Saturday, February 27, 2010

A quick update...

Ok, I was hoping to give you all a grand update, but it seems that I've spent too much of my computer time doing Peace Corps stuff as well as answering e-mails from almost two months ago...I really am trying!

So, I'm about to head back to site now, but I will say that I'm really excited about getting back because of all the things I have lined up to get started. I completed a water sanitation baseline survey of every family in my village, and it opened quite a bit of conversation of what the current conditions of my village are...and what their greatest needs are. One of the first things I am addressing is the lack of latrines. For a village of about 425 people, there are only 4 latrines. So, as you can imagine, open defecation is a serious problem.

To give you a quick rundown of my current project plans...
- Latrines

- Soakpits (sorry, I'll explain later...or you can look them up)

- Animal trough for pump wastewater (cows crowd around the pumps to drink wastewater around the I want to pipe the wastewater into a trough AWAY from the pump area)

- 2 Community deep wells (there are 10 wells in my village, all of them are dry year round...even in the rainy season...but they don't know how to dig deep wells without them caving in on them. They get all their water from the hand pumps, and WHEN they break, they travel long distances to neighboring villages to fetch water)

- Community women's garden with a deep well (since the wells are dry, there are no gardens, and therefore no vegetables...if we dig a well and create a community garden around it...with a fence...people can then grow vegetables, improve their diets and nourish their children as well as sell vegetables in the market and make a profit...I'm really excited about getting this one going)

- Construct an incinerator at a clinic in the next town over (the clinic burns all of their bloody garbage in an open addition, there are loads of needles from vaccinations that are all shipped to another town 50km (30+ miles) away that has an incinerator...long story short, the clinic NEEDS an incinerator :)

- Ok there's a bunch of other things but I can't type them right now because I have to go catch a bus to take a nice hot, gross, dirty, dusty 3-5 hour bus ride to my banking town.

My new djembe!

I'm sitting eating breakfast in my banking town...these are "cart" guys waiting for someone to need a hand cart

These guys are all over my hut...they look scary, but there not :).
What? You don't work in your garden and fetch water with a baby strapped to your back?

Another garden shot...I hope to have something like this in my village soon enough!

As ALWAYS, thanks for checking in! Love Owen.

I saved this goat's life...kind of.

Haketo, a menna dooni! (This is Bambara for: Please excuse me, it's been a while!) I'm hoping to get another post up in addition to this one, but I just wanted to tell a quick story that I forgot to write about back in December.

So, it was back during Peace Corps' In-Service-Training (IST) that I was on a field trip with all the water sanitation volunteers visiting an organization working with composting latrines (yes, human waste CAN be recycled...and very easily I might add). We were on our way back from this trip when our bus driver noticed a goat lying in the middle of the road. The goat was a bit injured because it had fallen off of the roof of another transport (I'm sure the Malian who was traveling was NOT happy to find that his lovely goat was no longer on the roof when arriving at his destination).

The driver had initially stopped because he wanted to drag it out of the road so it didn't get run over...but, of all the kids who were on this bus, the two kids from New Jersey (myself and a friend Matt Clemente) both said..."Let's just take it, no one's coming back for it". No one else wanted anything to do with this goat, so we both hopped out, heaved the goat onto the roof of the bus, tied it down...and went on our merry way.

When we got back to Tubaniso (Peace Corps training center), I went and got one of our cooks and showed him what we so kindly brought back to him. The goat could still stand, but he was definitely struggling to stay alive. Long story short, we ate the goat for lunch the next day :). Feeding 70+ volunteers costs a decent amount of money, so we not only saved the goat from suffering, but we also saved Peace Corps Mali some doh.

Yes, I know, you don't have to say it...what GOOD Peace Corps volunteers we are :).

"Securing" the goat to the roof.

Matt and I with our new friend (who was ashamed to show his damaged face...and that's putting it lightly).

Saturday, January 2, 2010

a smörgåsbord

This little bugger was on the wall in my room. Yes, I grabbed my sandal and beat the living daylights out of him :).

Happy New Year! I've been doing my best to catch up on e-mails, facebook, blogposts, etc. before I head back to village because it may be another month or so until I get access to internet again. I recently received an e-mail from my cousin who teaches 7th grade, and he asked if I could share a little bit about daily life here so he could share it with his students. Since I spent a good amount of time typing about a smörgåsbord of things in my daily life, I decided maybe others might be interested as well. There's some more photos down the bottom as well...for those of you that don't like reading :).


To the students...

As for things to pass on to your students...I'm trying to decide what would be best to tell them (I don't want to scare them!). As for my daily activities, I get up every morning to the sound of many women pounding grains of corn and millet using a wooden mortar and pestle. To give you an idea of the size...the pestle (or bat) is larger than a full-sized baseball bat, so it's fairly loud. They begin their grinding between 5:30-6:00AM, so I'm normally up pretty early.

I then take a bucket bath using water fetched from a hand-pump located in the center of my village. The water is mostly transported by women, always balanced on their heads in large buckets. I don't know if you're familiar with how much water weighs, but at 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, these women can handle some serious weight all concentrated on their necks. So, my bucket-bath is taken outside in a small walled area with no roof called a nyegen, and I use a cup to dump water over my head to wash myself.

As for my meals, I eat a corn or millet porridge for breakfast, and then a corn or millet porridge congealed into jello-like patties for both lunch and dinner...everyday. The people of my village cannot afford things like meat and pasta, so it is rare to eat anything other than what I just described. The men go out into the fields, harvest the corn or millet, and then bring it back for their wives to grind and cook.

As for drinks, people drink tea and water. Yes, it's incredibly hot here, and so when you need that nice cold glass of water to cool you down, you put the cup to your lips...and then remember that the water isn't cold, there's nowhere to get ice! :)

In my village there is no electricity (therefore no refrigerator, TV, computers, facebook, youtube, ipods, or even a place to charge an ipod for that matter)...when the sun goes down I operate on moonlight and my flashlight. There is no running no sinks or toilets, and most people just go to the bathroom by squatting in their fields...and no, there's no toilet paper either. Before I drink the pump water I run it through a filter and then put bleach in it to kill any bacteria still living in it.

In addition to no electricity or running water, there are no stores, no bread, no school, no cell phone reception...just people and their fields. Some kids travel to a neighboring village to attend school, while others are kept home to work in the fields or help with household chores. For those that do go to school, they either go by foot (often barefoot), or on bicycles...oftentimes squeezing 3 or 4 kids on one bike...yes, it's possible.

For fun, kids roll up a whole bunch of plastic bags into a ball and kick it around like a soccer ball...and every once in a while a kid will ride his bike with a car battery strapped to it, and bring it to another town that happens to have a solar panel...and he gets it charged up. The next day he'll go and pick it up, bring it back to my village, plug a radio into it, and all the kids will dance the night away to Malian music.

I know I mentioned a car battery, but there are no cars in my village. People travel places on bicycles, and they transport everything else (such as crops from their fields or firewood) using a donkey and a donkey cart.

Ok, I know I'm just rambling now, but that should give them a good idea of what life is like here in rural Mali, West Africa. Just remind them that with all these things, people here are still happy. They love to smile, they love to laugh, and they are a very peaceful people.

Here it is..."Toh"...the food I was talking about that's jelly-like and made out of corn or millet...along with some sauces for dipping. I eat this twice a day, with my hands (yes, there's skill involved). These two dishes are both corn toh, but right now millet is in season so I'm mostly been eating's a much darker color...somewhere between purple and dark brown...depending on who's cooking :).

The village kids in my concession on Tabaski. The girls go from home to home (concession to concession) doing a traditional song and dance and then you either give them small change or candy...kind of like trick-or-treating.

So, I was in my host family's concession and one of the little girls picked up one of the small pestles to imitate what she always sees her mothers (yes she has two) doing grinding grain with a mortar and pestle. Everyone (myself and the Malians) thought it was adorable because I think it was her first time doing it. I snapped a picture and made a joke (in Bambara) about how I was going to send the photo home and tell my family in America that babies do all the work in Mali. My host brother thought it was funny, but then I heard him tell one of my host mother's "Mom, Zan (Owen) is just kidding! He's always kidding!" So yeah, it turned out she thought I was being serious and took offense...whoops :).

Ok, that's a wrap for now. I hope you've all enjoyed getting 3 blog posts in one week's time, don't get used to's just for the holiday! Ha ha. I can't believe it's 2010...and the fact that I've been here for almost 6 months already! Crazy right?!?! As always, thanks for reading and joining me on this journey.