Friday, November 28, 2008

Quick Update...

First I should apologize for being away much longer than I intended. I got sick and was useless for a little while, and then went back to Narena for awhile, then on a bike tour. The bad news: you haven't heard from me. The good news: there's plenty to talk about.

It kinda scares me how things are feeling so much more normal now. The food doesn't even make me flinch; the language is getting easier; Bamako is still dirty, but no longer crazy to me; public transport is scary enough that it should never feel normal, but doesn't really faze me anymore. My life here is beginning to find rhythm. Here are a few bits of recent news and adventures:

1) I was sick. How one gets a cold when it's a million degrees out is beyond me, but there I was. I did manage to get a couple nights in the air-conditioned Peace Corps medical unit out of the deal. They have hot showers, a four-burner stove, and an unbelievable video library. I took full advantage.

2) My village is burning things. They're burning the trash pile behind my house. They're burning the grass around the village. Everything is burning. I am told that they do it now, at the end of rainy season, so that it burns before the end of dry season, which could be disastrous. This has not helped the aforementioned sickness, but it's getting better.

3) Last week I went on a bike tour. Our caravan travelled 85 kilometers to visit seven villages over a week. The Malians were all impressed - they don't understand the concept of exercise for fun, and so assumed that we were all pretty miserable the whole time. I tried not to mention to my American friends that I've ridden that far in a day, though I think sometimes my impatience gave me away. We stopped in each village to do presentations on entrepreneurship, health, and government. One village greeted us with an amazing traditional ceremony. We were presented goats and chickens, were incredibly well-fed, and almost never were allowed to chip in for the food. Again, the ability of Malians to welcome complete strangers overwhelmed me, and made me love this place a little bit more. Also, I was the official photographer for the event, which was at moments like National Geographic, and at moments more like "Save the Children". I wish I could share all the photos, but internet here is finicky.

4) My caisse (village micro-finance bank) is doing research to pilot a new loan program that I think has tremendous potential to help small-business owners. Since the caisse is my most consistent job, I am helping them to make it work. In presenting the new concept, our national director, in a string of French and Bambara, used the English term "cashflow". I came to know and love that term in real estate, and my job over the next two years will largely be to teach people how that works. It can only have been dumb stinking luck that brought me into this project in this location, as the Peace Corps was unaware of this project's specifics. I feel sufficiently lucky to be in a place that matches my knowledge so well with the needs of my community, and am excited to see what we can do with it.

5) A number of Peace Corps volunteers met in Bamako for election night. We were hosted by a lovely ex-pat with a beautiful home, CNN, and a large projection screen. The first polls closed on the East Coast around midnight here, and continued on through the morning. When Obama spoke in Chicago, it was nearing dawn in Bamako, but none of us went to bed. Most of my family and friends know how it has pained this politics nerd to miss this election, and I was thrilled to get to watch it in all its glory on November 4th (happy birthday, Mom).

6) The new US Ambassador hosted a number of Peace Corps volunteers and Fulbright scholars for Thanksgiving dinner. You should all know that I have been roughing it, but I still can take full advantage of copious amounts of good food. There was turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, green beans, and yams. I topped it off with two pieces of pumpkin pie (we were only given one, but you know me and dessert). The Ambassador was a lovely hostess, and I went home thankful for my Uncle Sam, who made the whole thing possible. I wanted to steal a cocktail napkin as a souvenir, as they were printed with the seal of the United States of America (so was my wine glass, and my plate), but alas they were bussed before I could stash one.

Those are the major points. I'm trying to get more blog posts written, because there is indeed a lot to share, and because I'm about to disappear into village until almost Christmas. Wish me luck!

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