Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! As I'm sure you already know, I am very thankful for all of you, my friends & family (and stalkers), and I just want to remind you how much I appreciate your love and support. To show you my appreciation, I have slaved over a computer to upload and caption some photos :). I hope you all have a wonderful day!

Chowing down on sugarcane and tea with my hostbrother, Mutaka, and some other kids from the village.

Everything needed to make tea...something I do often in my village :). I'm going to explain the process of how tea is made here, not because I want to bore you, but because it's such an important part of the culture and the everyday lives of Malians. The actual process of making tea is rather lengthy (takes at least an hour), but Malians love to sit around and chat over their 'three cups of tea'. To give you an idea, most of the people in my village have no money, they just farm their fields and then eat the crops. But, whenever there is money to be had, it is often spent on buying tea and sugar.

Making tea: The blue teapot sits on the charcoal stove boiling the water & loose tea. When the first pot of tea is finished brewing (3 pots are made with one pack of loose tea), it's poured into the red teapot. The blue pot is then refilled with water (from the tin cup on the left) and put back on the stove. Then sugar is added to the red teapot and the tea is poured over and over (about 10 times?), back and forth between the teapot and the little clear tea glass (sitting to the right of the red pot). This repetition of pouring is an important part of the process in that it not only mixes in the sugar, but it also creates a foam at the top of the tea (yes, like a pint of Guinness). When I first came to Mali, I was unable to create the foam, but with lots of practice, my tea making abilities have come a long way :). Once the foam is made and the tea is sufficiently mixed, the red pot is then put on the stove to reheat the tea one last time before serving to your company. When serving, the tea glass is normally filled about halfway (w/ more or less depending on how many people will be drinking), and is first served to the eldest person of the group. Once that person finishes, the tea glass is returned to the person pouring, the glass is refilled, and then served to the next oldest...and so on. In my town, only one glass is used (some people use 2), so everyone drinks from the same glass, one person/cup of tea at a time.

People in my community burning garbage behind my house and in front of the big tree. There is very little trash because people aren't really buying many packaged goods besides tea. The kid standing in front of the fire was just playing around and I thought it made a cool picture :).

Transporting furniture the 50km (31 miles) from my banking town to Gloria's village (Gloria is another volunteer located about 2 miles from my site). Then I used a donkey and cart to get things the rest of the way to my site. Unfortunately, the roads (and the driver) are so bad that every single piece of wooden furniture on the roof was broken by the time we got to Gloria's village!

These are the beds Gloria and I had made up by a carpenter in a town about 7 miles away. You guessed it, donkey delivery.

This guy, Kalidou, was selected by my village and assigned by Peace Corps to be my homologue/village counterpart/go-to guy. I later found out that he doesn't even live in my village, and I only see him every few weeks. Here he came to visit, and brought me a chicken and pasta as a gift! I brought the live chicken and pasta to my hostmother, and we ate it for lunch :).
At my bank there are military personnel who sit outside and 'protect' it ( checkers and cards all day long). I got to talking about music with one of the guys and before I knew it he brought me into a little house next to the bank to have a little jam session. He sent one of the younger military guys to go get me a drum (a bucket, ha ha), and we sat and played for a while. Another normal day in Mali, ha ha.

Me and the postman, Dabo, at the Dioila post office. Unfortunately, these packages are not all mine, but I was picking them up for myself and other volunteers...and it took me a few trips back and forth to transport them all!
My hostbrother, Mutaka, and I out in the rice fields hanging out under a tree for some shade. Ok, I'll admit, I couldn't help but to climb it, it was a great climbing tree!
Women in my village pulling peanuts off of the roots.

Me and dinner :). Yes, seriously. One of the villagers killed this big lizard out in the fields, and it was later served for dinner. It was pretty good actually, but the skin was kind of tough, ha ha. I've also eaten rabbit...and rat :). The rat was caught in a trap set in the fields, and was probably almost twice the size of this lizard, no joke. It was by far the biggest rat I've ever seen...and he was delicious :).

This picture is taken from the top of hill/mountain which I have to hike up in order to "maybe" get cell reception. If there are clouds in the sky, if it's during the heat of mid-day, or if there's little leprechaun's hanging out in the trees, I won't get service. So, if I need to make a phone call or check voicemail, I make the 30 minute trek from my site to this spot, and more often then not, I still can't get service, ha ha :).

Myself and some Malians at "The Spot" on top of the mountain. Unfortunately, at this moment...none of us could get any reception, ha ha. But, on the occasion that I do get it, the only way I can keep the call connected is if I extend the phone above my head as far as I can, and put the phone on loudspeaker to hear the voicemail or talk to someone. Eventually, all the blood runs out of my arm, and I have to end the call :). What's that? You can lay in your bed in your house and get reception? Must be nice :).

Out in the fields picking cotton with some kids from my village.

Ok, so we WERE picking cotton, until I started joking around and we made ourselves cotton beards, mustaches, and hair, ha ha. For those of you that don't know (I didn't at first), cotton is picked off the plant practically in the form of cotton balls...and it's pretty fun to pick, until you get stabbed by the thorns and have to go digging them out of your finger with a knife :).

My new window!!! Ok, so in my mud house there are two rooms. In the first room is my front door and then one window on the opposite wall. In the "inner" room, there was only one window, so there was hardly any air circulation, causing that room to be very hot and not very well lit (remember my life operates on sunlight...and flashlight). So, as seen above, I had another window installed on the opposite wall of the inner room, and now I get a breeze! Worth every penny (two masons for the day cost $3).

In addition to having the window installed, I am having the masons plaster my mud walls with concrete. I have a serious termite problem (one that caused the termites to eat my already broken furniture!), and plastering the walls not only makes things much cleaner inside, it will also potentially stop the thousands of termites from boring through my walls and attacking me in the middle of the night! Well, the termites don't attack me, but their termite "mounds" fall off the walls and the ceiling while I'm sleeping causing me to get showered by dirt bombs :).

Nightlife in Socourani (my village). Some of the girls made some water drums and asked me to join them on the djembe. Before we knew it, the whole village was out dancing and singing around us in a circle until about midnight (not just the kids, the elders too...just the women though). The water drums are made by flipping big half-shell gourds upside down into buckets of water, and are played by hitting them with a smaller gourds. The big one on the left makes a deep bass drum sound and the smaller one on the right is a bit higher pitched.

Here are some of the women dancing and singing as we play. This picture should also give you a good idea of the types of bright fabrics typically worn by Malian women.

Speaking of fabrics, here is the newest Malian outfit I got made up for the upcoming Muslim holiday, Tabaski. Tabaski is Mali's biggest holiday...I guess it could be compared to Christmas back in the States, so it's a pretty big deal, and loads of people buy new fabrics and have clothes made. Before this, I only had that one silly outfit (the bowling outfit from swear-in), but now I have two :).

Ok, that's a wrap with the pictures for now, I hope you enjoyed them. I just want to make a quick closing remark, because I have a feeling some of you are wondering what the heck I've been doing over here for the past two months, ha ha :). From my pictures, you can probably tell that I've been spending quite a bit of time getting my house set up, getting furniture made and transporting it, adding windows, plastering my walls, etc.

In addition to house work, I've also spent time going out into the fields to learn about what my community members do everyday; seeing what crops they farm, how they farm them, and then pitching in to help with the harvesting. So far I've gone out and harvested millet, peanuts, rice, and cotton. I have yet to join them in the corn fields, but I will eventually.

Aside from all that, the bulk of my time has been spent on learning the local language, Bambara. Everyday, I'll have informal conversations with people, I'll go for walks and chat with people at their homes, ask them about their work, sit in my concession with visitors, make tea and chat the day away. I also had a language tutor come to my site for a week which was awesome. My language is definitely coming a long way, and it makes SUCH a difference finally being able to communicate with people, and more importantly...make people laugh! (with me, not at me, ha ha).

While it may not sound like I'm being overly productive at the moment, these relationships that I'm forming and the trust that I'm building now is what will be most important to the work I do later on.

With that said, I will be heading to the Peace Corps training center on Dec. 6th for two more weeks of technical training where I'll have more internet access...and hopefully get some more posts out!

Again, I wish you all a very Happy Healthy Thanksgiving! I just spent mine at the Ambassador's house...ate turkey, and watched football. It truly felt like Thanksgiving :)

Love Owen