Friday, April 24, 2009

Ça Chauffe

Politics are heating up in the village! Manchuré supports the party ADEMA -- for justice, for solidarity. Since just about everyone is a member of ADEMA, the election results -- elections are Sunday -- shouldn't be too surprising. But that hasn't stopped candidates from campaigning and party members from debating. Here we come, democracy.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

My Top Adviser

Just another afternoon discussing the most important issues in development with one of my many advisers. Kotimi may not quite understand where I've materialized from, but she's got some good ideas.

Porridge is yummy and fattening.

Our porridge program finally got off and running. In fact, it's been such a hit, that we increased the number of days that porridge is sold at the health clinic, and we're even getting requests for the porridge to be sold in porridge form -- since many women are walking 10+ Kilometers to get to the clinic. The porridge is made from millet, peanuts, beans, sugar and tomi, a citrus fruit. This is Mambourou and his mom. Mambourou is in our malnutrition program and is slowly but surely gaining weight. Eat up, Mambourou! A kadi, de!

Up and Down and All Around

Some days, you never doubt that aid is working. You're sure that, little by little, education will improve, jobs will be created and filled, and your neighbors will start washing their hands with soap and understand that malaria is caused by mosquitos, and not eggs or the sun. Every interaction you have proves the motivation of people to move forward, to live better and longer. Moustapha tells you about the training he's just returned from and the information he'll share with your village in the hopes of improving farming techniques. You meet a woman who comes to you not for handouts but with questions on exactly what she should be feeding her child to keep him healthy and strong. It turns out that Seydou has been wanting to build soak pits in the village and just needs the technical training that you can help provide. And all you're doing is working behind the scenes, facilitating this magic, watching as your coworkers become the agents of change you always knew they could be.

But other days, the future does not look so bright. Right after your radio show about the importance of protecting yourself from HIV/AIDS, a man approaches you and tells you that what you said on the radio is not true, that HIV/AIDS is a lie. Later, Aissata will tell you that Malians will never accept the existence and danger of the disease. Your newest project falters and then crumbles before you. A nine year old who visits you every day still cannot recognize and write the first 8 letters of the alphabet. It feels like every direction you turn, you are foiled by petty dramas, strict gender roles and a hierarchy so tall and firm that there seems to be no way to get around it, the heat, the ever-present lack of money to buy anything except tea and sugar, and an undeniable belief that if God wills it to be as it is, what good is it to struggle?

Last Tuesday, Aissata and I travelled to Segou for a two-day regional Peace Corps training. We met with NGOs that work in our region, learned about what other volunteers and their counterparts are working on and discussed issues and challenges. In the region of Segou, Peace Corps volunteers and their counterparts are building soak pits, improving wells, starting community gardens and tree pepinaires, teaching their villages about urine fertilization, the miracle of the Moringa tree, and improved shea butter production, weighing babies, training health workers, fighting malnutrition and teaching about child and maternal nutrition, working to improve education and literacy, helping artisans expand their businesses and improve their business practices. And we're doing it together. We are living in villages and speaking Bambara, Bomu, Peulh. And in between building capacity and struggling to make improvements, we are drinking tea, farming together, holding babies and laughing over gaffs and the latest gossip. We eat from the same bowl, attend funerals and weddings, visit sick friends. We're talking. We are talking about Mali and America. How we're different, how we're the same. About yesterday, today, tomorrow.

When a Malian counterpart from a village close to Segou demonstrated how to graft a tree, the audience was in an uproar (Eh, Alah!), you could feel the sparks, the excitement of sharing ideas.

Joel, a volunteer working with an NGO that has created the PLASA Method, a way to plant trees during hot season that uses very little water. He showed us how to plant trees using the PLASA Method. The counterparts were shaking his hand, brimming with enthusiasm over the idea, the volunteers scribbling notes and taking pictures to take the method back to their own village.

Aissata pulled aside another volunteer's homologue to explain how we've set up our malnutrition program in our village and to encourage her to do the same. "I hope that she has the courage to go through with it," Aissata told me afterward.

Alaric and his counterpart fielded question after question about how they'd managed to build a soak pit for only $1.50.

During the evaluation at the end of the training, feelings were mixed on the part of the Malian counterparts. There had been no per diem, the training had been too light on protocol, participants weren't given typed name tags.

But today, just back from the training, you can't tell me that the training wasn't a success: that the exchange of ideas, that nod of encouragement and wealth of potential for the next project wasn't the best catalyst for change in my village, in the region of Segou, in the country of Mali. Today, I know that Aissa and I will go back to our village spouting new ideas. Today, I'm sure Aissa and I will never tire, that I will never be frustrated, that Aissa will never disappoint me. Today, I cannot doubt that Aissa and I, beginning with two very different perspectives, are seeing the same future.

Obama's Bestie

Look real close at Boré's fabric. And then just look at that stance! A man after Obama's heart. Just let me know if you'd like Obama flip flops, Obama fabric, Obama jeans, Obama underwear. The list goes on and on.