Sunday, September 26, 2010

In Mali, much like in low-income areas of the US, young men often have to leave their families in order to find work. In an attempt at making a meager wage that will be sent home to their families every month, Malian men move around with the seasons working on farms, at construction sites, or in the rice fields. The work is grueling, and the men often work every day starting at 7 am and going until 4 or 5 pm. Some of the luckier men get Sundays off. Typically, the workers live in small huts with four or more other men/boys. They can’t cook for themselves, so they have a host family that cooks them lunch and dinner, and they make breakfast on their own over a small charcoalstove.Most of them do not have a formal education, and a few (especially the younger ones) are paired with a “teacher,” and are taught to memorize the Koran. These men and boys are my neighbors.

I most regions of Mali, people live in what are called concessions. Each concession typically has a small courtyard, an outdoor cooking area, a well, a nyegen (latrine), and several entrances to individual huts. Each entrance door opens up to one or two small rooms with mud walls and a ceiling of mud and branches. Sometimes there is a window, but often there is not. The floor is usually dirt, but can sometimes be cemented. Usually a family of 5 or more can live in one of these small spaces. Within the concession there can anywhere from 3-5 families. In my concession there are three entrances and seven people. I'm lucky. Most concessions, including my site mate’s, have between 18 and 20 people (that’s not counting the donkeys, chickens, and the sheep that are running around!). At first I was nervous about being placed with transient farm workers. As it turns out, they are all really sweet, kind, and love to talk about America with me. Many of them haven’t seen their families in months, others (especially the younger ones), years. They create their own families out of necessity, and learn to share and take care of each other. I like exposing them to American food and teaching them simple things theyve never heard before, like that the world is round, and that there are these things called germs. It really blows their mind! The sad part is that they have to move on after the season is over. The good part is, as I recently found out, that they come back! Now that it’s rainy season, it’s time to again start working in the fields, and many of the men that I thought I’d never see again have begun trickling back. We exchanged stories from the last season, and talked about who else would be arriving and when. It’s great too, because they can really appreciate how much my Bambara has improved. I was very pleased to hear that a good friend of mine, Arnie Coulibaly, would be coming back. Apparently he just was making a quick trip home to see his family in Mopti. Arnie was 22 with a wife and a newborn daughter. He was the type that would stay home at night when the other guys were out chatting, lost in reverie and endlessly looking over his Barack Obama-bound photo album of his family. The only thing he really wanted was to be back home with his family in Mopti. All of the children in our neighborhood loved Arnie, too. He was kind, curious, and bright-- once dissecting my water filter and making it into a hat. He worked all day, every day, in the fields, but would take the time to help me do things like dig my garden. When Arnie left my village last year, it was when our landlord showed up out of nowhere and said that it was time to get to the next job. It always happens like that. Sometimes I don’t even get to say goodbye, I just wake up and theyre gone. With Arnie, luckily I was there and I got to watch as he and his friends bagged up the last of the rice, excited for a change of pace, and then set off with promises of a quick return.

Today I came home to the news that Arnie Coulibaly has passed away. Apparently, on the quick trip back home, Arnie died of a stomach related illness. Being that it is rainy season, I’m guessing that it was probably due to contaminated well or pump water. If this was the case, left untreated, this type of infection would have caused Arnie to have chronic diarrhea, a severe fever, to become acutely dehydrated, and he would have been in a great deal of pain. Many Malians who cannot afford a trip to the doctor use traditional medicines that can sometimes abate, but often not treat the illness. How does this happen? It happens for many reasons, two of which are: a lack of health education, and a lack of access to clean drinking water. claims that, “nearly one billion people lack access to safe water and 2.5 billion do not have improved sanitation.According to the World Health Organization, “3.575 million people die each year from water-related disease.” Arnie’s death was unnecessary, preventable, and heartbreaking.

Please support, or continue to support, the work of Peace Corps volunteers. Their water sanitation and health education initiatives help to prevent unnecessary deaths like Arnie’s. For further information, or to get involved, you can check the Peace Corps website ( and read about and/or donate to volunteer projects. You can also get further water sanitation statistics from any of the following websites:,, or

Rest in Peace, friend.
Ala ka da yoro sumaya.

Arnie is the one on the left in orange. This is taken from Seli Ba, which is the big celebration at the end of Ramadan.

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Hot season, and with it a full-body heat rash, has left me feeling less than inspired these last couple of months. With the advent of rainy season, however, my spirit has again lifted, layers have been added, and my rain boots washed off ready to go. After just one rainstorm I was walking around more cheery-- able to think, exercise, SLEEP again. Life was good. The Malians and I have completely discordant feelings on the situation, however. When it rains I find them bundled up in winter jackets and sleeping. Ironically, the cold makes them sleepy. But much to my chagrin (and truthfully theirs’ too), the rain and the coolness that accompanies it, have retreated. I think that seeing my alacrity for the cooling drops has caused Mother Nature to start toying with me. A little wind here, a few clouds there--sometimes even a couple of rain drops. I can hardly stand it! The other day, the wind picked up, they sky clouded over--we thought for sure that the big rain was going to come. I rushed through my bucket bath, got my boots on, and was headed out to work (in Niono you never want to get caught with your boots down), when out of nowhere the sun began to shine. In America, I may have considered this a “Christmas miracle”, if, say, I was going on a picnic, to an outdoor wedding, or a graduation. But here, no rain means humid hot hot heat, lots of dusty wind, and many, many bad smells. I imagine it to be something like NYC in the summer. I kid.

Mother Nature found another occasion to toy with me while I was sleeping outside. I had just finally hand-fanned myself to sleep when it began to sprinkle. I knew it was one of her little tricks so I waited it out and, of course, it stopped. One hour later it began to rain again, this time enough to make me believe it was really coming! Hooray! I took my pillow and sheet inside, folded up my tent, dragged in the mattress, rolled up my dust matt, and headed inside to get some much needed R&R in my soon-to-be rain cooled hut. One hour later I awoke sweating like I had just left a bikram yoga class. Tricked again! After a bit of grumbling to myself, I decided that I had no choice but to… roll out my mat, set up my tent, drag my mattress back out, and bring out my sheet, pillow, fan, keys, headlamp, and whistle. Arg.

As much as I complain about hot season, I have to say that it is still not as painful as a long bitter winter on the East Coast. If any of the Malians were to find themselves in a blizzard in Maine, I’m sure they would be writing home with similar, albeit, reverse complaints. In any case, pray for rain. Thanks.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Here Comes The do do do.

When I first came to Africa it was all about me. How difficult it was here for me. How unsanitary everything seemed to be to me. How much better everyone was getting along than me. How much slower my language seemed to be to me. Now, I can clearly see two things: one, the feelings that I was experiencing were totally natural ways of coping with change; two, that this really isn’t about me. I am 8 months into my service and the dust is finally beginning to settle. I look around my neighborhood and it’s as if I am seeing it for the first time. For the first time I can see the mix of cement houses and huts in an interesting juxtaposition of old and new design. Where I would have only seen the streets littered with trash and dirty sewage water, I can now see that each one of my neighbors has taken great care to sweep the area in front of their hut. I can see the old man smiling with great pleasure as he watches me, head wrapped in Malian fabric and ill-fitting containers in my hands, walk by on my way to buy beans from a street vendor. I can see two donkeys and a dog nuzzling one another. I can see people’s faces light up when I greet them in their native tongue while passing on street. I can see the great strength and pride of the Malian people as well as their concealed vulnerability in regard to their lack of education. I can see children who are acutely malnourished. I can see people who have dangerously taken to self medicating for lack of access to healthcare. Every day, I see malnourished young boys begging for food-- graciously mixing together in a small bucket the leftovers from my dinner plate with the ill-assorted food from other neighbors.

As I said before, this isn’t about me. I do, however, want to take a moment to toot my own horn a bit for taking a big leap of faith on my own behalf. I walked away from my life at almost 30 years old, to take on a job/life experience that many take on after college or retirement. I was learning my first foreign language. At first, I felt a little embarrassed for myself. I wanted to go back to my career where I was confident in my abilities, back to my friends and family whom I missed terribly. I also knew that being a part of the Peace Corps was something that I really wanted, not only as a means of self development (because let’s face it everyone knows that there’s no such thing as completely a selfless act), but also because I truly do want to do something that makes me feel like I am making a difference, at least in a way that made sense to me, during the 12 hours a day I am accustomed to spending at work. It’s also my hope that maybe my being here will help show people from every socioeconomic background, that they too have access to programs abroad. While a large population of volunteers have degrees from lauded universities, I have mine from a small state school in Vermont. If you come from a situation like mine where, for the most part, you are totally reliant on yourself to provide your most basic needs, and even that is finically difficult at times-- it can be a bit harrowing to sell the first decent car that you’ve owned; risk losing two critical years of career development (especially after, say, putting yourself through college and acquiring thousands of dollars of debt); and to put faith in yourself that you have the courage to see something through. I can’t say that I was 100% aware of what I was getting myself into, and I can’t say 100% that I do now. What I can say is that this was a calculated risk, and so far it’s working out. Every day here is an opportunity to make a difference in the life of someone who really wants it. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Livin' the Dream

Never postulate. This is what I've learned. In fact, it may be the single most significant thing a person can learn to accept here in Mali. Just when I assume that I have figured out exactly what is going on at work, or, at the very least, in a conversation, I am surprised to find that I have unwittingly agreed to attend a meeting that I am completely unprepared for. Worse yet, I’ve promised my neighbors that I will dance like a chicken while singing like Celion Dion. You may think I’m kidding, but Malians never kid about Celion Dion. Even the toughest of men can be seen publicly listening to the theme song from Titanic, tiny speaker from his cell phone pressed tightly to his ear. Yes, Celion Dion, Michael Jackson, and Phil Collins are the western artists who dominate the airwaves here. So it goes.

So, I’m sorry that it has taken me so long to update my blog. I’ll try and post something at least once a month from now on. I hope that everyone had a wonderful Christmas and a safe New Year’s. Here’s to a year of health and prosperity!

Since my last post I have settled quite well into my little hut and neighbors. My village's farmers have just finished harvesting the rice fields, so things are quiet right now. When the harvest is finished the rice fields are burned, so things are smoky mess. Otherwise, it’s “cold” season, so I am happy and sleeping soundly! The days are in the 80’s-90’s and the nights and mornings are quite cool. In a month, hot season will be here, where it is rumored to be 125 degrees in the shade, and I am seriously afraid. Basically, you have to sleep outside wrapped in dampened sheets and drink a gallon or more of water a day. Unfortunately, my only mode of transportation is my bike, so that will be challenging in the hot sun. Send me cool thoughts! It only lasts 5 months…

We recently had a big holiday here called Seliba. Seliba is one of the holiest, if not the holiest, holiday celebrated by Muslims. It starts at 9:30 a.m. sharp with group worship. Everyone greets one-another, whishes a healthy and prosperous year, and then leaves to slaughter their respective lamb. The men slaughter the lamb and then they bring it to the women to be chopped up, washed, and cooked. I bravely watch the whole thing, and have posted a few pictures so that you can bravely look at them! My family and I literally sat together for a half day cooking lamb and eating it with raw onions drenched in oil and Maggi. Maggi, in case you’re unaware, is a MSG bullion cube flavored like chicken, onion, or tomato, depending on you preference, and is used in everything that is cooked in Mali. I can’t lie, it’s salty goodness makes me happy. My body has come to crave the MSG, and I’m totally going to have sneak some back to America when I’m done to slowly wean myself off the stuff. As the Maggi commercial says, “everywoman is a star with Maggi.” I want to be a star!!

The day after Seliba it was off to Bamako for a week of meetings, 2 weeks of training, and then almost a week for Christmas. I was recently elected onto VAC, or the Volunteer Action Committee. VAC is a committee of 8 volunteers, each representing his/her region’s administration needs/issues. All totaled, a great time-- Christmas being the apex. Lot’s o’ good food, peeps and cheer! What more could a girl ask for when she spends her first Christmas in a 3rd world country?

Thank you everyone for sending me Christmas packages! I got 8 packages for Christmas, which filled my living room and there‘s a picture of that, too!! I really appreciate all of the support!

Love to all.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm sorry that it has taken me so long to update my blog!

Right now I am integrating into my community. This consists of going to my language tutor, visiting my homologue, playing checkers, and meeting with the important people of my village and establishing connections. Basically I'm chatting with as many people throughout the day as I possibly can. I have met some great people. Two of my favorites, besides my host family and homologue, are Abdoulaye Miyga and Barama Gindo. Abdoulaye makes 300 loaves of fresh bread everyday in his mud oven. He has a ton of kids and is a great dad who also really enjoys helping me learn Bambara. Barama Gindo is Mr. Fix-it. He made a TV antenna out of two old light bulbs, an old bleach bottle, and some wire. He’s brilliant. He’s also the only Malian I know who owns a pair of Crocks. Gindo made a checkerboard, so I go to his house on Sundays to play very intense games of checkers with the local men.

Most recently I took a trip to Bla. We got lost on they way in to our friend's village which was a 40 minute bike ride through the dessert. We were a bike gang of 10, and things started well as we were cruising along listening to music, catching up on our new sites, and passing donkey carts. Soon, however, we were seriously lost in the middle of the dessert in the pitch dark. Luckily, we met up with a Malian on a donkey cart who lead us to the "correct" unmarked road. We were practically biking on top of each other. I hit a rock and my bag went flying off my bike. After 2 1/2 hours of searching we were finally found and lead to our destination by motto. I thought for sure that we were going to be attached by zombies, a chupacarbara, or at the very least a fruit bat-- but, we made it unscathed, ate a big pot of beans and sugar, and then went to sleep under the dessert stars. The next day we picked cotton, and then had a pig roast while the locals played music and dance for us. It was a great trip!

I want to send a big thank you to everyone who has sent me packages. Since my last report I received some birthday packages from Aunt Cathy and U.B., two from my mom, Aunt Janny, and most recently another package from Ron. Plus I have more on the way from Guam and Aunt Janny, Aunt Cathy and U.B., Ron’s mom, and one from my mom! Thanks again for your support. I asked for tank tops and yoga pants, and everyone came through for me!
Ideas for future packages:

Here are some things I can always use: tissues, toothpaste, unscented hypo-allergenic shampoo, dove unscented bar soap, coffee, sauces that can easily be mixed with water, dehydrated beans (I need protein), trail mix, and fruit punch Gatorade packets. There are also some big things I could use one of: a good headlamp, a camping egg holder (for my bike rides home), good face cream, a sleeping pad, and underwear.

UPDATE: All packages are here!! Thank you so much!!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mali la

Phase three--SWEAR IN! Swear in is when trainees become official volunteers. Basically it means that you have passed all of the exams on cross-culture, language, safety/security, health, your sector training, ect. First, however, we had one more 10-day stint with our host families. My birthday was the first weekend we were back with our families and, lucky for me, a field trip was planned! We went to the Malian museum of art in Bamako and had a fabulous lunch including a banana split at a local cafĂ©. I half expected my “mom” to plan a big dinner for my big day, but, alas, yams again. As it turns out Malian’s don’t celebrate birthdays and, in fact, usually only have an idea of how old they are. If you ask different members of the family how old the children are you’re likely get a few different responses. Oh well. It’s not Vare’s mac & cheese, but the yams were predictably delicious. Next on the agenda, a field trip to Sibiri where we visited a women’s association working with Shea (pronounced “shee”, as my 84 year old grandmother found out on the internet. Go Guam!) butter. The women are using sanitary, quality practices to make soap, salve and palm aid. Mali has more Shea trees then any of the surrounding countries, and yet they export the least amount of Shea butter because, typically, they make-- for lack of better words, crappy butter. Another part of the reason that no one wants to buy Mali butter is because in the past Malians have put “things” in the butter to give it more weight. In addition, if the nuts are smoked in the first stage of production they have a terrible smell and taste. This is the traditional way Shea butter has been made in Mali and, although they know that other countries are more successful doing it the proper way of boiling the nuts, they still insist on traditional practices. Their mentality is both endearing and extremely frustrating. They also don’t take precaution to wear clean clothes or wash their hands before making the butter, all things that contribute to the quality of the butter. The women in Sibiri are inspirational and, rightly so, eager to boast about their success. The arduous process of making the butter had a lot of us wondering who invented the archetype? I have posted pictures from the trip, but I’m not sure they convey how labor intensive the process is. I had the opportunity to mix the crushed Shea nuts mixed with water, by hand, and after about 3 minutes my arms were on fire and I was dripping in sweat! My hat goes off to those ladies. Speaking of ladies, being one in Mali is a thankless job. Allow me to digress a bit here…the women here plodder from dusk-till-dawn and get no respect. Something as simple as having to wear skirts all of the time. I have to ride my bike 5K a day to work, and then 5K home, and then 6K or so to my homologue’s to get my dinner and then back…not to mention if I need something from the market it’s back again. This gets old FAST in a skirt. Not only is it difficult, but it’s just plain dangerous. It’s dangerous because for the obvious reason of getting your skirt caught, but it is also dangerous because people here don’t use things like BLINKERS and they just pick a spot on the road that works for them with negligent regard for which side of the road they are supposed to be on. The stop signs are in English, which why I‘m guessing they don‘t adhere to their cautious message, and it’s not uncommon to come around a corner to find a herd of cows in the middle of the road sending you 4 wheeling into the nyegen water and being laughed at by the local children who are calling out “white person”, or “Tubauboo” at the top of their lungs, over and over and over. AND it’s not as though you can just pick up your skirt because heaven forbid your knees should show. Oh well. Anyway, after the field trip to the Shea butter site we hiked up to an amazing waterfall. It has to be at least 75ft tall. It is absolutely beautiful and provided a nice break in the otherwise oppressive heat. Finally, it was time to say goodbye to our home stay families and head back to TSO for our last few days of training before swear in. It was a tear-filled event, but I think that once we were on the bus everyone was excited to be getting close to get to their site’s and finally have a little freedom (or so we thought…). Swear in was a success and the event was held at the American embassy. We spent a little over an hour on “American soil” which was nice because it had grass. Everyone looked fabu in their Malian outfits! We stayed in an air-conditioned hotel room in Bamako, and danced the night away until 3am. Finally, it was time to head to our site…or at least towards it! We stopped on the way in Segou for three days to do some shopping for our sites. Unfortunately I acquired a little over 25 bed bug bites from the hotel that we stayed at. Boo.

Finally, I have arrived. Here’s how my new journey began: I arrived at my house just as evening was approaching, but I still had to get to my site mate’s house to pick up my mosquito net and portable mattress. Just as I was about to leave, a storm suddenly approached. I had two options: sleep on the cement floor with my sleeping bag and hope for the best against the creepy crawlies, mosquitoes, and mice… or, I could run like hell. I knew that I couldn’t wait until after the storm because it would be dark. I decided to chance it. Well, in typical me fashion, I had forgotten that I had only been to my site mate’s house one other time, and that I had no idea what street number he lived on. I knew that he lived by the hospital so I just kept asking “dogotoro so be min?”, or “where’s the hospital”, all the while eating dust that the oncoming storm was string up. Several people gave me directions and one woman even took me a little way yelling “sanji sanji”, or “rain rain.” The trip was, of course, twice as far as I remembered. Finally I arrived, grabbed the mattress and tent, and ran as fast as I could home. The wind was so strong at this point, however, that I could barely walk down the street. The mattress, it seemed, was set on taking flight. I got about two blocks from my site mate’s house when the storm hit. At first I tried to keep going, but the wind was so strong that my arms were on fire from holding the mattress so tightly. To make matters worse, the sand that I was covered in mixed with the rain and my sweat, turned to mud, and then ran into my eyes making it impossible to see. I decided to take refuge behind a broken down tour bus and was soon joined by a Malian boy caught by the storm on his bike. The wind got so strong that he had to help me hold the mattress down. And then we just stood there; we never spoke to each other. We were completely vulnerable to the storm, staring at each other for what amounted to a little over ½ hour. I was afraid something was going to come loose and hit us; a tree, a piece of shrapnel--or that I was going to be hit by the crazy lightning. Literally, just as I was about to bust into tears the rain let up a little. I decided to make a go of it. Of course I had only been to my house once too, so I couldn’t remember what street I lived on and by now it was almost completely dark. I took the wrong road twice and the second time I followed it to the end, my feet sloshing through green neygen water. I thought I could see the swamp that is at the end of my road so I kept going. Luckily it was the same swamp because now it was pitch black. FINALLY, I made it home and my neighbors looked at me like I was a crazy person. I immediately antibacterial soaped up my feet and put on some dry clothes. My first in night in Niono I slept on a soggy mattress covered in a couple of my skirts, under an equally soggy mosquito net, and I slept well.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Love At First Site

The next part of my adventure began with a field trip to a local village where we conducted a PACA, or a Participatory Approach for Community Action, assessment. The assessment was taught to us in a three hour long class at the training center. I had my doubts as to its effectiveness. The program, simplified, of course, goes like this: 1st we break the members of a village into three groups: men, women, and youth. Then, each group makes a community map, daily/yearly calendar, and a list of current resources. Next, a "wish list" is made and narrowed down to six choices, which are then voted on. After the number one choice is decided on, a "problem tree" is created which calculates the challenges there are to achieving the choice, and how those challenges can be overcome. This part is where I was skeptical. I was afraid that people wouldn’t vote honestly in the group-- peer pressure, etc. I was also afraid that people would feel strongly about multiple choices and that something important to a large section of group might be ignored causing frustration and a possibly a lack of further participation. When we got to this point I had our facilitator ask the women if they were surprised by the result, which was to get supplies for the health clinic. As it turned out, they were pretty equally divided between getting the supplies and getting more equipment for their community garden. So, from there out we discussed the top two choices, which I felt really good about. After all of the information was gathered, we compared the different group’s information. The difference was palpable, especially between the men and the women. By the end we had given the community direction, and I feel that we left them with the confidence that their dreams are achievable. Not only that their dreams are achievable, but that they can achieve them all on their own with resources within their community. It would take me hours to get into the full details of the assessment, but trust me when I say it was amazing. My whole body was buzzing from the experience. I worked with the women’s group and their strength gives me the courage to keep moving forward. They knew to vote for the right things, not the frills that would make their lives easier, but for the necessities like education and health. Ok, so as it turns out my body was buzzing because I was in the throws of a fever, helk, but it was still, hands down, the best thing I’ve done here so far.

Next it was time for site visit. Unfortunately I had some kind of virus, complete with fever, laryngitis, and intestinal issues, so I didn’t leave with the group. I spent two days sleeping; one of which was at our medical unit in Bamako. I was really nervous about going to site because I now had to take my first trip on public transport ALONE! Not only is the bus station insane, but I don’t speak the language. Busses often break down, which mine did with a flat tire, and, really, anything is possible from demands for bribes to having to pushing the bus! I packed my first aid knife in my passport holder and hoped for the best (and lets face it, I have a better chance of stabbing myself.) The bus ride was 7 ½ hours because the bus stops every 5 minutes to pick up people who they stuff in the middle isle of the bus to make extra money. Meanwhile, people are shoving things for purchase through the bus windows. It’s a bit overwhelming, but quite delightful once you adjust. We were in the middle of the dessert, sun shining, when all of a sudden this line of black started chasing us. It looked like a tornado. It wasn’t a tornado, but it WAS a really huge sandstorm!! The entire bus filled with sand, and I had to cover my face with my pillow just to keep from breathing the sand in. It was so bad that couldn’t even see the person next to me. The bus decided just to stop in the middle of the road and I was so scared that some idiot was going to hit us. Then, just like that, it started raining. We were then all covered in a layer of sand which was quickly turning to mud. The bus resumed driving in the downpour. DRIVING???!!! The wind was so strong that I thought for sure that we would be picked up. Keep in mind that the roads here are made as wide as we would use for one car in the US. Every time we passed an oil tanker, before the rain, I had a mini panic attack--add the rain, the white knuckled bus driver, and the Taylor fixed windshield wipers, and I was in full-fledged panic mode. I went to my happy place. When the sun finally came out and I discovered that I still had all of my limbs, I started hysterically laughing which I’m pretty sure is responsible for the fact that no one messed with me—clearly they had a maniac on their hands. We made it to site shortly after the last stop-- a prayer break at the mosque, of course. The truth is that everyone on the bus was really nice to me and they even watched out for me when I got off to use the ladies nyegen.

I was then picked up by the PC and taken to my new house. It has two 10x10 rooms with two little windows. It also has electricity!!! And the best part…I have a brand new nyegen! The city itself is on the bigger side, so I have access to fresh fruits and veggies, baked bread, and the internet! I have a well (with cockroaches) that I can pull water out of for bathing, and the pump for drinking water is a 10-minute walk. I want to buy a donkey…we’ll see. My homologue is AMAZING (there’s a pic of us on here) and so is the NGO I am working for. I also have a host mom and she is great too. She’s a DIVA and she manages a local radio station. I will be doing public announcements for her once my Bambara is better. Overall a great trip!

I have a site mate. His name is Chris Harmer and he’s a 59-year-old returned volunteer. Yay! After site we headed to our regional capital to meet with the rest of the people from our region for some much-needed r&r. It was amazing. We got to swim in a pool and have pizza. We also took a trip on the Niger to a beautiful hotel where we got to sit on the patio and watch the sun set. It was so great. The regional capital has anything I can’t get at my site and high speed wireless internet. So exciting. It’s about 2 ½ hours away from my site and I get 2 vouchers a month to stay in the hotel dorms there. I am so happy!

Now we’re at the training center and we will be going back to our home stay village on Thursday for our last 10 days of language classes. After that we come back to the training center for our final exam. Wish me luck! I have to get a minimum of "intermediate mid" on my language test and I am so scared.

I have received three packages! Another package from the always amazing Aunt Cathy filled with all kinds of great snacks and necessities including tissues, how does she know? Also one from my friends DeAnna and Michelle with more amazing items and snacks, and most recently a package with my new water bottle and more fabulous goodies from Ron’s mom! Thank you all so much!!! It makes my day/month/year, really!!!!!

Love to all and I hope all is well with you.