Sunday, December 19, 2010
A lot has happened since my last post. I’ve made new friends, met a load of other ex-pats reconnected with friends from PST but two events dwarf all of these. 1.) I have a new host brother! My host mother Annee had a healthy baby boy on the 3rd of December. I know all of you want to see pictures, but the little man was borne while I was making my way to Bamako. Consequently, I have yet to see him. My host dad, who came in a week later tells me the baby is doing fine and I can’t wait to see him. Jennifer, the PCV I replaced, named the baby Jan and tells me he is a cute little guy.
2.) The day that my homologue left to join me a T-so his horse died. Not only was the horse by far the most valued of the my families live stock, but there certain level of affection shown towards the horse (something very rare here in Mali). Essai is understandably sad not only for the reasons that a person in the States would be for losing a pet, but because this is a serious threat to his livelihood. With no horse these is no way for him to take goods into San to sell. If crops were still in the field they would have to be transported into town by hand, instead of wagon. This would add an insane amount of time to how long it takes to get a crop turned out.
Being back at Tubaniso with everyone brings up some complicated feeling. It doesn’t seem like anything has happen. I’ve spent three month at site and it seems like nothing has changed. However, the realities of the situation make one look at the event differently. Realistically this may be the last time I see quite a few of my fellow volunteers before our service ends. This is the last of the big gathering until we have the “close of service” conference in 2012. For the next few days it feels like I’m back at the beginning. Back in T-So where I live with other Americans, speaking English on a regular basis and hope to get tacos for dinner. In actuality this is the end of the beginning; the last time I’ll be at T-So, the last time I’ll see some of the staff that is retiring, the last time I hear people complain about the condition of the negens and the last time I damn the internet here.
Dear Friends and Family,
You might be asking yourself “Why has Jim written a separate Christmas card?” The answer is that I’m living across the ocean from the rest of my family. Currently my place of residence is a small farming village by the name of Zana in Mali, a country is Sub Saharan West Africa. I’m working here with the Peace Corps as a “environment extension agent”, but really my job is help the people of my village help themselves in whatever way I can. Whether by working with the women’s cooperative to improve basic business practices, or encourage the planting of veggies in gardens I lend my assistance to my new friends.
The people of Mali are easily the most friendly people I’ve met in my entire life. When I arrived here I did not speak any Bambara (the major native language here), spoke very little French (and did so badly) and had spent the last four years thinking and writing about politics and history. How was I going to help these people exactly? I had no clue, but regardless of all of that I was welcomed into a community, guided though two months of language and technical training by an amazing family and am to the point where I do pretty good here by myself. The idea of someone coming into the States with no English and being taken in and loved by a community as much as I have been can’t be fathomed by myself.
When I came here I read that Mali was the third poorest country in the world and the poverty can be seen everywhere (the bottom 25 countries are suppose to be a toss up because GDP becomes less and less meaningful with an increase in subsistence farming). From the garbage that scatters the streets as the result of an absence of landfills, to the lack of running water and electricity to most of the country and the condition of the school system poverty‘s presence is widely felt. However, the people here are happy and make the most of the situation. All of this has made me realize more sharply than ever how lucky we are to be from the United States. No matter how poor one is, any child can get an education up to the 12th grade if they so choose. In Mali it is rare someone makes it past the mandatory test to make it out of the 6th grade. Additionally, a shocking number of girls that are pulled out of school to do cooking and other chores. Women here spend at least 6 hours a day pounding grain to be used in the feeding the family. We can just buy pre milled flour for a fraction of what one makes in an hour working minimum wage.
Despite all of the things that our great nation has going for it, and all the problems that my new home has, when my friend’s here ask me I tell them though America and Mali are very different I like them both. People here stick together, help each other out and are deeply involved in their village even though they make on average a little over a buck a day. America has a lot going for it, but I think a lot of people have failed to realize it.
I do not want to get too preachy so I’ll move on. I am very happy here, have discovered a lot about myself and even more about the world around me. Joining the Peace Corps is the best decision I think I’ve ever made, and am looking forward to spending two years here. I hope everything is going well back home with everyone. I sincerely wish all of you a merry holiday season, and would like to thank you for the friendship you have given to myself and my family.