Monday, August 24, 2009

My Site...and more

Sorry it's been almost a month since I last posted, but things are crazy hectic over here...and access to internet has been rather limited.

Training is going well, and believe it or will be over in 2 weeks and 2 days!! "Swear in" is on September 10th, which means I will finally become an official Peace Corps Volunteer (this whole time I've only been a PCT - Peace Corps Trainee). I'll have my big tests just before that to see if I'm well prepared to be dumped off to my site all by myself :).

Ok, to step back a little, I got my Peace Corps bicycle last time I was at homestay, which was a VERY exciting moment in time! I finally felt like I could have some freedom and get some exercise all at the same time. Myself and some of the other guys hopped on the bikes right away and went for a ride for about four was great! We rode to a neighboring town where we could buy cold sodas and cookies, and then visited some other PCT's in that same town.

The following day, myself and those same guys all went riding to the Niger river to visit my host brother at work, where they go out in canoes and excavate sand from the bottom of the river. Two of us went out in the canoes with him, and tried our hands at it :). I have some video footage of me in action, but it doesn't look like I'm going to be able to share that with you right now because I can hardly get photos loaded up! To paint a picture for you, these canoes are handcarved out of wood, and are propelled by looong poles that are thrown to the river bed, and then used to push off the ground. Now, it sounds easy, but managing a 20 ft. stick while balancing barefoot on the tip of the canoe, it takes some getting used to :). I did it for a while and would rotate off with my host brother. I almost fell in once...but caught myself, ha ha.

So, to excavate the sand, there is a guy swimming in the river who dives down to the bottom with a bucket, sets the bucket in the sand, then the guys in the boat stand on the edge of the canoe barefoot and pull the bucket full of sand and water up from the river bed. Standing on the edge and hauling the bucket up is what I have a video clip of myself doing, so hopefully I'll be able to share it with you at some point :).

Ok, I need to jump around a bit because I don't have much time left here...and I'm leaving tomorrow morning to go back to homestay for 10 days.

All of us finally got our site assignments (where we're going to be for the next 2 years), and we also went on site visits to go see our houses, set up bank accounts, post boxes, and meet some people in the community. My region in Mali is known as Koulikoro, and my town is called Soucourani, which is about 45km from my banking town, Dioila. If you wanted to see where I'll be, you can search "Dioila, Mali" on google maps and get an's really cool! As you'll see in the pictures, I had an awesome welcome ceremony in my community, with dancing, singing, drumming, and other percussive instruments that I didn't know existed...but I'm looking forward to getting my hands on them :).

My house is mud/concrete with a tin roof, and has a straw hut out front for shade. No, there's no running water, toilet, electricity, cell phone service, or any of that I think I just eliminated a list of people who MAY have come to visit me :). The house is two rooms...concrete boxes really (each a bit bigger than 10x10), with one window in each, and a tin roof. The area I'm in is beautiful, with lots of vegetation and some awesome huge trees! I'm so happy to be in a country where 2/3 of the land is the Sahara Desert, yet I'm in an area with plant life, woo hoo! (just get me a beach and I'll be all set)

My village only has 425 people...which is still the smallest village I've heard yet out of all the new volunteers! I have a feeling that by the end of two years it will be a place where "everyone knows your name" (to the tune of Cheers). Since I'm in such a remote area, there's only reliable transport to my banking town once a week (on Saturdays), which is also market it will enable me to do all of my "grocery" shopping on that day. Since there wasn't any public transportation running the day that I left my site, I got to ride my bike 40 km, with a 40 lb. pack on my back...on my 40th day in Mali :).

Because of this 40, 40, 40 coincidence, I was going to title this blog post "In the 40's" but I didn't want people to read that and think it was cold here and that everything was fine and not even read my post, ha ha. I made the trek with two other people, and one of them got a flat tire during the ride, so it definitely slowed us down a bit. We pulled over and patched it up, but the patch that he had on him was old and not so good, so the tire wouldn't hold any air. We eventually found a place that could fix the tire for us (very luckily), and we were on our way. The total trip took just about 5 hours and 15 minutes, but we also stopped in there for a bit of a food break to eat some bread, peanut butter, and oranges (little yellow/green ones, not the nice big orange ones Florida produces, ha ha).

Long story short, we made it alive...and without hemorrhoids, ha ha (the extra 40 pounds pushing my butt on the bike seat wasn't so say the least).

Ok, I have to go. Thank you again to everyone who reads this mess of ramblings, and for those who leave comments. It is most encouraging to hear from you all, and I really appreciate it. I'll write again when I can...enjoy the few pictures I was able to upload :).

Peace Corps Training Center - aka Tubaniso or "Camp Peace Corps"

Me climbing rocks in my homestay town, Soundougouba. Yes, that's a mosque in the bottom right. Mali is a Muslim country if you didn't already know!

My classroom where I learn how to speak Bambara.

What I see when I look out my classroom window :).

This is in my room at homestay...I get to see stars during the day! (Translation...there are holes in my roof, so the light shines through making dots on my walls that I pretend are stars, ha ha).

Me and another PCT climbing rocks in Soundougouba.

Me at Tubaniso at mealtime when I had amoebas...I'm happily holding my first dose of medication :).

The group of PCT's who will be spending the next two years in the Koulikoro Region of Mali, woo hoo!


C-Money said...

Hey O,

Shaving a little bit I see,Its good to see your not too grizzly, I've talked to you but couldn't tell if the Lumber Jack side of you came out! Haha. Those pictures look awesome, thats a great view you have outside your classroom, I'm a little bummed I won't see that outside my classes at Marist haha. Talk to you soon. Be Safe.


Angela said...

Hey Owen,

We leave for Chicago today which thankfully sounds like a better destination without ameobas. Looks like you already need a good dose of your mother's home cookin!

Glad you're taking it all in stride. Lord knows I couldn't do it...after all, I have my standards you know (I don't stay anywhere they don't leave a mint on your pillow)...although it looks like you have a lovely 25 star facility to stay in :)

Be safe, we love you!

Reese said...


The pictures look amazing! What a beautiful place! I love your "stars." LOL. I'm glad everything is continuing to go well and I can't wait to see/read more. Stay safe. Miss you!


Matt Ruple said...


You haven't eliminated me from the list of people that want to come's going to take more than that to get rid of me. Glad to hear things are going well. I was hoping to see a picture of the bike your riding around in all these stories...maybe next post. Later buddy.


Matriarch said...

Owen, I love your stories. It seems as if you are having a great experience. I'm glad your babysitter didn't rub off on you. Let us know if you need anything that we can send.
Our thoughts and prayers are with you,

Anonymous said...

We are following your blog with excitement and envy here in Clare. Cant wait for the next one have a ball moira and michael