Sunday, March 25, 2012

Putting a Face on the Coup d'Etat

Her name is Jellican.

She is 27 and lives in a rural village in Mali. She is the second wife of three and her husband has a new 15 year old girlfriend, that he will soon marry to complete his family with four wives. Jellican has three of her own children, but lives with and looks after all 12 of her husband's children. She has her own room, but sleeps occasionally with her children when the mosquitoes get bad. She doesn't really love her husband and really dislikes his new girlfriend but there is nothing she can do. The times he does favor her she must willingly share her bed. She is not allowed to use birth control, but goes and gets a shot from the local clinic every three months anyways.  Last week when she walked the 8k to get it they had run out; the people who regularly bring in the medicine for her village never came. She now fears her husband because she knows her body cannot handle another pregnancy- she barely survived the last one.

She works hard everyday in her small garden, growing tomatoes and onions to sell at the market. Her husband doesn't work. His days are filled with drinking rounds of tea, playing cards, and visiting his new girlfriend. Jellican needs her garden's income to buy ingredients to make sauce for toh, the only type of meal her family can afford. This is especially difficult this year due to the lack of rain last season. Her brother's field yielded a third of what it did the year before. Millet went from $10 a bag to $50. She knows soon her family will go down to eating once a day. Her children are already underweight and have big swollen bellies. The community health worker taught her how to make a healthy porridge, but she cannot afford buy all the ingredients, nor are they always available at market.

She had hope in her heart that things were changing for the better. Her and her friends were planning on starting a large women's garden. An outside organization was going to pay for a fence to keep the goats out and they were also going to build a well in the garden so they wouldn't have to walk 2k to retrieve water everyday. The people who were helping were very nice and she looked forward to their weekly visits. They shared lots of useful gardening advice, it was in French, but luckily one of the women in her group could understand and relay the information. This group of kind, knowledgeable strangers were also working with the community clinic; they were the ones who taught the community health workers how to make that porridge.

One day on the radio Jellican heard that a coup d'etat had happened in the capital city. She would not have known otherwise because life in village had remained the same. She did notice though when the people who were suppose to bring money to start work on the fence never came. She was devastated. Her husband was supposed to be one of the people working on the well. He probably would have used most of that money on his new girlfriend, but she was hoping for at least one bag of millet. Now the big garden is postponed, they only have a half a bag of millet left, and hot season is fast approaching, and with no new well, her small garden will wither down to little or nothing.

Who is going to be affected the most by this current rebellion???  Women like Jellican and her children who will no longer receive foreign aid.

The reason the people from the outside organization never came to Jellican's village with the project money is due to the current situation in Bamako. The World Bank and The African Development Bank suspended all aid in response to the coup d'etat. The U.S., Canada, and China are following suit.  All foreign aid workers have been moved out of the country or instructed to stay in their homes until peace has been restored.

Thousands of Malian villagers will never see combat, but they WILL feel it. They will feel it in their stomachs as they go hungry. They will feel it in their hearts as their loved ones die from preventable diseases. I feel infuriated. The villages of Mali do not deserve this. This is not their battle

Please keep Jellican and the millions like her in your thoughts and prayers. Pray that democracy will be restored and that aid workers will soon be able to continue to their work.  People like Jellican deserve the chance at a better life.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Year in Review Part 2

My Mali Short Stories

The Mouse
I had just gotten to site and barely knew anyone. My landlord, Ina, was nice but still trying to figure out her strange new neighbor. I was sitting alone in my hut wondering what I had gotten myself into when a mouse ran into my house (This space between my front door and my hut's cement floor has allowed entry for several unwanted visitors) I saw it run into the second room behind the suitcase beauty table I had made for myself using the box from my stove and my largest suitcase. I was in quite the predicament because I was not the skilled assassin that I am now and had just washed all my undies and they were hanging from the handle of my door to the opposite corner of the room.  I knew I needed help so I called for her. INA!!! INA!!!! When she came in all she could see was me pointing to all my skimpy lace underwear. I explained in my broken bambara that something was hiding in the corner. She wearily came with me ducking under the 'clothes line' to look and when she saw it was a mouse laughed and called for her sister (not because she needed back up but I'm pretty sure it was so her sis could to get a look at all the weird things hanging in the new tubab's house). Ina told me to grab the box that was topped with all my cosmetics so nothing would spill while her sister threw her sandal at the mouse. As soon as this happened the mouse ran across my foot, I screamed and jumped a foot in the air while maintaining complete control of the box of cosmetics. The mouse ran out of my house and once I regained composure we all looked at each other and started laughing uncontrollably. I couldn't stop because of the ridiculousness of the situation; me standing in a mud hut in Africa with a box full of cosmetics and a room decorated with lingerie exhausted from screaming bloody murder because mouse grazed my foot while two Malian women stared at me with complete WTF faces. They couldn't stop for all those reasons too but also because this experience solidified that I was the craziest, weirdest person they had ever met. They still tease me about it today. We'll be sitting around doing whatever and I'll hear Ina start "INA....INA....AHHHHHH!!!!!!" and we'll all get a good laugh.

Dogon and Turning 27
My friend and I went on a three day hike through Dogon Country for my 27th birthday. I slept under the stars and woke up to one of the beautiful views I've ever seen. I roasted hot dogs and made smores on the edge of a cliff for my birthday dinner. We passed through several small villages and got to meet a lot of very friendly villagers. The hike was hot, very challenging and on the third day, my actual birthday, we were rained on and had to find shelter for a few hours. This rain was a blessing in disguise though because a few minutes after the rain cleared we discovered a three tier waterfall. I had to crawl through a centipede infested cave but it was worth it. That shower was a perfect birthday present. It was crazy not seeing a waterfall throughout our entire hike then on my birthday thanks to the rain seeing 5! Best. Birthday. Ever.

And I Cried 
I had just gotten back from IST and celebrating the fourth of July in Monitalli. I had been gone from my house for almost a month with the training and the much needed vacation. I was excited to get home and see my host family, play with my dog Legend, and cook a nice meal for myself with the delicious food my mother had sent me. When I opened the door to my hut I was horrified to find over 100 termite nests. They had eaten through several of my things including valuable pictures of my friends and family. I was overwhelmed and needed some water and when I went to my water filter I discovered it had been infiltrated with a million little ants. I almost threw up. I quickly went to the well to clean out the filter when I noticed the bucket of well water was full of worms. It was official. I was under attact by every insect in Mali. I was dealing with the situation as best as I could. I started to take everything out of my house to start the cleaning process. I grabbed the box with all my pots and pans and when I set it down the top came off and inside was a decomposing mouse. I looked inside, saw the mouse and started laughing. My laughing turned into crying and then the crying turned into sobbing so hard I could barely breathe.  I was lucky to have my friend Laura with me. Without I her I may have never stopped. I know it seems silly but I was really upset. I worked hard at making my hut my home and all that hard work had literally been eaten all up. It took about a week for everything to get cleaned up and for it to feel like my house again. My tears turned into vengeance and thousands of insects were murdered that day.


Malaria and Me
Long story short, Malaria kicked my ass. It was the sickest I have ever been and I hope to never have another experience like it.  I was training for my first half marathon and I was experiencing some hindering side effects from the prophylaxis I was taking. My feet were going numb right around mile 3 and my heart rate was out of control. I figured a break of three weeks would be enough to get rid of the side effects and not put me in any danger. I was wrong. A week before I was supposed to leave for Ghana I came down with a fever, horrible body aches, and an upset stomach.  I had experienced similar symptoms before so I assumed it was a viral infection and I didn’t want to tell the doctors that I hadn’t been taking mefloquine. By Wednesday I was so dehydrated I couldn’t swallow and organ failure was quickly approaching. When the doctors finally got my blood work back it showed that I had over 100,000 parasites in my system. I was immediately admitted to the hospital and was put on an IV. The next few days are kind of a blur. I remember waking up in a pool of sweat because the air conditioner broke right around the same time as my fever. I remember doctors coming in and me pleading with them to stop the injections in my hand because the pain was unbearable. I remember several Peace Corps visitors stopping to say hi. I remember calling my mom and wishing she was there. I remember a friend breaking in past visiting hours fearing for my life and kind of stealing my bed. I remember Robyn finally saying that I could still go to Ghana but only if I didn’t race and didn’t drink any alcohol.  I left the hospital thankful for all the love and support I had gotten but mostly thankful for the great doctor that brought me back in time to still make it to Ghana. It was hard being there and not being able to run but I felt really lucky that I was still able to support my friends.  

My Christmas Surprise 
I told my mom that I was traveling to Dogon again with a few friends and that my phone reception would be spotty so we had to have our skype Christmas on December 15th. I told her I wanted everyone there so we could hang ornaments on the tree together and maybe sing a few carols. I also told her my best friend Ashley would be stopping by to say hi since she was already going to be in town for another event. It was 7:15 and Mom was freaking out because she couldn't reach me. Ash knocked on the door and Mom welcomed her in while swearing at skype for not working. When there was a second knock on the door her exact words were "who the hell is it now?" clearly frustrated about not being able to reach her daughter in Africa. I'll never forget the look on her face when she opened the door...I'm tearing up just writing about it...she looked liked she saw a ghost. A blank expression. She reached out and touched my had gotten so long since she last saw me. She couldn't answer when everyone was asking who it was, all she could was cry. My sister was the second one to run over and hug me and my grandma kept shouting "Is she real!?" It was a magical Christmas, one we will talk about for the rest of our lives. 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

A Year In Review Part 1

It’s my one year anniversary in Mali!! It’s amazing to look back at the last twelve months and think of all the things I’ve done and how much my life has changed. Here are a few differences:
  •          Instead of showering I now take bucket baths. This consists of a bucket of well water that I’ve retrieved myself and a large cup that I use to pour the water over myself. I’ve gotten really efficient with water use.  Now during cold season I boil extra water for making my morning tea and use it to warm up the bucket water. This is my “hot shower”
  •          I used to wash my hair daily but because of what was noted above I can now go as long as a week before washing it. Braids are great for hiding unclear hair.
  •          I can eat almost anything now if I’m hungry enough. I’ve gotten really good at picking out the meat around fish bones and sheep heads. I think I once ate a fish eyeball..I try not to think of that too much.
  •          I get urinated on by babies and laugh. In the states I hated to be dirty but here it’s a way of life. Add adding a little something extra to my already sweat stained dirt covered clothes is the least of my worries.
  •          I can drink warm water. In the states I hated to drink water and would only drink it out of a bottle. Now I get excited for pump water and drink it warm out of semi clean glasses. I will never take ice for granted again.
  •          I drink full calorie soda. I hate regular coke in the states and here it’s a cold treat for myself on very hot stressful days.
  •          I can coexist with spiders. I used to be the screamer who could barley muster up the courage to kill a spider. Now I great them in the morning and thank them eating all the other pesky bugs.*Note* The big hairy spiders are not my friends. I kill them as soon as I see them, they still freak me out.
  •          I watch quite a bit of TV now. I’m a huge fan of Modern Family, How I Met Your Mother, Big Bang Theory, Glee, Castle, South Park. Don’t judge…I sit in a two room hut with nothing to do most nights.
  •          I ran my first half marathon. Training is fun because between 5-6pm I run along the Niger River with my dog Legend. This is one of my favorite times of day. The sun is a beautiful mix of red, orange, and yellow with an amazing reflection in the water. 
  •          I sleep outside every night. My bedroom is a bughut tent on my cement porch. Thanks to my friend Courtney I now have a *ceiling* fan with a light. Best present ever!!
  •          Hitchhiking is now the best way to get around and is a lot safer. Riding in a stranger’s car is a quicker, more comfortable, and safer way to travel. Don’t worry its usually in a very safe NGO vehicle.

Ways I’ve stayed the same:
  •         I still get ready every morning. Makeup is a treat to myself and it adds some normalcy to my life. I also still love clothes. One of my best friends in village is a tailor and we have a lot of fun together. He teaches me to sew while we listen to American Rap music. It’s a win win.
  •         I’m still really social. I love holidays because we all get together have a few drinks and catch up. This may or may not include lots of dancing. I've met a lot great people in and outside of Peace Corps while living in Mali. It’s fun to be American, get dressed up, and go out every once and awhile.

Monday, January 23, 2012

I may not be able to change the world but maybe I can change his…

One of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes “If only one little child is made happy with the love of Jesus,..will it not be worth…giving all for that?”

Peace Corps has been one of the hardest experiences of my life. The living conditions are tough and the emotional ups and downs are worse. There are days when I feel like I’ve made a real difference, days when I feel I’m on the brink of something great, and days when I want to put my head between my knees and cry because everything I previously thought was wrong. I’ll make progress only for things to regress. I’ll see change and then old habits reappear all in the blink of an eye. Sustainability is my worst enemy because it is my hardest goal. I’m working on it. I’m learning. Hopefully by the time I leave this place I’ll have made a lasting healthy impact on the people of Dioro. Time will tell.

The days when everything goes wrong and I feel like giving up I think of Fa. He is a seven year old boy who has stolen my heart. He can’t walk because of an over constricted thigh muscle. This little guy only has a few articles of clothing, very few toys, and isn’t allowed to attend school but NOTHING gets him down. He is always smiling and laughing and shares everything I give to him with whoever is around him. He comes from a big family with four kids at home and the four oldest kids in school.  Fa’s parents are spending a lot of money on school for the oldest children so they are backed into a corner and can barely afford meals every day yet alone send the other four kids to school.  I love this family very much and do all I can to help which, unfortunately, is not very much.  We cook lunches together and I brought back a ton of toys for the kids. I feel very lucky for the time I have with them and even luckier for the time I get with Fa. He’ll crawl up onto my back and I’ll secure him there with a Malian scarf and we’ll bike to my house where we can get some uninterrupted quality time together.  Last week we cooked Mac and cheese, thanks to my friend Ashley in WI, then watched one my childhood favorite movies “Land before Time.” He loved the food and really loved the movie except he held his little hands over his eyes when Sharp Tooth came on the computer screen. I forgot how scary that T-rex was..  We don’t get much time together but it’s always spent eating delicious food, watching cartoons, and laughing uncontrollably.  He reminds me that life is what you make of it. Be grateful for what you have and never forget to give away what you don't need.   

Changing the whole world may not be an option but if we can give and show love to the people around us and they do the same, I know we can make a difference even if it’s just one person at a time. I’m hoping to get Fa enrolled into a catch up program for school this next year and am looking into some handicap organizations to get his condition looked at by a specialist in Bamako.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Bono and elevating my Peace Corps experience.

The morning started out as a normal day in village. I got up around 6:30 to the sound of my family starting their morning chores and greeting each other.  I pulled my water, made my tea, and used the rest of the warm water for my bucket bath.  I knew there was an event in Dioro so I dressed in a full Malian outfit and carefully braided my hair. Little did I know I was getting ready to meet the creator of one of the biggest NGO’s in Mali, Jeffrey Sachs, and Bono from U2!!

The Millennium Villages Project is an NGO that has been working in Dioro for a long time now. They built a clinic for the community and train and pay community health workers to do Malaria testing and reporting.  My Malian counterpart, Samaila Coulibaly, is one of their best. He goes well above the 100 family a month requirement.  Together they have saved many lives by significantly reducing Malaria deaths in Dioro.

The percentages of deaths are down and the clinic is beautiful and functioning but there are still several flaws with PVM. Bad management, corruption, and the sustainability factor just to name a few. Pouring in lots of money and seeing positive results is great but what happens when they stop funding the program? Who is going to buy the rapid Malaria tests? How is the community going to pay for the medication?  The community health workers will no longer receive a pay check and will more than likely lose interest in volunteering because the “good guys” failed them. In Jeffrey Sachs' speech at the clinic he said that they were happy to be able to support them until 2015 and then their hearts will be with them.  Wait?! What?!

This is where I come in. I have one year left in Dioro and plan on doing what I can to bring some sort of sustainability to the program. One month ago I rolled out a training program “Keneya Ton Dioro” meaning Health in Dioro.  Samaila and I compiled 11 preventative health questions for the volunteers to ask when visiting compounds. The training was very successful and all 9 relais completed 20 surveys in one month. This gives me 180 surveys to collect data from. Treating sickness is great but preventing it is a lot cheaper and a lot more sustainable. If we can educate the community so that they understand why it’s important to sleep under mosquito nets and cover water we can also significantly reduce Malaria. The questions also spark great conversations about hygiene and preventing diarrhea, another big killer in Africa.  People need to be talking about washing their hands with soap, treating water before consumption, and exclusively breast feeding infants until they are at least 6 months old. Another part of the survey is asking about maternal health. Who in the compound is currently pregnant? Have they been to a prenatal consultation? If not, what’s prohibiting them? Do they have a birthing plan?  Educating women on these issues will also save many lives.

So that is all great but the big question now is, how do we retain free health workers?? I have no money to pay them a salary and if I got a grant it would only last for a fixed time. How can we take this project and make it lucrative? Sustainable? The best way from what I’ve seen since I've been here is to start an IGA, an income generating activity.  Teach a few of the relais how to make clothe and plastic diapers in an inexpensive way and sell to families as they are visiting compounds. Women spend a lot of money on their clothes here and take a lot of pride in their appearances. They carry babies on their backs and a lot of times are urinated and defecated on. A child not wearing pants while playing in the dirt can also cause bacterial infections so I’m seeing this project as a win win. The other IGA comes from a friend of mine working with Solar Energy.  A lot of families can’t afford a flat rate payment each month for electricity and have felt cheated in the past if their consumption was low for the month. This program allows them to buy energy credit as they need it just like they do with their cell phones. Amazing! With this project just rolling out they are finding they have a lot of extra energy. Sebastian had a great idea to buy freezers and sell ice for extra income for women’s groups. I’m going to use the freezer in Dioro Tinding for Keneya Ton Dioro. The relais can sell the ice and use the money collectively to pay themselves each month. Put all the money from each IGA into an account and split it 9 ways.  There are of course flaws in this system. What if some realis are selling more than others? What about the people taking time to make them? Will it be fair?  I’m working on all that. I hope that it will all fall into place as we go. First I just need to show them ways to make extra money and hope to God it motivates them to keep working hard and save more lives.

Thank you Jeffrey Sachs and Bono for the pick me up. It was very inspirational to have you here. Thank you Bono for saying I was your hero. I know it’s silly but I’m not taking that lightly. You set up a great program, now I hope to ELEVATE it by making it sustainable.  

You make me feel like I can fly
So high