I realized that it's been forever since I gave an update as to what and how I am doing. Without trying to catch everyone up on the last year of my life, I'll try to hit some high points, rapid-fire.
1) I just got back from a much-needed vacation in Senegal. Despite a few run ins with pick-pockets, thieves, and corrupt policemen and border officials, I really enjoyed Senegal. For those who are worried, the pick-pockets got nothing, nor did the corrupt border officials (besides a few hours of my life). And I only parted with a couple bucks to get away from the shady policeman - well worth the story, imho. Dakar was beautiful and cool (as in not hot) and very metropolitan - a huge difference from Bamako. I also went south of Dakar to sit on the beach for a few days and get fat and tan. Mission accomplished.
2) Here we are at the very beginning of another hot season. I fell apart in the last hot season, and can only hope the lessons of last year make me more comfortable this time. Sleeping is getting hard already, and this won't end until June.
3) My two-year service technically ends in September, though I have been exploring options for a third year. It's not confirmed yet, but seems likely that I will still be here come October. That is if hot season doesn't kill me first.
4) My mobile bank has been in trouble for awhile now. There's a lot of demand for the services, but not enough qualified people to run it. It's kinda my job to get people qualified, but all the people I can find are very busy supporting their own families, and many of our best workers have fallen away from the program. It's disappointing, but I am currently looking for ways to dissolve the mobile bank while preserving some of the better-working parts. It promises to be difficult, and a little messy, but I'm glad we're doing it now, in an orderly fashion, and while I'm available to help troubleshoot.
5) My artisan's cooperative is finally starting to take off. Meetings have become more regular and more productive. We have formed smaller subgroups (masons, carpenters, tailors, fabric dyers, etc.) and are starting to identify strategies for each subgroup to help themselves and each other. It's really rewarding to see my Malian counterparts begin to coalesce around a shared vision, and to step into the active leadership roles. I can't express how thrilled I am that this is working.
6) I started working with a rock-star gardener in my town. He claims to have introduced the cucumber to my town in the 1980's, and likes to recount how he had to teach people that cucumbers should be eaten raw, not boiled for hours like most other Malian food. In the early days, he had to give a few people's money back. Now cucumbers are a seasonal staple. He has also had some luck introducing carrots, and is now trying with green onions. I have really enjoyed working with him, and we have started a number of projects. My favorite is cultivating basil, which grows like a weed here, but nobody realizes it can be eaten. In the next few weeks I'm planning to make pesto for him and my host family. We are also joint-teaching improved tree-planting methods and urine fertilization (only mildly more complicated than "pee on your plants"). He's really brilliant, and frankly I think he's teaching me more than I can teach him, but it's been fun for both of us, and I'm finding that to be most important anyhow.
7) I bought a sheep. Her name is Rokia, and she was an investment - a joint venture, if you will. The deal was that I would buy her, my host mom would take care of her (since I know next to nothing of shepherding), and host mom would get all the babies. Host mom has taken these duties quite seriously, and Rokia has become a part of the family. All the women at the morning market now know Rokia because she follows Sayon (host mom) to market and back every day. It's pretty cute, and the whole town regularly asks me how my sheep is doing. I've been away from village for a couple weeks, but there should be baby sheeps by the time I get back. Pictures to come (inshallah).
There's plenty more to say, but I think I've said enough for the moment. I'm back to Narena this afternoon - wish me luck.