and an entirely new kind of PC experience began for them both. They initially planned on having the school designed and built by the end of their two year service commitment, but after countless delays, miscommunications, unkept promises, lack of local government support, and challenges in acquiring funds they have had to stay in Mali for over three years to see the successful completion of the school.
To celebrate, Kyle and Mary and about a dozen other Volunteers jumped in a minibus and set out on a Sunday morning for Tongo, Mary's village, for an afternoon celebration with her village to officially open the new school... despite the fact that it's still being painted and the mayor's office hasn't purchased desks yet. Mary wasn't expecting a large turnout... Maybe her counterpart, some village elders, and the mayor of the local government district.
As our minibus rumbled down the red gravel road into Tongo we were met with an amazing surprise. Hundreds of children and every man and woman of Tongo were lining the road up to the school along with the mayor, a rep from the governors office, dozens of people from other villages, education officials from Segou, and anyone else who had gotten word of the celebration that day. As Kyle and Mary got out of the minibus they were met with the hundreds of children chanting "Bashi-ba, Mali, Bashi-ba, Mali", and a 12-shotgun salute from the local bush hunters. (Bashi-ba being Mary's Malian name.) There was singing and dancing and speeches and picture-taking and lunch. The chief even donated a whole cow to be slaughtered which is a pretty big deal. It was a truly wonderful way for a Volunteer to close out their service and say goodbye to their community.
And to celebrate Kyle and Mary's last days in Segou we had a pig roast (one of Kyle's favorite things to do). It was truly a team effort that took much of the day. Various people were sent throughout the city to buy a pig, lots of charcoal, rebar and chicken wire for a grill, ingredients for bbq sauce, sodas and other drinks, and food for other dishes including baked mac & cheese, deviled eggs, tortilla chips & salsa, and Funfetti cake. As these supplies slowly trickled in other people were put in charge of building a fire pit and grill rack, roasting the pig, making the food, washing dishes, watching movies, eating the food, and fixing the sink in the kitchen that got clogged.
We had wanted to roast the pig with an apple in it's mouth, but it apparently died with a last wish to have a mouth that refused to open. After several hours of contemplation over a bed of hot coals the pig was ready for the dissection table. After cooling down a bit, half a dozen Volunteers gathered around the kitchen table that had been covered with a black plastic sheet and ceremoniously and unmercilessly ripped the pig limb from limb in an effort to extract every piece of delicious, juicy meat from the corpse. All the heat from the fire had loosened up muscles in the head, so after it was removed from the spinal column... and after the tongue had been pushed to the side, we finally got the apple in the mouth! Now, several hours later, after everyone has consumed more food than is healthy in a day, it is dark as we all sit and try to digest the day's plunder and the kitchen table has been left outside as a greasy mess piled with bones, pig fat, and a head with an apple stuffed in it's mouth like some kind of ripened ovary gag. I'm sure when the night guard shows up to keep us all safe he's going to wonder if he shouldn't have come sooner...
Kyle and Mary are the last people to be leaving Segou this year. We've already seen the departure of several others including Megan, Monica, Markham, and Therese. They will all be terribly missed. A new chapter in my PC experience has now begun as I have become an "upperclassmen" of sorts. It feels funny. But regardless of titles, I still have to get up in the morning and clean up the fire pit and figure out what to do with the pig head...
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