I'm Jim Cave, I'm in Mali and these are my notes

I'm Jim Cave, I'm in Mali and these are my notes

Friday, July 23, 2010

Jim in Mali Land

Since I’ve last made a blog post a lot has happened, but the days have flown by. It hardly feels like I’ll have been in Mali for three weeks tomorrow, but that’s the case.

I’ve moved in the second part of my Pre Service Training (PST) “homestay” where I’m living in a village learning Bambara. Joining me in the village of Niamana are seven other trainees in the environment sector, and two teachers that are native speakers(called LCFs). The days flow in a routine where I wake up at around 6:00 (most days to the noise of donkeys), take a bucket bath and eat breakfast before heading to school. After a few hours of language training I return home for lunch and another bucket bath. Another three hours of school, and I’m done for a day after which I return home to practice by Bambara. All of this has become pretty routine, but school is not the most important part of homestay. The actual experience of living in a family in Mali is the main attraction for these two months.

I have moved in the Diarra family, and they are about friendliest people that I’ve ever met. There is no a person could show up in the United States, knowing no English, and feel as welcome as I do in Mali. Every person you meet on the street greets, wants to know how you are doing and what the hell you are doing in Mali. The interest only increases once you greet them in Bambara, and tell them you are American. The people here assume that every white person here is French, and are pretty interested upon finding otherwise. My language skill is still pretty lacking and as a result most conversations fall apart after the greetings. However, the people you are greeting remain friendly and interested throughout. My name here is Amada Bakari Diarra, given to me by my host father Bakari Diarra, but people here call “Jim Cave”. I live in a compound with around thirty other people, twenty of them kids, and the result is pretty interesting. People eat together, most of the time out of the same bowl, and with their hands. The ability to eat all sorts of foods with your hands takes quite a bit of practice.

The kids are both a blessing and a curse. Understandably, having a “educated” white person living with you that speaks worse than your three year old sibling yields endless entertainment. It’s pretty common to have 16 kids around me repeating “Jim Cave….Jim Cave…..Adama Bakari Diarra” looks for me to lay down high fives. Most of the time this is pretty cute, but if you are trying to get some homework done the whole thing can get old pretty fast. Two of the teenagers are best friends here and my saviors. My brother Adama and sister Kiatou have taken it upon themselves to turn me from a blubbering idiot into a respectable individual. Additionally, the Diarra matriarch Fatoumatah, is one of the coolest ladies that I’ve ever met. A strong woman that has helped me integrate to a remarkable degree

Lastly, the other Americans that I find myself here with are all pretty awesome. I have some solid friends, and can tell we are going to be a pretty tight group

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Greeting from Summer Camp

Greetings from Mali,

Well it is hard for me to call what I am going through right now Mali. I am currently doing the first part of my training in the Peace Corps Training Center known as Tobuniso (probably spelled wrong). In this compound, a 45 minute bus ride away from Bamako International Airport, 80 of us Americans have gathered for the purpose of helping the people of Mali. However, right now the days are filled with presentations and lectures like you would find during your orientation day at any job. A superior stands before a group full of noobies and talks about policy, company culture and safety. The difference is our safety lecture was more about how to avoid getting mugged. I should mentioned that volunteers rarely get mugged in Mali, and very little crime occurs at all if one is careful. All in all I currently feel more like I’m at summer camp than thousands of miles away from home in Africa. For instance, I called my parents and told them how I was doing on a cell phone I bought today (I get better service here than I do at my house in Great Falls).

The living situation is also a lot like summer camp. I’m currently sharing a thatched roof hut with two other guys. Our hut grouping (H-Hut Represent!!) is all male, and only one of the hut groups is co-ed. Our saag (trainee group as a whole) comes from all over the United States, and seems to demographically represent the U.S. fairly well. We have a majority of whites, with individuals of every nationality besides Native American. There is only one married couple, and almost everyone is under 26. Geographically the entire national is represented (Michigan heavily); however, I’m the only volunteer from Montana or any of the bordering states. One of the guys I’m living with, Lucas, hails from Pennsylvania and is going into the environmental sector with me. Clay, my other roommate, is from Virginia and is in small enterprise development. Both of these guys are pretty cool, but I have made other close friends in the last few days. As much as it feels like I’m at summer camp right now, I’ve gotten a taste of what lays outside the controlled compound of Tobuniso.

For the 4th we went to the American Club and attended a party. Think of the American Club as an American only country club in Bamako (a very low scale country club by US standards). The event felt like a regular 4th, but without the fireworks. The same music, the same food, the same beer, the same Frisbee and a small pool. However, the trip gave me a little taste of what is to come. First, the drive though the small section of Bamako was intense. Everyone’s eyes were glued to the windows as we rolled past in a nice air conditioned bus completely in contrast to our surroundings. It was the first time any of us had seen Mali outside of the compound during the day, and we just absorbed the information. The poverty was very evident and other aspects, such as livestock and the crazy road, made the drive a memorable one. The second major important event happened in the area of “Jim interacting with the Malian people”. I’ll give a brief recount of the events

Jim having bought a ticket redeemable for a beer (the last he will have in the foreseeable future) go to order a beer for a Malian bartender. Jim swaggers up to the drink cart.
Jim: Bonjour
Malian Man: Bonjour
J: (doesn’t know what to say next, and is afraid he will mess up the French) Rolling Rock (points to bottle)
M: (Begins to speak in French of Bambara, of which I recognize nothing)
J: Rolling Rock (points to bottle again, but beginning to feel embarrassed)
M: (More questionable speech and some gestures)
(Rinse and repeat last two lines three of four times)
J: (Having guessed if I wanted the beer poured in a glass) The bottle is fine
M: (Begins to concerned at still speaks undiscernibly)
J: Je ne compred pas
M: (points to the other bartender)
J: (walk to the other cart, points at the beer on tap, takes said beer and leaves embarrassed)

The entire situation left me pretty feeling like an imperialist or something along those lines. Needless to say learning Bambara is on the top of my to do list. Lastly, we saw about a few hundred people playing soccer as we left. You can not underestimate the number of people playing soccer.

I’ll be moving in with a Malian family for the rest of training in a few days and am excited for that.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Currently I’m in Paris, waiting for the plane to Bamako. There’s 80 of us, and we sort of move around as a mob clog things up; however, the French version of TSA did not help things. I’ve been informed that this is normal in European airports, but the security here is much more rigorous than in the United States. Almost everyone got a pat down, and I had to take my external hard drive out of my backpack (something I’ve never had to do in the states.)

I’ve spent quite a bit more time with a few people here, and so far everyone is really cool. Additionally there is a lot of variety in areas of specialty among the volunteers. Of all of ag/env volunteers only two were raised on a farm. Two other are grad students in ag econ, but have no farm experience. Most interestingly there is an opera singer in the ag/env sector. This king of variety is not isolated to my sector, but standard among all sectors.

Right now everyone is just anxious to get to Mali, and get to work. When I post this I’ll be in Mali, but I’m bored so I thought I’d write an update.

P.S. I'm in Mali and net access is pretty limited right now due to the number of us trying to get on. So far everything is awesome, but a little surreal. I spent Fourth of July at the American Club with is the country club here, and it was a pretty good time.