Friday, September 4, 2009

Broken Toubab: Officially beyond repair

So, as the title suggests, despite two really wonderful sick-free days, when they ended I wound up right back where I started, and even a little worse due to dehydration. The doctors still have no clue what's going on, but since this is clearly unhealthy and has been going on so long, I'm being sent back to the US on Sunday, medically separated. The form I got said that if I can resolve this problem within a year I can get reinstated, and that is currently my goal, but the key is to find out what is causing the problem.

I'll probably be in Jersey for a few weeks at least, so if you're in the area let me know and we can hang out.


Friday, August 14, 2009

Oh happy days

Hi again,
So not much has happened recently, but I'm having a really good day and thought I would treat you all to a another lovely post from meee! They changed my malaria meds and I am totally puke free for an entire day. Today we did a community assessment at a local HIV/AIDS NGO, which was confusing and consisted of a lot of Framanankan (French and Bambara - which in Bambara is Bamanankan), of which I could understand a full 30%. We have the day off tomorrow (thank goodness!), so I can get a lof of laundry and sleep time in before the trek out to my site.

I just wanted to thank everyone for all of the comments and emails that I have been getting! - It is really amazing to read your thoughts and get all of your support, especially when things get frustrating over here.

That's all for now, tomorrow, if the internet is faster, I may try to post some pictures, since I know that is severely lacking at the moment.

Qu'an ben soni (Talk to you soon)!


Monday, August 10, 2009

Site Announcement Day

They announced our sites today and am incredibly excited to visit mine. I am going to live and work in Diema (pronounced like Jemma). It is a larger town of about 5,000 people, with both a CSCOM (smaller community clinic) and CSREF (larger regional hospital). It is in the Kayes region, which is among the hottest (temperature wise) places in the world. There is one other volunteer who is in a smaller village 25km away. Other than that, it's essentially a 4 or 5.5 hour trip to larger cities in the region or Bamako to see other volunteers. In my job description it said that I would be doing a lot of work with mother and child nutrition (the main focus of health work in Mali), but that I would also do sensitizations (presentations) on prevention of HIV and AIDS, which I am really excited to be doing. When I was talking to my site buddy she said that because it is a larger town I might have electricity in my house or at least readily available, although there is no internet to be found. I will also have very good cell service when I am there, so I won't be totally out of contact with the world. The other trainees in my region are really great (albeit very far), and I have friends who are in the other regions around Mali too.

Right now, my phone is dead and I can't find the charger, but I will let you know when it surfaces again. I am still feeling essentially the same health-wise, which is a bummer, but I'm dealing with it. It is really great to be back at the training site with the other trainees and current volunteers. Life is good.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Just to clarify

I am in the med office because I have been unable to eat without vomiting afterwards for 11 days now. I came to the med office because I had so little food in my system that I blacked out (and almost passed out) when riding my bike to a nearby village.

I just ate lunch and will see what happens with that...

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Med trip to Bamako

So, continuing my longstanding tradition of constantly being sick, I am in the med office in Bamako (with AC and internet!). Something in the delicious bananas and food my host mother makes is not agreeing with me and I'm having blood drawn tomorrow to rule out anything major. I don't feel too bad...just weak, and my host family makes vomiting noises at me whenever I leave the negen....out of love I assume. Plus...if no food is getting through I can't have 'Mr. D', like many of my peers.

In fun and exciting anecdotes for this update....
My host brothers and sisters were having a great time blowing up a balloon and then slowly letting the air out to make fart noises. I, having the maturity of a 5 year old thought it was hilarious and would laugh histerically when this happened (and they told me that so and so must have eaten a lot of beans). Seeing my amusement, they handed me the balloon. Not even half a breath in, and while it was still smaller than when they did it, it burst in a loud pop. I tried to apologize, but that just brought about even more laughter. As far as my Malian family knows, I am incapable of just about anything. (Except fixing the chain on their bike - I did manage to do that to make up for my balloon fail.)

Also, we have been learning adjectives and body parts recently in Bambara lessons. While useful and funny for anyone, this was all the more amusing, when during lunch that very day I was replacing the seat of my bike to a tractor style seat I brought from the states. When one of my host mothers asked why I was doing this, my host sister replied, cracking up histerically, because she has, what amounts to in Bambara, a huge ass. Had this taken place only hours earlier, it would have been more meaningless jibber jabber (Boston Legal!) at my expense, but this time I was in on the joke, and was able to actually laugh rather than awkwardly giggle like I usually do. Language success!

So, just another comment on communication: My cell here is 784-555-13. It can be very hard to get through the circuit, and if you get a French recording, it is my voicemail. When I am at homestay, my phone is only on between 4 and 5:30 pm EST and on weekends until 5:30 pm EST. I cannot receive texts, but I can send them.

Also, send me your addresses and phone numbers (by email - so that I can send a post card or a quick hello text or something - communication with Americans, by letter or phone is seriously one of the best ways to brighten my day! :D

Hope all is well in America!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Blasto, i be sho dun, and lizard on a stick

So I just returned to the training site from my homestay village. It has been a really rough 11 days, but I am definitely on the upswing and am happy to see the other trainees and volunteers again.

I am living with the chief and his wives (I think there are two, but he might have as many as 4) and brothers and about 20 children ranging in age from a few weeks old to 16. They are really nice and my mothers are great cooks! I haven't been able to eat much because I got blasto (a parasite) and have been vomiting a lot, but they want me to feel better. Unfortunately, my regular vomiting within the short walls of my negen (toilet) are heard by all 30-40 people in the compound, and I am now constantly plauged by intense laughter and vomiting sounds as I exit, or whenever they see me around town. In Malian culture, you joke to diffuse tension and make people feel better so I am chocking it up to that, but it can certainly be frustrating to be known around town as Sitan blaghhhh.

Oh also, they gave me a first name - Sitan, making my full, proper name Sitan Diarra. The Diarras are the best family in Mali, and the Traore's and Dembelay's and Coulibaly's are totally lame (they are my joking cousins - so I am obviously kidding). My joking cousins all eat beans (aw be sho dun) (implying that they fart a lot - the biggest cultural faux pas in Mali). The idea behind joking cousins (aka the bean joke) is really neat. Essentially, back in the day there was a bunch of inter-group tension, but that has mostly disintegrated now into jokes between the groups that everyone laughs about when they meet someone from their joking cousins' factions. It has really helped the stability and increased peace here. Plus, joking and laughing is always a great way to interact with people. It really gives you pride in your family name.

My host brother is just about the coolest person in the town. He is only 13, but he rides around on a motorcycle all the the time and plays with his slingshot. All the kids follow him around (when not following me), and he is their ringleader. One day he came walking into the compound swinging a really big (like 2' including tail) lizard that he had just killed with his slingshot. He then proceeded to machete its head off, impale it on a stick, and cook it on the fire, but not before he tried to show is prized catch to me up close and personal. I started shreiking AYE AYE AYE! and am now taking a ton of crap for that from my family. I guess I deserve it, and it's hilarious when they mock me like that, but sometimes I feel like I am only being used for their amusement. I suppose I am....and I guess I'm ok with that. It's all in good fun.

The Bambara lessons have been pretty good. I can now successfully understand about 50% of what people say to me (although granted, that is mostly greetings, which are really big here - you don't greet, you don't exist). It can be frustrating, but no major problems.

I also washed my clothes with my host sisters this past week. That got a good hearty laugh from everyone, as did my pounding millet, which is incredibly difficult. Just so you all know, millet is nothing like what we had at the ethiopian restaurant. "To" is this green gloppy stuff that has the consistency of playdough, and which is usually dipped in sauce. I have tried a few times, but just cannot stomach it. Thankfully I have been getting rice or macaroni instead, and have also eaten a lot of fruit. The oranges are green, the melons are yellow, and there are mangos and bananas, and all of them are delicious. Fruit is a major staple of my diet here (when I can keep things down).

On an important note: I will be here at the training site until Wednesday morning with power and internet and phone service, but after that will leave to go back to homestay for another 12 days. When I have power, my cell will be on when I am awake (8 am to 11 pm GMT - 3 am to 6 pm EST). When I am back in village my service stinks and I only have my phone on a little bit, but usually try to be in a service area between 8 and 10 pm my time (3 and 5 pm EST). Please call me!

My cell phone here is: 011-223-784-555-13. I don't get texts but I can send them. If you get a french recording, that is my voicemail, you can leave a message.

I'll have another update when I can before I go back. Hope everything is going well stateside!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Another update!

So I just found out that I will be in a small village called Kobalakura near Bamako (the capital city) for my language training. I am living with the chief of the village and there are two other volunteers (one of whom is my current roommate - she''s awesome) and another who is another alumna from UChicago. It is good times all around for sure. We are learning Bambara (the lingua franca here), but will probably also use French at our sites (we all scored pretty high on the exam).

My new Malian last name is Dialla which is important for the Malian custom of the bean joke. (Essentially there are only like 17 major last names, and many years ago they were all warring with one another, but as of late the fighting has stopped and has been replaced by joking. Each family name is associated with a trait (usually negative) which other Malians with different last names will use to make fun at each other when being introduced. It is supposed to reduce the awkwardness and tension of meeting people. It's called the bean joke because farting is like a huge faux pas, so calling someone a bean eater implies that they fart a lot.) I will let you know what the Dialla bean joke is when I find out.

Today was a lot of fun. We ate on the floor for the second time. The peanut butter sauce is delicious. I am still incredibly messy at eating the rice and sauce at the same time, and managing to get it in my mouth, but I'm getting better every day. There is some spice or flavor here that I can recognize, but not place, that I just can't eat, but otherwise I'm fine. I'm pretty excited to find out more about the food.

Yesterday I did my laundry (by hand!) and managed to get everything at least clean enough to wear again and look good. Granted, there are people who can do our laundry for us if we provide the soap, so I may not do it much, but I found it sort of relaxing.

Today we had a huge rainstorm midday and all of the lessons stopped until it slowed down. The wind and rains were so strong that they took out the awning over the door to our hut, and are now blocking the door (picture to come). They are fixing it soon.

I would also like to point out at this point that I have now taken a few pictures, but that my cord to upload them is in another bag, which I have yet to sort through. As soon as I have it there will be a post.

I also just got a cell phone here, and will get a sim card tomorrow. Whenever I have internet next (probably in two weeks) I will post my number. It's free for me to receive calls, and I think it can be pretty inexpensive to call from the states, so feel free to give me a ring anytime.

Anyway, I'm off to do some more bonding with my fellow (AWESOME!) PCTs and PCVs.