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!


Angela said...

OMG! I like the heat, but really! The girls and I have been following the weather in Mali on the internet and they will be excited to read your post today. Glad you're feeling better and stay away from the ameobas, bet you miss the Wawa now :)

Anonymous said...

Good Lord Owen I'm very happy to hear that you're feeling better. I can't imagine being sick like that and in a foreign country no less where you can't communicate with too many people. Take care of yourself. Can't wait to read more on your adventures.


Anonymous said...


I'm glad to hear you are feeling better! Grace forward me the blog that is really great what you are doing! I'll be thinking about you! Try to get some sleep and stay cool and feel better.

Tracey (former SCC employee :-)

Alissa said...


Reese said...


I am so happy that you are feeling better! We miss you so much, but I am glad to hear that things are pretty good for you over there. Can't wait to read more stories.

Stay safe (and healthy!)!

xoxo, Reese

Fran said...

Hi Owen, Hollie shared your Blog with me. Cori, my daughter has been in SWAB summer at the Coast Guard Academy (basically boot camp) and I have been worried sick about her. Hollie said to me, you shouldn't worry about her, "Worry about Owen!". She then proceed to tell me about your adventure. Yes, it is quite an adventure! At least Cori is getting yelled at in English. Stay strong.
Fran Sanchez (Hollie's Aunt)