Friday, October 29, 2010

I'm Alive

Sorry I should not have left the blog for so long, especially with such an angsty post as the last entry.

Everything is fine. I am COSing December 3. I have written a lot more blogs since June but I don't have them with me so can't post them now, but will do before I leave for good.

Things are not going well in Guinea right now, for those of you concerned about it. Ethnic violence and a whispered threat of an impending civil war. Not good. But Mali is doing just fine.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Something Funny

So here’s a little tidbit that I found giggle-worthy today that I thought I’d share.

It was after six and I was sitting out reading my second Anne Rice book (“The Vampire Lestat” – not terribly good) watching dinner be prepared. This one big white cow came wandering into the compound because this is about the time the cows come rolling home, usually chased by the teenage boy and several kids. This one had just come in ahead of the others.

So she beelines for the mortars, pots and buckets, sticking her face in each and licking with her big cow tongue (which you can actually hear, the tongue is so strong and rough). Abi (my second mom) is running around making dinner, very busy, and kept having to shooing her off, waving buckets at her, hitting her with a stick, generally making the motion of “clear off!” with her hands, in between stirring the pot, moving this pot here and that pot there, putting away the sifter, walking into the cooking hut and back out, etc… The cow would go away a few paces and then come back.

So Abi is busy doing all this stuff for dinner and the cow comes back again so she finally just throws a bucket of water she has in her hands in its face. For some reason it was the funniest thing I ever saw. The cow shut its eyes and grimaced and turned away finally. And I just started laughing and couldn’t stop. I think maybe part of why I found it so funny is because a cow can’t wipe the water out of its eyes, it just has to blink a lot. Then Abi started laughing, then the grandma who was sitting next to me started laughing. And then the rest of the cows came rolling in and they all got shut away for the night.

The end.

…I guess you had to be there.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Bad With Good

So this morning I was so happy. My friend Ousmane from Guinea called and he said that Yogi is doing great and everybody in the village knows him and likes him and that I’ll not be forgotten in Santou as long as he is around. He also said that his wife Lundi is pregnant and going to give birth soon and that if it is a girl he is going to name her Dorian, after me.

I was so content! First of all that Yogi is not only still alive, but great (and fat, according to Ousmane), and then that I became aware that I had touched Ousmane’s life in my too short time in Guinea so much so that he would name his first born child after me. I mean, I had heard of that happening to volunteers but I didn’t think it ACTUALLY happened, or that it was really rare, and maybe it is, but nonetheless if it’s a girl her name will be mine! (if it’s a boy, Ousmane said, that will present somewhat of a problem).

So it renewed my desire to go back to Santou after COS and visit and maybe even try to take Yogi home with me (but that’s just going to have to be a whole lot of serendipity for it to happen). It also made me miss Guinea so much all over again and lament what I could have done there and the friendships I could really have cultivated, friendships impossible for me to find here due if nothing else to the language barrier.

Then I came back to site. And was informed that Puppy was hit by a car on Friday and died. Which brought back that awful day when our car ran over a dog and then I just sat there wondering if he suffered or if it was quick and just hoping it was quick and being glad to still have Doggie and Magellan (though I thought about how sad Magellan would be to have lost her friend).

Then, after getting all of Magellan’s stuff all set up (filling her litter box, cleaning her water and food bowls and filling with fresh water), I was informed that Magellan is also dead. W-T-F?!?!?! So in case you were keeping track, Mali has now managed to kill 4 of my pets in only nine months: Macguyver (cat), Shamu (chick), Puppy (dog) and Magellan (cat). Unless you also want to count my chickens Chester and Philip, whose deaths I consented to (they were sick) which would bring our grand total to six pets in nine months. Awesome.

I couldn’t understand how she died (they didn’t really say), only that she was found dead in Setu’s house. Or something or someone killed her there (or maybe Setu accidentally locked her in there when she went out of town) but at any rate that is where she died.

And so now I’m just f-ing depressed all over again. Both of my companions are gone in the few days I was away. And I’m too scared to get another one (and I could, Yusuf still has puppies) because it will probably just die and if it doesn’t I’ll have to worry about being too attached to it and wanting to take it home.

Now that it’s getting dark I keep looking around for Magellan, because that’s when she’d usually come out, hoping that my family was just kidding (they sometimes joke about stuff like that). But they’re not kidding and she’s dead and I’m alone again in this village where I can’t communicate with anyone.

They say you have to take the bad with the good but why does the bad have to arrive right on the heels of the good so that you can’t even enjoy it for a moment?

I hate being a transfer.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Moveable Feast

Well, it’s July. A little less than six weeks before I go home for my sister’s wedding and a little more than seven months until my official COS date. Although I think I am going to try to COS in December. Raven and I were talking about spending Christmas in Ethiopia, then maybe hitting Eritrea before a 14-day backpacker trip organized by The Canadian Hostel in Egypt (PYRAMIDS!!!). I’ve also thought about hitting Kenya or Tanzania after that to go on a safari but I dunno if I’ll have enough money.
Then I’ve been thinking about going to see Molly in France for awhile. I have never been to France. Unless you count the Charles DeGaulle airport which is nothing to crow about. And at first when I started reading Hemingway’s “A Moveable Feast”, I still wasn’t really interested. But I just finished it and as he went on about the beautiful countryside, quirky cafes, wonderful food and delightful local white wines I was like…yeah. I could do France.
One of the things I miss the most is sitting around having a nice wine with my friends. One of my favorite moments from when I was home a few months ago was standing in John’s kitchen drinking a white port. Just shooting the shit. I think when I get home I’d like to instate a “Happy Hour Club”. It’ll be like dinner club was except it will be happy hours. And we can hit all the places around town that have happy hours and pick our favorite spot and then make it a regular thing.
When I was at COS conference an RPCV was there talking about how to readjust to America when we get back. Apparently people have a hard time adjusting. A lot of people say they start crying in the cereal aisle at the first grocery store they go to. I think I am just easy to adjust to stuff because I didn’t really have a very hard time adjusting here (as in to Africa, I did have a bit of a struggle adjusting after evac) and when I was home for five weeks, the first time I went into the cereal aisle I zeroed in on Cap’n Crunch, looked for strawberry-filled shredded wheat (didn’t find it) and put it in my basket. I certainly didn’t cry. Didn’t even feel like crying. The only time I got nervous was when I went to pick up a six pack of IBC Black Cherry and the box broke and shattered all the bottles on the floor. I had no idea what to do. In fact I kind of just stood there open-mouthed until a store employee found me, cleaned off my feet, told me to step away from the glass and cleaned it up for me. And didn’t even seem annoyed. But I was still too freaked to pick up another six pack until the next time I went to the store. And even then I slid a hand under it before I picked it up.
The point is that this RPCV who was giving this lecture about readjustment basically told us we are probably going to drop the majority of our friends when we get home. He said they won’t get it (can’t), the things that they do and complain about will seem really petty and they will just generally seem less intelligent than they may have before. I’m thinking of this sentiment like Joseph Conrad put it in “Heart of Darkness” – “I found myself back in the sepulchral city resenting the sight of people hurrying through the streets to filch a little money from each other, to devour their infamous cookery, to gulp their unwholesome beer, to dream their insignificant and silly dreams. They trespassed on my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew.” He said that you have to decide whether a friendship is really worth forgiving those things in order to keep it up. And he said in a lot of cases it won’t be.
I guess a lot of the reason is that they will get sick of hearing your Africa stories after about five minutes. I don’t know about other people, but I don’t really have a desire to talk about Africa. I did it on my blog. Copiously. I’m kind of Africa-talked out. In fact when my friends would ask me questions about it when I was home I’d just be like…”can’t you just go read my blog?” I dunno, maybe it’s different for other people. But I guess in the end it’s that I KNOW they aren’t going to get it and really explaining it, even a small question like “what do they eat” is going to take so frigging long to explain and after 5 minutes of what would be a 30 minute answer I’d see the eyes glazing over and I’d just rather not.
Anyway. I don’t really see myself dropping my friends. I didn’t think of them any differently when I was home and I was there quite awhile. But who knows?
So back to wine. I really want to go wine tasting. There are some good wineries in Southern Illinois (in fact my sister’s wedding is at a winery) so maybe while I am there I can talk someone into going wine tasting with me for a day. Maybe my stepmom would want to go. Or maybe my stepmom, Mattie and Michelle. Or maybe my cousin Maggie will be there. Who knows? But I am going to propose it to anyone I think might be into it.
One time for my birthday Bates gave me a Sideways Wine Tour coupon. It was an invention of his own mind but basically he was saying he would take me on the Sideways wine tour in California (you know, like the movie). We never did it. We were really busy in film school. When I get home I should try to find that coupon and cash it in!! Although he is broke now so I probably won’t hold him to paying for the whole thing. Hear that Bates? WINE TOUR! Get ready!
I want to live in so many places. And do so many things. The next book I’m about to start reading is about an Australian expat’s life in Amsterdam (“My ‘Dam Life”). It seems like it would be fun to tramp around and do random things for money and live lots of different places for a few months at a time. But then if I did that I would be putting off my career even longer.
But how important is it to have a career? And how late can I start? ☺

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Pump Project

So I said it was gonna take a Hail Mary and it did, but the pump is almost done. I got the Chinese dudes to do it for me on credit once my SPA project was approved last week. Monday we called them, Tuesday I came out to my village with them. It took two days to dig the hole with this big machine literally the size of a truck. I mean, it IS a truck. But anyway. It’s 64 meters deep. Every meter, they took a handful of the stuff that was coming up and laid it out on the ground in a little grid so you can see what the makeup of the ground is meter-by-meter. It’s kind of cool. I’m afraid that the model pump they brought isn’t the one I want, though. I want the India/Mali Mark III or Mark IV. Because they are easy and cheap to repair. I am afraid that what I am getting is like the pumps we had in my village in Guinea which were NOT easy or cheap to repair. I tried to ask the Chinese dude but he speaks about as much French as I do Bambara (and NO Bambara) so I didn’t really get an answer. I will be able to tell when they pull it out to install it tomorrow. If it isn’t the one I want I might try to tell him to just leave it at the borehole and I will get the pump from elsewhere (which should still cost me around the same as the borehole is one set price, the other stuff another). But we’ll see if I can even communicate that concept to him. I have been freaking exhausted the last two days. All I want to do is sleep. Sometimes when I’m sitting out there watching the hole get dug I fall asleep sitting up in my chair. I guess I could attribute it to too many late nights last weekend but still…when am I going to catch up? If I want to go to the 4th of July party in Manantali this weekend I have to go back to BKO tomorrow (I could get a ride with the Chinese guy). But I’m so exhausted and still feeling ill (two weeks now – nothing showed up in my tests) that I don’t know if I’m up for a party weekend. I wanted to try to see if Molly was down to go, which might make my decision for me but of course the reseau was down today. So who knows. If I don’t go, somebody gave me a Sloppy Joe MRE (meals-ready-to-eat, military issue) so I could eat that in honor of our nation’s independence. That would be symbolic on so many levels. Anyway. I’m going to go crash super early in hopes that I make it to the work site on time tomorrow to make sure about the pump model. Bonne nuit!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Awful Stuff

So I'm not going to blame it on being a second year volunteer that has had to do two first years but at the same time I AM. It sucks. I mean, you've really gotta have some stones to do evac with transfer. You REALLY do. It's no joke.

So anyway. I mean yeah I've been having problems trying to adjust here. Trying to do my second first year faster than my first first year so that I can actually get stuff done. In a village whose language I don't speak so most of what I do is...nevermind. That's not what I want to talk about.

What I want to talk about is that I killed a dog. It wasn't me, really, but I was in the car. I was on my way back to site to do the geophysical study for the pump I want to put in at the school (which is actually going to happen tomorrow, inshallah). We were going through Kati. A ways down the road, I saw a dog and I passively thought, hope that dog gets out of the road! Dogs should never be in the road because they'll get squished. People here aren't exactly careful drivers. But it was so far ahead of us that I didn't really give it a second thought.

A few moments later, I saw a moto coming up next to us going the other way and our car swerved a bit towards it to avoid a bashee on the right and then I felt our car make a break. And then a bump. For a fleeting moment I thought it was a speed bump. But then I heard this awful screaming under my feet and then another bump on the back driver's side tire. I stopped breathing.

I told myself not to, but I looked back. What I saw was a dog on it's side in the middle of the road, it's legs jerking in the air, spasming like it was having a seizure. We had run it over with both our front and back tires. I immediately looked back in front of us. Neither of the people in the front made any kind of reaction. I dug my fingers into the heel of my hand willing myself not to look back again. And I didn't.

But now I desperately want to know if the dog DIED. I mean...it's one thing to hit an animal and it's another to let it torment to death rather than just kill it. SLIT IT'S THROAT...that's how they kill feed animals, so why not roadkill?

In my fantasy someone who was there on the side of the road went out there and put the poor thing out of its misery. But I don't know if that's true.

In Guinea I was in a taxi and saw a moto hit a cow. It threw the moto and the guy driving it across the asphalt. But the cow laid there in the road, on it's side, mooing weakly. Our taxi stopped to help. The guy was ok. His moto was scratched up. Two other cows came out onto the road and bent their heads down to the wounded cow and mooed at it. It mooed back. They walked away.

The guy who had hit it with the moto borrowed a knife from someone in the taxi and went out and slit the poor thing's throat. I was in the taxi the whole time. I was trying not to look. I was trying to concentrate on breathing. But it was a RELIEF that the cow was put out of it's misery so quickly.

I don't know what happened to the dog. When I drove back on the same route the next day he wasn't in the road and I didn't see him on the side of the road, but he could have been dragged off anywhere. I just can't stand the idea of a defenseless animal suffering. If it's going to die, kill it quick, don't leave it there whimpering.

Do not make the mistake of thinking this kind of thing is rare. The other day my host brother brought a sheep back on the back of a bicycle saying it had been killed by a car in the road. They gutted it and everyone had mutton for dinner. I do not know how long it suffered.

Another time I was in the Peace Corps bus and we found a sheep on the side of the road who looked like it had fallen off the top of a bashee. One of it's eyes were hanging out and it could not stand up. They put it on the top of the bus where it flailed around with every turn and bump for hours until I finally got out of the bus. Later on, people ate it for dinner at Tubaniso. I was not among them.

These are not all the stories I have witnessed.

In the end it is just the cycle of life. I just wish it didn't have to include such suffering. But like much else here...there is nothing you can do. Unless you're willing to insist the vehicle you are in stop. And take that knife in your hand yourself.

I can't do it...can you?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Latrine Project, Day 10

Wow. Have we really been at this for 10 days already??

Today we finally started putting bricks in the hole. The Brothers Bagayogo did pretty much all the work today because it was considered skilled labor, other than getting water, using donkey carts to bring the bricks to the school from the pump, mixing cement, handing bricks and tools down into the hole, etc… We did seven layers of bricks and are probably three layers from the top of the hole. Or maybe two, depending on how they are going to do the top slab. So tomorrow should see the end of interior bricks, Saturday should be top slab day and Sunday maybe we will start building the exterior structure. I’m not really sure how it’s going to work. I have to leave on Monday to go to COS Conference and it is going to take quite a leap of faith to trust that all will be accomplished sans problem while I am gone. But, Inshallah, by the time I get back, the whole thing will be complete.

Today we worked until it was practically dark. By that time only three of the workers remained. They usually knock off about 3pm (it was 7:30 by the time we finished up). I gave the people who stuck it out the last of my gum.

On the pump project front, Haoua talked to the geophysical study guy and he agreed to do the study even though I won’t have the money to pay him for another couple of weeks. He is going to do it Tuesday or Wednesday. I am going to close the latrine project and open the pump project with SPA on Monday. If there is still SPA money, hopefully Karim will let me know if it is approved before the end of the week. Then I can ask Adama to see if the pump diggers will dig the pump on credit and get paid at the beginning of July. I hope the publishing of the geophysical study doesn’t take much time. And I hope the pump diggers have an open schedule at the end of this month. A lot of factors are going to have to come into harmony next week in order for this pump project to succeed. I really hope it does because I have so many other projects that are hinging on this pump!

So here’s hoping.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Murphy's Law

So. After the first day, which went SO well, no one showed up for the next two days. I was livid. I was like – money doesn’t grow on trees! I have to pay these Brothers Bagayogo by the day and I don’t have a lot of leeway funding-wise. Plus, it’s a waste of their time!

I was on the phone with Adama like every day. And I was like, I don’t know what to do. They don’t show up. I don’t speak Bambara so I can’t talk to Daouda or the village chief and I can BARELY even speak to the Bagayogos because the one doesn’t really speak French at all and the other one speaks a little more French than I do Bambara. One of the days, my homologue Drissa didn’t even show up. I was SO pissed. I was ranting about how if the village doesn’t want to work for the latrines, we will just pack these bricks into a sotrama and take them to Bamako and build something at Tubaniso. I was like, “it’s not me that has to live here for the rest of my life!!”

So Adama, bless his heart, is doing everything he can, calling people, explaining things, even on his day off. Adama is a top notch employee and Peace Corps would be in a sorry state if they ever happen to lose him.

So people didn’t show up Thursday for a variety of reasons the most compelling of which being that there was a death in the village. Another one, I mean. And this time the guy had actually died IN Tenezana. In his bed. So everyone was over there. I mean, anybody who was anybody was over there. It was at least 300 people or more. I went with the ladies who were still mourning at my neighbor’s house. We sat and a woman who appeared to be maybe the man’s daughter was crying (not wailing, but crying openly). He was an old man and died of something like old age. It was so crowded. But being the white lady, they gave me a chair. After a little while, they told me to stand up so I did. Everybody was standing up. And then about 5-6 men came out of the house carrying the body. It was wrapped in a white sheet and then rolled in a grass mat. They took it away to bury it somewhere. I don’t know where but they weren’t gone very long at all. I was like, “please tell me this burial site is a proper distance from the wells…”

So anyway. That’s why people didn’t show up on Thursday. Friday no one showed up either. I imagine this was partly because it was market day in Yelekebougou but also because they were still supposed to be mourning the deceased man but I have to walk by that house to get to the school and there was nobody there on Friday so I was kind of unwilling to take that as an excuse.

So anyway I was crying (not literally) about it to Adama on the phone so he was putting calls in to my host dad and my supervisor to talk to the village chief. This was the day Drissa didn’t show up either, and didn’t call or anything. So just as the Brothers Bagayogo and I are leaving the school to go talk to Daouda (my supervisor), the village chief rides up on his bike. The Brothers Bagayogo talk to him. He says people didn’t come because of the death and that they are villageois, it’s not like a city, and that we will have lots of workers tomorrow. I had to bite my tongue because I wanted to be like, “look if people aren’t going to show up due to a death or for ANY reason, they could at least send someone to TELL us, so that we aren’t sitting there stewing, wasting time.” But I just thanked him and went home.

On Saturday nobody showed up. I was SO PISSED. I told the Bagayogos if it happened again the next day, they could just go back to Bamako.

But then we went to the school and by some miracle people started tricking in (we had been at the pump where we were making bricks). Maybe they had been waiting until they saw us at the school, not realizing we were waiting at the pump. But all in all, there ended up being about 20-25 guys and they started digging the hole. I was like PRAISE ALLAH.

Again, everyone seemed in good spirits all day, working away. The Brothers Bagayogo made the tea, since digging a hole isn’t really specialized labor.

I had sent Drissa off to Kati early that morning to get the other mold, which Scotty had brought to her house from Bamako (thanks Scotty!). We were expecting him back early, like by 9 at the latest, because the Bagayogo in charge of bricks wanted to start making the exterior bricks that day. Yeah. Drissa didn’t show up until like almost 2pm. I was LIVID. And then when he got there, the insert to the mold didn’t fit. It was too small. This time I was like, “Adama!!” since it was Adama who had sent us the mold.

But they said they could fix it if they pounded the edges a bit to make it wider and that’s just what they did this morning when we started making the exterior bricks.

Today there were two groups of workers. There were about 20 guys at the pump, making bricks. Then there were about 12 people at the school, digging the hole. Apparently they had split up the work as such: everyone who lives on the same side of the road as the school would send their family member to dig the hole. Everyone who lived on the same side as the pump would send their family member to do bricks. In this way, the work was split up. Today I knew almost everyone who was digging the hole, because they were my neighbors. Some of them were even the chefs du famille! I think that just meant that they don’t have any sons of age or a younger brother to send. Yusuf sent his younger brother. Moussa (my host dad) sent his oldest son, Soumaila, who lives here. The guy who speaks Pular was there and the guy who lives in the same compound as him (I think they are brothers?). A couple of other guys I recognized, because they live near me. In fact this was the first group of workers I recognized ANYBODY in.

So after two full days of working on the hole it is only half the depth it needs to be, which leads to there being two more days of digging before the hole can start having bricks put in it.

Almost all the bricks are done but we ran out of sand so more is being delivered in the morning and they’ll make the rest of the bricks and hopefully start making the slab.

Today as we were doing bricks, a pickup truck pulled up and an African and a Chinese guy hopped out and started giving all my workers tree seedlings. There were two kinds. One is Eucalyptus and the other had a compound leaf which means it is nitrogen fixing (good for the soil). I’m not sure what the whole deal was but I think that this Chinese guy must work for some project that has a tree nursery with good agroforestry trees and when the seedlings get big at the beginning of the rainy season they go hand them out to people who then plant them. Hey – free tree! The dudes were pretty excited about it, I can tell you that much.

I got two eucalyptus trees for my family. Tomorrow I have to make sure they planted them.

So, barring any other incidents like our two day hiccup, I think things will move along swiftly at this point. I hope VERY swiftly, because I have to leave for COS conference (not my real one, it’s several months early to be mine, but since we won’t be getting one as transfers, we were invited to attend HBO’s COS conference, which is nice) in like a week from tomorrow. I really hate the idea of not being here to make sure everything is completed satisfactorily but at the same time I really don’t want to miss COS conference. Not only because it is at a nice hotel but also because there are lots of sessions I would really like to attend and this will be my only chance.

So, inshallah, we will be far enough along by the time I have to leave that I won’t need to worry. Inshallah.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Latrine Project Begins

So we started the latrine project today in earnest. Yay! They said they were going to start at 8am but I know Africa time so I finished reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien and then went over there about nine. To my delighted surprise, they were already there working!

I was expecting disaster. Because, as with making movies, God also does not want your funded project to succeed (right, Rory?). I was expecting none of the villager workers to have shown up. I was expecting…I don’t know. Disaster. But that didn’t happen at all! The village workers were all there (I didn’t know any of them, either) and they had already laid out several sand piles and were mixing the cement into the first one. Within the first few minutes, they made the first brick!!

There were about 20 workers in all. They were all in pretty high spirits. Of course, right when I got there they told me they needed tea, so I sent Drissa to the boutique to get tea and sugar and there was one guy whose job it was to make tea all day. I told him to get them cookies too so they all had a biscuit snack as well. It cost me just under 1 mille franc, which is like $2.

One thing you can say about Malians is they don’t mind a hard day of work! Nobody seemed to be disgruntled that they were there (each of them was ordered to come by their family chief, who was ordered to send somebody by the village chief). They were working out in the hot sun all day in the hottest part of the year doing manual labor with no shade. And yet they were laughing and joking and everybody was working.

I was really happy.

The best part was that around ten, about six of the unskilled workers, after observing the Bagayogo brothers (skilled labor) making the first set of bricks, took the second mold (somebody brought a second mold – from where I have no idea, but it was awesome because they could work a lot faster), went to the next pile, and started making bricks themselves. One of the Brothers Bagayogo helped them some until they got the hang of it, but after awhile, the six of them were making all their own bricks. They were elated and giggling when they started making them right all by themselves. When they would slide one out of the mold perfectly they’d let out a satisfied and kind of surprised laugh. By 11, all the bricks were being made by the villagers with only supervision from the Brothers Bagayogo. You know what we call that in Peace Corps? Capacity Building. And it’s the goal of every single Peace Corps project – DIFFERENCE MADE!

So as noon was rolling around I started to get nervous because the lunch wasn’t there. I was like, here’s the next part where this project can go belly up. What if no lunch comes??? But then a few minutes after noon, one woman walked up with a big bowl of toh on her head and dropped it off with me in the shade. I thanked her and she walked off again, and I started scanning the area for more women with bowls (one bowl would not be enough for 20+ men). None came. I was like shit!! But then Drissa took off on his bike and was gone for awhile. When he finally came back, about one or a little after, he had bundles of bowls with him (to send food traveling, they fill the bowl, put the cover on it, and then tie it up in a piece of cloth so it can be easily carried, even on a bike). I was like thank God! I guess it was Drissa’s family and neighbors who were in charge of food today.

But that’s when I noticed that I was turning as red as a lobster. I mean, granted, I had forgotten to put on sunscreen this morning, but I was sitting in the shade all day! I took care to not be in the sun. But it did not help. I was painfully aware that I had given myself a wicked sunburn. So I showed Drissa the difference between my shin and my calf and he was like yeah…you should go home and get out of the sun. I mean, they have no concept of sunburn. They don’t GET sunburn. They think it’s funny that my skin reacts to stuff that’s normal to them in strange ways (like my mango rash…or heat rash for that matter). So I don’t know if he understood when I was telling him that it was going to hurt later and that it comes from the SUN, not just heat, but at any rate I had to go home. Which was kind of disappointing for me because I would have liked to stay for the whole workday.

At the rate they were working, it seemed like they might even get all the interior bricks done that day. Which would mean heading to the school to start digging the hole tomorrow, since we are waiting on a different mold for the exterior bricks.

So I’ll head out again tomorrow – this time having sunscreened myself – and hopefully we’ll be breaking ground at the school!

As I was sitting there watching them make the bricks, I felt like I used to feel on the set of my films. I worked hard and did all the preproduction and now my crew was putting it into effect, with a sense of urgency, quality and a good attitude. I guess the only difference is that I don’t have anything to do. I just sit and watch. But I guess it’s because my job came before today and will end after the latrines are fully standing and I close the project and do the paperwork.

Like I say, I work with my head, not with my hands. That’s why they’re so soft and pretty ☺.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Up...then Down

So as it turns out the guys Adama sent to supervise the latrine building showed up sometime during the night last night. So they were here this morning when I got up. This led to a meeting at the village chief’s house between us, Drissa, Daouda and my host dad Moussa, who is also a member of what is basically the PTA.

So after lots of talking in Bambara and a few calls to Adama, it was decided that each family in the village would be asked to send one member of the family to work as unskilled labor. And since we have over 60 families, this means they can work in shifts – 20 or 30 people this day, 20 or 30 others the next. Which is nice.

It was also decided that this work would actually begin tomorrow morning. But today we went out to the school and measured the spot where the latrines will go and dug a perimeter. So it’s actually starting!!

They said the only thing that appeared to be missing is that we might need to buy another half-order of sand, and Adama has to bring out another brick mold because apparently this is going to take two kinds of bricks. Way less of a disaster than I was expecting.

But I still don’t think we’ll be able to close the project in time to get the pump done. Which sucks.

So after what felt like a productive morning I came home and cleaned up my house. My cat had managed to bring down the plastic sheeting that covers my ceiling and with it all of the dust and mud clots that had been collecting in it. Drissa tied it all back up, and higher this time so my house looks bigger! But I had a lot of cleaning to do after that. Had lunch (Frijoles Mexicanas aux Villageois!). Started to take a nap but was then awoken by the two guys who came to supervise. Who apparently didn’t even want anything, just to sit around and eat mangoes.

But as I was up, my first mom Seli called me over and told me that our next door neighbor had died. The father of Setu, who used to do my laundry. He died in Bamako. According to Yusuf it wasn’t the family chief, but the family chief’s younger brother (it isn’t uncommon for several nuclear families to be living together in one big family – in fact it’s more the rule than the exception), but I don’t really know many men, mostly women and kids so I couldn’t picture who the guy was and probably couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Yusuf said he died of diabetes. But I could have heard that wrong or he could have said the wrong thing.

So everybody was next door, sitting around real silent. Men in one area, women and kids in another. I didn’t know if I was supposed to go over or not but then one woman told me to go over so I did. And I just sat with everybody else, not saying anything.

Apparently the way it works is that Yusuf’s first wife Mamine, Yusuf’s younger brother (Wawa?), my second mom Abi, my host dad Moussa, Setu’s mother (Hawa? She’d also be one of the deceased’s wives, probably the first), and Alimatou (one of the women from the compound on the other side of theirs) went off to Bamako to take care of business. I guess there is a big cemetery in Bamako and that’s where they will inter him.

My first mom Seli and Sita are among a group who will cook at the mourners’ house tonight.

As I was sitting over there, more and more women would come by and sit. I recognized all of them from our club (our Tabaski clothes club that meets every Tuesday morning to give 100 FCFA apiece to save up for swanky clothes for Tabaski). Some of them are very close neighbors, others I’m not sure exactly which compounds are theirs. But it was actually a very beautiful display of community and support. Nothing to be said, just show the family you are there for them.

As it started getting later, I guess the word was spreading around the village and people I didn’t recognize started to show up. One woman I didn’t recognize walked into the compound and just started wailing. My grandma and another of the old ladies from our club had to drag her away into one of the houses but you could still hear her wailing. It brought tears to my eyes, and to most of the women who were sitting with me. One of them started crying and had to hand her baby off while she got ahold of herself. Nobody else wailed like that woman, though. It’s not really considered couth to show any emotion like that, except maybe just a glum face.

So then we started getting water. Like, GALLONS upon GALLONS of water. We filled a barrel and two huge pots, plus all the buckets and bowls. I was like…what are they gonna use all this water for? I hauled buckets from the well to the compound. Embarrassing moment: I spilled half of one just as I got into the compound and everyone saw. But no one laughed because it was a melancholy situation.

So we made a HUGE pot of rice and a big pot of sauce but I wanted a bath SO BAD before it was ready that I went home and bathed so I just ate what Setu had made for dinner.

I think they were surprised that I came to sit, but I think they appreciated it. I wish there was something more I could do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Rain!!

Dude, the rain REALLY helps with the heat. Yesterday evening it rained and then it rained off and on throughout the night. Obviously that made it impossible to sleep outside, but inside it was much cooler. I mean, I was still sweating in my bed, but not NEARLY as much as I would be without the rain. And this morning it was positively CHILLY outside which was great. And then the day hasn’t been so bad, I’ve spent a lot of it inside, aside from going to Yusuf’s for tea and shelling peanuts with grandma. Which would be totally undoable without the cooling effect the rain has.

And just now I heard a rumble of thunder so I went outside to look at the sky and the sky to the East looked positively formidable! Well, not THAT formidable, but pretty grim. So I skipped around the compound and said “san ji! San ji!” which means rain (I think san means cloud and ji means water…originally I thought they were calling it “sen ji” which would be farming water, which would make sense, but I think they actually have a word for cloud and they call it that: cloud water) and my family laughed at me and right when I was yelling “san ji!” it started to fall.

I helped a couple of the little kids catch two little goatlets that needed to be shut up with their mother during the rain. Oumarri let the rest of the goats into their house which is across from his. I guess animals easily get lost in the rain. Plus they don’t seem to like getting wet at all. The boys are probably out bringing the cows in right now. They are gonna be soaked when they get back.

But YES, blessed rain!!!! I was much more excited about rain in Guinea because it meant I had more water – for drinking, washing, doing laundry, everything – especially for bathing, but half the time if it started raining I’d just go out in my latrine and take my bath, grateful for the extra water to make washing my hair possible. I fondly remember sitting on my porch (bless that porch!! Great for watching storms and lightning!), catching rain in my five buckets, filtering them into my six 20L bidons, drinking a cocktail. It was a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon, really. I don’t do that here, of course. Because I have an unlimited supply of water from the well, and I don’t have a porch, nor do I have any cocktail ingredients. Definitely makes me nostalgic for Guinea, where I loved watching the storms.

No, here the rain just signifies the breaking of the heat. And that’s enough.

Phases

So I’m going through one of my food phases right now. While I could NEVER get sick of peanut sauce (in fact, I should challenge myself to this statement if it were available), I am fatigued with the food here at site. I mean, breakfast is always and has always been seri, which is a flavorless porridge made of millet. Some days I choke down a few bites but it’s just so BORING that most of the time I’d rather save myself the carbs than force myself to eat it. Lunch is toh, every day. And now that it’s rained some, it’s made with fresh baobab leaves rather than the dried store, but still…it bores me. Dinner is usually boro boro sauce or a tomato-based soup sauce, but the tomatoes are in such sorry condition right now, tomato season being over, that it is pretty tasteless. And I am absolutely disgusted by the “datu” (was in Guinea, too, but they didn’t use it much), which is this sticky black stuff that REEKS and is made of the seeds of the Nere tree, fermented. I mean it’s good that they eat it because it has some protein but when I smell it I am immediately turned off and lose any appetite.

So, due to my boredom with food, I’ve been eating a lot of my Easy Mac (yay! Actually, it’s Annie’s or Trader Joe’s individual microwaveable mac and cheese but who needs to be specific?), and started in on my dehydrated food again. This week it’s been pinto beans, tomato powder and half a small fresh onion (I use the word “fresh” lightly, I bought those onions almost seven months ago – but they’re still good!), boiled with a ton of taco seasoning, cumin and cayenne pepper, topped with a triangle of Laughing Cow cheese. I call it “Frijoles Mexicanas aux Villageois”. I even add some kick to my Easy Mac by sprinkling cayenne pepper on it. Yum. But I’m going to run out of ingredients pretty quickly. Laughing Cow, first of all, then onions, then Easy Mac, then beans, then spices. Which means I’m going to have to make a BKO trip pretty soon to stock up on Laughing Cow and onions. And write home for Easy Mac. I think I have enough beans and spices to last me until I get sick of this regimen.

So in addition to food-phases, I’m also going through my future-phases. I thought all this time alone in an African village would give me more insight on my future, but I am floundering now perhaps even more than I was a year and a half ago. For example, there are days when I’m like, “yeah, I might extend my service a couple of months in order to get the pump done if it doesn’t go through in the next month”. There are other days when I’m like EFF THAT, get me out of here as soon as possible! And still others when I’m like yeah, I want to COS on time but then get an expat job somewhere in Africa for another year or so.

And then I think about what I want to do when I get home. Some days I’m like, yeah, I am DEFINITELY going back to LA. And I’m going to live alone in Echo Park, close to John, Leggett and Caitlin. And other days when I’m like no, I definitely need to give NYC a try. But I guess on that front I’m only floundering between two options: LA or New York. I wouldn’t mind living in San Francisco, either, but not right now.

Sometimes I want to go to grad school, but I don’t know what for. Sometimes I really want to pick Yogi up and bring him back with me and other times I don’t, because in the entertainment industry, you never know how long you’re going to be away from home and dogs need attention.

Sometimes I really want to get my cat back from my Aunt Sue and other times I entertain the idea that she might be better off out there in the country.

Sometimes I think I want to get cable and other times I think – no, just internet, I can get all the shows I want to watch on the net and not have to pay for cable! Will I buy a PowerBook, an iMac, or both (how much of my readjustment allowance am I willing to give Apple?). Am I going to buy a car? I don’t want to buy gas anymore, but is it really feasible not to, yet? Am I willing to take out a loan to do so?

I guess I’m just having a tough time making DECISIONS. And sticking with them.

I think what I’ll do is I’ll probably apply to some jobs in Africa, but I’ll only take one if it’s an offer too good to pass up ($30k a year, one year contract – I could pay off all my student loans in one year if I took a job like that and lived cheap, which you can do out here). But if it doesn’t pay enough, or wants me to sign a contract for more than a year, probably not. Then when I get home I’ll probably apply to the DGA Trainee Program. I’ll probably apply to both the NY program AND the LA program, which I think would require me to take a trip to NYC to take the test, but that’s ok. If I’m not accepted (or even if I am), I’ll apply for jobs with National Geographic Channel, Discovery, Planet Green, try to get on some kind of location shoot in some random part of the world – hey, I have experience working and living in some of the poorest nations in the world and under extreme social, cultural, gastronomical and environmental conditions (did you know Peace Corps Volunteers are not allowed to try out for Survivor?)! Hire me!

I’ll finish post-production on Tempest and Travels (three years in the making!). I’ll make that documentary about my late grandfather (heck, I’ve already gathered all my elements). Actually make finished DVDs of Costello to send to my cast and crew (if Bates finishes the documentary!). I’ll start writing again.

I guess the only thing that I’ve definitively decided in the year and a half I’ve been in Africa is that I still want to work in the Industry. I just can’t see myself doing anything else. And don’t know that I have the skillset to do anything else, when it comes down to it!

So…I guess I’ll just have to see where the future takes me. Which is another phase. Because sometimes I think that way and other times I think – NO! I have to make my own future! Pick a goal and work towards it!)

Le sigh.

Well, in other news, the guy Adama originally asked to come to my site to supervise the building of the latrines never showed (he was supposed to be here last Thursday and no one can reach him), so instead he is sending two other guys, who should arrive this afternoon. We should break ground tomorrow, inshallah. And then hopefully by the weekend I can go to BKO and close out my project and turn in the pump project and by some Hail Mary and begging the pump diggers to do the pump on credit until the money gets here, get the pump done before the end of June. Which will open up all the doors for all the other projects I wanted to do that are pump-related (like the tree nursery). And then during rainy season I’ll probably do a soap-making training. That’s kind of all that’s on the books right about now. Maybe a World Map at the school. Except that paint is really expensive.

Oh yeah! Two camels walked through our compound today. For some reason there were two Touaregs in town (weird part of the country for them to be traveling through by camel, but, there you have it) and they both happened into our compound with their HUGE camels. I was shelling peanuts with one of the grandmas when they came through. And I was just like, “another day in Africa” and shelled another nut.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Caution: Dangerous Rocks aka The Elephant Entry

So we took our trip out to Paul’s site to see the wild elephants. It was me, Corinna, Mark, Danielle, Scotty, Molly and Yik. So the trip out there was epic. I was with Molly, Scotty and Yik and we left from BKO. To begin with, we went to Gana Transport at 5am because we thought they had a bus out there but it turned out they didn’t have one until the next day. So we got another taxi and went across the river to Binke Transport. Where there was nobody selling tickets or providing info for like 2 hours. Oh wait, let’s back up. So it was Yik’s genius idea that we stay up all night the night before we were leaving since we had to go to the gare at 5am anyway and once it got to be 1 or 2am it didn’t seem worth it to go to bed so we didn’t. BAD MOVE.

So after waiting hours at the Binke gare, the bus finally leaves. And we have pretty good seats! Right by the back door and under an emergency exit hatch, which they keep open during the trip. There are no windows. This trip is supposed to take 18 hours on a good day. So Molly and I are pretty slap happy from not sleeping and we are laughing so hard about ridiculous shit that isn’t even funny to the point where our stomachs hurt.

So this bus breaks down in Segou, which is like 3-4 hours from BKO. Like, it breaks irreparably, which is really rare here. Usually they just tie some shit together with a strip of rubber and we go on our waybut not this time. So they send a bus from BKO to come get everyone. We end up stuck in Segou for seven hours. Awesome. We almost gave up and just went home. But we didn’t and we’re really glad we stuck it out.

After the new bus got there and we headed out, nothing really went wrong and we faded in and out of fitful, uncomfortable sleep all night. We finally arrived at Paul’s site at 7am the next day, and his counterpart Lelele met us as we were getting off the bus and took us to his place (he runs a small hotel), where Mark, Corinna and Danielle were already sleeping, having arrived a few hours earlier. We didn’t sleep. Just bathed. And had breakfast (sweetened Seri).

After lunch we piled into a Land Rover to head out into the desert and find the elephants! We drove all day. The elephants were really far out there at this time of year but Lelele was DETERMINED to find them and said he wouldn’t be able to sleep that night if we didn’t find them. As the sun is going down, we make it to this big watering hole. You might even call it a lake. And what’s on the other side of it? ELEPHANTS!!! Dude it was so cool! I mean, yeah, we’ve all seen elephants in the zoo, but seeing them out there in their natural habitat doing what they do is amazing.

So we drove around the lake to get closer to them and took pictures and watched them until it got too dark. Or…until I noticed a big elephant coming towards us from our right and pointed it out to Lelele and he told us all to MOVE right away. Apparently that elephant was the chief and he had smelled us and was coming over to see what was up. Once we moved he went up to the water and bathed himself. It was cool.

Funny enough the chauffer was scared of elephants and once we got out of the car he drove away to safety. Heehee.

So then we set out to find a spot in the desert to make camp for the night. We found a place that looked good put our grass mats on the ground and watched the stars while waiting for dinner. We also ate a bunch of melted chocolate Scotty had on her (still tasty!). Lelele’s wife had made us couscous with chicken and sauce for dinner and it was DELICIOUS. I wished I could eat more when my stomach was full, it tasted so good.

We got ready for bed and laid down and chatted and watched the stars until we all started to drop off to sleep. The night sky is amazing out in the desert. You can see SO many stars and for some reason there was no moon so eventually we could even see the Milky Way. SWEET!

So at some point during the night I wake up and see Yik and Danielle standing up, pointing their flashlights out into the night. And I’m like, “what are you guys doing?” They say there’s a big animal out there, they can hear it moving around and after a second I hear it too in addition to a growling sound that sounded more like it should come from a lion than an elephant. Yik’s like, “I’m waking up Lelele!” So he wakes up Lelele and he bangs pots and pans to try and scare the elephants away so they don’t come step on us. This, obviously, wakes EVERYONE up. Eventually he thinks they have started to move away so we settle to go back to sleep. And then, from another direction, there is this loud trumpeting sound and a pounding of feet and we’re like HOLY SHIT they’re coming for us!! At first I was just going to sit up and get ready to run but then I see other people running to the car so I was like EEK!!! And got up and ran. Corinna is trying to get in the back of the car and Molly is pushing on her like HURRY UP!!!! I climbed on top of the car, followed by Danielle. Everyone else is at least on their feet. Except Paul. Who is still laying on his mat, covered by a blanket, hands twined behind his head. The chauffer says the elephants are fighting. Then Lelele says, “Get up!” So Paul begrudgingly gets up and we have to leave the vehicle to pack up our stuff because we are going to move camp.

So we move camp a hundred meters or so to this more raised ground that actually had softer sand and fall back asleep. I wake up to see Danielle standing up pointing her flashlight out into the night again. And I’m like, “what now?” I can hear something out there but it doesn’t sound nearly as close or as dangerous. I swear I nearly wet myself when I heard that elephant trumpet and start to charge. Lelele is up and he tells us it’s elephants again but they aren’t coming closer so we should go back to sleep. The next day he tells us it was jackals but that he didn’t want to say anything at the time because he didn’t want to scare us. I was like yeah. I am SO less afraid of wild dogs than I am of wild elephants, thankyouverymuch.

So in the morning we go try to find the elephants again but by the time we get to the watering hole they’ve already gone into the forest and it’s too dangerous to follow them in there. We go look at the elephant tracks around our original campsite and the closest tracks were like…half a football field away, if that. Too close!!! And sure enough there was one set of tracks that ended in a skid. That was probably the one who we thought was trying to charge us. He sounded angry.

So we saw a bunch of touareg herders who were all nice about pointing which way the elephants had gone that morning but ultimately it was fruitless. But we saw more camels!! Camels are sweet by the way!!

So we headed back to town which took several hours and went to Paul’s favorite bar where they have cold beer and good food.

The next day, we decide to go hiking out to the red dunes. The walk out there wasn’t so bad, and then we climbed the dunes and Mark threw himself down them several times. We got sand everywhere. There were these weird silver ants up there…I’m curious what they were! One of the coolest things was getting up on a ridge and stepping on the edge of the ridge which would cause a little avalanche of sand that lierally looked like liquid running down the face of the dune. Really cool. But any disturbances we made in the form of footprints or sandfalls were quickly washed away by the sand and wind.

The walk back was a lot harder. It was only like 10am but the sun felt like about 1. Molly was getting heat exhaustion. There were a few points when we didn’t even know if she would make it back. It seemed to take FOREVER, but we did finally make it back and then Danielle and I chugged cold Cokes at the bar.

The next day we went to the animal market to look at camels up close. They are the weirdest creatures!!! HUGE!!! And their back legs are so crazy. They are just totally weird looking. Like a cross between a giraffe and an alien.

That afternoon we caught a bus and went to Sevare, where we spent the night. The next day we had breakfast at the hotel, Mac’s Refuge, which serves an all-you-can-eat pancake and French toast breakfast for 1 mille for PCVs. Crazy good deal! And really good food.

So then we waited at the side of the road for a bus to the Carrefour that goes to Djenne, which is an entire city made of mud. You are not allowed to build with anything but mud in Djenne, by law. It is also the home of a huge mosque made all of mud that has been there over 100 years!! If anybody remembers the opening scene of Sahara, starring Matthew McConaughey (why would you?), that takes place in front of the famous mud mosque.

So it was pretty cool to see all that and we had lunch with the PCV who lives there. Mark told us a story about a little building we passed called “The Tomb of the Young Girl” or something like that. Apparently, when they were founding Djenne (which was founded as an Islamic center but for some reason wanted to perform this animistic ritual – just in case), they needed to find a young virgin girl to bury alive to consecrate the land. So the story goes that all the eligible girls were put into a lottery except for the chief’s daughter, who was considered exempt. But she didn’t think that was fair, so she volunteered to be sacrificed. So they buried her alive under this tomb. And she cried for 30 days. Then they went and called in to her basically, “Look, we really need this site consecrated. You need to die or it doesn’t count.” So she stopped crying and died. Legend has it you can still sometimes hear her crying inside the tomb. Freaky, right?

So that afternoon we took a taxi back out to the Carrefour and right away a bus to BKO came by and picked us (me, Molly and Danielle) up. It was practically empty so we each got two seats and were able to sleep pretty well.

We made it back with no further problems. Except that we all ran out of money. Luckily, Peace Corps deposited our June allowances early this month so it should hopefully be there soon! That’s going to save my ass, for sure.

Anyway, all in all an amazing trip with amazing people and I knocked two more things off my “to do in Mali” list. Now it’s just Manantali (Fourth of July), Dogon (September or October), a Niger river trip in a pirogue and Tombouctou (Timbuktu)/time in the desert (after COS – it’s not allowed for PCVs). I’ve also decided that after COS I HAVE to take a trip actually out into the Sahara. I mean, to be this close and not do that would be a mistake I’d regret for the rest of my life! So I’m doing it.

Inshallah ☺.

Note: Caution: Dangerous Rocks refers to something Mark said when we were out hunting elephants in reference to the Touareg herders who see those elephants every day and in fact follow them because their herds eat the stuff the elephants drop. Mark was like, “To them they’re probably just like rocks…very dangerous rocks.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

Help Me Fund My Village's Pump!!

So in addition to all the fun I'm having, I'm also (trying) to do work! Right now I am trying to get a water pump project funded at my primary school. We have only one school in my village, it serves grades 1-6. There are over 230 students and they attend school 6 days a week. The problem is, there is no water at the school. Teachers send students (usually girls, during instruction time) to uncovered, untreated wells hundreds of yards away to retrieve some water for drinking, but it's not enough and it's NOT potable (clean). So I'm trying to get the funding to put in an India/Mali style pump at the school, which will make potable water available right on school grounds year-round. I'm applying to Peace Corps funding for the bulk of the project ($10,000 - to dig the borehole), but still need to find another $3,000 somewhere.

Hence where you come in! At the bottom of this email I have included the address to my Peace Corps Partnership Program project. You can click, read a little about my project, and if you are so inclined, give a small donation. It's tax-deductible! I know nobody has a lot of disposable income right now but even $5 will help. I need to have this funded within the next three weeks so if you are able to make a donation, PLEASE do it ASAP. Also, please spread the word to any , friends or coworkers you think might be interested in making a difference in the lives of hundreds of poverty-stricken African children (guilt trip! :P).

Here's the website for my project:
https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=resources.donors.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=688-328

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Chick Rescue: Redux

So I am attempting to rescue another baby chicken. You may remember the chick I saved in training, which is probably dead by now, but…the point is I saved him at the time! And hopefully he got eaten by my host family, not one of those big birds that swoop down and steal little chickens (they call it an “eagle”, but it isn’t an eagle as far as I know).

So today me and Drissa were walking over to Yusuf’s to hang out and have tea. Just outside his compound I heard a chick chirping and looked down and saw one, tiny lone chick on the ground. I bent and picked him up. I looked around. No mommy in sight. I examined him a little further and saw that he had a sore on his head, probably from being viciously pecked by some mother hen whose coven (brood? What do you call it?) he was trying to join. Drissa says it’s possible he doesn’t have a mother hen at all (I wasn’t sure exactly how that would work, but…ok). Yusuf didn’t know anything about it and I didn’t see any mother hens with chicks about his size (he is only a day or so old). So I decided to see if I couldn’t keep him alive myself.

A name came to me rather quickly: Shamu. Like the whale. So if my naming instincts end up as usual, he will probably survive awhile.

Drissa and Yusuf were like, “you can’t raise that chicken! He’s going to die! Just leave him alone! What are you going to feed him?” I said, “millet.” Yusuf said he is too small to eat millet – he won’t eat it. And I was like well we’ll see. Either I leave him on the ground now and he dies or I take him home and try and he might still die, but probably more comfortably. Which is exactly what I said about Yogi when I took him in and he turned out fantastic! I told them this chick is going to end up being the biggest chicken in the village. They were like, “yeah right.” We shall see!!

Anyway, I remember in elementary school we used to hatch chickens in an incubator, no mommy hen required. But I don’t remember what we fed them… Or how long we kept them. But still – it CAN be done!

So I took him home and made him a house out of a USPS flat rate box. I boiled water and put it in a plastic bottle wrapped with a handkerchief to be a heat source/his fake mommy. And I mushed up some of this morning’s seri into a water bottle cap and put it in there. He loves the hot water bottle. He is always snuggling up to it because he is cold. I stuck his beak in the watered down, mushed up seri until he started eating it. We went back over to Yusuf’s and after a few minutes I looked in the box and he was eating the seri out of the bottle cap all on his own! So neener neener neeeeeeeener – he eats!

They said my cat is going to eat him but she appears to have no interest in him whatsoever. But I will still protect his box at night so she doesn’t think of him as a midnight snack.

So we’ll see how long he lives.

LONG LIVE SHAMU!!!

Lil Update: it’s dinnertime and he’s still alive. He LOVES the water bottle, always snuggled up inside there to stay warm. I fed him some more and he eats pretty good. I haven’t noticed him eating on his own, again, but I just feed him until he starts to struggle, which to me means he’s full. I don’t know how much he is supposed to eat. Everybody is laughing at me, of course, but let’s see them laugh when he gets served up for dinner!! “Oh, did you want some of this chicken that you said I couldn’t keep alive? Oh oops, I ate it all!!!!” Yeah, that’s probably a lie. If I raise him I prolly won’t be able to eat him…

Another note: my cat just caught the little lizard friend that lived in my bedroom window. THIS time she decided to play with him before eating him. I was like, “Magellan! JUST EAT HIM!” I could see the poor little guy hyperventilating and trying to get away. She finally ate him, back end first. The circle of life. RIP lizard friend.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Adventures in Transport

I am going to do something stupid. I’m going to try to sleep inside again. Well, now that I’m typing it I might not because I all of a sudden just got hot. But whenever it gets too unbearable, it seriously does not take long to pitch my tent, the beauty of the REI Bug Hut. I would say it has turned out to be a quality purchase and I would probably buy it again. I’ve definitely used it enough for it to be worth it. Though, at the same time, you can buy mesh tents in Bamako on the side of the road. You couldn’t in Guinea, but you can here. So food for thought. I don’t know how much they cost but I’m betting less than the $60-70 I spent on my Bug Hut.

So I did something else stupid the last time I went to Bamako (this past weekend). I tried to go to Raven’s house using a sotrama, which is a much cheaper way to travel than a private taxi. A taxi from the gare to Raven’s is 1 mille (1000 CFA). Each sotrama (there are two) are about 150 CFA, making the trip 300 CFA, making it less than 1/3 of the cost. But that depends on how you look at cost.

So I get there at 9:15 in the morning. I had gotten really lucky with transport and gotten in super early. So I was like I have plenty of time to try and figure out how to take the sotrama to Aci 2000/Hamdallaye. So I ask these dudes standing by this sotrama that always try to get me to take it and I just tell them I’m taking a taxi. This time they’re trying to get me to take a taxi rather than the sotrama but I was adamant. So they say there’s no direct sotrama from this gare so I have to take this sotrama to this other sotrama stop in the market and then get the Aci sotrama there. I’m like ok. So it takes like 45 minutes for this sotrama to leave. If I had taken a taxi, I would have been at Raven’s in about 15 minutes. But I’m thinking: look at all the money you’re gonna save!

So this sotrama finally leaves but since it has to go into the market, traffic is awful and it takes like 30 min to get to this next sotrama stop. I get there and I ask around about my sotrama and they tell me to wait on the benches, that it will be coming up to the space in front of the benches shortly. So, everybody knows where I’m going. Every time a sotrama pulls up I point at it and I’m like, “that one?” And they’re like, “no”. So eventually one pulls up and they’re like, “that one”. I get in it. It takes like an hour to leave.

So we’re going along and everything’s fine until we start LEAVING BAMAKO. I’m like. Dude. This is so NOT the right sotrama. We go up a mountain into this little village where there are NO other cars. Everybody gets out except me. The driver is like…”where are you going?” And I’m like, “back en ville…I messed up.” And after the breakdown I already had last week, this is just getting my goat and I’m wanting to cry and trying really hard not to in front of all these people and this mango woman is making fun of me and there’s NOTHING I can do but stay in this sotrama until it goes back to civilization.

The driver can see I’m kind of distraught and they are LOADING the back up with tons of mangoes, anyway, so he tells me to sit up front. I was really grateful for this. So when we finally leave he asks me where I was going. I say “Aci 2000” and he’s like, “wow…you REALLY messed up.” And I’m like yeah. Well, this village is supposedly called “Lassi”. So either the people at the sotrama stop thought I said Lassi, not Aci (but I said Aci HAMDALLAYE so I have no idea how this could have happened) OR they were playing a joke on me. Real f-ing funny, guys. I tell the driver just to leave me at the first place I can get a taxi. So we get back to town and he drops me with some taxis.

What does his apprentice do? HE MAKES ME PAY THE FARE AGAIN. I was like you little bastard. I go to the taxis and a driver walks out to meet me. I pay 1000 CFA to get to Raven’s. I get there at 12:15pm. So basically I wasted 3 hours and about 500 CFA on this adventure.

I’ll never do it again. For even the simple fact that even if I DID get in the right sotrama, it would still take an hour and a half or two hours to get out to Aci and it would take 15 min in a cab. I think it’s a worthy investment, personally.

So today when I took a taxi back to the gare, I paid my 1000 CFA and then as I was getting out, I found a mille stuck between the door and the seat. So…free taxi! Awesome!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I HATE FLIES!

So this morning I had a mental breakdown. It occurred to me that pretty much the only thing that could make me ET (early terminate) is this awful, miserable season.

So let’s start with last night. As usual, after dinner I got ready for bed, pitched my tent, and laid down to read. This was all hunky dory and I even had the thought that it wasn’t so bad tonight and I didn’t really feel the heat radiation that comes up from the ground and that this might be a comfortable night. That’s when the winds came. Normally, wind isn’t such a bad thing especially when it’s a nice cool breeze. But this? This was like hurricane force (ok I’m exaggerating) and all it did was blow a dust storm into my tent, covering EVERYTHING and nearly blowing my tent over. Oh and did I mention the part about these winds blowing in some RIDICULOUS humidity? I was seriously expecting it to start raining, it had to be around 90% or so. In fact, I was PRAYING for rain. So after toughing this out for over an hour I was finally like, it’s not going to stop, forget it, I’ll just go inside! So just as I decide this and sit up, my nose starts gushing blood. This happens due to all the dry, dusty air. I NEVER got nosebleeds in America. This is a Mali thing. And I didn’t have a handkerchief. So I’m holding my shirt to my nose to catch the blood and trying to find my keys and of course once I get out of the tent if I don’t drag it with me the wind is going to have it and take it away so I’m stumbling around, holding my nose, pulling my tent and trying to unlock my door. I push and pull the tent inside, find a handkerchief and try to stop the bleeding. Once the bleeding stops, I take the tent apart and throw myself onto my bed. It is freaking HOT inside the house and I am COVERED in dust so my bed basically becomes a hot, sweaty, muddy mess. And I have to sleep in it.

Oh and did I mention how uncomfortable it is sleeping with the infection on my thigh? Yeah. And of course I am nauseous from the erythromycin and all the blood that went down my throat and now the triple antibiotic bitter taste that’s leaking down the back of my throat and I just wanted to cry. But crying would probably just make me hotter so I just try to sleep.

So this morning I wake up to Setu bringing my bath water and I look around my house and everything is COVERED in dust. It doesn’t matter how many times I wash my table, it is perpetually covered with a not-so-thin layer of dust. Of course all my sheets and pillowcases are disgusting, I’m freaking exhausted and the only thing that makes me feel even a little bit better is washing my hair.

I’m so sick to my stomach I can’t even tough the seri so I make Easy Mac for breakfast because I have to eat SOMETHING or I’ll be even more sick. I tear all through my house looking for a hairtie after tearing through everything looking for shampoo so the house is a freaking wreck. And my face itches all over from this stupid mango allergy and I want to scratch the whole dang thing off my skull.

I can’t take it anymore so I call Scotty. Thank God for reseau. I’m standing on the chair, gripping the window bars, tilting my head in just such a way so that I get the phone signal and like crying and cussing at the top of my lungs about how if one more M-Fing fly lands on me I’m going to freak the f*** out. Whenever a family member comes into view I try to wipe my eyes and put a smile on my face but I think they knew I was having a bad morning. So Scotty talks me down a little and makes me laugh a little which is the best medicine. She says she is feeling the same way and hot season freaking sucks but I hate her because she has electricity and a fan and can get cold water anytime she wants it (I hate you Scotty!!!). But still, she knows what I’m going through. She says I should just come to her site today and we’ll have cold cokes and sleep under a fan and it sounds awesome but I have literally been back to my site for six days and I know I’m better than that. But Katie is passing through BKO on Sunday and it would be nice to see her so I’m going to go to BKO on Saturday and me and Scotty are gonna go to Broadway CafĂ© and have strawberry milkshakes and then go to the pool at the American Club. Sweet respite.

Then maybe the latrine money will be there on Monday so Drissa can come down to BKO and we can buy all the stuff and hopefully get started next week. But who knows when the money is actually going to get there? I should call Adama back and see if he’s got any new information.

So after talking to Scotty the only thing I want to do is wash my sheets and all my handkerchiefs which are either filled with blood or dust from trying to clean up the house. So I go buy soap and as I am on my way to the well to wash all this stuff before it gets too hot, even though I suck at washing stuff, especially big stuff like sheets or even pagnes, my first mommy Seli – bless her soul – tells me to bring her the stuff and she will wash it when she is done pounding the rice. This elicits the first genuine smile of the day. I love you, Seli!! So I put my big towel on the ground under my shade hangar and try to get some sleep – everyone tells me to go lay down so I must look like hell. But of course the flies attack me constantly and I don’t have the non-reaction Malians have developed over their lifetimes so I’m constantly twitching, slapping and waving my hands. So basically I don’t sleep. It occurs to me as I’m laying on my towel that what this is like is like being at the beach. Laying on a towel in the heat. Except you have to wear clothes, something that covers your knees, and there’s no ocean to go jump in when you get too hot.

Anyway. Hot season sucks. I hate dust. And flies.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I'm 26 and Still Here

So yesterday was my birthday. What did I get? Another huge staph infection – this time on my thigh so I can’t walk right – and an allergy to mangoes, which is pretty much the ONLY redeeming factor of hot season.

The only good thing is that this morning when I was taking my bath, I looked at my staph infection and it had come to this huge purple blister of a head. Which promptly popped as I was bathing. Don’t read any further if you’re easily grossed out. So I squeezed out as much pus (this pus was more like sludgy blood than pus) as I could, then went inside and did the hot compress thing a few times, then bandaged it up with a gauze pad and tape, which I then covered with a head wrap tied around my leg so that when I walk there’s some padding. So it’s now slowly draining into the gauze. Why is this a good thing? You might ask. Well, it means that it’s draining on it’s own and I won’t have to go back to Clinique Pasteur and endure another torture session – this time much more embarrassing, BTW, considering the location of this infection. So hopefully with regular bandage changings, triple antibiotic, erithromicin (oral anti-biotic) and hot compresses, it’ll just go away without surgery – WIN!

So mango allergy. I’d just started eating mangoes again a few days ago after I got back because we are in mango season swing. In Guinea, I used to eat mangoes with a knife. Here I just do what the locals do and bite the skin, peeling the skin off strip by strip with my teeth, and then plunging mouth first into the fruit. I started to get an itchy red rash around my mouth and I was like WTF. At first I thought it was heat rash. But then it dawned on me – mango allergy! Awesome. A lot of volunteers have it. Some can’t eat mangoes at all. Others are just allergic to the skins/sap. I think I am a skin/sap allergy person so if I start eating them with a knife again I should probably be ok. I’m holding off on mangoes for a few days until my rash goes away to be sure that’s what it was, then I’ll start eating again with a knife and see how it goes. It would SUCK to be 100% allergic to them as opposed to just skin/sap. So cross your fingers for me.

In other news, Magellan is officially a “she” and she eats a lot more than she used to! She stays inside at night while I sleep outside. I hope she spends her evenings killing wayward mice and cockroaches, but who knows.

Oh yeah, remember that time I said it wasn’t that hot so I was going to try to sleep inside? EPIC FAIL. I woke up in a swimming pool of my own sweat about midnight and had to get up and pitch my tent in the middle of the night. But then I slept pretty well once I was outside. Drissa said it’s gonna be like this until June. I’m gonna need a massage when this is over.

The puppy sometimes sleeps with me outside my tent. But then when he hears something he barks and wakes me up. Apparently it is Oumarri’s job to see what the dogs bark about when they go off. Because every time the dogs bark, Oumarri gets up with his flashlight and goes and looks out into the field and into the animal pens. Apparently that is the role of the dogs: to tell the family when there’s something moving around that’s unusual at night – something that could potentially hurt one of the animals.

Today when I woke up there was a tiny baby donkey staring into my tent at me. I was like, “good morning.” Then he went away. I <3 baby donkeys.

Oh yeah, Adama called me yesterday and said the funding for my latrine project had been approved. Yay! He said he didn’t know when the money would actually be there yet but the good news is that the latrines will get built before rainy season. Now to see if I can get the pump funding in time, too!

Well, I think that’s all from the home front. By my birthday next year (27 – one step closer to 30!! But I decided my thirties are gonna be a rockin decade so I ain’t that distraught over it) I should be back in LA. But you never know. Shit happens.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Hot Season. Definitely.

So. It’s freaking hot. Today wasn’t that bad but that is due to drizzle this morning and blessed cloud cover all day. In fact, I might even sleep inside tonight. It’s more comfortable than the gound outside, where I slept last night but still sweated all night long.

My first night back was Saturday night. Back at site, that is, I was at a Regional IST all last week and before that I was in BKO for a few days after I got back trying to get my funding proposals in. Anyway, Saturday night was BRUTAL. I think I soaked through my mattress. It was awful. I think I got like an hour of sleep the whole night. Last night I pitched my bug hut out under my shade hangar and slept on the ground. Interestingly enough, the ground is HOT. Like, it felt like I was laying on a hot plate. Definitely need to find something to go between me and the ground for future reference. But tonight I think I might sleep inside. I’m not really sweating right now, so that’s a good sign. My mattress is more comfortable than the ground. My back hurt all day today. Ugh.

So my family built a wall next to my house while I was gone. Basically it really makes my house a part of the concession and gives me more privacy. Like, you now have to come IN to the concession to see me, which is what made me feel ok about sleeping outside last night, but I was paranoid every time I heard hoofs nearby that a donkey was going to come step on my head. It was only goats, though. Not that GOATS couldn’t step on my head, but…they weigh less than a donkey.

So I had been gone for almost two months. When I got back even the mean guy at the boutique was smiling. As I walked down the path towards our concession, I saw a bunch of little boys running towards me. They must have spotted me while they were out playing soccer, because they had a soccer ball. I mean, it was freaking HOT out, I have no idea how they managed to sprint all the way across that field to me, but they did! And then they carried all my stuff! Yay! Shaka told me that the puppy was really big now and babbled on in Bambara. The puppy IS really big now. He’s almost as big as the lady dog who has been here the whole time. But he still likes to jump up and put his paws on me and he is FILTHY so I gotta try to break him of that.

So the biggest hit of all the gifts I brought back were the pictures. In fact, the pictures were SO loved that I didn’t even give the rest of the gifts. I’m saving them for later. The whole neighborhood turned out to look at the pictures. I felt bad I hadn’t printed more! People who I don’t even have pictures of were like, “where’s my picture???” So, for any of you wondering what to bring back from America, here’s the answer: pictures! Of course, they don’t know how to handle or care for pictures so there are fingerprints and dirt all over them already and they let the little kids put them in their mouths and they’re all folded and whatnot but hey, at least they freaking loved it! Even my host dad Moussa, who should be too cool for school, could be seen laying in his hammock staring at the pictures for hours. WIN!

Of course the mice took over my house while I was gone. And the spiders. My house was a WRECK when I got back and I got soaked in sweat just trying to straighten it up a LITTLE bit.

Little Aside: So just now I went to give my dinner bowls back to the family and just as I turned to go back to my house, Hawa called my name from across the courtyard and came running up with my cat! I was like sweet! Magellan! So I took him/her back to the house. For some reason they always take a couple of days to give my cat back when I come back. I knew it was Magellan because the second he/she was in my arms he/she started purring. So Magellan explored the house a little to reacquaint himself. I was brushing my teeth. He wasn’t in here even five minutes before he ran under the bed and I heard a little skirmish. I expected to see a mouse running for its life to the mousehole next to my bed. But no mouse appeared. What did appear was Magellan, with a huge mouse in his mouth. Like, the mouse is easily 1/3 the size of Magellan. And to think moments before I was worried I didn’t have any food for him tonight. He is still eating it under my bed. There’s blood on the floor. Gross. Luckily he didn’t play with it before eating it, he just killed it and started crunching. Good kitty.

So the kids seem skinnier for some reason. Like I feel like I can see their ribs more than before. But they don’t really seem to be eating less at all, in fact they are eating all the time, so I don’t really get it. It’s mango season right now and there are SO MANY MANGOES. In fact I have eight of them sitting on my table. But six of them are already soft so I’ll probably give them to the goats tomorrow and eat the other two for breakfast. There are so many mangoes that every day one of the women in the compound makes TWO trips (one in the morning, one in the evening) out to wherever the trees are and brings back a HUGE bowl of them on her head. Like, there must be at least 40 mangoes in each bowl. Maybe at least 50. There are mango pits all over the concession. Sometimes the cows eat the pits. The goats and sheep eat the skins. Mangoes are delicious. Ricardo – you would love this time of year! Except for the heat, anyway. So yeah I don’t get why the kids look skinnier when we are still eating three meals a day, they eat until they’re full at all the meals, sometimes have 1-2 other smaller meals (leftovers) throughout the day and at least 5 mangoes/day each. And I brought back loaves of bread and bananas with me so they had that, too, this weekend. I dunno.

Everybody says hungry season is coming up. Apparently Malians usually are only able to grow 9 months worth of food and June – September are lean months where they have to buy the cereals at inflated prices. But if that’s the case with my family you wouldn’t know it because they do not seem to be slowing down with the meals at all.

One of my grandmas asked me about macaroni today so I’m gonna buy a bunch of spaghetti tomorrow and we can have that, too. Also, Seli came back from market today with a big old bag of rice. So I don’t really know what the deal is. If it does get to be “hungry season”, I don’t mind pitching in more and buying rice at the market on Mondays and some meat. I mean, they feed me all the time, so the least I could do is pitch in and buy some food during the lean times.

So when I left, Abi had just gone to BKO for medical treatment. I think it has something to do with headaches. She is still not back, which means she’s been gone almost 2 months. I hope everything is ok. I was hoping her headaches were just, like, migraines or something but maybe it is something much worse. So if you’re reading this, send some thoughts Abi’s way!! She has a teenager and two young kids (maybe 10ish?).

I think Magellan has fallen into a food coma. His belly was all bloated when he came out from under the bed. He managed to eat that whole thing!!

Well, I think that’s about it. Tomorrow is my 26th birthday. I think I’ll celebrate by eating a bunch of mangoes and spaghetti. Maybe I’ll give Skittles to everyone in my family. We’ll see.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sad Story

So you wanna hear a really sad story? I was on my way back from America (more on this later) and I was in the Atlanta airport. I passed a Duty Free shop and on impulse went in thinking I might get a bottle of good tequila for the forthcoming celebrations of the next year. I perused the Patron, but Patron is expensive. Like the cheapest one was $42. Jose Cuervo? $18. What do I do? I splurge. I buy the Patron. This turns out to be a heartbreaking mistake.

So they deliver the bottle to my plane going to Paris. No big deal. But I remember the bottles me and Jess bought in NYC when we were on our way to Africa for the first time and they had put them in these clear, sealed bags that you weren’t allowed to open. My bottle was just in an open yellow bag.

They do the Duty Free sale thing during the flight and they say that if you are connecting in Paris, you need that TSA-approved bag I was just mentioning (which they have on board for any purchases). I stop the flight attendant and show her what I have and tell her I am connecting in Paris. She says if I bought it in a Duty Free shop and have the receipt (which is stapled to the bag), that is fine. Deep down I don’t believe her, but she should know, right?

Well, she didn’t know. Because I have to go through security again in Paris. Which seems stupid because America’s laws are stricter than France’s, so there should just be a secure hallway taking you to the connecting gates. But there isn’t.

So of course security is like, this had to be in the TSA bag. Your only option is to go out of the airport and go to the Air France desk and check it. I’m like ok. I have like 3 hours before boarding so I have plenty of time to do this. This airport is really confusing, by the way, so I got yelled at for going the wrong way a couple of times and finally just followed my nose.

So I see an Air France customer service desk with no line so I just go to ask him what to do. He spoke perfect English which was good because I didn’t feel up to explaining my predicament in bad West African French to some cute French dude. Let me preface by saying he was really nice and really sympathetic. But since I had already checked 2 bags, and couldn’t get access to them, I would have to pay 200 Euros to check my frigging bottle of tequila as a third bag – even though I still had plenty of weight left in my checked bags. I was like fuck. DAMN YOU ATLANTA DUTY FREE!! AND DELTA FLIGHT ATTENDANT!

He was like there really is no other option. If you take it back to security they will just throw it away. So I asked him if he drank tequila. Then he felt REALLY bad. But I sure as shit wasn’t going to pay 200 Euros for it when it only (only? Ha!) cost $42. So I gave it to him. It was Cute Air France Customer Service Agent’s lucky day. I was like if I’m not too depressed I might buy another bottle at the Duty Free shop here. And then have an $84 bottle of Patron for some (what would now have to be) VERY special occasion.

I do stop in the Duty Free shop but they only have one kind of tequila and it’s some no name brand that didn’t look any more impressive than the bottle of tequila you can buy in Bamako for 10 mille, which is like $20, and it cost almost 17 Euros. So I was like fuck it.

Basically I wasted $42 giving a gift of really good tequila to some dude I don’t know who will probably celebrate by getting drunk with his hot French girlfriend and having wild tequila sex. So you’re welcome.

But he’ll probably never forget me! I’m sure he’ll be telling the story about how he once got a brand new unopened bottle of Patron from some poor Peace Corps volunteer who spent ¼ of her monthly salary on it.

But I’m not bitter. After all, I got a France customs stamp on my passport out of it.

Epic fail.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

In America

Well. I am in the Atlanta airport, sitting in a restaurant called “Paschal’s”, drinking a mixed drink in a fancy glass, waiting on my first plate of restaurant nachos in 15 months.

You must be wondering why I’m in America. Well, my grandfather passed away over the weekend. My mom called and told Peace Corps how important he was to me and they granted an exception and gave me emergency leave (usually they only grant it for parents/siblings). So my flight out of Bamako was delayed like 3 hours last night and we didn’t get in the air until like 2am. Got to Paris, left on time. I just arrived in Atlanta not long ago at all. Once we got off the plane, we had to go through customs, where a dude with a Brooklyn accent cleared me in moments. Then I had to wait what seemed like FOREVER for my bag. I was in such a rush, thinking I was going to miss my flight, I threw my bag on top of my head, making it obvious to everyone in the airport that I have lived in West Africa for the last 15 months. People were looking at me like I was crazy. But I was in a rush, and it was much easier to carry it on my head.

So I dropped that with the re-check-in guys and BOOTED it to get to my gate. I get there, I hand her my stuff and tell her I need to check in for Greensboro. I’m wondering why they’re not boarding yet. Then she tells me that flight is cancelled and so have the last 4. I was like SHIT. What about Charlotte? She said same thing, the weather in that part of North Carolina is just not good right now.

So I’m rebooked for a 7:10pm flight to Greensboro, and inshallah, it will take off. The gate agent was nice enough to lend me her phone to call my mom because she said the pay phones were “way too expensive”, and my mom said that the snow in NC was letting up. So a girl can dream. Linda said that Maggie was having the same problems.

So, verdict on the nachos is “OH MAN, it’s that crappy nacho cheese and not REAL cheese. And no beans! But a healthy dollop of sour cream.” So I didn’t eat all that much of it. I thought, “in Mali there’d be a little African child to give these leftovers to…here they are just going in the trash.” Sigh.

But these drinks she’s been bringing me have been good, and strong, like she promised. I’m on #3, which will be my last one. They’re like $7 apiece and they’re the cheapest one. America is expensive.

So. My flights have been painful. And not because of the armpit infection. That one feels fine. It’s the one on my abdomen/hip. It’s been hurting like a bitch this whole time. In the Paris airport I went to the bathroom and took the band-aid off it, reapplied triple antibiotic, and recovered it with gauze and tape this time, because I thought the band aid was what was hurting. Towards the end of the flight from Paris to Atlanta, it started feeling wet. And not hurting. And I was like that’s weird. So I went to the bathroom here in the Atlanta airport after finding out my flight was cancelled and apparently it burst or something. There was gross pus-y stuff all over the gauze and there is a HOLE in my stomach! I’m like FUCK. I hope that’s a good sign. I cleaned it with a moist towelette, put more triple antibiotic on it, and put a new gauze and tape on it. It’s been stinging since then. I don’t like seeing sort of large holes that open up into my insides. That is pas bonne. Luckily my aunt Sue should be able to at least help me clean it good and tell me if it’s normal/good when I get to NC. She is a nurse at a hospital. I’m thinking getting pus out, since there was evidently some in there, is probably a good thing. Considering what they did to me at Clinique Pasteur yesterday.

Oh I haven’t even told this story. So I get into the bureau and show doctor Dawn the ping-pong sized ball in my armpit. She’s like oh, well I will stick a needle in it and see if I get any pus out and if I do I’ll send you to Clinique Pasteur and let Dr. Toure cut it open and drain it. So she sticks the needle in it and pulls the plunger and a little droplet of pus comes out in the syringe. Awesome. So they send me to CP. And after a WHILE, I finally get called into the operating room. The nurse (who seemed like a pretty capable dude), started shooting me up with local anesthetic. That HURT. Not really the needle, but the pressure of all the liquid anesthetic. So then we wait a couple of minutes for Dr. Toure. He comes in. No pomp and circumstance. I don’t even think he said a word. He just walked right in, picked up the scalpel, and stabbed me. He and the nurse were holding me down. I was trying hard to be a good patient. Then he picked up scissors. I was like, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU GONNA DO WITH THOSE SCISSORS???” And he cut me with those. And THEN, the real pain started. They started squeezing the ping pong ball, all around it, as hard as they could. I was involuntarily screaming and kicking my legs. It fucking HURT. They keep wiping with gauze and getting new gauze and Dr. Toure is saying, “trop de pus! Trop de pus!” And then they finally stop. And I’m like HOLY SHIT. And he’s like, “ok, we got all the pus out, you’re good. The nurse is gonna patch you up now.” So then the nurse starts like shoving gauze with antiseptic on it into the wound and I’m kicking again, but Dr. Toure has left. Mercifully, he finally finishes (after shoving a piece of gauze INTO the wound and covering it) and I get to get up. I almost fell when I tried to stand up. They give me antibiotics and a painkiller and send me on my way.

Aissata was like, “let me sit down before you tell this story” because apparently she doesn’t like gore, when I was telling her and Dr. Dawn about it when I got back to the med unit.

So hopefully I am in better shape than before. But I’ll tell ya…that shit was painful. Welcome to West African medicine. And this was at a patron clinic. If I’d been at a vrai centre de santĂ©, there would have been no anesthesia, next to no sanitation, and probably a ton more pain (and more people holding me down).

But hey, if anything goes wrong now, I get to see an American doctor. Who will hopefully know what to do. There was a horror story from someone in Guinea who came to the US and came down with malaria and the doctor had no experience with tropical diseases and ended up making her recovery way worse than it had to be (she was in the hospital for like a week).

America is weird. People talk/complain about the weirdest shit. I may have thought this before Africa, though. Americans are so fat. And I can’t believe we eat some of the disgusting stuff we eat. Like the nachos I had earlier. Gross. I am sore about it, too, because now I am at the Samuel Adams restaurant and THEY have nachos with REAL cheese AND beans.

All I want to do is eat. Food sounds delicious. I need to pace myself. And not eat anything disgusting. I have a month. Just have to keep reminding myself.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Pain

So this lump in my armpit? HURTS. My family saw it today and they were like HEEEEEEEEY! And then they called it something in Bambara like “sumani” or something like that. I’ll have to ask Dr. Dawn if they were right. Also this antibiotic I’m taking gives me a stomachache, even when I take it with food. And my other ailments hurt, too. Everything hurts. It makes you grateful for those days when you just feel normal.

So I tried to button up my house pretty good today since I’m not sure if I’ll be zipping right back here or not. By button up I mean: water buckets empty, water filter empty, all dishes clean, no messes (especially edible ones), all travel bottles full, etc. It all depends on how things go at the dentist. I’m fairly sure that whatever it is, it can’t be taken care of in Bamako. Which means Dakar, or worse (better?), South Africa. I just hope that this dentist is good enough to identify the problem. Before it gets a lot worse. That’s been one of my experiences here. Doctors in general are not very good with preventative care or diagnosing something before it becomes a really big problem. They tend to wait until it is a really big obvious problem before they can either A. recognize it or B. care to do anything about it. My one exception would be Traian. But unfortunately he is out of my life now.

What I really hate about doctors (all doctors, not just the ones here) is that they don’t trust you to know what’s going on with your own body. Like, I know what’s normal about my body better than you do, you’ve been examining it for five minutes. This was especially evident the last time I was in Dakar, when it took a week to do a root canal because the dentist wasn’t hitting the nerve when he was giving me novocaine. I could tell I wasn’t numb before he even started doing anything. I could tell he hadn’t hit the nerve when he gave me the SHOT, for crying out loud. And he kept saying stuff like oh, it’s the nerve, it’s so inflamed, or there’s this swelling pressure or blah de blah blah blah. This happened multiple times. Like, multiple DAYS. And I just said to the APCMO (American), “dude, he’s not hitting the nerve. I’ve had enough novocaine shots in my life (like, hundreds) to know he isn’t hitting the nerve.” And the APCMO did the verbal equivalent of patting me on the shoulder and telling me to run along and play now. I was like, whatever dude. I have a pretty high tolerance for pain. If you keep messing it up until it gets REALLY bad, you’ll have to send me to America and then I can have some Mexican food. So swing away.

Anyway. I’m headed to the BKO tomorrow to take care of all this medical hubbub on Monday. Wish me luck.