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Old 10-27-2003, 01:53 AM   #16
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here is one of my early letters from a few months ago. :


this is going to be probably shorter than I would like, but at least
my computer appears to be working this time. A lot has happened
since last time I wrote, but it can be difficult to collect ones

In any case...let's see how I do. After our demystification visits,
we all returned to Tubani So (the place where we have classes and
whatnot). After one more night there, we moved into a local village
about 3km from Tubani So. It's called Samanko. We're all living
with local Malian families and part of our education and training
includes learning language and culture through the experience of
being in the village. I have to say, I really get along well with my
family. I live in a concession (a courtyard with several houses
together) with my immediate family (father, mother and children) as
well as my father's brother and his wife and the grandmother. All
things considered, our concession is pretty small. Some families
have a lot more children and/or a lot more wives (yes, polygamy is
alive and well here). But all that to say, we are getting along very
nicely. My dad and his brother speak French which is great because
that's the language I am working with the most at the moment.
However, the women all speak Bambara, one of the most widely spoken
Malian languages. I'm learning it bit by bit, but it will take some

I'll try to describe what our house is like. Like I said before, a
concession is sort of like having a house turned in on itself. There
are several small huts and two longer buildings that form a square,
doors facing inwards towards the open courtyard. We have four
separate rooms and a cooking hut. In one corner is an area for the
livestock. We have two donkeys and a bunch of chickens. Thankfully,
our donkeys are not prone to too much singing, which is a
relief...because when they bray it is LOUD! My room is in the corner
of the courtyard. I have a nice little bed, a kick-butt mosquito
net, a mat and a trunk for my things. Not to mention my kerosine
lamp, my bucket and other effects.

Now to the typical day in the life of me at the moment. I usually
wake up first around 4ish to the sound of the mosque call to prayer.
Then I sleep some more and really wake up around 5:30 or 6. One of
the women from my compound is usually up tending the fire and heating
water for baths as well as preparing breakfast, feeding the donkeys
(who usually take that opportunity to emit some ear-piercing yells)
and doing chores. Sometimes I take a bucket bath in the morning,
sometimes at night when I get home from classes. But whenever I do,
it never ceases to make me smile...bathing outdoors under the open
sky is really freeing in some intangible way. Our "nyegen"
(bathroom) is mud-brick and the walls are just a little higher than
my shoulders. So I can see the nearby concessions, the trees, the
sky and the stars if it's night while I dump water over my head.
After getting dressed and putting the books I think I want to use
that day in my bag, I usually lock my room, greet whoever is up
(greeting is a very important part of the culture here, but more
about that later) and then walk down the main path to the center of
the village where the Peace Corps bus picks us up.

Pretty much all of the training staff is Malian and our profs are
awesome. I spend a lot of time with them out of class, learning and
speaking French, socializing and just hanging out. Anyways, whoever
is there piles into the bus and we bump and jostle our way along the
dirt (sometimes mud) pot-hole lined road to Tubani So. Usually I
chat with a professor on the drive, talk about what we've been up to,
if we slept well, if the donkeys kept us up, or whatever. As I said
before, I've been making a conscious effort to immerse myself in the
language as much as possible. Once at Tubani So, we head to
the "refectoire" or cafetiria to eat bread, drink hot chocolate and
sometimes we even have eggs! At 8 am, classes begin. Most days we
have language first...some days we have four or five hours of
language. We are separated into very small classes...my French class
has 3 students total. Language is in little huts...cozy but actually
quite cool considering the climate. They have cement floors but the
walls are woven mat and the roof is thatch. Anyways, 2 hours of
language with a little break to get some coffee or maybe a cold
bottled Coke (yay for the glass bottles!). Then we might have a
session on Malian culture, Peace Corps stuff, development ideas,
medical education...it really varies from day to day. Lunch is yet
another opportunity for language acquisition as they try to spread
the lang profs out to all the tables. So if you have the drive to
practice your language, you have no shortage of opportunities. After
lunch we have a siesta break of a few hours. A lot of the other
trainees hang out, write letters, nap or study. I generally have
been hanging out with the Malian profs, making tea (yet another
cultural thing that I will explain), joking up a storm or asking
questions about french grammar.

At this point, I digress to explain a few culture points. One of the
things that I just love about Mali is the sense of humour. These
people LOVE to laugh. In fact they have an entire network of what is
called "joking cousins". There are only a certain number of last
names, family names in Mali. Each one has several other family names
that are related to it as "joking cousins". For example, my family
name is Doumbia. Our cousins are the Keitas, the Traores and most
especially the Coulibalys (as well as some others). So if I meet
someone and once we exchange names we find out that we are joking
cousins, we start insulting each other and joking with each other.
The most favored joke being "you eat beans!" Example...one of my
professors is a total crack-up and he's a Coulibaly. So we often
exchange insults like "how were the beans last night?" "oh, I
couldn't eat any beans because your family ate all the beans in the
village." yes, simple maybe, silly definitely. But it's amazing how
it breaks the ice and makes you instant friends. I have to say, the
Malians are onto something. They have managed to keep a very diverse
group of people together and friendly when many other former colonies
have disintegrated into chaos and violence.

So yeah...where was I? More classes, then sometimes supper but
usually we have buses to go back to the village around 5ish. Every
time the bus gets to the village it is mobbed by children. Even
though the kids in my concession are too young to come out and meet
me, there is always some neighbor kid that wants to carry my bag and
walk with me. As we walk through the village, I call out greetings
to anyone that is nearby. You generally ask how the person is, how
their family is, if they have peace with their day (or night) and how
their kids are etc. And they ask you the same questions. It's a
formality, but a very important one here.

When I get home and drop my bag in my room, I sometimes take a quick
bath to cool off. Then I sit out in the courtyard with my dad or my
brother or whoever is around and we chat about the day, eat peanuts,
grill corn and eat it, make tea. Friends drop by and we do more of
the same. When dinner is ready we eat out of a common bowl. The
food varies from quite good to ummm...more interesting. Or not. All
I can say is that it's good I am a flexible person. Not everyone
enjoys plunging their bare hand into a corn or millet mush, dipping
it in slimey green okra sauce and then stuffing it into their mouth.
haha. Mm fish sauce! Actually it's not that bad, but it definitely
takes some getting used to. The nights we have rice, I am a happy

Last week on my one day off (Sunday) I helped my mom cook. It was
interesting because she doesn't speak French and my Bambara is really
really limited. But we managed to figure it out. I did a lot of
peeling onions, pounding pepper and helping clean the chicken that
had just been running around our yard about ten minutes earlier.

So yeah, life is good. I'm very happy and learning lots and lots.
My French is improving exponentially...that bit has sort of surprised
me. And it turns out that it's going to be a very important thing
for me to continue to get better in French because last week
was "site announcements" and it turns out that I will have need of
French. This is my next big news.

Well it turns out that I will not be sitting under a tree in a remote
village, hauling water and feeding my chickens. Because the powers
that be decided to put me in a new position...working with the Malian
Office of Tourism and Hospitality. I will be living in the capital
city of Bamako. I have to say that I have had a variety of feelings
although overall I am very positive. I think the job is going to be
very challenging and therefore has the opportunity to be very
rewarding. Mali is extremely poor and one of the sectors that they
very much need help in is in increasing their exposure to the outside
world and in getting people to visit the country. And it's not like
they don't have resources...after all, Mali was the home of some of
the greatest and most illustrious African empires, not to mention
Timbuktu is located here.

Soooo, all that to say, I am excited about the opportunities but
scared about how challenging it's going to be. Living in Bamako in
and of itself can be overwhelming. Although I will have more
ameneties than many other volunteers (I might have running water and
probably will have electricity), I also will have to work a lot
harder at developing my own "community" than I might if I were in a
village. Another big upside is that I will be definitely learning
French, which has always been a personal goal of mine. And yet
another is that all the language profs whom I have been becoming such
good friends with live in Bamako after the Training is over. So I
will be able to maintain those relationships and probably have a
French language tutor as well.

I should wrap this up. Hopefully I've been able to give at least a
little idea of what things are like here for me. I'll probably be
able to do a better job when I am settled in and can sit down and
think more about what I'm seeing and doing. As you can probably
tell, I am definitely having a positive experience so far. Part of
that might have to do with the fact that I am just very comfortable
being back "home" in the developing world. Part of it might be that
I am hopelessly naive and headed for a big crash. Or maybe not. I
don't know. All I know is that I am really happy and that I'm glad
to be here.

Oh and lastly, I had a great 24th birthday. The kitchen staff even
made a cake and I got sung to in multiple languages. ;-)

"I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me." - Bono

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Old 10-27-2003, 04:34 AM   #17
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Excellent message Sula. It's great to hear from Africa.


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Old 10-27-2003, 04:35 AM   #18
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Old 10-27-2003, 08:08 AM   #19
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Old 10-27-2003, 08:18 AM   #20
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Hey Sula! Glad things are going well!
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Old 10-27-2003, 08:37 AM   #21
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stay safe

Great thread to have here
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Old 10-27-2003, 09:00 AM   #22
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Old 10-28-2003, 08:00 AM   #23
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Hello sula! Got your letter. Can't write back. Moving house. Again. Bye-bye!

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Old 10-28-2003, 10:28 AM   #24
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Old 10-28-2003, 12:00 PM   #25
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Sula, me glad too that all is well!

Keep up the good work

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Old 10-28-2003, 02:27 PM   #26
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Good to hear from you Sula, glad all is well, stay safe and God bless....
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Old 10-28-2003, 03:59 PM   #27
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Sula, thanks for writing about your experiences in Mali. I never did get on your mailing list before you left so this is all news to me. It's fascinating to hear about what things are like in that part of the world. You are a braver woman than me, I don't think I would have the courage to do what you are doing.
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Old 10-28-2003, 04:18 PM   #28
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Old 10-28-2003, 04:35 PM   #29
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Yay Sula!

I'm so glad to hear that all is going well....and I hope you got the snail-mail I sent about a week and a half ago.

Stay safe!
You rock!
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Old 10-29-2003, 01:01 PM   #30
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Thanks for the encouragement and kind words. To everyone who has written me via email or snail mail, now that I have more access, I will be working on replying.

Here's another old email for those who didn't get them.


Itís hard to know how to fit all the things Iíve been doing, stuff
Iíve seeing, and random things I want to say in a few paragraphs.
But Iím going to make an effort.

This week has been ďsite visitĒ. All the trainees were matched up
with current volunteers in the areas they will be serving and then
travelled to their sites Ė cities, towns, villages. The point is to
meet the Malian organization you are matched up with, see the house
you will be living with and be able to have any changes or
alterations made, meet the family you might be living with or who
will be looking out for you, meet the mayor, chief, whatever, as well
as get to know your area. This is of course, a bit different in my
case as my ďsiteĒ is the capital city, with about 1 million
inhabitants. My week has been really good though, and I feel both
excited and scared now.

I spent the week living in the ďstage houseĒ, sort of a hostel for
PCVs that each region has for the volunteers to stay at when they are
in town. The Bamako stage house is of course, the biggest and most
crazy in terms of people coming and going. There are over 100
volunteers in Mali and I feel like I met about half of them this week
because the Agriculture/Natural Resource Management sectors had an in-
service training and they were all in town.

I got to Bamako on Sunday and had made plans with one of the lang
profs to meet up so he could help me do some shopping for cloth and a
tailor to make me some more Malian clothes. I have been wearing a
mix of Indonesian things as well as some cheaply made Malian dresses
that I had made by the tailor in our village. Itís just me, but I
actually prefer dressing like the people here, so my American clothes
have not seen much use since Iíve been here. Anyhow, Sunday
afternoon I met up with Abdoulaye and we took a bashee (public
transport) down to the Grand Marche Ė a huge sprawling mess of people
and goods and cars and motorbikes and diesel fumes. The bashee ride
alone is a cultural experience in itís own right as the little green
mini-buses or pick-up trucks rattle down the roads filled with
people. Apparently there is actually a limit on the number of people
allowed in each vehicle but the ďparentikeĒ Ė young guy or boy whose
job it is to hang out the back of the bus, drum up business, take the
money and bang on the side of the bus to let the driver know when to
stop Ė always tries to have a full ride. This results in everyone
being squashed as tightly as is humanly possible. fun fun!

After finding some fabric, we went back to Abdoulayes familyís house
and hung out waiting for the tailor to get back from wherever she
was. I mentioned to him that I also needed to get my hair braided
and he rattled something in Bambara or another language to one of the
women in the compound and in five minutes I had an appointment to
come back and have one of them do my hair the next day. After seeing
the tailor and dropping off my fabric, I was feeling quite

On Monday morning, the eight of us new trainees who will be stationed
in the Koulikoro region were taken to the Bank of Africa to open our
accounts. We spent the entire morning there, sitting. And sitting.
And sitting. This is of course typical. Welcome to Mali. However,
we were lucky in that we got in and did the paperwork right before
the three hour lunch-siesta break. I had my hair appointment that
afternoon and it was actually the first time I ventured out
completely solo to find a place on my own. Step by step, Iíll figure
this city out. Thankfully, my sense of direction is good and once
Iíve been to a place I can usually find my way back using landmarks.
After finding the house and meeting up with the woman, I spent the
next four hours sitting on a grass mat outside while she worked on my
tresses. All 40 of them. And wow, did she do a good job! Iím loving
the new lookÖall the Africans seem to find it great and itís cooler
than having my long hair all over the place.

The rest of the week has gone by with me and Ben, a current volunteer
figuring out how to find my two places of employment, where my house
is, and how to get around Bamako. I met with the cabinet minister of
Tourism and Artisanat, then with the directors of both the agencies
underneath her which is the organizations I will be working for. Iím
supposed to be working with the Office of Tourism and with the Center
for Promotion of Artisanats. Artisanats are basically people who
work in arts, crafts and traditional handiwork. Itís all a bit
overwhelming, but I think Iíll be able to find my way with time. I
realize too that as much French as I have been absorbing over the
month, I need more. So Iím determined to throw myself into learning
it as much as I can in the next month.

Well, the other trainees are coming back and drifting in and the line
to use the internet is long, so Iíd best wrap it up for now. Iíll
try to do better at describing the sights and sounds next time.
Bamako is a really busy place, but I like it. There is something
vibrant and messy about it that is both formidable and challenging
but I like that. I look forward to rolling up my sleeves and
throwing myself into learning how to live here.

"I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me." - Bono

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