Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summing up the first stint at homestay

Well, the past two weeks have been both educational and challenging, with lots of language learning (about 9 hours/day combining Bambara classes and practicing with my host family) and lots of getting sick, woo hoo :).

My day starts each morning with one of my “family” members tapping on the door to my room at 6:30AM to wake me. They’re awake way before that, but it takes me so long to fall asleep at night that I usually will sleep until I get the wake-up call.

Sleeping has definitely been one of the more challenging things of the past two weeks. I’ve been finding it extremely difficult to fall asleep being that my room is a hot box to the point that sweat is pouring out from my skin, even though I’m laying perfectly still. I have a small, one square foot, window and I leave my door open at night with the screen door shut, but I can’t feel any of the breeze that passes through the window unless I stand up right in front of it (and sometimes there’s no breeze at all…and I’m using the term “breeze” very loosely, it’s not the cool refreshing kind you’re thinking of :). Ok, I’m going off on a bit of a tangent here, but I’ll just say that my initial plan was to fan myself to sleep with this little weaved, bamboo-like, fan I was given. It feels good, but I have to move my arm to fan myself, so I sweat from all the movement (yes, I can sense all of your jealousy now).

So, after not sleeping very much for several nights, I decide to set my mosquito net up outside and lay my mat down on the dirt where I can feel that cross breeze in all its greatness. My “brothers” stayed up late listening to a radio, playing with their cell phone ring tones, talking, and playing checkers (well, their version involves many moves that I never thought could be done on a checker board). As a result, it still took me a long time to fall asleep…but it was much cooler outside. Then, a nice big fat rainstorm rolled in and hit hard, waking me up to frantically take down my mosquito net, grab my bedding, and sprint back into the hotbox. Back to square one, woo hoo :).

Ok, enough on the sleeping subject, but I needed to preface everything with that because doing everything during the day on minimal amounts of sleep just adds to the excitement :).

Back to the beginning…my day starts each morning with the tap on my door. I then put my bathing bucket outside my door, someone takes it, fills it up and puts it in the bathroom/shower area (an 8’ x 8’ concrete slab with block walls all around and no roof). Once the bucket is planted, I go take a bucket bath. By the time I’m back in my room and just about fully dressed, there’s another knock at my door with my mom holding a bowl of boiling water and a piece of bread. I have a little tin of instant coffee that I mix the boiling water with…and voila, coffee and bread for breakfast.

I leave my room, greet my host dad, say good morning to everyone else in my family (about 15 people), and then say good bye and head to school. I’m the furthest volunteer out on the main street, so I have the longest walk to school…about 10-15 minutes. What often lengthens my trip is the fact that in Malian culture, you have to greet EVERYONE that you pass in your travels. And since everyone sits outside all the time, the numbers add up quickly. Oh, and when I say “greet”, it’s not just a ‘good morning’ but: “Good morning” – “Good morning” – “Was the night peaceful?” – “Yes, the night was peaceful” – “How is your family” – “My family is fine” – “How are you?” – “I’m fine” – “How is your mother, how is your father?” – “They’re both fine” – “See you” – “See you”. It’s funny because this is also the same greeting I have with my host dad when I greet him in the morning, and it doesn’t make sense for him to ask about my family and my Mom and Dad when I just woke up and he knows I haven’t spoken to them since I said good night to him, ha ha. But, that’s the way it goes :).

So, school consists of a concrete structure for a classroom with some oldschool desks, a chalkboard, and windows which are essential because there’s no electricity and the only lighting is the natural lighting coming through the windows. There’s 3 kids in my class (including myself) and 4 kids in the other class. The language training is all about constant conversation, either student to teacher or student to student, applying whatever was just taught to us. It’s very tiring, but very effective…and I can feel my language improving.

Now, just when I thought I was getting acclimated to this new routine, I started feeling sick. I couldn’t eat anything for breakfast and then I laid on the floor of the classroom for the entire morning session (4 hours) trying to participate but was just too nauseous to be involved. After the morning session my teacher had me call the Peace Corps doctor, who told me to get some bananas and oranges, and to just take it easy for the rest of the day. I had absolutely no energy to even walk back home, so my teacher hailed me a donkey and a cart that were rolling by with two Malian women who were coming back from the market. I rode back and then slept at my house for the remainder of the day, waking up whenever someone would come home and ask me how I was feeling and what was the matter (well, I’m assuming this is what they were asking…remember I can hardly communicate with these people!).

For the next couple of days, all I did was lay down and sleep all day, then sleep all night. I didn’t think it was possible to sleep all day and all night, but my body was definitely trying to conquer something. The only thing I ate over this period was a couple of bananas and an orange here and there, and later on my teacher got me some little, plain, biscuit-like crackers that kind of taste like animal crackers. Oh, I guess I shouldn’t say that I’d lay down all day and night, because I also landed up having diarrhea, which had me sprinting to the bathroom about 10 times per day, but I’d get nauseous from standing up, so I’d have to make it quick and then lay back down immediately, fun, fun :). I'm not leaving out the little details...have you noticed?

After being rather miserable for a few days (the doctor and I both thought I had giardia from the symptoms), I finally woke up one morning and was starting to feel better. With that, one of the other volunteer’s dad walks to my room with a cell phone and hands it to me. On the other end is the Peace Corps doctor telling me that she heard I was feeling horrible, that I had tremors, and that she had a transport on its way to pick me up. I was very confused, and told her that that wasn’t true and that I was actually starting to feel better, not 100%, but definitely feeling better. I told her to cancel the transport and that I would see her on Sunday when all the volunteers head back to Tubaniso.

With that, I hung up the phone and my teacher pulls up to my room on his moto (moped). I told him about the phone call and that I cancelled the transport, and he seemed to be frustrated. I thought he’d be happy I was feeling better, but what I found out was that one of the other volunteers' dad went to him early in the morning to tell him how horrible I was feeling and that I was getting worse. He immediately called the doctor, who then called the transport to come and rescue me, ha ha. I don’t know where that guy got the idea that I was getting worse, but it definitely caused a bit of a ruckus. So, right after my teacher finds out that I’m ok, he rides away and very shortly after I hear a truck running outside…the transport. I guess he never got the message because he’s trying to get me to go with him, and I’m trying to explain to him that I’ll be ok, but we can’t communicate with each other. Somehow I get across the fact that I’ll go with him to the school so that my teacher can explain everything to him, so I hop in the truck and...sweet deal, Air-conditioning! Anyway, I have my teacher explain everything to the driver who understands and then leaves.

I'm going to jump ahead really quick because I need to go get some sleep. Getting back to Tubaniso (camp Peace Corps), my results came in from a stool sample I had sent in two days prior and I don't have giardia afterall, it's ameobas! Now, I think ameobas are the worst that you can get (stomach-wise), but there is medication you can take to flush out your system, so I was just happy to know what it was that I had, and that it could be treated and be done with.

So, as I type right now, I am two doses into my medication, and feeling significantly better, so no need to worry :). I'm leaving to go back to my homestay tomorrow morning and will be there for 12 days again, so I won't have internet until then.

Really quickly, I just want to mention that there are some awesome rock formations at my homestay where I would often go to climb with other volunteers just to get away, climb, and relax in some shade. It's like our safe-haven where we don't need to talk to people, so it's really great. I wanted to mention this part because looking back, most of what I wrote about wasn't necessarily good stuff. So, the rocks are good!

Thanks for reading and I'll update in 2 weeks!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - First day at homestay

So, today I left the Peace Corps Training center (I call it Camp Peace Corps) in Tubaniso to head to my homestay village in Soundougouba, Mali. Myself and 6 other Peace Corps Trainee’s (PCT’s) all came to the village of Soundougouba together to mainly engage in some intensive language training (total immersion…dropping us in a village with nearly no Bambara words to communicate with, ha ha). When we first arrived, the village people had all congregated at the chief’s home and were singing, dancing, and playing drums and gourds to welcome us. We had to dance around the circle with them, and then we eventually were sat down across from the chief and the other elders of the community. We were given a very nice welcome speech by the chief and a few of the other elders (in Bambara…our Malian PC counterpart, Christian, did the translating), and John (PCT) presented the chief with kola nuts as a kind gesture/thank you. Soon after, each of the PCT’s names were announced to present us to our new host families. We had to do a quick dance around the counterclockwise moving train of Malians, and then our families announced the Malian names to be given to each of us. My new family name is Traore, and my new first name is Zan, meaning the "second son".

After that whole rigmarole, we walked from the chief’s place to each of our own homestays. They wouldn’t let me carry my own internal frame backpack, but my host mother (one of my host mother’s…my host father has 3 wives J) quickly realized that it was too heavy for her back…so she put it on her head, I wasn’t surprised, ha ha. I was shown to my room, was helped putting up my mosquito net, and was then served lunch (rice with some sauce on top). Wife #3 (yes, they each have their own status) poured water over my hands as I cleaned them with soap before lunch. This is very important because you’re not only eating with your hands, but you're sharing a community bowl (with the family), and so you want them to wash their hands too before you all start digging in J.

I sat and went through some vocabulary with my host dad (yes, it was very difficult being that neither of us could speak a word to each other). One thing that was extremely helpful is this visual dictionary I brought that has thousands of pictures and has the French and English translation right next to each picture. So, being that I can just flip to a picture when I’m trying to ask what a word is, I started writing the Bambara translation right into the book. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great learning tool for me!

After a few hours being on our own at our homestays, we all met back up at 2:30PM at the chief’s house to have a quick debriefing session, went back to our families for a bit, met back up at 6PM for a quick language review, then back to our families at 7PM for a bucket bath and dinner.

This is definitely going to be extremely challenging, but I’m excited for what lies ahead, and picking up some language skills!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Heading to my host family

So, first I just want to thank everyone for the comments and e-mails, it's really nice to get onto the computer and have notes from people, so Thank You.

Ok, now for the good stuff...I'm heading out tomorrow morning to move in with my host family (I just found out the village a couple hours ago), and I'm really excited about the group I'm going to be with. There are a few guys that I'll be with for language training that are super light-hearted, and I think the comic relief will be much needed!

I may not have internet for 11 days while I'm with I'm at "homestay", but I'll be here back at the training center afterward for 3 days, so I'll try and give an update them. This will be total immersion, going to live with a family that only speaks Bambara (the language I am learning), and I don't speak Bambara, so it should be quite challenging! You're prayers are welcome and appreciated!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Safe in Mali

Ok, I only have a second, but I just wanted to quickly let everyone know that I arrived safely in Mali, Africa on Friday, July 10th, 2009. Training keeps us and will continue to keep us very busy, but I will post when I can. For those that don't know, I joined the Peace Corps, and will be living/working in Mali, West Africa for the next 27 months working on a water sanitation project. The initial 9 weeks is all training, but I do have some internet access during this time, so check back soon.

Thanks for checking in on me :).

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Haiti Complete

Ok, so this post is super late (8 months), but before I start writing about my new venture (Peace Corps) I want to wrap up this Haiti blog. Sorry everyone, but most of the points are bulleted because that's what I did back when I wrote everything, and I'm not going to be able to go back right now and write out each day's story. I'm also not really explaining things...so this post is more just being used to complete the Haiti trip journal for myself, my apologies. But, if you stay tuned in, I should have some new and exciting material to share about me now being in Mali.

Monday, October 27, 2008:

Matt and I arrived in Milot at 10AM. Pigged out on goldfish, and went to find Meegoda, his daughter Eleanor, Bryce, and Melissa up at the hospital’s computer lab. Immediately went and showed them several water sources around Milot, and was impressed with my memory in that I located every one I was looking for. I haven’t seen or thought about these locations since last year. Those guys did water testing at each spot, and then we headed back to incubate the samples in the hospital’s lab and then headed over for lunch. Matt & I were very hungry from our journey, and were very pleased with the spread of food that was put before us. It’s always like that when staying at the Crudem compound. At lunch, we met Seth, a young volunteer at Crudem, and he toured us around the compound so that we could understand the way the area operates, and scope out a production area for ourselves. Afterward, Matt & I showed the EWB group what we brought with us (2 molds, lids, tubes, gravel, etc.), and they showed us what tools and miscellaneous items they brought with them (mostly the list of items I told them to bring, minus the 1½” wrench and a few other items). They didn’t bring a 1½” wrench, of which Chris said “they better bring a 1½” wrench because you can’t find them anywhere in Haiti”, ha ha, oh well.

Afterward, I showed the EWB group one more water source for them to test, and then talked to a guy that I met last year, Michael (pronounced “Michelle”). I also met a bunch of other guys that I met last year, and I was amazed to see how much that played a role in the progress we made this week. People were happy to see that I came back, and were willing to help. I asked Michael if we could find a 1½” wrench somewhere, and he said he’d look for me. What do you know, he came back within 30 minutes and had an adjustable wrench that could open to a full 1½” wrench, I was impressed.

Soon after, we had a meeting with Matt & I, Dr. Ladocsi, and the EWB group and we talked about what the plans are for our project.

Dinner was delicious, and sleep was tough the first night as we killed the power a bit early and didn’t have our fans for the evening.

Tuesday, October 28th, 2008:

  • Breakfast
  • Gameplan for meeting w/ sister Martha
  • Met w/ sister Martha, head of hospital (Dr. Charletmeu), & director of public health
  • They suggested meeting with the principal of prof. school, Lubin Rosny
  • Set up appt. w/ Rosny, Liason between hospital & school, & Sis. Martha @ 11am
  • They all liked the BSF and the project, we received their blessing
  • We asked for the production area and our wish was granted and the key was handed over
  • Agreed with Rosny that the students could begin learning at 8:00AM the following morning
  • Got Bryce & Melissa started on cleaning up the area (w/ help from some Haitians) while Matt & I went and picked up misc. tools (buckets, cement, shovels, sand), negotiating all the way through
  • Setup shop
  • Dinner
  • “Accomplishments of today, goals of tomorrow” meeting

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008:

  • Started working at 6AM
  • Got everything set up & prepared molds for students coming at 8AM
  • Breakfast
  • Students arrived (as well as other bystanders), and Matt & I demonstrated how to make a BSF. The class was successful
  • Melissa left for Cap Haitien to see an orphanage and pick up some supplies we couldn’t get the day before
  • We unloaded the load of sand from the truck using 5 gallon buckets
  • After clean up, we went and used the computers for a few minutes before lunch because there wasn’t enough time to go get gravel or search for all the water committee members
  • After lunch, everyone went to Dr. Higgin’s lecture about heart murmurs
  • Matt, Bryce, & Marie went to the gravel pit to pick up stone, and they tried charging twice the amount that they quoted us the day before
  • While they were at the pit, I headed out into the town with a local Haitian “Thony” to find the water committee members from last year, and let them know about Thursday’s meeting
  • Father TiJwa was in Canada, Maurice Ettienne was in the US, I met with Jose Valbrun, Elios Charlott, & Pierre Wilfrid
  • I got back to Crudem at the same time as Matt and the others, and we regrouped a bit. They told me of their gravel troubles, but they still picked up more sand and some gravel.
  • Melissa & Eleanor got back from Cap with a wheel barrow, more buckets, fine mesh for the sand sieve, tarp, copy of lock key, etc.
  • Dinner
  • “Accomplishments of today, goals of tomorrow” meeting
  • Made a list of steps for constructing a BSF for the students and I started drawing pictures
  • I couldn’t draw and stay awake any longer, so I sat on the couch and watched the end of the movie everyone was watching “The Notebook”

Thursday, October 30th, 2008:

  • Started working at 6AM
  • Bryce & Melissa started putting together the wheel barrow
  • Matt & I prepared for the class
  • Breakfast
  • Class arrived (and Rosny & one of the teachers) and Matt & I demonstrated how to demold, and then had the students work with us to make the next two filters
  • We had one of the students write down the procedures step-by-step, and to our surprise he later rewrote them so they were perfect
  • Nika, the mayor, and the two SOIL girls showed up, along with 3 people from an orphanage
  • We explained the technology to them and chatted a bit
  • Had lunch with everyone, including Nika, Sasha, and Leia
  • After lunch we unloaded the truck of the sand and gravel with buckets (wheel barrow didn’t have air in the tire yet)
  • Matt, myself, and Michel headed out for a different sand and gravel pit much further away, heading on the paved road toward the DR. Unfortunately, they only had lots and lots of sand
  • Then we headed for the original sand and gravel pit to place an order of small gravel
  • We did some negotiating (of course) and I signed a contract w/ Mr. Gravel, the head honcho for a full truckload of gravel for $2000 HTG
  • SOIL guys showed up with some paint that Sasha ordered for us
  • Planned for the Water Committee meeting with Dr. Ladocsi
  • Dinner
  • Had everyone show up at Crudem for the meeting, traipsed everyone through the mud back to our filter yard to show the BSF
  • Planned on having everyone go to Father’s TiJwa’s house (weren’t allowed to stay at Crudem), but we landed up going to the mayor’s office for the meeting (probably about 20 attendees)
  • The meeting was a success, people were excited and supportive of the BSF project
  • I later found out that I didn’t have a heart murmur after all, woo hoo (thanks Dr. Higgins)

Friday, October 31st, 2008 – Halloween!:

  • Started working at 6:30AM
  • Got everything set up in work yard
  • Breakfast
  • Had students do the demolding and pouring of new filters all by themselves. They did a great job.
  • While I was finishing up with the students, the truck broke down while Matt and Bryce were trying to go get more bags of cement; they did eventually get it going
  • I took some pictures with the very excited students. They were proud of the work that they did all by themselves.
  • I also took a video explaining the work area and how it’s laid out
  • We got the completed sieves from the carpenter shop, with wheel barrow attachment and all J
  • Matt & I left to pick up the stone we contracted for the day before
  • Of course, it wasn’t near as easy as it could have been. They filled the truck up ¾ of the way and demanded the full $2000 HTG payment. My line was “Ou kohne, plen machin” and kept pointing at the contract (this meant, “You know it. Full truckload”).
  • We eventually got our full load, we just had to play their game
  • Lunch
  • Got Marie to translate to install the filter at the professional school (with all the students watching) while Bryce, Melissa, and others unloaded the gravel from the truck.
  • We were told that the group picture was happening at the hospital, so we headed up there to find no one.
  • We went into the lab and helped Sister Marie out with a few things, and she showed us some bacteria under the microscopes
  • We took the group photo outside, and then Sister Marie gave us all a tour of her lab and showed us some more things under the microscopes
  • We tried calling Nika to install her filter, but were unsuccessful
  • We took Joanna and Anna out to paint the one filter, Matt and I watched…and they had a bit of a paint fight (the color red was quite rich (bright) and pretty awesome)
  • Dinner and cake (celebrated Matt’s birthday)
  • We thought we were going to have a nice relaxing night, but Father Tijwa showed up with all of the people that were too sick to come to the meeting the night before…oh and the mayor showed up too
  • What do you know, I land up traipsing everyone back out to the filter area to do my schpeal one last flippin’ time J (I was so tired)
  • Played Harry Potter Uno, I got the Howler card, then played Egytian Ratscrew…a silly game requiring focus, something I lost days ago…with my lack of sleep J
  • Hung out and chatted for a bit, and went to bed

Saturday, November 1st, 2008:

  • Matt & I slept in until 6:30AM
  • Everyone was packing up to leave
  • They had a quick breakfast while I collected contact info, and they headed off
  • Matt & I then had a relaxing breakfast with our favorite Sister Marie
  • Afterward, we did a bunch of miscellaneous things we needed to get done before departing
  • Cleaned up work area
  • Installed Nika’s filter (brought “John” as our translator)
  • Painted filter in school (teacher wasn’t too happy)
  • Installed filter at Eveline’s house down the road (SOIL)
  • Purchased wrench
  • Chowed down on junk food (vanilla crème cookies and soda…and a banana)
  • Left for Father Tijwa’s house with John, went over last bit of project details and bought some of his cards made by his workers
  • Drove up to the parking lot for the Citadel (carried lots of Haitians along the way)
  • Hiked up to the Citadel, very cloudy
  • Started raining on our way back down, road was very slippery (skidded a few times), and we were carrying many a Haitian
  • Got back to Crudem, wrote a note to Jess having her tell the students some things and also gave her the spare key we got made up in Cap
  • Even though we planned to head to Cap, it was already dark, and a torrential downpour started, so we were starting to think otherwise
  • Upon our call to Sasha, we were encouraged to head to Cap anyway, and we did
  • Sasha and Leia took us out to a restaurant called La Kay, in which Matt & I had some delicious cheeseburgers
  • Headed back to the SOIL apartment, chatted for a bit…but was overtired and couldn’t speak another word
  • We set up our mosquito nets, and passed out

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008:

  • Matt & I got up early, packed up the truck, and waited on the roof until the girls got up
  • Had coffee and breakfast with them (Thony made eggs), but my stomach was giving me troubles, so I ate a banana, attempted to chat for a bit, but then went and took a couple Tums and laid down for a bit
  • We left at 10AM, got gas, and departed for our journey home (CWH, Pierre Payen) at 10:20AM.
  • It was a rather long day with the trip being about 7 hours long, with getting a flat tire in there
  • Matt let me drive after getting the flat tire fixed, and I drove all the way home to Pierre Payen
  • We unpacked, showered, and had dinner
  • Matt & I came back to the room, watched an episode of “The Office” (“Diversity Day”…from season one), and tried to put on an episode of “Planet Earth”, but didn’t make it more than 10 minutes. We couldn’t keep our eyes open. In bed around nine.

Monday, November 3rd, 2008:

  • Matt & I slept in a bit, and it was so nice to just lay in bed and relax a bit after such an intense week
  • Homemade bagels with peanut butter & jelly for breakfast (I made a fried egg too), then we started on what Chris wanted us to do for the day…figuring out angles for braces on the solar array
  • Figured all the angles out, made egg salad for lunch, and sat out on the back patio for a while. It was a gorgeous day, and there was an awesome breeze blowing. We breathed it in and enjoyed it for quite a while.
  • Brought the computers out and started transferring photos/responding to e-mails
  • Chris came back from his trip to Port picking up the shipping container contents (ordered nine months ago), and we helped unload the truck, which included very carefully unloading 64 solar panels one by one.
  • Ate dinner, played with Olivia for a bit, and sat down with Matt to type this bulleted list.
  • I’m going to take a shower now, then I’ll go to bed because I’m going to pack in the morning (we have to leave for Port at 6:30AM…but I’m too tired to pack right now)

Haiti Complete :)