Wednesday, November 29, 2006

FInally an update!!! (with lots of photos!)

Hello from Africa! I am so sorry it has taken me so long to update this. So much has happened since the last time, I don’t know if I will be able to give a full and proper update to everything that has been going on here, but I’ll try! I have a computer at my ‘service’ (what is essentially the office of my counterpart organization that I’ve been paired with). Since internet time is so expensive, I hoped to type this up there and then just take it typed to the internet café on a ‘key’ and copy and paste. For one reason or another that hasn’t been possible until now.

I have now been here in Segou for 2 months and the time is flying! It is strange, at the same time; it seems like so much has happened yet not very much. My first month was spent looking for and waiting to move into a new apartment. The original apartment that they found for me was much too far away from everything that I just needed to move. I had a half hour bike ride each way to get into the city center where I spent most of my time and it was just too much commuting. I had been on the lookout for a new place ever since I visited Segou in early September. I arrived here on Sunday, the 1st of October and started looking and talking to people right away. Finally that Friday, I looked at five places and the fifth was perfect! In one day of looking, I found a place. I was originally told that it would take at least 6 months to move but I was determined to move as soon as possible. I got the lease signed and due to bureaucratic reasons, had to wait until the 1st of Nov. to finally start moving in. I started by getting screens installed on all the windows and getting the place cleaned out a bit. A German friend of mine who is working here helped me move with his big truck and I finally started sleeping there around the 14th of November.

My new place is awesome. It is just one block from the Niger River and you can even see the river from my roof! (Think watching sunsets over the Niger…) I live upstairs from the family that owns the building and have the entire upper floor. Think of something you might find in an old building in Europe with that sort of quaintness about it. There is a pretty large main room that is slightly larger than the room I had in Aspen with high ceilings (for those of you that knew how big that was). Then, I have a normal size bedroom with a bathroom attached, a second unfinished bedroom – i.e. no tile, just cement floors, and a tiny triangle shaped kitchen about 3x3x4 feet on each side. My place is filled with luxuries most other volunteers don’t have – thus, the life of a city volunteer… For one, I have lights and electricity – something I came over here prepared to do without for two years. Second, I have running water and all the niceties that come with it: a shower, sink (in both the bathroom and kitchen which is rare!), and a toilet! Until I arrived here in Segou, I had been using the Negen (I described it during my homestay posts) – something almost all other volunteers use. The first luxury a volunteer will have is electricity, then maybe a faucet – outside, they if they’re lucky a shower in their negen, and lastly if they’re really lucky plumbing with a toilet. Mali is pretty far behind on the whole amenities department for the home. The handful or so of the really large cities might have electricity for some of the inhabitants but most don’t live with any of the other aforementioned amenities. Because my house is so nice in comparison to most other volunteers (but it is not the nicest) I have a lot of people stopping over and anticipate a lot of people staying here during the Festival sur le Niger in February. During the hot season, I can even sleep up on my roof not to mention sit up there and look at the stars! For those of you that know, I love looking at the stars so that is a major plus.

Now that I’ve finally moved and am pretty much done with that entire process, I feel that I am finally getting the chance to get settled in my new home for the next two years. I had a set of wicker-esk furniture made: two chairs, a small not quite long enough couch to lie completely flat on, and a little coffee table. I had a bed made out of cotton to put on the frame the family left in the apartment and have now as of yesterday asked to get an armoire, a cabinet, and a small table with two chairs. Once all of that is finished, I’ll be set! Meanwhile, every day I go out and get the miscellaneous items like salt, a bowl, cups, etc. that I need. Being that I live in the regional capital, all of these things are available at least once a week (market day is Monday) and don’t have to plan weeks in advance of what I am going to buy when I make a monthly visit to my banking town like most other volunteers.

At the end of October, I went to San for Halloween about a 3½ hour bus ride East of Segou. In San, we have a ‘stage’ house which is for volunteers in the immediate region who can not get from Bamako to their site in one day and need a transit house to stay in en route. It is also sometimes acts as a gathering point for volunteers during special events. Most all of the Segou region volunteers and a couple from other regions came down and we had a great time. Instead of just doing any random costume theme, we had a loosely interpreted movie character theme. Kathy, Miguel and I choose the Mario Brothers. Kathy was Princess Peach, Miguel was Luigi, and I was Mario. We bought some fabric and had our costumes made at a local tailor – as you can see from the photos (assuming I get that to work of course – you can also go visit Kathy’s site with the link I provided in an early post) – they were pretty great. We left no detail out from duct taping golden coins to our overalls for the gold buttons to the white gloves which were a disaster! I guess the tailor just couldn’t figure out how to make gloves; one pair had fairly uniform length fingers with just one problem… there were only four of them! The other pair had five, but the fingers had no rhyme or reason to their proportions – they were a combination of either too short, almost ten inches too long or incredibly too narrow to even put a pinkie finger in! Never-the-less, we rocked out and had an amazing time. I was so impressed with all the costumes everyone came up with only by using local resources. We had Marge, Lisa and Troy McClure from the Simpsons, the cast of the Royal Tenenbaums, the Spice Girls, a flux capacitor from Back to the Future,

Quick insight into Malian difficulties. I wrote up to here at the beginning of this week on the computer at my service. However, when I came to this point in my writing, a co-working came running in (I was the only one in the office – she of course was out doing the usual of talking and drinking tea…) to tell me to save my work right away! I quickly saved what I’d written above to my jump drive as she explained that someone had come to cut off their electricity because they hadn’t paid their bill! No questions asked, and since then at my work, the secretaries can’t do their usual of play solitaire all day after they have or have not done any actual work. We just now sit around and talk, no work, just talk as they don’t really have much of anything to be working on. Anything they do ever have usually just takes a few minutes before they open up solitaire. The electricity was cut off! This is a government office! The Ministry of Tourism! But no, nothing new, they seem confident it will come back soon as it is just some glitch somewhere with the central office in Bamako. When I first arrived here in Segou in September to do my “site visit,” while I was here my service’s phone line was turned off for the same reason! Anyhow, I thought I would just fill you in there on a bit of the way things work here sometimes… Now back to Halloween:

The costume list goes on for a while, but that is all I’ll mention for now. (I can't get these photos to load correctly, so the four with the little 'x's, you'll just have to click on them to see). I created a song list on my ipod and DJ’d the dance party that followed. It was lots of fun – in fact, it was the first time I had left my site since being installed a month earlier so it felt really good to get away for a bit and go somewhere else.

I haven’t had too many eventful stories I can tell you about during the month of November other than moving which I already talked about. I’ve included a few pics that I took from my roof at sunrise one morning around 6:30am. Also, a picture of my place from the street. Look at all the houses you can see in the pictures from the roof and then look at my place. There is a huge dichotomy here – just around the corner from my place less than 100 fee away are those two derelict cars. If people own a car here, it is most likely a Mercedes and thus my neighbor next door parks his on the street every night – just think of the contrast of poverty with such huge differences! I also put in a few of the most recent sunset pics which are getting better all the time… Hope you enjoy! I’m going to have to stop here for now but just so you know, I had an amazing Thanksgiving and will hopefully get to write something up about it soon! Hope all of yours were awesome!

Here is our Thanksgiving dinner before the oven...

Where I've Been...