22 July 2009

Abadika tiimude

After a trip back to the US, I am at square one again. My interview with the State Department did not go as planned. I did not make the cut off score. If I decide to apply for the Foreign Service, it will entail taking and passing the written exam, passing the qualifications panel again and then being invited to another interview/assessment. That's another year long process. Considering I need a job ASAP, the Foreign Service is going to be put on the backburner. My deams of being a diplomat are going to have to wait while I explore other career options.

But, hey, I'm back in Mali and happy to be here (except for the flys and mud. I enjoyed being in the States for ten days and I just want to say thank you to Drew and Pat for your hospitality. Everything rocked. Also, thanks Dad, Mom, and Mike for coming down to see me. And lastly, thank you Grandma, Grandpa, Grandma and Papa. You really have no idea how much I appreciate you coming down for the surprise visit. I'll never foget it it. Thank you so much for your support!

Yes, America was awesome. I ate an insane amount of good food, went kayaking, saw old friends, spoke with lots of friends on the phone (I was back on the grid!), saw some great films, went to an outdoor shooting range, saw the museums and monuments of Washington, DC, and just really enjoyed being and American in America.

Here's to Peace Corps in America! Susmita, Derek, Ariel and I were hanging out with my brother Mike in DC. Can you believe he is still smiling even after buying us that round of ten dollar beers?

I finish up Peace Corps on September 4. That leaves me with about 7 weeks to say my goodbyes and do everything I have wanted to do since I arrived 2 years ago. I am hoping that I can go up to Hombori one last time after my friend Dan gets back from his trip to France. It won't be an epic climb like the one in March, but more or less just a chance to improve my lead climbing and technical skills. It's amazing that I have had the opportunity to learn to climb at such an incredible spot that is so far off the climbing radar.

As for post Peace Corps plans, I really have no idea what I will be going for. I have been researching jobs online and find myself constantly drawn to the field of public affairs. I enjoy being in the public and working as a laisson between multiple parties. If I can find a job in public affairs that works internationally, I'll be set. As I am young, I am ready for anything and will go anywhere. If I learned one thing while being in the States, it's that I am not necessarily ready to be there for long. I like to be away. There is always that mystery and excitement that surrounds me when I am abroad. I feel a need to be lost and emerged in another culture. Being gone for so long, I almost feel at home when I am away. In the taxi coming from the airport in Bamako, the driver turned down back roads to avoid traffic. Passing by an artisan shopping district that I hadn't been to since January, a Malian man yells out to me in Fulfulde, "Hey! Fulani guy! Where have you been? I haven't seen you in a long time!" I laughed and yelled "America, my friend!" I am very happy to be back here. I love the adventure and the connections I make with people.

After September 4, I'll most likely be taking a trip to Ghana with my friend Braxton before heading home. We'll see how long it takes before I begin my next adventure post Peace Corps homecoming. Here's Braxton and I hanging out (being kinda goofy) at a local hotel in Sevare about 2 or 3 weeks ago. Here's to more adventures in Ghana!

29 June 2009


After a week of pulling a donkey through the fields to help get them plowed for rainy season, I understand, completely, the concept of the stubborn donkey.

I left village this afternoon and am preparing to go back to the States for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment. I am excited, nervous, apprehensive about getting back into America after two years, but most of all, I am ready for this interview. I have been in the application process since October and can't wait for the biggest, most difficult part. By passing the test and being accepted by a qualifications panel, I have proven, on paper, that I've got what it takes to be an FSO. Now, it is time to put on my game face and show them what I can do in real life.

Anyway, I don't want to bore you with thoughts on where I am heading in life, so on to something a little more interesting.

Here are some random recent conversations from Mali...

Dan - Where is Amadou? The guy that owns the other bar. He hasn't been there in months.

Malian - Oh, he is on vacation.

Dan - Where to?

Malian - To prison.


Sitting on a roof top chatting while we re-mud the roof and sides of the building before rainy season hits. I feel something sharp jabbing into my arm from behind me and turn around...

Dave - Demba! What are you doing with that knife? Stop poking me!

Demba - I am seeing if you are plastic. You might be.

Dave - Plastic? No, I am definitely a real person. Am I not breathing now?

Demba - No, you are. But there are plastic white people. You think they eat, drink and breath. But, they are not real. They are plastic. I have seen them in the Douentza market.

Dave - Really! Stop poking me! I am definitely not plastic. That is ridiculous!

Demba - Ok, I think you're real. You are a "child of Adam." There is water inside of you. You see, the plastic white people come here for two or three years, and, when their batteries run out, they go back to America to get them recharged. Sometimes they come back. But you, yes, you are a real person.

Dave - I am happy we could have clarified that one.


This story might be inappropriate for younger readers... watch out.

There is a 8-year old boy with Down's Syndrome (SP?) in my village and he lives next door to me. His name is Abbadina (Fulfulde for father of religion) and he is awesome because of the antics he gets into all of the time. Leaving my house with Mousa and Ousman, I was the third to exit the compound. The two of them immediately start laughing and jumping up and down while pointing as they get out the door. Wondering what it could be, I rush out to join in the fun. Abbadina has this little five year girl bent over a rock and he is pretending to have sex with her from behind! As soon as he sees us laughing at him, he turns around and gives us a "Hail Hitler-esque" salute, beaming and smiling. It didn't seem to phase him that we had caught him in the act, but the little girl took the chance to run as fast as she could away. I am guessing that Abbadina caught his idea from all the animals engaged in carnal activities throughout the village. Hopefully the little girl isn't scarred for life.

I'll rack my brain over the next few days to come up with some more real life anecdotes from life in Mali. Rock and roll kids.

15 May 2009

Always a mix of work and fun in Mali

Hot season is back again and in full swing. When in village, I have been spending much of my time lounging in the gardens by the stream with friends. There isn't much work to be done at this seasonal point, so we mostly sit around, make tea, eat mangos until we drop, and, eventually fall asleep from heat exhaustion in the middle of the day. It's not a bad life.

My most recent work development has been a collaboration between the local mens' and womens' associations in village. We received a large quantity of mosquito nets to help prevent malarial mosquitos from biting people during the wet season (coming within in the next few months so get ready!) and sold them at a reduced rate. In Douentza, a mosquito net sells for 1,500 CFA (about $3.00). After receiving the nets, the associations sold them at the reduced rate of 500CFA (About $1.00). This was beneficial for multiple reasons. First, the associations receive capital that they can apply to future projects; It gets them on their feet. Second, it discourages the act of gift giving from NGOs, toubabs, etc. The villagers are benefiting because they are actively choosing to spend a small amount of their hard earned money on an extremely useful product (at a reduced price). It is essential to sleep under a mosquito net, and now the people have much easier access to them. It is important to discourage the practice of gift giving because people tend to disrespect and underappreciate gifts. If a product (like a net) is given away free of charge, it is generally not well taken care of. But, if someone chooses to spend his money on that net, he will tie it carefully, patch holes, and use it for its intended purpose. Everyone wins.

You may be thinking, did people just buy a large quantity and sell them in market for product? The answer is no. We made sure each household received no more than they needed. Last week we collected demands for more nets and were able to purchase more for round two of the sales. The village of Dimbatoro is extremely grateful for the access to nets and thanks my mom's coworkers for their extreme generosity.

What is even more important is that I worked with the associations to hold an informational session on how to properly use a mosquito net and to teach the benefits of using one. This ensured that the mosquito nets will be used effectively to prevent malaria in the upcoming rainy season (July – September 2009) and beyond. I had each participating member help tie the net and even had some guys demonstrate how to and how not to lie under the net. As it was an easy concept, it was fun to get across and we laughed at the simplicity of the nets. After the session, members of the mens' association went out to all the houses in village, taught the households how to use a mosquito net, and then sold each one. They were cleaned out within a day. We did give 5 mosquito nets away to the older and more prominent community members such as the local religious leader, the chief, my host family elder and the two oldest community members.

Tah Ongoiba, apparently 120 years old (I would say about 80), with his mosquito net.

Thanks from Manpaiga, the mens' association!

Tijani and Ousman telling the village chief about the benefits of using a mosquito net when sleeping.

Checking out the new nets.

Learning how a mosquito net is tied correctly

Ousman and I teaching the oldest woman in village about her new net

Djougal demonstrating how to lay in a fully tucked and tied mosquito net with the men

Unrelated to the nets, here is Demba crushing rocks to pave the road leading to his house

Demba and Yaya working on the road

Ishiaka's awesome Bob Marley dogon shirt

This last week was spent at our COS (Close of Service) Conference in Bamako. It was held to inform PCVs on the procedures for leaving, what benefits we're entitled to and to prepare us for life after Peace Corps. I found out that I will be finished up with Peace Corps on Sept. 4, 2009 and then it's home free (until the next big adventure, of course). I will be making a brief trip to Washington, DC from July 4 - 15 for the Foreign Service Oral Assessment (interview). I bought my ticket today and I can't wait to get there. I have been speaking with embassy officials in Bamako over the last week in order to prep for the interview and receive advice from seasoned pros. I will be having an informational lunch with the DCM and a a few FSOs on Monday and hope to learn quite a bit about the interview and embassy life from them. I feel very confident now that I am getting everything lined up and can't wait for the next step.
On that note, here is the remaining group of Mopti volunteers I came with. We're down to only 8 from the original 16. But, we're just that much more awesome now that we've made it two years.

01 April 2009

One last climbing trip?

Yea rock climbing!

The last week was spent in Hombori again for, quite possibly, my last climbing trip here. Sad as it may be, my time it running out rather quickly. I have been invited to the Foreign Service Oral Exam (the final test/interview before I find out if I will be hired as a Public Diplomacy Officer) on July 10 in Washington DC. It is a strange feeling knowing that I will be leaving Mali in under three months. Speaking with friends in village, they are both happy for me and sad that I will be gone. It is good to know that I have something to look forward to when I leave and I am excited to see all of my family and friends back home, but it is dissapointing to think about all of the connections and friendships I have made here that I will not be able to continue. I take comfort in the idea that I will be able to call friends in village on Sundays when they go into Douentza for market (the beauty of Skype!), but it is just not the same as actually sitting, joking, making tea and sharing in life with them. Perhaps I will be lucky enough to return here one day in the not-too-distant future.

With a date set to be in the States, I am rallying to finish up all of my projects, do everything I have wanted to do here and enjoying the remainder of my time with both Peace Corps and Malian friends. I will write up the final report on the cereal bank project soon (there is still one receipt that I am waiting on) and hold an educational session on proper mosquito net usage in village next week. Thanks to my mom's coworkers, we received funding for mosquito nets to be sold at a highly reduced rate in village. The nets were bought for roughly$3 a piece, and we'll be selling them for about $0.50 each. I am opposed to just giving the nets away because they will be underappreciated and I also don't want to continue the practice of gift giving in Mali. If people buy the nets with their own earned money, they will have a greater appreciation for the nets and will take better care of them. If given a gift, they may sell them, use them for fishing nets, turn them into ropes to tie up their animals with, etc. Selling the nets will be more effective. Plus, the money that is recycled back in will go to both the men's and the women's associations. They will use this money to fund projects such as garden seed dispersal and tree planting campaigns (to counteract the effects of desertification in the Sahel and to improve soil quality in the fields...two for one woohoo!).

Back to Hombori... We had some pretty gnarly and crazy climbs. They were the most intense and difficult I have done so far. I spent 5 days at the Hand of Fatim with Jared, Chris and Dan. We climbed on the blocks and also set up multipitch climbs on 3 of the 5 fingers. The best day was the last. We woke up at 3:30am to escape the heat of the day for the two hour hike to the base of the climb. It's hot season now, so the temperature rounds off at about 110 degrees midday. Fun, huh? I got up real early, made a quick cup of coffee and had to fend off a giant scorpion that was patrolling around my climbing gear. It eventually ran off and I was able to get my gear ready. We put on our headlamps and began the hike. About 30 minutes in, we ran across a young brown and yellow snake in the path (probably poisonous, but we didn't get close enough to find out). Jared snapped a few photos and we moved on once the snake cleared out of our way. The sun was just rising when we set up the first of 4 pitches. Jared lead climbed, but it was still too dark to climb w/o his headlamp. I belayed him up, he set the anchor and then I belayed me up, followed by Chris. The perch was tiny, and we didn't think one could be any smaller. We were mistaken. After the next pitch (about 60 meters up), we ended up on a completely exposed perch barely big enough for three sets of feet. It's a good thing we had so many locking caribeeners and slings! By 8:30am, we had made it to the top of the fourth pitch, hiked around to the gap between the first and second finger and attempted to set up a slack line for Jared to walk across (crossing a gap 200 metters above the ground!), but the wind proved too much. Jared tried to get up on the rope, but was blown over by the wind and became entangled in his support ropes. No worries, though. He untangled and brought himself back to the solid rock. You can check out a few of the better pictures from the trip below. Enjoy! I may end up in Hombori for a few more days in late May or early June, depending on work here. I would definitely like to spoil myself one more time by climbing at such an epic location.

A giant griffin bird flying high above Hombori at the Hand of Fatim. It's wingspan is wider than I can spread my arms.
The longest pitch of the climb called Black Mamba (intimidating name).

Hanging on and rockin the touba laah (not a skirt, more or less a giant square of fabric sewn together with leg holes... funny looking, but awesome pants for hot season).

Jared bouldering in shadow mode in front of Suri Tondo and Wanderdu (the rocks in the background).

Jared pulling a Peter Pan move across the slack line that he attempted to walk across. Too bad for the wind.

Up and at 'em I go.

Jared belaying Chris up from the top of the fourth pitch the last day. We're up real high... about 450-500 meters).

Chris entertaining us with a cover of Bright Eyes - First Day of My Life

Chris plays guitar while Jared plays rock. I had fun with the camera.

Here is the vicarious perch from our climb the last day. Not much room to hang out. Jared even had to keep one foot up.

03 March 2009

I apologize in advance for not writing a ton about the last few weeks, but they were awesome. I went to the West African International Softball Tournament (WAIST) in Dakar, Senegal. Peace Corps Mali rolled up with about 25 volunteers. About 300 other volunteers from The Gambia, Senegal and Mauritania showed up, as well as other international organizations and schools. We didn't win a single game, but that is no matter. We all had a ton of fun, got some good plays in, and got to hang out with hundreds of other Americans all in it for the same reasons.
I'm up at bat in our second game on the first day... we actually did come close to winning this one.
Dan is bear-hugging Pete after making a great catch for the third out of the inning.
After the tournament, I headed south to a town called Popenguinne (still in Senegal) and spent three days/two nights in a rented beach house with about 20 other PC Mali volunteers. It felt great to go swimming and spend time on the beach. I also went for a hike into a national park on the shore with a another volunteer named Adelle... actually we started out three strong, but one girl bailed when we had to check in with the "headmaster" of the park. She thought we were going to get into trouble, but the guy just wanted to know who was in his park. He then informed us that there is a PC volunteer that works at the park, but was away for a fruit drying formation. So, this guy gets a national park on the beach with all the fresh seafood he can ask for while I am stuck in Mali sweating among the toh-eaters.

Here is the view of the beach from atop the national park cliffs.

Speaking of seafood, I woke up early one morning and headed to the beach. As I was wandering around, these guys came to shore and started selling their morning catch. I bought a few dollars worth of fish to bring back up to my friends. Then, this guy comes up to me with a squid and says it's only a dollar. I bought it, figuring if we couldn't determine how to cook it, we could always just give it away. Anyway, Lindsay, who went to school in Indiana, somehow learned to dissect and cook squid in her high school biology class. She sauteed it in garlic/onion butter... it was wicked good.
Here's my dollar squid

While in Popenguinne, I decided to travel further south to The Gambia. When I went to the internet cafe to inform the Peace Corps of my changing travel plans, I received an e-mail from the State Department. The e-mail contained my Qualifications Panel results letter, and I passed! So, I need to be in America by June (most likely) for the interview, which is the last step in the hiring process.

With that incredible news, I headed to The Gambia on a high note and had a great time. I traveled with 4 other Mali PCVs and we ended up being a really cohesive travel group. Our mantra was, "We're just feathers... we're going wherever." In The Gambia, we stayed at the Transit house in Banjul (the capital) for a few nights. My friend from PC Mali, Ted, who now works in PC Gambia met us there and we hada open pit BBQ chicken night. We cooked up with chicken while some other people cooked up veggies and pasta inside.

Ted flipping the chicken

I'm making sure the chicken is cooked through.

The chicken is almost done and we're enjoying Julbrew... the local beer, which is also the best beer in all of West Africa... it tastes almost like Heineken.

After Banjul, we went to Paradise/Coconut Island for two nights and spent some more quality time on the beach. After being among tons of people for 2 weeks, it was nice to get away and have the beach to ourselves. After the island, we headed back to Mali. We high-tailed it for 2 days of intense travel and arrived in Bamako looking pretty haggard after sleeping on the side of the road, not showering, and eating very little along the way. All in all, completely worth it. This was probably the best vacation I have ever been on and wonder if I'll ever top it. But, I'm heading out of Bamako now and going north. Hopefully I will be back in village by Thursday morning. Then on to more rock climbing adventures, maybe a trip to Ghana in May and hopefully America in June.

20 January 2009

Hombori pics

Karate on the top of the finger
A little standing action

Watching Jared lead climb the second pitch

We climbed to the top of the fat finger on the right. There is one more finger out of frame. Hombori is seriously awesome.

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