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).


Alan L said...

Glad to see you found the internet over there. Sounds like your camping experience will come in handy. So you are sleeping on the floor in the hot hut then? Well hopefully it rained and you have settled in now. I assume it won't take you too long to acclimate. I don't know any French so I can't help you there but things here are still the same. Question, have you filed for an absentee ballot or are you not planning to vote?


Anonymous said...

It sounds like the Peace Corps has designed a thoughtful transition process for you new folks. That's great! Reality will strike soon enough, I'm sure. Really enjoying your writing and observations. Hope it is good for you to express what you're experiencing. It'll make a great book one of these days. Your sister knocked 'em dead last night in the Reno Idol finale. Video is up if you've got the time and the internet bandwidth. Take care, Dan. We love you.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading stories of your new life in Africa. Hungry for more. We nearly lost KC last night after returning from Reno Idol competition. We think a coyote had him. His yelping prompted Dad to turn on the back yard light and an ensuing search beyond the yard. He turned up rather bedragled at the front door minutes later. We're giving him aspirin for pain and keeping him comfortable. He's hobbling around like an old dog who definitely saw his life flash before him. I know he's missing you! Me too.

Love, - Mom

Randy said...

Hi Dan. I loved reading about your experiences in Africa. I know so little of the culture.. I eagerly await your stories. I will show Megan tomorrow. Know that we love you. Matthew's Eagle is on Sunday. Your family is coming . We will miss you. Love and prayers to you. Mana

Maxwell said...

Oh hewowh! Sounds like you've got things under control in Mali like I knew you would. Keep up the hand-washing, pill-taking, and hole-squatting and I'm sure you'll make it out in one piece :-)

Good to hear from you bud - I know I speak for everyone on this side of the world when I say that we miss you, and that Alan makes a great New Dan ;-)

Mattie said...

Finally noticed the address on the right side of the blog...what kinda postage is necessary to mail a letter?

Sounds like your all is well. Keep the posts rolling like thunder.