Monday, July 14, 2008

Zumanabugu - Camp Mali

I'm writing this in my hut at almost midnight. I'll post it tomorrow, but we're playing a wicked game of assassins, and I think I might get taken out if I walk alone to our training center where there's internet.

I am currently residing in a hut with a thatched roof. Furniture includes three beds (all taken) and one small card table. But it has a fan (yay electricity), and screens on the door and windows for malaria prevention, which I'm all about (I took my pills, mom). It's been too hot to sleep many nights, but I've managed to get a few hours - I think the body takes what it needs to function. It feels humid enough that it might rain tonight, which would be really nice because that cools things down, so I can sleep. Oh yeah, it's rainy season... we got a storm the other night that blew our metal doors and windows open and shut all through the night. Family and former roommates will not be surprised to hear that I slept much better through the noise than through the heat.

All of our training has been centered around getting us ready for homestay. Basically, for the next nine weeks I'll be staying with a family within a hundred km of Bamako. These brave hosts have been trained to treat us with kid gloves, and not to expect much of our Bambara - or of our manners (yes, there are manners even when you eat with your hands). There will be a handful of Trainees in my village, and one trainer, who will meet us every day for eight hours of language and cultural training.

I'll come back to the training center about every ten days for a quick check-in, and then back out again. Expect some good stories then.

A couple bits for news and notes:

First, I spent a ton of time before departure practicing French - mostly because I was annoyed that I could hear my American accent (living in France trained me well). My french accent came back, but the African accent rolls "r"s like "d"s. In some sentences, it sounds exactly like Spanish, which is quite confusing since I'm becoming quadrilingual now (I may have just made that word up). There went some weeks of my life I'll never get back.

Second, I wanted to write yesterday, but the power went out. No power, no internet. Tonight, I wanted to do my laundry (yes, by hand), but the water stopped running. No water, no laundry. Welcome to Africa.

rapid fire, 3 - Flying over the Sahara was incredible. Might as well have been Mars.

4 - I ate rice with my hands today. Easier said than done.

*bridge*: I've never washed my hands so much in my life.

5 - The infamous "wiping situation" is not nearly as difficult once you understand the mechanics. Squatting over a hole is still no fun.

Finally, an interesting morsel: We're doing cultural sensitivity training. The Trainees were asked to list some stereotypes of Africans. Our Malian trainers were asked to do the same for Americans. Then we swapped. Near the top of both lists: "dirty". I'm sure I don't have to explain to my dear readers why it made our list, but I was interested to hear that they thought the same. See, they wash for prayer five times a day. We wash decidedly less - at least so far. We each think each others' "wiping situation" is less effective. The verdict's still out for me.

There is so much to tell, but I don't want to go too long. For now, we've been kept inside the Peace Corps compound so as to not get overwhelmed or overrun by what lies beyond the walls. My first venture out begins Tuesday, and I'll be back in twelve days or so. Expect to hear from me again around then (hopefully I'll figure out how to post photos then too).

Making friends

*I wrote this a couple days ago, but couldn't find any internets by which to deliver it. Sorry for the delay...

I dooni diarra n ye...

After 24 hours of travel, I finally made it safely to Tubani So, the Peace Corps training center just outside of Bamako.

A couple quick stories...

I made a point to use my last flushy-swirly in the Paris airport. Goodbye, running water.

As we were all getting on the plane in Paris, a Malian man looked at me and asked (in French) if we were all going to Bamako. After responding that we were, I got to talking with him - slowly and in French. Knowing Malian people are generally have a sense of humor, I asked him if he had asked about us going to Bamako because he thought he was getting on the wrong plane. He responded with a big smile that there are never that many "toubabs" (Bambara for white folks) on that flight. I knew I was in.

The kid on the plane next to me was about 11 (and Malian). I helped him to figure out the in-flight entertainment system. When he finished his lunch, he gave me his Mars bar. Amarain, my first Malian friend.

Most of the Malians on the plane (and some of the white folks, which surprised me), were not familiar with the airplane lavatory system. I was waiting in line once, and the woman in front of me couldn't figure out how to push the door (the foldy one) to get inside. I helped her. When the flight attendant walked by, he noticed that I was waiting and tried the door, which, since this poor woman couldn't open, she certainly couldn't lock. That was awkward. The flight attendant locked it from the outside for her. Then when she was done, I could hear her struggling to get out. After discovering that throwing her weight against the door was ineffective, she finally figured it out . When I got in there, I found the ashtray loose in the sink. Now that I think about it, it does look strikingly like a door handle.

I've gotta run, so I'll stop there for now. So far so good.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Ready to go

So I leave in 48 hours, and I've been meaning to post on here for days now, but there's been so much to do.

At this point, my bags are more or less packed, my goodbyes have mostly been said, and I have only to eat good food and be antsy for the next couple days.

Thanks to all my amazing friends, many of whom made tremendous effort to send me off in style. To all those who have taken me out over the past few weeks and months, and who have offered their support and prayers, it has meant so much to me.

I hope that I can keep in touch with everyone to a reasonable level through this shiny new blog, and email and stuff. As many of you already know, mail and telephone where I'm going will be at best inefficient.

I know this isn't the most artful of posts, but I've got to get something up here so you all know I'm serious about this thing. I'll write more when there are things to say.

In the meantime, I'm still taking all the prayers I can get. Just about time to hit the road.

Much love,