Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Malian Wedding

The Bride, Fazetti-19yrs old
This is my friend Fazetti. Her two little sisters, Debora (age 5) and Mari (age 10) are my two best friends in village, and my neighbors. It's normal for us Peace Corps Vols to befriend the little ones because 1-our language level is about the same and 2- they are so curious about us, and are the ones that ask us questions. I formed a bond with these two little sweethearts right away. As a result, I became a good friend of Fazetti. She is 19 and the oldest girl of the family. Fazetti never made it past 3rd grade.
In Malian culture, it's so important that a woman finds a man/husband (its the same word in Bambara). My village was so happy for me when I announced to them that I had 'found' a husband (again, literal translation is 'found'). So, when I heard that my friend Fazetti had found a husband, I was immediately excited for her. I was told a month in advance when the wedding would be, and that I better attend.
Now, I've been in Mali for almost 2 years and had yet attended a Malian wedding. My fellow PCV's laugh at me, because I've missed out on many Malian cultural things like muslim holidays (my host family is Christian), or wearing the traditional Malian cloths. However, I am really happy that the first time I attended the wedding it was for a good friend, and as a result it ment so much to me and will stay with me forever. When I arrived in Kamona, the festivities had already begun. The whole community gathered to support her and her family. Food was given, family from surrounding villages came to say goodbye, and to celebrate with the family. Fazetti stayed in a room with her friends, and little children of the families to sing and dance for her. But also, just to be with Fazetti, as this may have been the last time they were going to see her. You see, the man chosen for Fazetti is from a different village about 25miles away. Far enough away that it's possible she may only come back to our village 1 time in her lifetime.
It was a long and hot first day of the wedding. I had a Malian outfit made specifically for the big occasion. My first and prob. last Malian outfit, but all my friends and family in village were so excited to see me in their traditional cloths. Here in Mali, when a person gets married, it is the responsibility of the couple to transport all of the guests to the site. In our case, there was a 25person van that came to pick us up to make the 30mile journey to Diaramanna. Fazetti's new home.
Just before we were going to pile into the small bus, Fazetti came out of the house, covered from head to toe in an all -cotton blanket. She was wailing. I've never seen a Malian so upset like this, not even at a funeral. I felt her pain. She was sat in front of us (I always sit with the old men), and they waited for her to calm down a bit before they gave her parting words and prayers. This was the most touching moment for me. I didn't expect this. Fazetti was so devestated to be leaving her home, her family, her life. She was literally in mourning. I could relate her pain to mine when my grandma died. She just kept crying and crying and crying, covered up in her special wedding blanket. I couldn't hug her or hold her or hold her hand to tell her it's ok, because that's not culturally appropriate here. Also because the old men were about to do some serious stuff. So, as I sat next to her, starting with the oldest man of our compound gave her advise, gave her many blessings, and wished her much luck in her future marriage. The same thing went on for 2 more of the old men. Her parents did not say a word, nor were they in my sight. It was done, she knew she was on her way to never come back again.
We then piled into the car. It took us 2 hours to get there. It was nighttime and the dirt road was very muddy from a rainstorm 2 days before. Upon arrival,we were greeted with special drinks, and then a dance party. I went to sleep. It was 2am by then! It was a beautiful night though, the Milky Way is above us now, and there were so many stars in the sky! It was a night like that that I know I'm blessed to be living here in Africa, to be able to see such amazing gifts of nature we have been given, but most people don't see.
The Wedding Party
So, this picture is the wedding party at the mayors office the next day. In Mali, the mayor marries you, then you'll have your religious ceremony. There is 1groomsman and 1 maid of honor. Thats all. So, we took this picture after the legalization of the marriage. Fazetti only smiled a few times when prompted. She didn't cry though.
Random Cute Little Girl Riding Her Pretend Horse
I thought this little girl was just so cute, riding her pretend donkey or horse. There were 2 other little kids on the same stick, but once they saw me they ran away. My host brother and I had to make a pit stop between the mayors office and the house because a part on his bike broke. We ended up staying for about 45 min and chatting with the guys at the mechanic while the fix was done. I always get nervous when sitting with a new group of people, because I never know where the conversation will go- yes, in Mali if you are in a waiting area you actually talk to the people you are sitting around. This conversation ended up as the older man telling us (jokingly) why our last name and the people of my African ethnicity are so horrible. I made it back just in time to present Fazetti to the elders of her new village, and to exchange money. The family of Fazetti had to pay about $10 to the marriage broker, than offer money to the new village elders (about $20). Then, the women from my village presented Fazetti, she got the blessings from the elders of her new village and a promise to look out for her. We also asked for their forgiveness for anything Fazetti may do wrong, as she is still a child and learning things.
Fazetti and Siriba- Bride and Groom
We ate lunch, I took a small siesta then we headed to the church for the church ceremony. I was able to see Fazetti before it started. She had a wedding dress on that she rented that was about 4 sizes too big, but she still made me shed a tear because she was a sad bride. She didn't speak much throughout the day. I think it was all like a bad dream to her. At one point in the day, when I had a moment with her I asked "Fazetti, did your dad find this man for you and tell you you had to get married?" She looked down towards the floor, and nodded in agreement. It all became clear to me at that moment. Fazetti was the oldest girl, an extra mouth to feed, whenever I teased her about going to the new village with her future husband she would always deny the fact that she'd be getting married (I always thought it was modesty), also her age is about the time where many girls get married, if not younger.
So, back to the church, the ceremony was nice, it was really hot in the church and I had to leave when the preacher started yelling his sermon at the audiance. They did their vows, and then at the end the whole congregation went up to shake their hands and give them coins. My 19 year old friend was now married. We paraded to her future house, and that was that. The people from Kamona all piled back into the bus and off we went. Little Debora and Mari may never see their sister for years. And so it a wedding in Mali, and for many unwilling brides around the world. I am so lucky to be able to live in a society where we can actually choose who we marry (even though 50% of those marriages end up in divorce......)

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Last PCorps Project

This is it. My final project of my Peace Corps service. Every year a regional shea butter training is held in a volunteers village. This was the first year it was held in Kamona. Peace Corps likes to hold these trainings to help the women of Mali produce higher quality shea butter that is then used for home use, but also to sell to exporters.
The shea tree is found from Senegal all the way to the eastern Africa, below the Sahlian belt. Mali has the highest quality nuts, yet their production is the lowest quality compared to the other countries that export, like Ghana or Burkina Faso. Companies such as The Body Shop purchase the shea butter for their products that women love to use!

Anyway, for my training, we invited women from 9 other villages, 2 women per village. Total, there should have been about 100 participants. The purpose of this training is to show, first through pictures, then by actually producing the good butter/oil. Why pictures? Why show through example? Well, I'd say 95% of the women that attend these trainings are illiterate. Giving the women a hands on training really gets the idea through to them.
Why train women who have been doing this process for generations? Because their methods include: not washing hands before handling the nuts; using germinated, spoiled or rotten nuts along with the unripe nuts and good nuts all in one. We teach them how important it is to wash your hands with soap before manually whipping the oil, we teach them to not smoke the nuts- (when the nuts are smoked, carcinogens are released).
Overall, the women that I work with said they really enjoyed having the training in our village and they are already making improvement suggestions for next years formation! It's great to see people motivated from a training that I do.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pump #2 Fixed! 600+ Have Clean Water!

The kids are responsible for fetching clean water

So, as many of you know last year I fixed the school pump thanks to donations sent in from my friends and family through African Sky (www.africansky.org). As a result of this project, I found out that the other Vergnet foot pump was broken in another section of my village. Come to find out it had been broken for 5 years! So, this time I thought that if the village wanted this pump fixed, they were going to have to work for it a little bit. I held a meeting with the Chief of the Village, and the rest of the water committee and presented them a plan. Per Peace Corps rules for projects, the community has to come of with 1/3 of the cost of the project. I like this idea and told them they needed to come up with 98,000cfa, approx $220USD. To my surprise they came out with that amount in 1 week! It was amazing. I just had to wait on funding from the US, and then the work started!
Now, I have been in contact with a Malian that is in the US playing basketball. He had people that wanted to help out people in his region have access to clean water! PERFECT! So , thanks to Mohamed Tangara, and Ryan Hogue for their contribution to helping 600+ people have access to clean water. The pump is in the center of 6 different quartiers in Kamona.
What's even more exciting about this is when I initially went to price the parts for the pump, and when we actually went to buy them, the prices went down! So, with the extra money we were able to build soak pits and 2 cloths washing areas! What are soak pits? It's basically a 2 meter hole in the ground that acts as a place for all the run off water go to. If there is not a soak pit, the dirty water collects, mosquitos and bees gather= chance for malaria and other diseases to be contracted. Not good.

The wash area is great because if not in a cemented area, the women are washing their cloths on the ground, in a muddy area. Not an ideal situation for cleaning cloths!
So, thanks again for everyones support. My time here in Mali as a Peace Corps Volunteer is winding down! Thanks for everyones support while I've been here!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Maternity Beautification Projectcito

My friend Shelby (the one that headed the school world map mural in my village) told me many months ago that her artist friend was coming to Mali and they wanted to paint murals all around. I jumped on the opportunity to have a professional artist come to my village to paint an educative message to the masses. Mali is a country with 23% literacy rate. They need pictures to get a message across, as any type of written information is pretty useless. Since we had already done a mural at the school, I figured our village maternity was a good place to create an informative mural.
So, the message that we all decided to convey was about the importance of a healthy diet for the mother when breast feeding. Malians diet is lacking in many vitamins, and it's so important for the baby to receive nutritious milk from it's mother.

Here is Amy starting the picture for the different foods that should be consumed by the mother.
This is Shelby and I painting the beds. I knew I needed to keep myself busy while Amy was painting and I knew I didn't want to ruin the mural by attempting to do any sort of painting on it, so there was my busy work. The two mid-wives were so happy with the new paint job. I figured since we were in Africa, we could use nice, fun colors. Before, the beds were painted black.
Here is Amy putting the finishing touches on the food picture. I was so impressed that she did all of this free hand!
Here is a little bonus painting we did on the opposite wall. Malaria is one of the biggest killers of infants here in Mali. If the parents would only take some preventative measures, such as always putting their baby to bed under the mosquito net, their chances of not contracting malaria would be significantly lower.
Here is our final product! The women were so happy with the change! The understood the mural and can now pass this info onto all the women that enter the maternity to have their babies. I actually have 1 bed and crib left to paint. We ran out, but I'll do it this week. They want to have a little party/grand opening when I return to my village. The two Malian women in the picture are the mid-wives.

Here is the before picture when we were cleaning. What a happy difference!

So, this is just a mini- project because I just paid for the cost of the paints. BUT I think we really improved the look of the maternity, which in turn changes the moral of the women. They give birth in a room that looks exactly like the one above pictured, minus all of the beds. Plus the picture concentrating on the mother, and its presented in a positive manner, that hopefully it will make the new mother think twice about eating a little healthier.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Quick summary of the past 3 months

Jodie, Kenny and I atop the Falise in Dogon country
(UNESCO WH site)
Sorry it's been a while since I last updated. I was able to go to the US for one month for the Christmas/New Year holiday, then when I returned I had the wonderful honor of hosting my cousin Jodie and my best friend Kenny out here in Mali. We did the big tour of Mali, went to my village, and spent some nice poolside time in Segou- which was more rewarding than usual because it was so horribly cold in Philly that we ALL couldn't wait to just sit in the sun and soak up some good 'ole vitamin D!
It's 2010 now, the last year of my Peace Corps service. I feel that I've accomplished a lot while here, but I still have a few projects to start and complete by June. I am hoping to at least flow $10,000 into projects here and right now I'm about up to $6,000. I have 2 more projects to do SO I can easily get reach my goal. Now, a goal of Peace Corps isn't to see how many projects you can accomplish while here, but my village is really motivated to work, and so am I so I'm taking advantage of my good situation!

I am continuing other projects that I've started and now I am working on repairing a second pump that will hopefully provide approx. 500 people with clean water. Another project is that the women of my village will be hosting a shea butter training. They've wanted to be the hostesses for a while, and this year we are finally able to hold it. There is a lot of prep work to go into this workshop, but it will be worth it. The women will learn how to properly extract the shea oil from the fruit/nut. As a result of this the women will have a healthier oil to cook with (as opposed to extracting the oil with dirt/dust and chickens around, unclean hands, and maybe dirty children all mixing in with their product which is typical here in Mali). With a cleaner oil they will also be able to sell their oil at a higher price, leading to many benefits for themselves, their children and the community as a whole.
Some highlights of the past 3 months:
*I ate American Fast Food and gained pounds while in the US
*I saw my Dad
*I saw almost my whole extended family and attended many wonderful parties which will leave me with many wonderful memories to reflect on when I get homesick
*I attended the Segou Music Festival and saw 2 awesome groups, and made it on the jumbotron 2 nights in a row for being an awesome dancer!!!
*Jodie and Kenny did awesome here in Mali- especially proud of Jodie for really never leaving the US before!
*My birthday is in 2 weeks and I'm planning a really fun party! I can't wait!
*I am really happy to be back in Mali. I missed my boyfriend and life in general here.
*I have finished updating my resume and have already begun sending it out. I'm planning on staying here for a few more years.
I like it here, I love my boyfriend and friends, and I like my work. So, I'll stay.
I now promise to write regularly again!

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Come visit me, do a project!

Chrissy is handing out the t-shirts to the winners we picked, 18 in all. The rest of the 58 students received lollypops. 76- 4th graders. one classroom. one teacher.
Her school wanted to donate their school t-shirts, and I didn't want to just give them away, so we decided to do a little creative exercise on how to keep yourself healthy. We had them all draw pictures of things they could do. Some of the winners drew a bicycle (exercise), some drew fruits (eat healthy), and some drew watering can's for gardening (gardening- exercise and healthy eating!) It was a learning experience, but overall the kids were so happy to get their shirts and to draw!
I am helping Noeli with thoughts on what to draw here, drawing creativity is not developed here at all for the students, as they have no art classes, and no materials to do art with. Chrissy and I provided the paper and crayons for this exercise.
Here I am with the village mid-wife. Chrissy's students in the US provided sheets for the beds and cribs. They were so happy to receive these gifts, in return Chrissy got a chicken and peanuts as gifts. Chrissy also brought about 20 receiving blankets and 20 newborns outfits as gifts for the new mothers.
Brian, Chrissy, and I with a great view of a Dogon village. Dogon country is on the UNESCO world heritage site list. It was an amazing 3 day hike throughout some of the 146 villages
Brian, Chrissy, and I sitting in the Baobob tree.
This tree is a respected tree here in Mali. It's beautiful!

It's been a busy busy month and it's really not going to slow down for me until March. Both my brother and my college friend Chrissy have left, but I'm happy knowing they had an amazing time.

Chrissy is a pre-k teacher and she asked her students to bring in cloths and sheets for our maternity that doesn't have any. She got an amazing response and we were able to provide sheets for all the adult beds (6 in all), and sheets for the baby beds to accompany the adult beds. Again, the debate of just giving things away comes up in my mind. However, the whole idea of donating the sheets to the maternity came to me when my host parents were buying new plastic covers for the maternity beds. I asked where the money came from for them, and they said that every time women have babies they have to give money to the maternity. I found out there is a 'maternity commitee' and they are pretty organized! So, because they never rely on outside sources for income or support...even their own government....it was my (and chrissy's) pleasure to be able to give this small donation!

So, now both my brother and my very good friend of 10 years has seen a bit of how my life out here is. They both assured me they had an amazing time, and that one can't really understand my life out here, until you live it! I'm so happy to have been able to share this experience with them, and now I have my cousin Jodie and my best guy friend Kenny's visit to look forward to in January!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Brian is Here! And I'm Workin' Too!

17 Toubabo in Kamona for our 1st Annual Cotten Picken' Fete!
The villagers LOVED it. It was like the circus was in town!
Brian picking some cotton in my friends field.
He and I both picked 2 kilos each!
Not bad, but for 2 of us, 1 Malian picked the same amount! haha
Take Your FlipFlops Off!
Sign for our newly fixed pump at the school.
Our finished map of the world at the school.
I make Brian do good deeds on his vacation!
These girls have become my best friends out here, they are Awesome!
Hannah is missing from the photo.
Pictured: Terese, Jenn, Brian, Shelby, Me
Our finished shea storage facility.
The women of Kamona have wanted this for 3 years!

Brian finally made it out to Mali, and he's doing so well here! I put him through the toughest parts first, and now it's just vacation from now on...kind of. We spent 5 days in my village and during that time Brian was able to help us paint a world map at the school, and also pick cotton. Brian's trip coincided with my big Cotten Picken' party that I had scheduled for the volunteers. There were about 17 of us total in my village,and they couldn't have been more excited. I must say, I think Brian has been given the royal treatment since he arrived. The first night here in Segou, they had a lamb killed and we had a nice big family dinner, drinking homemade Lebanese Arak (it tastes like Sambuka). Then, once we arrived in Kamona, Brian was given 3 chickens as welcoming gifts. We also had a pig killed for the cotton party. The other volunteers were excited for this because pork is so rare to eat here, as Mali is a Muslim country.
Now, with all of this going on, I have SOOOO much work to do! We just finished our storage building, but I still need to do the closing paperwork for that, there is another pump in the village that needs to be repaired and the villagers already raised 1/3 of the money so now it's up to me to get the 2/3rds. My women would like pumps for their garden work, and gardening season is starting soon so that needs to be done. I am taking on another project by a volunteer that got medical separated from Mali, but it's really important that this project get done as it involves cotton spinning work. The time crunch is because I will be going home early Dec. for 1 month vacation, and this is just the season for work. I'll get it done. Inshallah!
Brian and I are off to Dogon Country this week (UNESCO World Heritage Site). I have my friend Chrissy thats on her way to meet up with us in Dogon, she will be spending Nov. here in Mali. So that adds to my already full schedule. It's ok, it's GREAT to have visitors. Time is flying by, and I know these next few months are going to FLY by!
Today is river day, so Brian will get to experience A Day on the Niger. Sundays are nice days here in Segou. Off to the pool! It's in the 90's here. Temps have cooled off! hahah, Brian was telling me about the cold in the US, and I am scared to go home now. It's so great for me to have my brother here. My life here is so different from home, and as he said "there's no way you can explain this to people Mon, you're life out here without really getting the meaning across" and so now, Brian is here. Eating with his hands, squatting over a hole to poo, greeting people in Bambara, meeting my friends, and experiencing life in Africa! It's great.