On July 4, I was not only celebrating the Independence of the United States, but the one-year anniversary of my arrival in Mali.  No longer will I be saying, “This time last year, I was at work in Washington, DC,” or “This time last year, I was celebrating the holidays in Kentucky.”  Instead, these phrases will be replaced with, “This time last year we were arriving in our homestay villages” or “This is our last Thanksgiving in Mali together.”

In some respects, it seems like the year flew by.  It feels like we arrived in Philadelphia for our staging just a few months ago.  What is hard to believe is the amount of growth, learning and bonding that has taken place in the last year – certainly too much for just one year of time.  In that respect, it seems like I’ve been here for years.

Despite the way it feels, I know that an incredible year has passed.  In the past year, I’ve:

  • Learned to communicate in Bambara
  • Lived in a Malian village, with all its joys and annoyances
  • Created friendships with Malians
  • Worked and grown with a women’s cooperative that produces high-quality shea butter
  • Developed lifelong friendships with other Peace Corps volunteers
  • Hiked in Dogon Country
  • Traveled to Ghana via Monrovia for the Shea 2011 conference
  • Traveled overland to Dakar, Senegal
  • Faced many frustrations with Malian culture
  • Cursed Malian roads and public transportation
  • Further developed a passion for equality and opportunities for women
  • Developed a keen understanding of the fabric of Malian society
  • Drank gallons of tea
  • Witnessed the myriad of problems in the Malian education and health systems
  • Learned about the traditions and beliefs of Islam in a Malian context
  • Fallen in love with two wonderful host families (homestay and site)
  • Eaten a lot of rice and sauce
  • Started an English Club at the local high school
  • Played soccer in the all-girls International Women’s Day match
  • Donned Malian outfits and colorful fabric
  • Read many books
  • Developed relationships with locals to make my work meaningful and sustainable
  • Further developed my opinion of development work
  • Identified many examples of “what works and doesn’t work in development”
  • Rode on donkey carts
  • Celebrated Thanksgiving at the U.S. Ambassador’s home
  • Attended wedding parties during my village collective wedding
  • Learned several Malian line dances and perfected some of the traditional moves
  • Celebrated Mali’s 50th Anniversary of Independence

And so much more…

Thank you for checking back here throughout my first year of service.  Through this blog, I hope you have learned some things about Mali, have been entertained and have further appreciated the deck of cards you’ve been dealt.  Please keep coming back for more, as I’m sure the year ahead will provide a lot more material for discussion here!