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

Monday, May 7, 2012

Final Post

A little over a month ago life for the people of Mali got a whole lot more complicated, and I have been caught in the wake. For those of you who do not know, Mali is the midst of a civil war fought between the desert like North and the more temperate South. In mid-March, Mali also went though a forceful change in government and soon afterwards Peace Corps left. I am not going to comment on the civil war or the coup beyond this, good people have died, peaceful people have had their lives forever altered and no one knows what the results of all of this will be. A country that was once at peace is now partially filled with chaos. The oddest part is that I know my little village is still the same. I know that if I teleported back there I would not be able to tell there was a coup, or that a war is being fought. For my last blog post in the foreseeable future I am going to list a few of the things I am going to miss most about Mali and try and say what they mean to me.


The Coulibaly Family- I am not sure what kind of relationship I expected to have with the family I stayed with during my time in Mali. However, it surely was not as intimate and amazing as what I ended up with. I went into the situation looking for something along with line of a work partner and someone to watch out for me. What I ended up with was two people that I think of as an older brother and sister that are great parents to a bunch of the best kids I have ever met. Esayi is someone who I will always look to as a role model. In many ways he is the man I want to be, but in a remarkably different situation. He is strong, kind, family orientated and someone that his community looks up to.


Annie is just a fantastic and loving individual that took me in and made me feel like I had a friend from the first day that I arrived in village. She never tried to pander to me and was there to talk about whatever I wanted to talk about. All of this at the same time she participated in a number of community organizations, cooked for a large family, looked after four kids and somehow managed to take the time to be an ideal work partner for me. Without the two of them, I would have been a FAR less effective volunteer and because of them the last two years have been two of the happiest in my entire life. I will never forget them and will do everything in my power to stay as close as possible to the two of them. They are truly remarkable people that have given their hearts to not only myself, but two other volunteers before me, my big sister of sorts Jennifer Davis and the original volunteer. For all that they gave they received no pay and they got no rent money for the house that they lent out for over SIX YEARS.


I think one very unfortunate development of American society is how our culture interacts with children. While I lived in the United States (up though college), my interaction with kids was limited to those within my extended family and those I mentored though a program with Montana State. This might be because of the general lack of friendliness between neighbors, or maybe a rift has been driven between kids and “young adults” because of fears regarding sexual predators. I don’t really know why, but I know that that divide did not exist in Mali and I had around twenty little guys and gals that were like little brothers and sisters. These kids taught me a lot of things and I have no doubt that I will be a better father because of my interaction with them (Annie an Esayi are also great people to look to in this regard as well). In particular, I will especially miss my host family’s kids.

Thomas (14) was my teacher, farming partner and friend. Whenever we were out in the fields he would make sure to point out to me plants or animals and tell me about them. I can’t even count how many times I gathered something delicious while out with Thomas bumming around. If it was not for him I probably would not have eaten termites, hedgehogs, various lizards or all those little birds! Thomas was also my star pupil and the driving force for me teaching English in Village.


Miriam (12) is brilliant, calm and collected. She and I would actually talk about what she was studying in school, not a common subject in Mali. In addition to cleaning and cooking, she dedicated herself to her schoolwork (this is nearly unheard of in a place where most women are not expected to be literate) and helped me learn Bambara. Growing up, I never had a sister and though Miriam I got a glimpse into what that feels like. Her and her younger sister made me realize that one day I want a daughter.


Ema (10) is my sidekick. I do not know why exactly, but we immediately took a shining to each other and for the last two years he has been my quiet companion. Whether walking though town, playing catch, gardening, herding cattle or drawing random pictures he was there giving his two cents, smiling and laughing. I really miss my little buddy.


I have come to the realization that I really did not understand what toddlers were before I came to Mali. They are these little people that can live in two worlds at once. One where the rest of us exist that anyone can see and feel. This world is far more concrete and boring than the one that is only open to toddlers. A place were their imaginations can transform them into whatever shape and size they deem desirable and everything seems to happen naturally in a pleasurable and amusing way. My guide to this secondary little world was my little sister Christine (the Malians think this impossible to say so they call her Tini). When I first got to village she feared and loathed me. Whenever I came around she would cry and run away. Run might not be the best word, because at that time she was still mastering the skill. Eventually, I won her over and now we are tight! Now she is a running, jumping and climbing machine that dances around and screams “Adama is here! Adama is here!” whenever I return to village from San. She has fallen asleep in my arms countless times and I believe I am one of her favorite people around. The feeling is mutual and I love this little girl with everything I have.

For the last two years these people have been my family and no one could have done a better job at that. I have felt at home with them from the very first day when I sat around with Jennifer, surrounded by people who I that time I had yet to know the names of, struggling to describe to them my brother back home. Little did I know that I would become so much a part of the family that on my second to last day in Mali, when Esayi’s younger brother (my neighbor, host uncle and good friend Yacuba) tragically died leaving behind five kids and a wife, he would call Jennifer and me to console with and draw comfort from. Though it was surreally sad to have my last moment with someone how had meant so much to me in a hospital morning, I was just glad that I could be there to help a man I view as a mentor and brother when he needed it. The craziest thing is that I know that is the situation was flipped and my brother was the one that died, it would be Esayi that I would by my side to help me out. I am crushed that I have been forced to leave these people without saying the goodbye that I would liked to have, and even that would have been hard. I do not know when I am going to se them again but it is not soon enough.

San Kaw- Throughout my entire life I have been lucky enough to have just a top notch group of friends, and for whatever reason I seem to be able to make new friends quickly. Right off the bat in Peace Corps, I met four people that would form four solid friendships with people who are still four of my best friends to this day. Anderson, Fletch and Ryan have been my “crew” since the first few days of training and we have only gotten tighter since. I could not imagine my time in PC Mali without these three and I know that we’ll see each other in the future. Grahm was my first friend in Mali and I could not have made a better pick! I am super excited for him to work close to Montana this summer. During my time in Bamako, I was lucky enough to get close to some of the coolest NGO workers around, right now I was talking about the Project Muso crew; Rebecca, Martha, Amber and Ian. You guys were some of my closest friends in country and meant as much to me as any PCV. You all are hardcore and hope you continue to do crazy things that help people out. I became friends with some great people, but in it took a little bit longer to meet my Peace Corps family.

The Crew

Once we swore in as volunteers ten people from Team America (my training class) went to a place called San. If you look up San in most travel books they will tell you that it is a gloried truck stop (which is true), but it is one truck stop that the ten of us came to love. Not only did we come to love the town, but we came to love each other as a family. We had wise older brothers and sisters in Holly, Brad and Caitlin that showed us how to exist and thrive in the climate we found ourselves in. I was surround with people that I not only liked, but admired personally and professionally from all over the country and a variety of different backgrounds. Virginia, Alyssa, Sarah, Megan and Lindsey were my new sisters and we shared many a fine conversation and much merriment was had. Tom, Henry, Mario, J Clay and James were my brothers. Clad in matching checkerboard soccer jerseys, we wandered the litter covered street drinking Beaufort, eating some great baguettes and settling Catan. Together we, San Kaw, helped each other though some challengers and rejoiced together in some memorable celebrations. We ended up liking each other to a humorous degree (a joke within Peace Corps was the “San Kaw really likes San Kaw”). Fortunately, our family grew.

San kaw

In my sixth month at site, while I was still a greenhorn, new volunteers showed up and they were pretty awesome additions. Chrissy and Michelle became my two nearest volunteers. They were like a unit from day one and it was great to see. Hannah was a breath of fresh air and made her stamp on the house. In particular, I want to mention Chrissy specifically. She was my neighbor and she was awesome (we’re talking best neighbor ever material)! Her level of integration into her village was inspiring and we clicked almost immediately. If I ever needed to speak English, or eat some just great food, I knew Chrissy was just a short 8k away. The Kennedys (their training group) added their flair to our family, but it was a decidedly feminine one. That is where our Goodfella (another training class name)came in. Flash forward another few months and Lyle showed up. Lyle was pretty up the perfect person to have gotten in San. I hope to spend some time with him in South America at one point, Lyle=the bees knees, nuff said.

Rounding out our pre-evacuation family is The Mad Hatters, and I consider myself a quarter Mad Hatter. I was their trainer and saw these guys within their first few hours in Mali. When I found out that Anthony, Michael, Karen and Cythia were our merry band I could not have been happier. Even though I spent a lot of time with these guys, it was not nearly enough. Expect letters and packages when you head off to your new sites.

San Kaw is a group that I will remember for the rest of my life and our time together is something I will always cherish. I know that everyone in that group will go on to do awesome things and I am just excited to see what those things are. Here’s to many excellent meals, excellent friends and to the best freaking guards in the entire world.

The Brousse- Over the past few years I have become very interested in people’s relationship with their surroundings. I have spent my entire life in cities and I believe that I have a fairly standard relationship with the cities I have lived in. In my mind, a city is its own little world cut off from things around it in mental attachment. The concrete sidewalks, manicured lawns and painted houses let you know that this is man’s world and one tends to forget how much even a world in the digital age relies on nature. You buy flour from the super market, and thus in your mind flour comes from the supermarket. You might know (I hope you do) that a farmer had to grow the grain for that flour in a field that he or she cleared. That grain then had to be milled before it went though further processing and showed up at the grocery store around the corner, but YOU do not experience any of that. Even though the city itself seemed to provide everything for me, it did not seem like I was ever a meaningful part of that community. Yes, I worked, had friends and was happy in my former places of residence, but there is a certain feeling that I did not know existed until I left the States and found myself in a very small village, in a very poor country and very far from the nearest paved road.


For the last two years I have lived in a place where I knew where every road led to and had biked them all. I knew where every family lived and everyone knew me (not every hard when I am the only white guy around). I could go out into the bush to collect fruit and I farmed my own food, the earth and the labor of my friends and me fed the village. For most of the year I spent under two hours a day (including sleep) indoors. When you live like rural Malians do, then you form a different kind of relationship with nature. On a daily basis you interact with nature though your labor, not just though recreation. As a result you gain a level of respect for the land that is different from the one I felt back home. It was almost like the area itself was my work partner. For the last two years, I have really felt that I really knew an area and a community. I do not know if I will ever form that same form of relationship with an other area as I did with my village, but I am going to give it a shot. That may take the same sort of concentrated effort I put into establishing relationships during my first few months in village, but I am committed to giving it a shot.


In conclusion, I got way more from my time in Mali than I could have ever wished for. I came to Mali looking for a job and maybe some sort of adventure. What I ended up with was a new family, a new home and some of the best friends a guy can ask for. Additionally, I had almost two great years that changed me in a meaningful way. I will always be grateful for my time in Mali and I will miss it.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mining for clarity

We live in a world shaded gray. Despite how much we might wish otherwise, issues that are “black and white” exist almost entirely in fiction. Once in a while a issue comes along which personally tears at you, something that seems to pull you in either intellectually or personally not allowing you to escape. Such a perfect storm has risen in Mali and I can't shake it, I'm talking about gold mining. If you're scratching your head I'll try to explain.
I come from a place where the clash of ideas between between extractive industry and environmental conservation drive the historical narrative. The city of Butte grew with the mining industry in Montana and was prosperous for a time. However, the current and very visible legacy of the Anaconda mining operation is the Berkley Pit super-fund site (an environmental disaster and drain of public resources). The mines in Libby left a town with serious problem involving cancer related to exposure to asbestos exposure. A quick look at the list of states parks in Montana will show a number of once prosperous ghost towns that flourished for a short time after someone struck it big on a solid vain of ore.
I am a student of history and have taken a serious interest in environmental history (I've read a long about extractive industries often disastrous effect on an ecosystem). The dangerous effects of large mining operations on local water sources has been well documented. In general, my feeling of the mining industry is that it entires into an area exploiting it's resources until they are depleted and then leaves. The public at large is left to clean up whatever mess is left by the mining operation and the environmental impacts can be long lasting. However, I know that mining put the bread on the table for many Montana families and the industry has many supporters. As someone who consumers the products are the result of the industry (it is tough not to use metal) it is also at least a little hypocritical of me criticize the industry that I am patronizing. All this being said, I do not have a enthusiastic opinion of the mining industry and believe that ventures into expansion of extractive industry in general should be accompanied by analysis into environmental and public health impacts. This kind of analysis is not the kind of thing that I would expect from a poor country desperate for more industry and well paying jobs, Mali for instance.
Over the past few months a number of my good friends here in village have left for a few months in order to make some money while there is no work to be done in village. One particularly popular destination is the mines. It might be worth noting here that mining (in particular gold) is a benchmark of the Malian economy, providing one of Mali's major exports. It is hard to to explain the feeling I get when a sixteen year tells me that they are going to leave village to work and the place that they are going is the gold mines. The majority of the time these people are living in poverty and nothing comes easy. Village life provides a harmonious peaceful existence. However, harmony can't buy medicine for the kids and peace can't buy millet when the granary runs dry. As a result there is a “rural exodus” from every rural village in Mali.
Once work is done in the fields, and there is no income potential left in the village, the youth leaves to return a few months later. The allure of big money made quickly is understandably appealing to a migrant work force. Where things get complicated for me if that when a Westerner, just as myself, thinks of a mine in Africa the image isn't pretty. One thinks of near gulag working conditions where people do backbreaking labor to chase the fleeting chance of a fortune found though a finding an elusive nugget. Even if such a nugget is found, we imagine that the laborer only receives a small percentage of the market value for the nugget while the mine owner pockets a hefty profit. My negative opinion of the mines does not improve when news reports just as this one detailing child labor abusing and dangerous conditions seem to pour out of Mali. My already negative opinion of mining only worsens the internal wince I made whenever I hear of someone going off to the mines, but what do I do?
The major problem that I face when thinking about possible courses of actions upon hearing a friend is excited to go off into what I imagine is a terrible time is one common to development workers. Is my negative opinion of a result of my coming from a position of privilege? I have never really struggled for anything material in my entire life. I've never wondered if I could afford dinner, or had to venture off to labor to ensure the family stay afloat. My being born into a middle class American family ensures a life protects me from most of that. Additionally, everyone working in Mali works their ass off. I'm not sure how much worse the mines are than hauling two hundred pounds bag of cereals around. In the end all you can do is express my skepticism and wish them luck.

Here's some pictures

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Open for donations

A quick update on the bridge project. If you are a regular reader of this blog, then you might recall that I made a post about building a bridge at my site in order to expand infrastructure and remove a serous safety hazard. I was expecting for the project to be open for donations in January and many of you responded with verbal pledges of assistance (for which myself and the people of my village are very grateful). However, factors outside of my power such as international economics and critical staff members going on vacation has delayed the paper within the bureaucracy of Peace Corps Mali. After two months of waiting, this week the paperwork made it's way to Washington and has made it's way to the Internet. The project is now open for donations and the link is (https://www.peacecorps.gov/index.cfm?shell=donate.contribute.projDetail&projdesc=688-378). I'd like to thank you all for you interest in my work and support.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Sorry for the wait

In Mali things tend to happen slowly. Donni donni, a mantra for life here, translates to something along the lines of “little by little”. This same slowness applys to projects clearing Peace Corps approval. The bridge paperwork is still being looked at by Peace Corps staff, but it should be ready to be funded shortly. I have received a lot of support already and I would like to thank everyone for their help. Expect another post soon with a link to where you can donate.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Very Mali Christmas

For the second year in a row, I wasn't at home for Christmas. Last year I went to Manitali, a beautiful town on a large lake to swim, eat and be merry. However, it didn't feel like Christmas at all. I remember thinking that the two years I spend in Peace Corps will be in a vacuum. I would miss things back home, but I wouldn't really have equivalents here in Mali. Well, things have changed in the last year. This year felt like Christmas.
Some of my best friends in Mali ( Anderson, Fletch and Ryan) decided to come to my site to spend Christmas and afterwards we went to Dogon country to do some hiking. Christmas itself was relaxing. We went to mass on Christmas eve and day and then spent the rest of the day kicking back enjoying the holiday. My host family cooked some great food and we had a swell day. Dogon Country was also very nice. The area is a giant plateau that borders the Sahara desert. The area is filled with cliff villages and is strikingly beautiful. Enjoy some pictures.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Building Bridges

I come from a line of growers and builders. My Grandpa Kuntz has made an honest living farming in North Dakota for the entirety of his life, his father was a farmer and I bet his grandfather was a farmer. My grandfather on my dad's side was a contractor based out of Montana. I've heard stories about my dad working on bridges, or my mom's tales of the farm for as long as I remember. If someone would have told me that I would be following in the steps of my forefathers a few years ago I would have hidden a scoff. However, I currently find myself a sorghum farmer researching seed varieties and companion planting possibilities. Now, the time has come to emulate the Cave side of my family, but I need your help. To put it simply there is bridge that needs to be built and I'm the only person in a position to facilitate its completion.

This next paragraph will be a basic summary of the problem that needs correction, and what steps need to be taken in order to alleviate the issue. I will give further information on how the project came about, implementation and exactly what you can do to help in following paragraphs. My site consists of a collection of four villages lumped together and given the name Zana. These four villages are Sobala, Zanso, Dangaso and Dombala. Most of the resources of the villages are located centrally in either Zanso or Sobala. These resources include a grinding mill and cereal bank which were built by Peace Corps. Additionally, the school, womens cooperative headquarters (main shea processing area), major meeting places and the market are all located in either Zanso or Sobala. Resources like a school, grinding mill and a market increase incomes and impart skills. Unfortunately, the citizens of Dombala don't have access to these important resources for a good portion of the year. During the rainy season (starting in June). a stream appears between Dombala and Sobala rendering the road impassible to cars and wagons and dangerous to pedestrians, bicycles and motorcycles. Consequently, Dombala is isolated from the rest Zana; Dombala's ability to use valuable community resources located in Zanso and Sobala is cut off. The road also poses a health risk due to motorcycle accidents. Labor to repair the road somewhat usable is not available until there is a lull in farming, this lull often doesn't come occur until December.                                              


Map of the area highlighting the problem

This project will improve the most dangerous section of the Dombala road by evening out the road and reinforcing it with concrete and rebar. Villagers will also take erosion prevention measures upstream from the improved section of road by planting trees and placing larger rocks. The community will provide all of the labor and locally available materials. Partners will provide concrete and rebar for construction. The number of Dombala citizens using Zana's resources will be used to measure success.

To give a bit of background on the project, I'll recount how the project came to be at the state it is currently in. I remember walking around village during my first week at site and running into a man who was excited to meet me, this man was a farmer from Domabala named Bakari Sogoba. Bakari took me over to the road that connects his village, Dombala, to my home, Sobala. Both of these villages are part of my site and the road that connects them does not so much resemble a road, it's more of a gorge. The road was definitely a problem, but it did not fit in with my ideas about what I wanted to do at site. As the months turned into a year, people of all sorts told me that fixing the Dombala road was a priority of their's. All four of Zana's village chiefs, the imam, pastor, dozens of mothers and farmers showed enthusiasm toward the idea. Support for improving the road was widespread and deeply held. It came as no surprise that during Participatory Analysis for Community Action (a meeting designed help establish reasonable priorities for development) that improving the road came out as the number one priority for both men and women. After witnessing the road further erode during rainy season and seeing a young man seriously injure himself trying to cross the road on a motorcycle, I decided to do what the community wanted/needed and focus on the road.

Upon expressing more interest into looking into the issue of the Dombala road, one of the masons in village came to me with a design for the road that would solve the problems and be relatively low cost. Peace Corps had built these type of road improvements in the past in a village about fifteen kilometers away (see picture below). In further meetings, two of the village masons volunteered their services and the village chiefs arranged other labor for the road improvement. Additionally, the village chiefs made it clear that maintenance of the bridge and erosion control would be a priority for the group of villages that currently works on road repairs biannually. For the most part this project was conceived, designed and will be executed by the people of Zana; I have just been a facilitator.


My counterpart Esayi inspecting a “bridge” similar to what we are looking to build

In order to construct the bridge the community will follow the implementation plan presented in the next few paragraphs. Construction will start as soon as funds are available, but we would like to start by mid-March. To begin with, community members will gather the required locally available materials (rocks, gravel and sand). Given the amount of these resources needed collection will take a week. Once the locally gathered materials are gathered, the concrete and rebar will be bought in San. Transportation of all of the cement and rebar could take three days. Once all of the materials are gathered and arranged to the mason's liking, excavation will begin.

Currently the stretch of road that we are going to work on is uneven and features some impressive drops. Before any work is done with the cement and rebar the road will have to be evened out. The road will be worked into an elongated U with consideration given to water drainage. Along with the leveling, three holes for the piers need to be dug to the depth of a meter. All of this excavation is estimated to take nine days. Once excavation is complete concrete will begin to be poured and rebar will begin to be laid. The rebar will intersect with another piece of rebar at a perpendicular angle every 20cm. Once the concrete is poured and finished, construction work is complete. Construction is estimated to take ten days. During the concrete laying/drying process great care has to be taken to ensure that no one/thing ruins the concrete before it dries.


1.) State of the road currently 2.)Post excavation 3.)Post Construction

Maintenance and upkeep of the road will be passed onto those members of the village that are chiefly in charge of road maintenance currently. The masons already possess the skills needed to keep the road running well. The road that Peace Corps repaired in a neighboring village is functioning under a very similar arrangement and is currently in great shape. Monitoring and evaluation of the project will be ongoing and primarily done by myself. I will get the different associations to keep track of the number of people whom are new participants from Dombala. Additionally, I will track the number of buyers/sellers using the Zana market that arrive on the improved road. Now that you know the work that the people of Zana are going to do, you probably want to know what you can do to help.

The people of Zana need a good road in order access available resources and have already invested a lot of time and planning into the project. However, we need your help in order to purchase the cement and rebar used in the repair of the road. Construction of the road requires three tons of cement at 125000CFA per ton for a total of 375000CFA in cement. Additionally, 45 bars of rebar #8 need to be purchased at 2000 CFA a bar for a total of 90000CFA. All together, partners need to supply 465000CFA in order to buy all the needed supplies. Using the current exchange rate of 501.73CFAs per dollar, the sum comes to $926.80. However, rumor is that the CFA will be devalued at the beginning on 2012 (which could lead to higher cement prices) and I've been advised to wait till early January to submit the final application for bureaucratic approval. If you are feeling the Christmas spirit and want to help some of the world's poorest people out, I'd ask you to set aside a little bit of money to donate to the project once it is up for donations. One hundred percent of whatever you donate will go to the construction of the bridge. There is no administrative costs and I will give regular updates as to the progress of the project. Oftentimes when you donate money to a charity and do not know what happens with your money after you give. With this you'll have an amazing and competent person that you know (me!) managing a project that will do lasting and concrete good to an entire community whom are willing to work for it! Additionally, the donation is tax deducible. I bet you're just salivating at the prospect of donating, but you'll have to wait to early January :( Once the project is cleared to receive funding I will post a link on this blog to where you can donate.

In summarization, some people in Mali need your help to improve a road that is dangerous and impassible. Improving the road will improve access to markets, make it easier for kids to go to school, improve food security by improving access to a cereal bank and grinding mill and reduce risk of injury. Once the funding is in we can start work.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I think that we are going to be friends!

The last month has been such a change from my normal life in Mali that I've been left breathless. To recap, I've left my village and am living in Bamako for about a month working as a trainer for the newest group of volunteers. My role is to pass along technical skills (gardening, extension techniques, pest management, etc...) along with serving as a role model/peer support. Consequently, I've been spending a lot of time on a computer (a major change from village life) gathering information to present. Afterwards, I go off to a home-stay village and present this information to a group of trainees. I'm really enjoying my new role and I've been told that I'm alright at it. It's good to be working with staff and having a say as to what a new generation of Peace Corps Mali learns is nice, but the most rewarding part so far is getting to know the trainees. Three weeks back forty Americans came to Mali and with some determination in another month forty new volunteers will venture forth into Mali.

The trainees are not the only people that I've met during my stay in Bamako. As the holiday season approaches peoples families are pouring into the country. Most notably for me was the father, mother and brother of my friend, partner and site-mate Tom. It is always interesting to see where a person “comes from”, and it was apparent that Tom's family shares the friendliness, humor and sense of adventure that I admire in Tom. It was truly a pleasure to get to know them. Meeting other peoples families has brought out a sense of homesickness in myself. For two years PCVs leave home in order to go to a far off place. In this place they see, experience and feel things that simply cannot be expressed in words. In order to gain an understanding of what we do/where we live one would actually have to come to Mali. Knowing that you are experiencing something that most of your family and friends can't relate to is mildly depressing, but on the other hand it binds PCVs together forging a bond between volunteers. As Thanksgiving and Christmas approach I'm probably going to miss Mom, Dad and Rob more and more, but I have another family here to fall back on. Dozens of volunteers that have been my support for months and a group of forty new friends to bond with.