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For many years the discipline of anthropology, specifically a synthesis of archaeology and cultural anthropology, has always captivated me. I am passionately interested in past societies and cultures and the methods which are used to present the stories to the greater public. My recent Peace Corps experience in Mali, West Africa, gave me many insights into the difficulty for rural, largely agrarian communities to preserve, and if desired, promote their cultural and material heritage both through physical cultural heritage centers and online media. In the case of Mali specifically, much of the material, archaeological cultural heritage, and the interpretations that go along with it, are in the National Museum located in the central capital city of Bamako. Rural, agrarian communities with no readily available access to transportation are often left unable to see the tangible vestiges of a great Malian Empire or the diverse archaeological landscapes spread spatially and temporally across the country. Not only that, but they have no voice in the interpretation of the history, and specifically their localized history as it pertains to them.

Through the creation of local cultural heritage centers with an online component, rural communities would then have an opportunity to not only participate in the preservation and management of their local material culture and cultural heritage, but they would be then given a voice to bring a localized interpretation to their cultural heritage and history. Physical cultural heritage centers would provide potential monetary benefit by tapping into the lucrative tourist economy. It would also provide opportunities for education on the local level, promoting the more regional cultural heritage and material archaeological culture. Using the internet as an online component to this proposed project of localized cultural heritage centers would bring a vital avenue for promotion to populations in, but especially outside, the country. Online media, specifically social media, would provide free promotional outlets for communities with no means of capital to support costly advertising campaigns. Creation of a website would allow for further opportunities of promotion, and more importantly, provide opportunities for funding through donations and other means. Digitization of material artifacts, videos and multimedia components, and the potential for online digital museums with possible virtual tours are just a few of the possibilities of what the internet could do for both promotional and educational ends. Specifically in the case of Mali, again, having an online component that could provide monetary benefit to the local community is vital seeing as cultural heritage centers in potentially rural, difficult to access communities would pose problems for a successful tourist economy if it remained solely offline.

With all this taken into consideration, I am currently studying in an applied archaeology program to learn about the dynamics and feasibility of such an enterprise. My primary and current course of study is to learn methods of sustainable cultural heritage presentation, preservation, and management to increase the localized tourist economy for interested descendant, marginalized, impoverished, rural, or otherwise disenfranchised communities with no ready access to promote their local cultural heritage and history as well as no means of preserving heritage sites.

Upon graduation I plan to put these ideas to the test and the use of the internet as a promotional and educational tool remains intrinsically associated and incredibly important to the project I propose. I hope to use my master’s degree to become proficient in methods in which to help interested communities become more active and heard in the interpretation, preservation, management, and presentation of local cultural heritage, sacred or otherwise important sites, and material culture for the benefit, first and foremost, of the local community involved. I plan to address the issue of sustainability of this proposed project through online media and internet resources that can give marginalized communities both a national and international component. Hopefully, as society transitions to be more and more active in the online realm, such a project will prove successful and beneficial for all interested and participating communities.

 

Why Hello Mr. Scorpion

Life in Mali continues at its steady, at the moment not to muddy, step. Life has been much of the same with test plots of new varieties of millet, creating a natural locally available insect repellent out of neem leaves, and continuously expounding (probably to some villagers’ annoyance at this point) on the nutritional benefits of Moringa leaves. But Mali life has also thrown me some exciting curve balls:  I confronted my first scorpion the other day and In our interaction I made sure to get straight to the point (that being the point of my shovel) and being that direct I think go my point across quite clearly…And I think I would take the scorpion over those damn unnaturally large sun spiders any day (I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me…or rather sting me I suppose). And The adventure of cramming 35+ people into a van–people sitting on the laps of people sitting on laps. Not to mention their stuff piled in and mostly on top of the van with some sheep, a few chickens here and there, a motorcycle, some more adventurous souls, pretty much everything but the kitchen sink, tho as I said before that too I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had made it on. The funny thing being tho, once all 35 of us were crammed in literally 100 meters later we all had to get out and walk a stretch that was to muddy for a van with 35+ people and their stuff to drive on.

And the language is slowly coming along, each day strengthening my vocabulary and finding out I’ve been saying something completely and quite embarrassingly incorrectly. The other day for example I found out to my amusement but much more to my horror that for the last 3 months when asking people to wash their hands ( saying “bolo ko”, the bambara word for hand being “bolo” and “ko” being wash) I was actually asking them to please circumcise themselves…the word for circumcise being, go figure, “boloko”. AND in this one instance when you want to say “to wash hands” you use the phrase “tege ko”. So that’s probably some good info to know considering this has been going on for 3 months with EVERYBODY I eat with…2 year olds to my host grandmother. Not exactly the person you want to be asking such things to, especially during the very inopportune moment of meal time.

But as I have come to understand, life in Mali is very much dooni dooni (little by little) whether it be Bambara fluency or field work or simply getting from one side of the village to the other. You just take everything in stride, a muddy stride of late, but a stride nonetheless. And I feel slowly you gain moment to carry you into a little bigger and quicker dooni dooni. Not much else to tell at the moment. The slow steady pace of village life is swiftly growing on me, being in stark contrast to the rush so prevalent in American life. In some ways it’s a breath of fresh air.

Hope all is well! I’ll try to update again soon!

Mario

I can’t believe another month has flown by! IST (In Service Training) has long passed, having been rammed full of animations ranging from composting to tree grafting, from HIV/AIDS to malnutrition in Mali, and from tree nursery management to how one starts a (here we go with the important 4 S’s) sustainable, small, simple, and slow development project that can mature in complexity and grow at a healthy rate rather than start out to big for it’s britches and collapse like so many development projects unfortunately. Such as, for example, the projects that bring in newer technology like tractors which is all just fine, dandy and helpful in improving the speed of planting until it breaks down and the villagers have no means of fixing it. And often there it stands in the middle of somebody’s field a testament to a development project that did not start out small, simple, and slow. With this in mind, I have been currently working through potential projects that factor in these necessary components. So far, the Moringa tree planting is moving steadily along, with moringa trees having been planted in some of the the women’s gardens. Now it’s a matter of making sure everybody understands the leaf drying process and the Moringa leaf’s nutritional benefits. I’ve also got a village analysis project to determine and rank the villages needs to find a feasible and sustainable project for this coming year. Also on the agenda is the planting and testing of new millet and sorghum varieties to determine if the new varieties are a viable option for the region in increasing crop productivity, resistance to drought, etc.

The traveling adventures continue to always keep me on my toes…or off them rather (and more sprawled out haphazardly on my back in the mud). Rainy season brings its traveling challenges in my neck of the sand. My dirt road to the village turns into one giant 15 kilometer mud slide. Don’t get me wrong, it’s AWESOME!, except for when you need to somehow traverse from one side of the mud/water slide to the other. This traveling predicament raises several logistical challenges, chief among them being the lack of a boat. However, having a bike introduces the possibility of traversing before said muddy water slide and having a 15k ride of your life in which you try not to make a muck of things  as the road goes to great lengths (and depths i had the unfortunate and muddy experience to discover) to make a muck of you.  My case in particular, the road really mucked me up so to speak. I left my village in the morning after two intense thunderstorms (didn’t know thunder could get that loud or dynamite-exploding-next-door-to-you sounding) which dropped a lot of rain. Great for my garden, bad for the road. (brief tangent: my garden has zucchini and tomatoes already, woot woot!) So me on my bike, I hit the road, quite literally as a matter of fact. I hit the road in one long slide with bike alongside, perhaps foretelling how truly muddying this trip was going to be. But to make a short story even shorter, I made the rest of the 15k trip without another slip, with mud splattered up to my ears and my bike getting a nice new earthy toned paint job.

But the onset of rainy season brings a slight reprieve to the heat, and with the increase in rain, farming is taken up by pretty much every villager in my village. A perfect time to do test plots and get a sense of Malian agriculture and farming practices. My in country work partner aka homologue has already sown millet and next week will be my first true field work experience sowing corn and peanuts. Looking forward to it! Aside from the tarantulas which apparently both are in Mali (quite a shock when I discovered that one…) and like to be out in the fields (similar shock as described before when discovered). So wish me luck (to never ever see one again!)

Hope all is going well with everybody. Feel free to update me on the going ons when you can! Talk again soon!

Mario

P.s. HAPPY 4th!

Traveling “-umbles”

My two months at site before IST are finished! (so are about 20 books to help me get through those 2 months…) Now it’s off to Bamako for In Service Training, learning how to make shea butter, tree nursery procedures, beekeeping techniques, and other useful tips and tidbits to bring back to my site and put into practice when I start my projects. Can’t wait-i’m excited to finally get things started! Seems like I’ve been puttering around for so long waiting for my language to improve and for me to adjust to Malian culture.  And speaking of puttering around, the last few weeks at site before IST were surprisingly busy. I was able to pass out the moringa shoots to the women of the village and they have them currently planted in their gardens. I believe most are still alive (I think…) so hopefully in a year the village will be having moringa salad and moringa powder in ready accessibility! I also helped out in a map painting project on the wall of a neighboring village’s school, this particular map being Africa and the Middle East so that the students got an idea of where Mecca is in relation to Mali and Mali in relation to the rest of Africa. The painting gave a nice creative outlet, and was already proving useful when several students came up inquiring where Mali was on the map. Thats when I realized how map reading is something I take for granted and for some villagers this might be the first map they have ever seen. It inspired me to do a similar project at my site, perhaps doing a map of Africa on the wall of the school in Farabougou and on the opposite wall a map of Mali. Something to look into!

I’m also looking into coordinating with a school teacher in New York, facilitating a correspondence between students in my village and the students in New York where they can talk about common and differing environmental/agricultural themes:  tree planting and harvesting (like shea and moringa), desertification in Mali and urban gardening in New York, local plant indigenous species, etc. So I hope i can get that going because it sounds like it could be an eye opening and incredible cross culture experience for both sets of students. Crossing my fingers!

Otherwise, life continues to throw me curve balls, lately in the form of traveling jumbles, stumbles, bumbles, fumbles, tumbles, a few grumbles, and whatever other “-umbles” there may be whilst one travels. I had the pleasure of getting kicked in the face on my return to Farabougou for starters. The guy somehow managed to fall from on top of the bush taxi, through the open side window (not sure how that one works since one usually falls down and not down a little and sideways a lot) and onto my face, or specifically my glasses which unfortunately didn’t survive the incident. I was a little dazed and quite a little confused as to how he managed this acrobatic feat with his feet and the connection of those feet with my face that I lost the broken piece of my glasses. So that would be the travel tumble I suppose and a couple of the traveling grumbles.  Oh well, it was a faster ride then on the way out of my site and aside from the incident at the end lacking any grumbles whatsoever. Rainy season has started to show its presence in the form of, well, water. Lots and lots of water. Still not the waist deep rivers on the roads I’ve been hearing the rains bring, but there’s definitely a few streams and an occasional small lake. This has resulted in many of my travel stumbles of late, the ankle deep mud making bike riding a near impossibility and walking a stumbling bumbling affair. On my way back out of site a nose bleed decided it was high time to give mario some traveling complications and quickly made its presence known while I was riding my bike trying to make it to my bush taxi before it left. So I suppose this is where the fumbles and the other grumbles come in. With one hand preoccupied with steering, trying to staunch a nosebleed on a bike with one hand is a fumbly and grumbly affair to say the least. But with nosebleed taken care of and tissues all fumbled I made it relatively safe and sound to my bush taxi with just enough time to spare to wait around for two hours. So after the wait, luckily the rest of the trip into Segou was grumble free. I mean, it was hot and cramped and sandwiched between two chickens as well as a baby who vomited half way through the trip but all that was nothing new and totally to be expected on a rather normal trip into Segou.

But with all these travel -umbles, which really haven’t been to bad, life’s going well, and tho there may be some grumbles here and tumbles there,  disgruntled mumbles and silly jumbles its completely overshadowed by the smiles of the Malian people, the warmth of their blessings and greetings and welcoming nature. It’s a truly humbling feeling with the realization of how little they have yet how enriched with life and love the Malian people are. I’ll be at Tubaniso next week so I’ll be able to update again soon! Hope all of you are well!

Kan ben soni

mario

For all, if any, who may be concerned: Apparently spiders in Mali have discovered new ways of defying the spiderly laws of physics both in size and speed—for crying out loud they have to be fast too!–and have found immense satisfaction in the displaying such law bending feats through the unwelcome squatting in the fine real estate locale of my bed. This most ill-advised action had the inevitable consequence of fostering a potentially strained and inevitably antagonistic relationship between said much-to-big-spiders and the bed owner, albeit, perhaps only a problem for those arachnophobic bed-owning few who have the delightful pleasure of meeting such squatting spiders at the quite vulnerable and inopportune moment of tucking ones’, a moment ago, quite contented self in for the night. Apparently, it was not to be my fate in avoiding such an undesirable meeting as this, and in the dark, without a flashlight, (and in my bed for god sake!) I attempted to remove myself from making more formal introduction with this scuttling many legged visitor as I threw the only thing close at hand, a magazine, vaguely in its direction along with a few choice words (something along the lines of “what the @#$% is that!!!) likewise vaguely in its direction while tumbling out of my mosquito net and onto the floor. HA! Avoided that one!….Arachnophobe:1, Spider 0! Tho there was still the immediate problem of having a rather large eight-legged guest now checking out the finer points and perks of my property, and the slightly bigger problem of not knowing exactly where in my bed that was. Grabbing a broom and a topless cardboard box (to cover my feet with if it came my way of course!…yes, perhaps in retrospect that might not have worked but in the heat, or rather cold sweat, of the moment it seemed like a fabulous idea) I proceeded to shake the bed until out of nowhere this terror of my bedside scuttles out of the mosquito net and right past me. Shocked into immobility at how fast the thing moved, I watched as it hurried into the other room. Ok, Arachnophobe 1, Spider 1. This time I grabbed my mini shovel and so armed charged into the next room only to be taken completely by surprise by a well-executed countercharge by my formidable adversary. There it was coming at me, there it was going past me, and there it went right back into the other room. Damn! It was a this moment that I realized for a second that perhaps this spider was much more afraid of this lumbering, shovel wielding, (and box carrying? Who is this guy!?) giant and was really only of one mind, that of getting out of here! And also that spiders in Mali, are not really poisonous and are actually fairly innocuous…snakes and scorpions on the other hand. But this thought, like I said, lasted for about a second and with my now fully realized stratagem (that of not letting it scuttle over my feet and terrify me half to death) I followed in hot pursuit. Hearing a noise by the wall I glanced over and saw it attempting to unsuccessfully climb it—for it was to big to do so—and in that split second formed a perhaps much more effective strategy of using the shovel I had in my hand to put an end to what was a rather tense, brief, and altogether confrontational relationship. Arachnophobe 2, spider 1. Tho in retrospect I do regret it ending the way it did, it was rather big AND more importantly in my bed, and you know, my bed’s just not that big for the two of us.

Mario

Village life so far has actually been going fairly smoothly and surprisingly quite quickly. Its had its bumps, mounds, knolls, hills, a few buttes, and a couple full on mountains here and there (spider blog post describing one of them), but taken as a whole those seemingly towering mountains have become, from the outer space-like view of an experience that has now passed, more topographically flat and altogether rather tolerable. A few obstacles in the road can be overcome with enough perspective, patience, and really, ability to laugh at oneself even if that means acknowledging how ridiculous it must have looked to an outsider watching me handle a rather unusually big spider. And with those obstacles its not to say there hasn’t been a car (or maybe donkey cart?) so to speak waiting for me here and there to help drive me up the mound, hill, mountain, etc. The Malians living in Farabougou have been incredibly welcoming, warm, generous, and receptive to any needs i have, and even ones I never thought I needed. I hope through my two years of Peace Corps service I can help reciprocate the many generosities they have bestowed upon me, giving back to the villagers and showing them my gratitude for all they have done already–it’s still only my first month there!

I’ve been able to accomplish a little so far, planting Moringa (basiyirini in Bambara) the leaves of which contain  an incredible amount of vitamins A and C, calcium, and potassium (pretty much a natural multi-vitamins I might have described in more detail in a previous blog post) that I plan on giving to the women of the village so that they can plant them in their garden to harvest the leaves hopefully on a fairly regular basis. So far I’ve got about 50 shoots of Moringa. Hope it all works out! I’ve also been able to plant a garden, in which some heirloom tomatoes, peppers, and green beans have sprouted. Soon I hope spinach, carrots, and beets can be added to the list. Between working in the garden and trying to get through my goal of 20 books by the end of the two months–at book number 15!– i’m at site before IST (In Service Training) I’m kept pretty busy. Added to that is the learning of an all new language which i’m finding after 4 months I can pretty much navaigate my way through a conversation. Understanding what they say is much more difficult then when I speak, which is I suppose understandable since I know what I’m saying, ha ha. But “dooni dooni” (little by little) and with each conversation I find I’m able to pick out a couple more words here and there when people talk. Tho without a context it comes innumerably more difficult due to the fact that in Bambara many words have several meanings. The word “ba” for example meaning “river”, “mother”, “goat”, “big”, and a few others not coming to mind. Also with conjugations such as N b’a don (“I know it”….and I think depending on the tone that coule also mean “I wear it” and as you’ll notice with the conjugation from n be a don in which you take out the first vowel generally when you have two together, it becomes “N b’a don” and that “ba” sound appears yet again.  But as I said before, dooni dooni. Otherwise life is pretty repetitive and uneventful, the bumps in the road bringing some, at times undesired, flaire and the fostering friendships and interactions with villagers creating a comfortable environment in which I am slowly becoming more at ease and more confident in my PCV goals and tasks I have been administratively given and personally chosen to undertake in the two years I’ll be living in my village in the far far Farabougou. Hope it continues to become smoother and smoother, but then again, what’s life without a few bumps in the road here and there. AND it is Mali after all, and no road in Mali is ever smooth. My back can sure as hell attest to that.

Hope everything is well with y’all all! Let me know how things are going over in your neck of the woods!!! Talk again soon!

Mario

P.S. Please let me know how things are going over yonder, the shenanigans and exploits, I’m starved for some good gossip, info, stories, etc. ha ha…hence maybe the reading of a book every 2-3 days…

Swear in was a blur of traveling, photo taking, celebrating, mustache wearing (and for some soon after, quick removal shaving) and nervous but excited anticipation for what lay shortly ahead of us at our new sites. We swore in on April 12 at the President’s house in Bamako, and actually were on national television. Pictures I believe can be found on my facebook page, there’s a link and there’s some on my actual page as well for any who are interested in daring the high level of mustache. The majority of the swear in was spent listening to speeches, some of which the volunteers gave, and then sure enough, swear in we did! And before we could really take our new formed status as PCV’s (Peace Corps Volunteers–no longer PCT–Peace Corps Trainees) out for a test drive or two we were ourselves driven off to our new sites (which is why we did the celebrating the day before!

And so having the lucky draw, in a manner of speaking, of having a site out in the middle of nowhere I had Peace Corps help me get installed at my village. Other poor unfortunate PCV souls had to fend for themselves with excessive amounts of baggage in tow taking public transportation (bus, bush taxi, donkey cart–yes, oh yes, donkey cart…sure beats walking!). My house–well two rooms–is actually not to bad off in the grand scheme of things. I got all the essentials set up such as a portable cooking stove (for days when I really just don’t see myself eating to or moni), water filter, bed, bamboo chair, and rug. Even got my frisbee hanging on the wall and a bookshelf! (home sweet home!) So life in my village began. DAY 1: “AND SHIT, what the hell are these little red things in my water filter….” Turns out the house might have somewhat of an ant problem. So with the onset of my first day, I dumped out my water and began to search for potential prospects to refill, and I turned to the water pump. For a week straight I suffered the awful tasting water (who knows for gods sakes why it tastes so bad) thinking to myself, pump water is sooo much better than well water, especially when the wells arn’t covered and who knows what’s getting in them. For a week I had people every time I went to the pump saying, “the pump waters bad” “its no good” and I’d blindly stick to my westernized view that pump water is always better then dirty well water and say, “no, it’s good”. (Note to self: maybe listen to the villagers with a bit more of an open ear because they probably sure as hell know what there talking about, as in this case they sure did) For a week straight and no more, once I finally realized NOBODY in my village uses the pump save one…me. So then where the hell are people getting quality drinking water??!!! I know most villagers don’t have water filters yet the water they drink doesn’t have sticks, insects, and dirt and I’m sure a whole load of other crap in their water that I see in the majority of the water in the wells conatain around peoples houses. So I searched high, I searched low, I asked and got vague answers, I asked again and got even vaguer answers…ok no, not really, just the same answers. I asked  around the village where I should go to get my water and they’d often point to the water pump (broken I might add, takes forever to get the damn water out, ha ha) but this magic well where I’ve heard from a few that the water is “akadi cosebe” (really really good) continued to be elusive. Shoot, another day of soapy, off putting, really-not-making-me-want-to-drink-water-even-tho-its-really-hot-out pump water. What mystified me was I never saw anybody drawing water for their drinking cannaries (at least for that first week). Finally I struck gold and through a full afternoon of sleuthing around the village my aimless ramblings finally proved fruitful. Hidden behind a fence was this “akadi cosebe” well, a fence I passed on a daily basis I might add. Go me! Never thought to look on whats on the other side of the blasted wooden fence….least for a while.  Hauling it back to my site I waited for the slow drip drip of my water filter through the scorching afternoon to taste what I would hope was not soapy, un-satisfying, stomach churning water. AND, let me just say the expression on my face was the best it had been after drinking a glass of water in a week. I’d found the Holy Grail and the water in the Holy Grail of a well was actually no half bad. All in a good days (times 7) work!

The next day finding ants back in my water was somewhat of a downer, but you know that’s village life as I’m swiftly discovering. You take the many downs in stride, and thoroughly relish those ups-from the bucket baths during sunset with the breeze feeling amazing let me tell you to thank god those noises I’m hearing I know are just a donkey’s and not that of a T-Rex…I think) So with a matter of perspective in mind, thank heavens its not scorpions in my water….

More to come about village life soon! (real soon I hope, I’ll try to squeeze in another entry to get ya up to date before I head back to site tomorrow for another month!

Mario

It’s the last week before swear in! I can’t beliveve it! The two months of PST (pre service training) flew by. I swear in as a volunteer on April 12- sooo sooooon in the full regalia of my Stage’s brilliant plan: some (those of the more adventurous persuasion) will be swearing in wearing Malian fabrics tailored into bell bottoms, some (me included) will be dressed in some locally tailored malian style clothing picked from the incredible array of beautiful fabrics available in Mali, and yet others will be wearing the good ol’ standby of the suit jacket/formal dress, however all will be sporting a mustache (as far as the guys are concerned and theres been talk on the women’s end as well–get back to you on how that one pans out). So we’ve christened our stage name as: The Mustage in honor of this–not that we’re aloud to name our stage, that being the job of people in the stage before us but as you might have deduced from our master swear in plan, we’re a stage that doesn’t really conform to tradition and possibly good judgement. (the name Culture Shockers has also been tossed around) AND did I mention that we’re swearing in at the President’s Mansion?… and that’ll be in mustaches, bell bottoms, and who knows what else. It’ll be fun tho, some of our LCFs (language instructors and faciliators in Mali) are also jumping on the mustache bandwagon. Pictures will be coming sooon!

My last week at my homestay site was fabulous and as tough as it had been at times adjusting to a new language, culture, and people, I really didn’t want to leave. My togoma (namesake), Negese, was very generous and welcomed me into the family with open arms (quite literally actually–the first day at site when he found out I would be the one living in his compund out of the group of us at Soudougouba Koro he came rushing over with hands outstretched for a huge hug and landed a kiss on the cheek too for good measure), my host mom was kind, generous as well, and extremely fun to talk with. She was very involved in village life too, which meant I was able to meet tons of the villagers through her. My host sisters we’re fabulous as well, very encouraging in helping me learn the language, fun to joke around with. One instance I was assisting in the cooking which they got a huge kick out because a man cooking is a huge novelty for most people in Mali. I was able to cook and fend them off for a bit before they wrestled the cooking spoon back from me. And my host brothers were all fun, friendly, nice, generous as well. Really my whole family was,  my “somogow bee” at Soundougouba koro (my whole family) all 30 or 40 of them, ha ha! One of my host brothers, about age 4, i especially bonded with. We would joke around after my language sessions, often calling him “waraba fitini” (tiny lion) and calling myself “waraba billibilliba” (big lion) and we’d roam around the compound trying to catch chickens on our hunt for sogo (meat). I’m going to miss them, hope I can come back and visit every now and then. Pictures of my two months at homestay are coming soon too! And I got lots of my last day at site when we had a huge party, in which copious amounts of dancing, drumming, and mango feasting insued. We also had some chaplenchew (touring acrobats) come in and do an incredible show. It was amazing to watch them intermix traditional Malian dancing with stylized actobatics to the wonderful Malian style music. If you are reading this and haven’t had the pleasure of listening to some Malian music I highly recommend going on youtube and listening to some. Mali’s got a lot.

Anywho, hope all is well! Let me know the latest juicy bits of what you’ve been up to back in the states! Tell me , tell me, tell me! Gotta get it in now before I go to my site next week and internet becomes practically non existent for 3 months….BUT i can still get mail! So talk to Emily about my address, I can’t remember it off the top of my head right now. Hope to hear from you soon!

Mario

Quotes of the week:

“There was a party in my bed last night and the only invite sent out was to me”

Pretty much every answer to any question this past week: “Mustache”

Farabougou

Well, just made it back from my site visit.  Twas a long and eventful week, fun filled and stressed filled, but altogether not to shabby. I set out with my homologue, my in country working buddy, a week ago to the destination of Farabougou, 30k outside the regional capital of segou. The bus ride was quick (for Mali standards), and we got juice boxes and pastries to boot! Something I was told I should never get use to on a bus ride as that neeeever happens, except that once mostly likely because our group riding up to Segou is just that cool.

I ended up packing lightly because I was told I might have to bike out to my site–its only 30k away from the regional capital but apparently 30k off any major road….guess i’ll be getting into biking shape quite quickly in the coming months. Needless to say I did not want to be laden down with a bunch of stuff so I packed light, for better or worse. It turned out to be for the worst…at least at first. Note to future self: pack lots and lots and lots of water! The site took a good hour to get to by car (didn’t have to bike it this time!) and my homologue and I arrived late in the evening after traveling all day. My once white shirt now a lovely shade of reddish brown from the insane amount of dust blown into the car during the hour trip. No more white clothing for me!

Its a charming little village of 800  people, with several mango trees, lots of gardens–and I soon had the good fortune to discover–a place where lots and lots of To is eaten. To, for those that don’t know and might never want to know, is a gelatin-like millet porridge that I’ve decided I can stomach on very rare occasions. Twice a day for 3 days was a bit on the WAY to frequent side, with moni (sour rice porridge) for the other meals in the day, ha ha.  And that in combination with my discovery that the one pump in the village was damaged (good project to start working on fixing that up!) and that the two butigi’s (stores) only sold sugar, tea, and peanuts kinda floored me for a brief bit. I remember thinkings “it’s gonna be one hell of a long week.” Especially with my oversite of forgetting any reading material to help pass the time between 11 and 4 when nothing happens at all because its so hot. The list of tirals and tribulations was beginning to get comical. I did luckily end up hunting down somebody who had papaya for sale and it was some of the most delicious papaya I’d ever tasted. So, in the end,  that made up for 3 straight days of my food nemisis, To.

On day 4 I found out from the village that they want me to plant a fruit tree orchard (hell yes!) and dig a few wells to help facilitate an easier time watering the orchard. Along with that they wanted me to continue the work of several previous volunteers who had introduced new sorghum varities to the area–my task being the analysis of which variety performs the best and implementing a village wide cultivation of this new, probably more drought resistant variety. So I’m excited about that, anything involving more fruit trees! And for that matter, anything not involving To!

The people in the village were incredibly welcoming and I feel very indebted for their generosity (like my host family village) so I hope I can give them a productive 2 years. My host family and homologue are both very encouraging as I struggle through my basic Bambara and they have an endless supply of patience….so far at least. So hopefully we’ll make a good team as we work to accomplish the many tasks te village has asked of me and my homologue.

What made my site worth the several day hardship tho, is its proximity to Segou. Segou is  the place where the French colonizers had historically set up camp more or less. So its dotted with old colonial buildings. Along with that it has a rich variety of restuarants (and good ones) which some of the other regional capitals don’t have. AND it has two hotels that have pools, and you can get ICE CREAM! And I made use of all these things–life couldn’t get any better! I was amazed, and felt a bit guilty too since I had just come from the village scene–the  stark juxtaposition of village life to segou life was easily apparent. That guilt somewhat dissapated when I found out that all the in-city segou volunteers had been enjoying this pool, ice cream, and cold drinks combo on a daily basis for the past week! So I think they can be the ones feeling guilty. I’ll savor it while I can.

Overall tho I’m excited for my site, and once I get a garden going, figure out the resources at the neighboring villages, and can more fully move into my house and integrate with the village I think it will be a good match.  Let ya know how it goes! Till then, its 3 more weeks of language study and then swearing in as a Peace Corps volunteer at the Presidential Mansion in Bamako. The first Stage in Mali to be sworn in on the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps and the 40th anniversary of Peace Corps in Mali! Wish me luck!

Hope all y’all are doin well. Let me know how things are going back in the states (and out for that matter–seems like stuff’s happening all over from the brief and limited news snippets I’ve been able to gather.) Send my best wishes on all y’all having a great spring! Talk to you soon, maybe as a PC volunteer!

Mario aka Negese Jara

And often what follows after my name: (N te sho dun, nka traore be sho dun…traore amine, jara akine) “and no I don’t eat beans, traore eat beans, Traore are bad! Jara are good!” And then a 10 minute segment of bean jokes follow especially if the person I’ve introduced myself to is a traore, because they are my joking cousin, ha ha. Often I try to squeeze in a bean pun (“Sho”mogow ka kene? instead of somogow ka kene?–”I your bean family fine” instead of the regular question is your family fine) It’s good times!

I got my 2 year site info!

Hey all, lots to tell and again a short time to tell and via a keyboard that has seen much better days–I swear all the typos are the keyboard not me! Life in the village is going well so far. I’m at a temporary village site for two months for language training and then I move to my two year site after the training. Just found out where I’ll be too! Its a smalll 800 person village outside of the Segou (the city) which is the regional capital of Segou (the region). I’m headed out that way soon (in 2 or 3 days) so I can tell more about it in the days to come. It’s small but sounds friendly and quaint–hope there is mango trees! Also I’ve already met my host dad who showed up early to Tubaniso for the volunteer-host family introduction. He seems very friendly, and we started joking about who eats beans (a joke that neeeeeever gets hold in Mali), who has a bean house, a bean family (shomogow–the “sho” meaning bean instead of “somogow” which is just plain old family, you get the jist tho) and I’m excited to get to know him better. He seems amiable and obviously quite the jokster so working with him the next two years I hope turns out to be a great partnership and a great friendship!

As for my current host family, I feel incredibly indebted to them. We just celebrated 8th of March, “Weet Marisi” which in Mali is treated like a holiday in its way. The women still work, but the men tend too cross that gender divide a bit more than usual and some cook a little. Its also treated as a  day where the women become heads of the household distributing money and running family affairs. For us, it opened the possibility of discussion tho, about how Malians view gender roles, where its socially acceptable for men to work and what jobs women are suppose to do and their role in the family. I got to cook my first Malian meal which was exciting, and for the Malian women incredibly funny seeing the novrlty of a man cook. As of yet I have been unable to do my own laundary, fetch my water without help, carry anything without a million kids trying to carry it for me, among may other things. But “dooni dooni” (little by little), first cooking then doing my laundary I’ll stretch those gender boundaries a bit farther, be a bit more radical challenging those gender norms (that’ll be doin laundary….) But on top of that mostly its alleviating the amount of work some of the women do in my host family–up at 5:30 before anybody else and last to bed (around 10 or 11 maybe). Incredibly long days! I was able to communicate too that I wanted to cook for them one night (we’ll see how that goes–wish me luck) but maybe some sort of classic stir fry with nakofenw (veggies!) and malo (rice). Yumm! It’ll be lots of cooking tho, considering my imediate  host family  (n ka denbaya) conists of almost 15 people (they couldn’t believe I had only two siblings, most Malian have close to 10) and then who knows how many aunts, uncles, cousins live in my compound of houses. I see a least 1 new face every day!

Speaking of my day, the past month has been pretty much as follows: Wake up at 5:30 as the mosque begins its morning prayer. From 5:30 to 7 I attempt, and usually unsuccessfully) to fall back asleep. At 7 its a bucket bath watching the sunrise (beautiful!) and fending of mosquitos (really more annoying than anything). Peanut butter sandwhich for daraka (yumm, sometimes with french fries…yess in the sandwich….yes, with the peanut butter. Don’t ask me why cuz I don’t know). Then off to bamanakan Kalan foo tilelafana (study until lunch) where we have a wonderful two hour break. Badly needed considering at that point i have Bamabara coming out of my ears on top of meltting away due to the extreme heat. Siesta of sorts, then after lunch back to the bamankan kalan until 5. Then I either play a healthy round of bolonton (soccer) or head home for some N somogow baro (chatting with the fam). I do this dongodon (day after day) to the point where Bambara is–as you might well have noticed now–coming easier to me than english. The consequences of full scale immersion I fear. But probably for the best.

Pictures coming soon so get a hold of Emily if ya want to see them. (month or so from now if the postal service is fast, ha ha) But things are trucking along well enough, I’m taking ewach day in stride. The two years is still a bit daunting tho I’m sure will go by incredibly fast and I’ll wish I had two more years! I can’t believe I just have a couple more weeks of training before I get sworn in as a PC volunteer. AND the president of Mali is coming to the ceremony!  In all honesty tho he really he doesn’t have to go far seeing as its at his house. ha ha.

Hope all is well tho! Hope to hear from you soon! And write to me, electronically or snail-mailly! I accept all!

Mario

Quotes of the month:

1) “Nyegen (bathroom) yoga anbody? First pose were gonna do is the squatting volunteer”

2) “Its called a whoopin, and they’re free all day!”

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