In a recent conversation with my brother, he said, “I think it would be interesting if you did a ‘day in the life’ post on your blog the next time you are able to write.” I think this was his polite way of saying, “what the heck are you doing over there, anyway?” And I’m sure he’s not the only one wondering…
I haven’t yet done this post because I wouldn’t have had much to say! According to the Peace Corps development model, our work is about quality over quantity, sustainability over quick-fix and relationship-building over parachuting in and out of a community. For all of these reasons, my first couple of months at site I’ve been doing what some (and the go, go, go, DC gal in me) would consider “nothing” – walking around town and greeting people; chatting with villagers over tea; riding my bike out to the villages where the women in my shea butter association live and walking around their fields with them; dropping by to sit with a group of women after a new baby has been born (I’ve been to visit two more since my last post). Although this seems more like what you do on vacation than what you do at work, it is quite possibly the most important part of my work, especially in a country where social obligations often take precedence over work.
The relationships that I’ve been building, and will continue to build throughout my time here, will certainly be the key to my success. Being trusted by the people of the village – those of all ages, genders and social status – will be integral in carrying out the “real work” that I hope to do in the coming years. If I’ve shared tea and an afternoon with a family in a nearby village, they will be much more willing to answer my questions about food security honestly and take my advice about hand washing. If I pop by a food stand in the Monday market each week and sit with a woman while she sells gato (a sweet fried dough) and fries, I will be able to collect a lot of information about her business from observation, and I’ll be able to talk to her as a friend, rather than an outsider, about ways she can improve her business. These are the kinds of things I’m doing now – chatting, observing, drinking tea, greeting and patiently (well, impatiently sometimes, haha…) waiting until I have all the information and knowledge I need in order to create and execute projects that are needed, can be sustained, and that will have a hearty participation from the local community.
In the coming month or so, I’m planning to start some of my initial projects. Firstly, I’ll be working with my work counterpart to create an action plan for the shea butter women’s association to improve and grow their operations in the coming years. I’ll also be working with the English teachers (7 – 12 grades) in my local schools to improve their language skills and pronunciation and will attend some of their classes to serve as a native speaker example. I’ve also put the idea on the table to start an English Club where students can come to practice language and discuss American culture. It looks like we are going to get that up and running in January 2011. Let me know if you have any ideas for discussion topics!
Last week, I visited the radio station director and talked to him about ways I might be helpful to him and the station in the coming years. An NGO provided them with some really nice computers and other technical equipment, but they don’t really know how to use it (I’ve found that this is not an isolated case of this type of aid – provide technology, but no training). When my language skills improve, I hope to be able to work with them to explore the programs they have on their computers and identify the best ways they can utilize them in their work. I also hope at some point to have a radio show – something that other PCVs in Mali have done in the past. This provides a great opportunity to reach a wide range of people with information about all kinds of topics, and I hear that it makes you an instant celebrity in the community, haha!
Despite my slow start, I think that a future “day in the life post” will be much more interesting and action packed than this one…I hope! Stay tuned for that later in my service.
My Internet access this trip is fairly limited as I’m just in Bamako for a few days. I hope to be back around Thanksgiving for a few days and will certainly have plenty of access in early-mid December at the Peace Corps in-service-training (IST) that will be held at the training center.