Sunday, November 27, 2011


Swear in was a great way to finish three very tough months. It was held at the president of Mali’s house and we all got to dress up in beautiful Malian fabric.  I wore perfectly tailored blue basin dress. It felt great to dress up again. Here's a picture with all of us and ATT. It's the one Peace Corps used on their website to announce us as new volunteers. I have no idea what I was looking at... 

The night before we all got to go out downtown Bamako and celebrate.  We ate at a Chinese place that served shawarmas then went straight to the club. At the fist club our stage name was announced. My superlative was 'most likely to be mistaken as Jackie O' so when they said we were “The Kennedys” I was pretty excited. It was a crazy coincidence because they had given us our names before the superlatives were announced but in the speech they did call me and my friend Meredith out as being Jackie and Marilyn at the talent show.
The best part of swear in for me was knowing that the next day I was finally heading to site. I couldn't wait to get to my new house and get settled.  We had so much back and forth with training and I was ready to call one spot home. 

I can't believe this was 7 months ago!! I promise to do a better job updating my blog!! 

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Site Visit

Site announcements were another nerve wrecking time. Finally after 6 weeks of training we were going to be told where we would call home for the next two years. There was a huge daunting map of Mali in the front of the training center and as our names were announced a post it was placed on our location. We had nothing to go on except that when we first got to the training center we had interviews with our Malian Peace Corps bosses asking us questions like would you like to live close to someone else, do you like to bike, and are amenities important to us? I really had no idea what I wanted so just said I’m an active, social person who wouldn't mind living close to another volunteer and that I wanted to by the water. My name was announced to be in the Segou region where a bunch of my friends were also going. I was ecstatic. When they announced my friend Miriam’s name to be Segoukaw as well I actually screamed a little. We took a group photo then I sat down and opened my pink folder. The name of my village is Dioro and I had a site mate Melissa. The other volunteer listed was Matt, he lived 15k away. Soon after I learned that Laura was really close as well. There were a total of four volunteers who all had Dioro as their market town. I was really excited to meet Melissa and was thrilled when Claudine, my Peace Corps Supervisor, gave me her number. My new site mate ended my nervousness by telling me my host family was awesome and that everyone in town couldn't wait to meet me.

Two days after our sites were announced our homologues came to Tubaniso. This was other unnerving moment. We broke up into regions and everyone chatted asking around to find who they belonged to. I was one of the last to meet my homologue. My homologues name is Samalia and I didn’t know it at the time but has turned out to be one of the best. He is the dugutigis grandson and will probably one day be the leader of Dioro. He is a very motivated man who really wants to help his community. I am really lucky to have a motivated village supervisor. We had a few days of training together then left for site. This was other stressful endeavor. The bus station was really crowded with people, stuff to buy, and garbage. My homologue was very nice and did everything he could to make us feel comfortable while we waited to get on the bus. I remember looking a cute little newborn baby and he asked if I wanted to hold it. I of course said yes and instantly became calm and happy as I watched this tiny little baby smile in his sleep. I knew I was going to be fine.

The bus ride to Dioro was uneventful except for the stops to get food. I was still learning the money but with Samalia’s help I got what I needed and we continues on. Once we hit Segou, Melissa, my sitemate joined us for the rest of the trip. It was easy to spot her at the bus stop and she was very welcoming and really sweet. I could tell we were going to get along just fine. When we got to Dioro Samalia helped me carry my bags to Melissa’s house. I stayed with her because they were still working on my house. We had a fun week together. She introduced me to all the important people in village and made sure I was never thirsty or hungry. 

St Patricks Day was during my site visit and one of the first things I asked Melissa was if we could celebrate with other volunteers. We had gotten everything accomplished in Dioro so it wasn't a big deal to make a pit stop on the way back to Segou. I had a great time meeting everyone and being American for one day. 

The week ended with an amazing Welcome to Segou party with all the other current Segoukaw volunteers. We went swimming, went on a boat ride, and ate a nice restaurant where I got delicious cordon blue and red wine. We then went to a bar with a live Malian band, drank a few more beers and danced ourselves to exhaustion.  

We headed back to Tubaniso on Saturday and all had two more weeks left of training before being sworn in. I didn’t want to go back. I was ready to start living in my new village and hated that I wouldn’t see the current volunteers again for another 15 days. I knew, though, I needed to finish my language classes and the time would come soon enough that I'd return to Dioro as an official Peace Corps Volunteer. 

Saturday, July 23, 2011


I was really nervous leading up to the days of homestay announcements. Everyone in my stage is really cool but I was hoping to be grouped with 7 other people that I had befriended in my first week in Mali. I was very happy when they announced my name to be with Michelle, my roommate in DC, Lauren, who I knew was as equally obsessed with cheese as me, Jasmine, a basketball player, Hannah, hilarious, Claire, my hut roomy, DeLissa, really sweet, and Andrew, my quite running partner. They told us we were all heading to Mountougoula but didn’t give us any of our family’s information so the worry hadn’t dissolved completely. I was also really annoyed because I was told I’d be studying Bambara instead of French.  The ride to homestay was our first exertion out of Tubaniso and was really intimidating. I got to see houses made of mud and straw, markets made of some fruits, veggies, and dried fish all covered in flies, and Malian roads made of dirt and a whole lot of trash. One of my first pictures…

As soon as we got to Mountougoula a bunch a kids grabbed our bags and we were shoved into a small mud built room with about 15 old men and one woman, who turned out to be my host sister. We were given to our new families and told our corresponding names. I was named Kanja Sacko. My father was one of the oldest guys in the room, Zumana Sacko, probably somewhere around 80. Our compound was small but nice and I was thrilled to meet my host brother who spoke a little English. There were tons of cute little kids in the compound but Tenen(Monday) was my favorite little girl. She had the toughest life in the compound; being the daughter of the unmarried house keeper meant she always ate last and was hardly ever clean. Her single mother worked all day everyday so she learned to hold her own at a very young age so much that even though she was the smallest child she controlled the group by smacking any boy with a stick if he was out of line. One of my favorite pics so far…

The day after moving into our new homes and meeting all the villagers we had our first full day of Bambara lessons. Homestay has been the most difficult part of Peace Corps and its all the local language’s fault. Eight full hours of training was overwhelmingly difficult and my day never ended there. I had to go back to my Bambara speaking family with an overloaded brain and try to communicate with my very limited vocabulary. My family served dinner around 7 every night and the food was really interesting. Breakfast was eggs and bread, lunch was rice and gross red fish sauce and dinner was usually macaroni and smashed tomatoes, barley any protein.  Even though I was completely exhausted I still managed to save an hour after dinner for games and dancing with the kids. Our compound didn’t have electricity so it was easy to turn in around 8:30. Here is a pic of some our nightly shenanigans…
Day to day life was really hard and really slow. We all had different mechanisms to make the time go by a little faster; cookies, running, soccer, and the neighboring town’s bar. Jerakarabugu was a half hour bike ride but worth the cold beer, grilled meat, and English time with friends. Sometimes we jump on a back of truck and headed to other neighboring town, B-Camp, where there was a restaurant and electricity. They also had an awesome toubab(white person) store with better cookies and ice cold diet coke. Doesn’t sound like a big deal but I was practically in tears after the DC discovery.

On the third week at homestay I came home to wonderful surprise….an adorable tiny little puppy!!! I named him Legend and we were instantly inseparable. Two reasons: One, he was the size of my hand and two, Malians aren’t really nice to dogs and there was no way I was going to let anything bad happen to the little guy. The first thing I did was give him a bath. I had no idea how big of a deal that was going to be and the villagers talked about it for days. That and the fact that I was walking him on a rope(leash), and took him to class with me. The villagers didn’t understand why I cared about him so much but you will…look down….

Homestay was not easy but I’m grateful for what I learned and the time I was able to spend with my host family <3

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Finally doing this...

I've been putting this off far too long. I have so much say but no idea where to start. So many incredible experiences already and I feel like whatever I write will not even come close to the constant state of sensory overload I've been in. I promise to do my best.

We got into Bamako at 9pm. It was dark so I couldn't see anything just remember getting smooshed into a hot bus and getting dropped off outside of customs. I got my luggage and was immediatly shoved onto another hot crowded bus. This time they gave me a gift, mosquito repellant, awesome. We arrived at Tubaniso, the PC training center, pretty late. I tried to sleep but there was no way my mind was going to shut off. I listened to my good friend, Ashleigh Still, for comfort until the sun came up and I could really see what I had gotten myself into. My first adventure was the neigen and I missed terribly. I remember hoping that peeing in a hole in the ground would be easier on a full night of sleep. (Not true) I got ready and went to the main hanger for the first day of training. I met some good people in Washington DC so sat by a few new friends and did my best to stay awake for the 8 hour training day. I felt so weird and heavy. I wanted a break from everything and prep for a good night sleep so I decided to go for a run. It was hard but felt amazing. From that moment I was known as the running girl. I didn't mind. Much better than girl who can't piss in a hole or complete simple sentences..
I was surprised by how friendly our Malian trainers were. They all were dressed to the nines, and we're happy to answer any and all questions. I had a lot of fun getting to know everyone and was really excited to learn a few of my new friends would be joining me at homestay.

I need to run now but will be on again soon to tell you all about homestay in Mountougoula. Big news...My family gave me a puppy!!!

Monday, January 17, 2011

What to Pack??

Packing for Mali has been the most stressful part of the Peace Corps experience so far. Like I mentioned earlier my list is ridiculously long. It's hard trying to be prepared to live in a place you've never been and bring enough stuff to get you through two years. I won't find out what region I'm working in until after I've completed training so I need to try to accommodate for all weather conditions. 

There are some very fun and exciting parts to this though! Everyday feels like Christmas. I'm constantly getting packages delivered to the house. I love opening up the boxes and discovering some new crazy item. I'm still expecting my hard drive and Bug Hut 2. Definitely going to set up the tent and play with it a bit before I go.

I have read several other blog packing lists and it helped so much. This is what I came up with:  

·         Oxy Clean sticks 3
·         Safety Pins
·         Travel sewing kit
·         Sheets and pillow case-very hot so must absorb moisture
·         Rechargeable Batteries-Nickle Metal Hydride
·         Adapter for French outlet
·         Crystal light packets-pure fitness brand grape or kiwi strawberry
·         Small battery Fan
·         Good pens
·         Flavored Tea
·         Small kids toys-dollar store
·         Exercise Band
·         Tooth brushes
·         Cookies for gifts
·         Power bars
·         Lavender dryer sheets
·         Taylor magazine for clothes
·         Fly swatter
·         Sauce packets-knorr
·         10 tuna packets
·         Can opener
·         Earplugs 3 sets 
·         Duck tape
·         Combo lock
·         Regular towel thin 2
·         Bike gloves
·         Mosquito tent REI stand alone-Bug Hut 2
·         Capri  pants active below knee
·         Speakers for Ipod
·         2 Fast drying towels
·         2 Nalgene water bottle and splash guard
·         Chacos sandals
·         Head lamp
·         External Hard Drive
·         Capri pants
·         USB drive
·         Scissors
·         Ziploc bags
·         loofah
·         One nice business outfit
·         Hair Straightener
·         Swimsuits
·         Backpack
·         Sundresses two
·         Pictures
·         Notebook
·         Makeup
·         Skincare 
·         Bandanna
·         Gym shorts
·         One Columbia fleece
·         2 Long sleeve shirts
·         Few clothes for traveling
·         Neck pillow
·         Eye shade
·         Sunglasses
·         Sneakers
·         Ipod and accessories
·         Watch
·         Laptop
·         Sleeping bag
·         Mirror
·         Fun jewelry
·         Gel bike seat
·         Waterproof Camera and back up cards
·         Bottle washer
·         Money belt
·         Small calendar
·         Baby powder
·         Leatherman Knife
·         2 pairs of skinny jeans
·         5 going out shirts
·         2 bottles body wash
·         Nail Stuff
·         Playing cards

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Trip Over

January 31, 2011
Leaving Minneapolis at 6:51 am
Arriving in Chicago at 8:16 am
Leaving Chicago at 9:05 am
Arriving in Washington, DC at 11:46 am
  • 12:00 -2:00PM - Registration
  • 2:00 - 4:25 PM - Who We Are & What’s Expected of You
  • 4:25 - 4:45 PM - Break        
  • 4:45 - 7:00 PM - What You Expect, What’s Next, & Closing
February 1, 2011
  • 12:00 PM - Check out of hotel
  • 2:00 PM - Medical center for final immunizations
  • 7:00 PM - Bus trip to JFK
  • 9:55 PM - Flight departs for Paris
February 2, 2011
Arriving in Paris at 11:15 AM
Leaving for Mali at 8:05 PM
Arriving in Mali at 8:50 PM

Friday, January 7, 2011

Letter for Friends and Family

Dear Families:

Greetings from the Mali Desk in Washington, D.C.! It is with great pleasure that we welcome your family member to the Mali training program.  During the past year we have received many requests from Volunteers and family members alike regarding travel plans, sending money, relaying messages and mail, etc.  As we are unable to involve ourselves in the personal arrangements of Volunteers, we would like to offer you advice and assistance in advance by providing specific examples of situations and how we suggest they be handled.  Peace Corps service certainly impacts more than just the trainee and we hope that this information will help ease some of the uncertainty which affects the families of Volunteers.

1.  Irregular Communication.   The mail service in Mali is not as efficient as the U.S. Postal Service. It can take three to four weeks for mail in either direction to arrive via the Malian postal system.  From a Volunteer’s site, mail may take 1-2 months to reach the United States.

The following suggestions may be helpful:
  • Determine in your first letters an estimate of approximately how long it takes for transit and establish a predictable pattern of how often you will write to each other.
  • Number your letters so that the Volunteer knows if he/she has missed one.
  • Send postcards in envelopes, as they tend to get lost or stolen.
Volunteers often enjoy telling their “war” stories when they write home. Letters might describe recent illnesses, lack of good food, isolation, etc.  While the subject matter is good reading material, it is often misinterpreted on the home front. Furthermore, with the delay in mail, it is likely that a current problem described in a letter, has been resolved or forgotten by the time the letter is received. The Peace Corps Staff in Mali is available and equipped to assist Volunteers with any need expressed or in an emergency.

If for some reason your communication pattern is broken, and you do not hear from your family member, contact the Office of Special Services (OSS) at Peace Corps Washington 1-800-692-1470.  OSS will contact the Peace Corps Country Director in Bamako and determine the information or assistance needed.  In the case of an emergency at home (death in the family, sudden illness, etc.), please do not hesitate to call OSS immediately, so that the Volunteer can be informed.

2.  Telephone Calls.  Your loved one(s) will not have telephone or email communications for several weeks following arrival.  The telephone systems in Mali are not as good as in the United States but improving.  Service in and out of Bamako and major towns to the United States is usually reliable.  In the interior of the country, where most of the Volunteers are located, the phone service is more limited.  Many Volunteers purchase cell phones but networks availability differs greatly.  Like letters, you may find it helpful to establish a routine so Volunteers can plan to be within networks areas to receive calls from home.    Please be aware that the Peace Corps staff in Bamako cannot assist in arranging these calls and have limited phone lines for official business only.  The Peace Corps Mali office cannot accept pre-arranged calls for Volunteers, except in emergency situations.

The Mali Desk maintains regular contact with the Peace Corps office in Bamako through phone calls and e-mail. However, these communications are reserved for business only and cannot be used to relay personal messages.  All non-emergency communication between family members and the Volunteer should be done via international mail, personal phone calls, or e-mail.  Volunteers may have access to e-mail at Internet cafes on a weekly or monthly basis, depending on their location.    

Please note that for the first 8 weeks in Mali, Trainees will be near Bamako where telephone, e-mail and postal services are more reliable and timely.  In most cases, there will be a significant delay in communication when the Trainees finish Pre-Service Training and move to their sites.  Do not be alarmed if the frequency of letters, phone-calls and e-mail drops suddenly around this time.

3.  Sending packages. Families and Volunteers like to send and receive "care packages" through the mail.  Unfortunately, sending packages can be a frustrating experience for all concerned due to the high incidence of theft and heavy customs taxes, as well as the long waiting periods involved for packages to arrive. We do not recommend that valuable items be sent through the mail.  During training you may use the following address to send letters and/or packages:   

Name of Volunteers, PCV
Peace Corps
B.P. 85 Bamako

Following training Volunteers often choose to get local post office boxes.  Your loved one(s) will need to share this information with you.

The use of padded envelopes is recommended, if possible, as boxes tend to be taxed more heavily.  Custom fees for the Volunteer can sometimes range up to $100.  For lightweight but important items (e.g. airline tickets, important documents, etc.), DHL (an express mail service) does operate in Bamako.  If you choose to send items through DHL, you must address the package to: Peace Corps, C/o Country Director, B.P. 85 Bamako, Mali, West Africa. The Peace Corps and its Staff assume no liability for any lost or stolen mail, including items sent through DHL.  Please call a DHL office nearest you for more information.  Their toll free number is 1-800-CALL-DHL or access the DHL website at

Sending airplane tickets, cash or checks via international mail is not recommended.  Certain airlines will allow you to buy a pre-paid ticket in the US, though, unfortunately, this system is not always reliable. Please call the airline of your choice for more information.

Sending cash or checks is discouraged.  If your Volunteer family member requests money from you, it is his/her responsibility to arrange receipt of it and to determine a means of cashing any checks or receiving wire-transfers.

We understand how frustrating it is to communicate with your family member overseas and we appreciate you using this information as a guideline.  Please feel free to contact us at the Mali Desk in Washington, D.C. if you have any further questions.  Our phone number is 1-800-424-8580, ext. 2327 or 2328, or locally, 202-692-2327 or 2328; e-mails are,, and
Nicole Lewis             Daryn Warner
Mali Desk Officer     Mali Desk Assistant

Information and Advice for Families and Friends Planning to Visit Mali

The following points of information and advice have been compiled from various sources (previous visitors, former Volunteers, staff, etc.) for those planning to visit Peace Corps Volunteers in Mali.  We hope that the suggestions and information below will be helpful.  You may also wish to consult various travel books such as The Lonely Planet’s Africa on a Shoestring or West Africa on a Shoestring.  It is also advisable to plan your travel through a reputable agent to assist you in providing all the information you need.  The Peace Corps' staff, either in Washington or Bamako, cannot assist in your travel plans, or in expedition of passports, visa and ticket arrangements and confirmations.

Special note on timing your visit:  Trainees are not allowed to have visitors during the Pre-Service Training which takes place their first 9-weeks in Mali. Furthermore, Volunteers must not take leave from their post for vacation during the first three months after Pre-Service Training, as well as the final three months of their service.  Visits from family members and others are strongly discouraged during these periods to avoid disruption of the Volunteer's work responsibilities.

1.  Planning.  Begin planning at least six months before departure, since several tasks have to be done sequentially, often adding up to several weeks/months.  Keep in mind that communication takes a long time, so arranging the logistics through the mail/email will require a lot of lead-time.

2.  Passport.  If you do not already have a passport, obtain a passport application and application instructions from a post office, your travel agent or the Department of State website:

3.  Health.  You must get, at minimum, a yellow fever immunization and have it listed in a World Health Organization (W.H.O.) medical card.  For more information on what additional immunizations are required or recommended, contact your local health board or the Division of Immunization at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, (404) 639-1870.  The CDC can also answer other questions and advise you on relevant health precautions. You should also plan to take anti-malarial prophylactic drugs during your stay in Mali.  Contact the Malaria Hotline at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia, (404) 639-1610 for information on what drug(s) to take and where you can obtain them.

There are health risks, and medical facilities in Mali are not comparable to facilities in the United States.  Peace Corps Medical Staff cannot care for family members or friends who require medical attention during their stay in Mali.  We strongly suggest that you consider extra insurance with emergency evacuation coverage from a company such as International SOS Assistance, Inc. (; 1-800-523-8930 or 215-942-8000 in Philadelphia, PA).

4.  Visa.  To apply for a visa to Mali, obtain an application from the Mali Embassy, 2130 R Street, NW, Washington, DC 20009; phone number (202) 332-2249; fax number (202) 332-6603; website  (Note: Your World Health Organization (W.H.O.) records showing the required yellow fever shot MUST accompany the visa application as well as a copy of your tickets.)

If you plan travel to other countries in the area:
Separate visas are required for almost any African country you may plan to visit in addition to Mali, except for intermediate stops where you will not leave the terminal.  For Mali and most West African countries, visas CANNOT be obtained upon entry and you may be unable to obtain visas for further stops during your stay in Bamako.  Determine the visa requirements for all countries you plan to visit well in advance of your travel.

5.  Money.  The unit of currency in Mali is the CFA.  Traveler’s checks are recommended.  You may want to take at least some traveler’s checks in Euros, since changing Dollars to CFA in Bamako is usually more expensive.  Some larger hotels in Bamako will accept some credit cards.  The best person to answer questions is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit, who can research your options depending on your detailed travel plans.

6.  Baggage.  Have all your suitcases locked.  On most airlines, you are allowed two pieces of baggage (up to 80 lbs. total; with a maximum weight allowance of 50 lbs for any one bag) per passenger for trips from the United States to Europe, but only 20 kg (44 lbs.) total for intra-European, intra-African and flights between Europe and Africa.  Therefore, you may be charged an excess baggage fee for anything over 44 lbs. from Europe to Africa, unless you check your baggage through to Africa directly from the U.S. This is particularly important if you plan to break travel in Europe.  As baggage allowance can change, please confirm the above weight restrictions with the airline when making a reservation.

7.  Flight Check-In.  If you fly through Paris, arrive at the check-in counter for the flight to Bamako at least three hours before take off.  Usually you cannot get a seat assignment until final check-in. Large carry-on bags will likely be refused.

8.  Arrival in Bamako.  You must have both your passport and W.H.O. card when boarding a flight to Bamako and upon arrival. You may be required to open all bags for inspection. There will be many porters pressing to carry your bags for payment.  Carry your bags yourself if you can. If you must have assistance, a tip of about $1 per large bag is sufficient.

9.  Accommodations.  Your best source of information about where to stay is the Volunteer whom you are planning to visit.

10.  Photos.  Picture taking is often restricted in Bamako and you should ask permission before taking any photos.  Photos are never allowed at the airport, or around any military installation or government building.

11.  Identification and Registration.  During the course of your stay in Mali, you may have to show your passport to the police several times, so you should carry it with you in a safe place at all times.  The Volunteer can advise you about particular registration requirements, if any, at the sites you will visit.

12.  Departure.  There is a departure tax of 14,000 CFA (approximately $28.00) at the Bamako airport when leaving.

13.   Other Resources:
On this site, you can learn anything from what time it is in Bamako to information about converting currency from the dollar to the CFA franc. Just click on Mali and go from there.
Visit this site to learn all you need to know about any country in the world from a traveler’s perspective.
This site includes links to all the official sites for governments of countries around the world.
This online World Atlas includes maps and geographical information about countries around the world. Each country page contains links to other sites, such as the Library of Congress, that contain comprehensive historical, social, and political backgrounds.
This United Nations site allows you to search for statistical information for member states.
This site provides an additional source of current and historical information about 225 countries worldwide.