My older daughter, M, is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali. She had access to the Internet this weekend:
I’m in Sikasso for a meeting about Thanksgiving, which we host here in Sikasso since we have the most food of any of the regions. I dropped off the Velveeta and taco spices as long as I’m here, and I’m picking up R’s two last outfits at the tailor. Then on to a Halloween party in Bougani. I’m going to be going dressed as the Malian flag because I had an outfit made for every day use but it turned out more cartoonish than I’d expected so I think that it’ll make a good costume.
There were a couple scorpions. One was in my negen at night, and scurried into a corner when I shined my flashlight in. I’ve been waiting for that to happen, since it has happened to T a bunch of times at her site 14 km away. The second scorpion my little deaf buddy S, three or four years old, found one amongst my moringa seedlings, and he squealed until he got my attention and then pointed it out. He’d scared it into a corner and I had my host sister D come and kill it.
I started my girl’s soccer team. First I had to have a bunch of meetings with the secondary cycle school (7-9th grade) director, and then even after that he no-showed the first day of try-outs because he went to another village. He stopped by in the evening to apologize, and we started the next day. Basically I’m just going to the PE classes, and one of the teachers, named W, is running the girls through a scrimmage while I watch and write down the names and likely positions of the better girls. The girls do show some talent. So far I’ve seen the 8th grade and half of the 7th grade. They seem to go through puberty between 7th and 8th grade, because the 8th graders were much bigger and stronger and more assured. The 7th graders were a lot more emotional and did a lot more pushing and shoving. I wrote down 7 names for the 8th grade and 4 for the 7th grade. I have some definite defenders, and a possible goalie. My dream team is going to be 22 girls, and will probably get divided into a varsity and JV should I ever get it together for us to visit other schools for games, like Niena and Dugukolobugu, which have secondary cycle schools for sure, but I’m not sure if they have girls’ soccer teams. The girls are ridiculously happy to be given access to a soccer ball, the field, and jerseys. They play a little like 5 year olds in America, since they’ve never actually been coached. It is, as Dad used to say, “bunch ball.” They all run to the ball in a tight pack, and occasionally the ball gets out and a couple of the faster girls run with it for awhile by themselves. I got the jerseys from Peace Corps, but I had to buy the ball myself. I bought it in Niena from a guy who turned out to be a former homologue himself. I bought the nicest ball he had, which makes it the nicest ball in village, if not the commune, and girls (!) are using it. I’m revising my expectations of what I can accomplish as a coach, but I think even if I just get them together a couple of times, they’ll be happy, and if we actually play games, they’ll be happy just to get to travel to another village.
I started my work in Sibirila, the village in the mobile bank with the best record so far. The meeting went well, and we implemented the changes, and everyone liked them. We’ll see if any problems crop up long term.
We had another meeting in N’tjilla with all three of the villages. It ended up being a pretty long affair. It was supposed to start at 9 am, but we didn’t get everyone until around 10:30, which is standard, but it is something we addressed at the big meeting. There were a bunch of the usual small errors. Nothing malicious, people here just have a slim grasp on numeracy and literacy so problems occur, but it is hard to communicate the errors because of the level of my Bambara combined with their insecurity with basic math, so everyone involved tends to get frustrated.
The Sunday before last I brought my little sister B with me to Niena for market day. She is nine years old. I’d been teasing her about coming, figuring she’d never get excused from all of her chores, plus she has no money, but I guess I took it over the edge because she got ready to come with me and my homologue came to ask me if I’d really take her. Since she’d taken a bath and put on her nicest going to market princess dress I couldn’t very well say no. She rode out on the back of my bicycle the 7 km to the main road, then I paid her fare on the bus into Niena. I bought her a couple of sodas, a pair of earrings, and some gum she wanted to sell at school. She was having the time of her life. We always do a lot of walking in Niena, because T and I have errands at the post office, the bank, the market, the tailor, etc. Then we go hang out at A’s old house since we have the keys until the new volunteers come in January, actually they are arriving right now, but they won’t be done with training until January. T and I bought a deep fried chicken for lunch to take back to the house. As we were ripping into it and sharing it, T made a disturbing discovery. Maggots. Lots of them. Little tiny white worms that were very much alive. The meat was cooked all the way through, so it wasn’t intestinal worms, plus you tend to get those through a fecal-oral route and don’t actually see them in the food. That was actually the reassuring news when we called the Peace Corps doctor. Since B was there, there was no way the news wasn’t going to get back to village. I was worried that I’d get in trouble for not only spending a ridiculous amount of money on food, but for also being stupid enough to get cheated in the process. We did take the remains of the chicken back with one of the neighbors and demanded our money back, which was returned grudgingly. When we told the story to people were more sympathetic than mocking. I had been cheated by a not very nice lady, they agreed. Food sellers here if they don’t sell something one day will just take it home and then re-fry it to re-heat it the next day. And since there’s no refrigeration, bad things can happen inside. Ewwwwww. Obviously, I’m never going to that chicken lady again. It was almost disturbing how nonchalant the explanation was, so this obviously happens all the time. At least I did not get sick afterwards, nor did T , nor did B , and it barely put a wrinkle in B ’s day. Still the best day ever. The maggots just made for a fun story for her to tell friends.
There has been a lot of corn, cotton, and peanut harvesting going on the last couple of weeks. They have little parties where people sit around in a circle and shuck corn or take peanuts off the plant or shell them. Sometimes I participate, sometimes I just watch. There was also a guy with a mobile grinding machine who came from a neighboring village and went quartier by quartier grinding shea nuts for butter. That was the most entrepreneurial business I’ve seen in Mali so far. Brilliant. That’s a service that is in definite demand, and with a machine and a donkey he saves the women the trouble of having to carry the goods in both directions to the stationery machines, or the actual work of grinding. I also had a small Halloween party in village the last day before I left. It was a hybrid Halloween-Easter. L helped me hide the candy around the compound, and then when the kids came back from their break from school they all ran around and looked for it. I would have liked to exclude some older kids, but they were just as excited as the little kids, so I couldn’t say no to them. There was chewing gum, lollipops and coughdrops which pass as candy here. After the candy was found we made mango juice from a Nestle packet, which advertises itself here as having lots of vitamins and is beyond the normal price point of a Malian family, so a nice treat. I used the face paint and stencils and temporary tattoos and stickers mom sent to tattoo the kids until I got to tired and sweaty to deal with them anymore, then I made them all go away. I think it was a success over all. I am bringing the decorations mom sent with me to re-use in Bougani along with the cocktail napkins and face paint.
So, lots of ups and downs these last three weeks. The break came at the perfect time. There’s no internet at the house, which is super annoying, but yesterday T and I went to the Mamelon hotel and restaurant and I was able to have a couple beers with my beef and plantains and internet, and things started to seem more doable again.