March 26, 2012
My elder daughter, M. is a Peace Corps Volunteer in Mali.
I sent this email to her friends:
Most of you have probably heard by now that the democratically elected government of Mali has been overthrown in a coup d'états by a group of army officers. I have spoken twice with the Peace Corps emergency desk. Both times I was told that every volunteer in Mali was safe and accounted for, although they could not be specific about M. On Thursday, the Peace Corps issued a "standfast" order, which meant no one was supposed to leave their village. Peace Corps volunteers in Marlow's area were "consolidated" on Friday. This means they have left their villages and are in a regional capital. When I spoke to the Peace Corps, they asked me to minimize the information I put out, for the safety of the volunteers. So, I'll just let you know she's safe. No decision has been made whether to move to the next stage, evacuation.
On Saturday, March 24, we got this:
I've holed up in the back bedroom where I'm staying. It isn't the first best or even the second best room, but there are many people closer to [here], and some people even got caught here and haven't had a chance to go back to site. I'm really happy that I at least got this news while I was at site so I could pack up my belongings. It is weird because I don't know for sure that I'm not going back to site, but I had to assume that was the case when I was packing.
The house isn't as crowded as I thought it would be because some people got stuck in Bamako or Bougani when we got the holdfast announcement. There's maybe 15 people. We're still kind of on top of each other though since no one has any reason to be here besides sitting around and waiting and speculating.
I didn't get any of the Peace Corps texts or the embassy texts, but yesterday I was going to visit Y's mother's village Jomana, which is 7 km behind T's village of Djambugu. So we stopped by her village on the way in and on the way out. The bike ride was about 20 km one way. Jomana was nice enough. The people were friendly. They overfed me. We had a dance party. I just posted a bunch of the pictures on Facebook. The men in the family that was hosting us for the day do wood carving of Malian basic cooking utensils, so I watched them do that while we sat under a couple of mango trees. As we were leaving they gave me a chicken and a pretty hefty sized bag of rice. When we stopped by Djambugu with less than two hours to go before sunset, Tabitha told me we had gotten the order to consolidate tomorrow, i.e. today. We decided to meet at the main road a bit before 9 am to try and catch the first buses in. I had more questions so we talked for awhile. Y was getting impatient, and sure enough, we did have 14 km left to bike, but I couldn't help but squeeze all the news possible out of T who not only got the texts but had called some other volunteers already in cities and gotten updates. We did end up biking into village after dark, which isn't my favorite thing.
It was kind of awkward, because after doing all the elaborate greetings and saying what a great time I'd had all day in Jomana I had to tell my homologue and host family that I'd be leaving in the morning and might never come back, which in America would obviously be the story you would lead with. I took my bucket bath and came back for a quick dinner with them, but then I had to go to pack. My house was kind of a mess, so I cleaned while I packed. If I don't come back, and they go into my house, I want them to think I always lived neatly, although it doesn't really matter here. I packed two big bags full of Malian clothes and presents and souvenirs from Mopti and Dogon and my bag full of electronics and toiletries and said mental goodbye to everything else I might never see again. Most everything I left I wouldn't need in America anyway.
This morning was awkward because I didn't know if it was our last goodbye. I'd only gotten about three hours of sleep, waking up with the first call to prayer and unable to go back to sleep. I only ate half my bowl of oatmeal because my stomach was tied up in knots. The Malians aren't very demonstrative, but M did call everyone over to actually say goodbye to me rather than to yell at me from across the compound. And then B shook my hand with his left or "dirty" hand, which is an insult, such that I would have to come back at a later time so he could apologize. Basically it means you have to come back. Then everyone else followed his lead and offered me their left hands. Even the little two year old twins unwittingly played along. They just like greeting me in general with either hand. They gave blessings that the war in the North would end and that I wouldn't go to America just yet and for my safe return to village.
I left up all the decorations, and left all my food sealed up, in case I really am just gone for a couple of days...