I am sitting at the PC Office in Bamako, the capital of Mali, taking advantage of their free internet (its 1000 CFA/hr here!!!) and figured it was as good of time as any to write about my vacation.

I planned this trip with my friend Jenna, another PCV who lives in the north of Senegal because I wanted to go to Timbuktu. Also, I have taken two trips to England, but felt that I should see more of West Africa than Senegal and the Gambia while I am here these two years and had heard really good things about Mali from other volunteers who had gone.

Still, Timbuktu was really the only reason I had to want to come to Mali and planned my trip around it. I wanted to take a boat up the Niger River and then back down to Bamako in two weeks. Having an intimate knowledge of the public transport horrors here in West Africa, we decided to fly to Bamako from Dakar to save two days of being crammed into one car or another on horrible paved roads. The plane ticket was twice as expensive as overland, but saves us 46 hours of transportation. I definately think it was worth it.

The first hitch in the plan (and there is always a hitch in the plan) was Jenna getting a staff infection on her face. She called me the day before we were scheduled to fly out and told me she wasnt medically cleared by PC to go, so I was on my own. Having already dealt with Megan dumping me right before a backpacking trip in Europe that I promptly did on my own, I decided to just do it and take my chances. So on Monday January 26 I flew out solo for Mali, with very few plans but figuring I would play it by ear.

My first thought as I peaked out the window at the desert that is Mali is how ugly this country was! A few seconds later I changed my mind, deciding that it wasn't ugly, just very different from Senegal and beautiful in its own African way.

My plane got in early and I went straight to the PC Office here in Bamako to make friends. There were several volunteers in town and they took me out to lunch and were so friendly, offering my advice on what to see and do here. PCVs always have good advice to give as we know the country we live in so well.

I stayed in Bamako for three days wandering around. I went to the National Museum, which was really cool and included a modern art exhibit and an exhibit on Malian textiles.

I finally left Bamako on Thurday to go Segou where a volunteer there said he could house me and there was a huge music festival going on. Loads of tourists in town. Couldnt afford the tickets to the festival as they were expensive, but hung out down town listening to music and going out with other PCVS. It was amazing. There was music and dance troups from all over West Africa not to mention an artisinal craft fair with AMAZINGLY beautiful products. I did do a little shopping there. I am human after all.

When the festival ended, Jenna (who was finally medically cleared and caught up with meon Friday) and two other Senegal PCVs and I headed to Djenne, the site of the world's largest mud structure: a mud mosque. I have seen pictures in guidebooks but they just cannot capture the beauty of these buildings. The mosque itself is gorgeous and I wandered around the town just admiring. Monday (the day we went) was their weekly market day and it was the craziest, busiest African market I have seen yet. So much fun to be a part of. I bought some fabric that is made here and much more cheap than in Senegal for my host family and friends in Pout. Hope they like it!

From Djenne we headed up to Mopti where we met with Oumar, who we had hired to lead us on a 4 day hike through Dogon country. The next 4 days were spent hiking up and down the most beautiful cliffs you can imagine, where houses are sometimes built into them, sleeping in campements in any one of the beautiful billages there and just being in awe at God's creation. It may be the most beautiful, amazing place I have ever been. If anyone is even thinking about coming to West Africa, they cant miss this. Unfortunately, as I dont exercise EVER in Senegal, my body took a beating, but it was so worth it. Oumar, our guide, was really great and funny. He always made jokes while explaining Dogon culture to us. I learned so much from him.

At this point in my vacation it was obvious that I didnt have enough time to make it up to Timbuktu and then back, which was really dissapointing, and yet the rest of the trip had been so amazing that it wasnt overly so.

Spent another day in Mopti after Dogon Country and then headed back to Bamako, where Jenna and I have been killing time waiting to get back to Senegal.

There is so much more to say about these last two weeks and I dont even know how to start!

It has been nothing short of amazing. 2 weeks is the perfect amount of time and I am very ready to get home. I do miss Senegal and all of its craziness. I will inevitably take this back tomorrow morning as I am arguing with someone at the garage in Dakar on my way home, but it will be nice to argue in Wolof again.


Training 1: Accomplished

I am halfway throught with my entrepreneurship trainings. Due to serious incomptence on my counterparts part, the first week of trainings, scheduled the week of January 12 has had to be pushed back until mid February but the second week went ahead and started the week of Jan 19 as planned. The training lasted 5 days and Ousmane talked about various things such as why entrepreneurship is important here, what makes a good idea for a business, where to get funding for a project and basic business skills such as marketing and record-keeping. 16 members of the local ASC showed up to participate and they were a really fun group. They were fairly talkative (which pleasantly surprised me) and seem to be quite motivated. Several of them have really good ideas for projects. Masseck, for example, really wants to open a fish-selling business in town and Massamb wants to open a cyber. Now that Pout has internet, we will need more cybers, as the only one we have has 2 computers; neither of which work very well.

Although there were some stressful moments throughout the week, mainly dealing with budgeting issues, the week went quite smoothly and Ousmane did a really great job. He led all of the sessions as language and cultural barriers would make it a lot more difficult for me to do what he did. I wish that I was competent enough to have participated more, but sometimes the hardest thing is to admit that the best thing for everyone is for you to sit back and let someone else take charge (for the greater good). This is expecially hard for a control freak like me.

And the best part is: it's over! Halfway over in the long run. The plan had been to have two consecutive weeks of trainings and then I would leave to go on vacation in Mali, but now the two trainings sandwich my trip. I finished the first before I left and will come back to the second one. At least I have work when I get back, right? The participants were also really interested in doing basic IT trainings with Word and Excel when I get back so we may spend a couple of weekends in the computer room at the local middle school doing that.

I leave tomorrow morning to use up the last of my vacation days in sunny Mali. I know, I know, it's a bit early to have used them all up seeing as how I still have 7 months left in Senegal, but thats sort of how things worked out. If I went to Mali any later than January I would run into their hot season, which I hear is only suited for massochists. I am not a massochist.

So the next time you hear from me, I will be in Mali!


So This is the New Year...


My first (and possibly only) visitor has returned to the UK, and so I am still in Senegal trying to figure out my work for the next eight months. Only, when I start to think about it, I get a little panicked at only having eight months left in Africa and my mind starts to wander.

My counterpart, Ousmane, and I submitted an application for a grant to put on two weeks of entrepreneurship trainings with a local youth organization the weeks of January 12 & 19. Our application was approved and the money was put in my account the first week in January, but when I went to finish up planning with Ousmane and buy the materials, he hadn't actually notified the ASC (the group we're doing the trainings for) of the dates and Friday was too short of notice to begin on Monday. Ipso facto: the trainings have been pushed back. I should have seen this coming, I really should have. I should have checked up on him more often to make sure that he had gotten ahold of the necessary people. There are a million things I should have done but didn't. Oh well. We will still have the week of trainings the 19, but then the second will have to wait until February 23 as I am heading off to Mali at the end of this month and then WAIST is upon us.

So this week, which I had planned on being super busy and productive, is turning out to be just another week of sitting around, checking up on my work partners and making plans for after WAIST in the hopes that I will contribute something to thie community before leaving it.

Sorry, I suppose this entry isn't very optimistic, but it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes amid all the frustration that goes hand in hand with development work.

In more exciting news: I received a donation of 40 books for my youth library that I get to drop off this week! Hurrah for the new english section language of the Pout Library!!!


Special Guest Writer

Terry, my first visitor in Senegal, showed up on Christmas morning to spend two weeks here in sunny Senegal. A week and a half into his trip, I thought it might be a good idea to let him write about his impressions and experiences here. So, withouth further adue, here's Terry!

Well what can I say,
My first interesting experience in Senegal was Dakar airport. As I eventually made it through security and baggage claim at about 3am I was bombarded by about 15 taxi drivers asking me if I want a Taxi, well thats what I guess they were saying as they were speaking french and I don't.

Looking through the croud of taxi drivers I saw Mandi with a blow-up Santa doll, so fighting my way through them I got to Mandi and we then went to our hotel, The Hotel we stayed at was basic but it was great to be here with Mandi.

When we woke up we left the hotel and headed for Goree Island which is a small island off the coast of Dakar, it was used as one of the hubs in the african slave trade. It is a pretty Island.
We met up with 8 other PCV's there and we had a nice christmas dinner and hung out.

On Boxing Day Mandi and I went back to her site in Pout where I met her host family and even cooked them a hamburgers and chips for dinner, which was fun. We spent a couple of days in Pout with Ellie, her cat, then headed into Thies we spent a couple of nights there at a place called Massa Massa which was very nice and the food was amazing. We will go back there in April when I come back.

On the 30th we went back to Dakar to get the boat down to Zigunchor, as we got our tickets late there were no cabins left so we ended up with chairs so we spent 14 hours in the seats as there was no common seating area so it wasnt much fun but we got to Zigunchor.

We arrived in Zigunchor on New Years Eve and as we got off the boat we had to wait for the baggage, about 30 mins later we had to go through a door to collect the baggage.
There was about 200 people going through a single door and then looking for their bags it was an experience in its self. After we got the bags we got to the hotel and the fan didn't work and then the light in the bathroom stopped working and there was no water so I couldn't have a shower.
Needless to say we only stayed there for 1 night and we then went to the hotel over the road which had a fan that worked, lights that worked and water for the shower which was great.

We have been down here in Zigunchor for 5 days and it has been good. There is a street vendor that makes a mean spaghetti sandwhich which has been breakfast for the last 5 days.
The food in Senegal has been very good infact I don't think I have had a bad meal at all. Ironically, Mandi ate some Senegalese food that disagreed with her and upset her stomach, but I haven't had any problems.

We are heading back to Dakar today which means back on the boat in the seats again this time for 16 hours. Fun!

Well I have enjoyed my trip so far and it has opened my eyes a bit more on what I have. I will not take for granted as a lot of people here have nothing and are begging for money and food.
The transportation is an interesting experience as well as 95% of the cars would not be road legal in the west as there are bits hanging off and bits missing and smoke from the exhausts, but some how they are still going.

Well thats about it at the mo will try and post a bit more after the trip. Till Then
Take care and remember how lucky you are.


Operation Smile

For those of you who don't already know, and I realize that I have been talking about this a lot, I have had the AMAZING opportunity to work with Operation Smile, an American NGO that is in Thiès, Senegal this week performing free surgeries, as an interpreter from Wolof to English. To give you a quick rundown on what they do, here are some facts from their website, www.operationsmile.org:

Operation Smile, headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia, is a worldwide children’s medical charity. In 1982, Operation Smile was founded by Dr. William P. Magee Jr., a plastic surgeon, and his wife, Kathleen S. Magee, a nurse and clinical social worker.

Since 1982, more than 120,000 children and young adults with cleft lips, cleft palates and other facial deformities have been treated by thousands of volunteers worldwide and thousands of medical professionals have been trained globally.

Operation Smile was launched after its first mission to the Philippines in 1982. Operation Smile currently has a presence in 51 countries.

This week was their first trip to Senegal, and if all goes well, they will be coming back within the year to provide more surgeries. This week, a total of around 150 Senegalese patients, mostly children, with facial deformities had the opportunity to receive free, life-changing surgeries and I am so blessed to have been able to participate in it all. As the interpreter, I got to tell the patients about their surgery, how to prepare for it and explain post-operative care to them after surgery. I spent most of my time in post-operative with the nurses following them around and asking patients how they were doing and feeling. It felts really good to be that link between them and their medical care. On the opposite side, it was heartbreaking to have to tell people that we could not perform the surgery for whatever reason and that there was nothing we could ndo for them. Between the highs and the lows, it was an emotional week.

I am a little jealous of the volunteers with Operation Smile (every one of which I completely and utterly respect and admire) who get instant gratification. Within a week they get to see the results of their work. The development work that I am doing is a little different in that we "plant the seeds" of development and hope that our projects will be sustainable, but often it takes years for the results to come about. I believe that both types of development work are necessary, charity and sustainable development work, in order to encourage developping countries, but I suppose Im just a little jealous that I can't experience what these volunteers have.

Oh well, c'est la vie. Pastures always greener and whatnot. Operation Smile is having a farewell lunch in town that they have invited the Peace Corps Volunteers to attend and so I am off to a free lunch, and to say to goodbye to some amazing people who have become good friends in only a week.


Bloggers Block

I realize that I have touched on the subject before but I am running out of things to say!!! I haven't been online in almost two weeks for whatever reason, which is the main reason I haven't written, but also I just havent had anything to hurry up and get online to write about.

We got internet in Pout, which I expected to be this life changing event, but we only have one cyber café that is online and there are only two computers in it, both of which suck. Since Im in Thiès twice a week anyways, it just doesn't seem worth it to bother using the internet in town. Yes, the internet is that bad there. Plus I can use it for free here.

I applied for a grant with my work partner in order to fund two weeks worth of basic business skills trainings with leaders from a local youth organization and have been accepted, which I am really excited about. That means two solid weeks worth of work. :) Ousmane and I have a lot of planning to do getting everything ready. The trainings will be the middle two weeks of January.

So yeah, that's the news from over here in too-sunny Senegal (I dare anyone in America to complain about the cold).


Mid-Service Fun

Here in Peace Corps-land, after you've been in Senegal for one year, it's time to drop everything, come to Dakar and make sure you're healthy. Relatively so, at least. All volunteers are required to undergo a mid-service medical exam consisting of a complete physical and dental exam. It's about as much fun as it sounds, but it's a good excuse to come to Dakar and relax for a few days and also an example of how amazing our health coverage is here. I am getting very used to full medical coverage and going back to the states after Peace Corps is going to be an experience....

Peace Corps pays us once every three months and the end of November is the end of month number three (ie: I havent been paid since late August). My budgeting skills as they are, I am extremely close to broke and so can't actually afford to go out in Dakar with the other volunteers, but am cooking lots of yummy meals and catching up on my movie watching. I am very much looking forward to this next pay period.