Sunday, January 27, 2013

New Blog

Hello everyone, I know it's been awhile.

Since last we met, I've moved to Jakarta and become an English teacher. Cool, huh?

Click on the link to check out my new blog: Sundays in Jakarta.

All my love,

The Unsinkable Mali Brown
 (sunk at last)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

68 Books I Read in Peace Corps

·         “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society”  Mary Anne Shaffer and Annie Barrows  (A+)
·         “After the Funeral” Agatha Christie  (B)
·         “Appointment with Death” Agatha Christie  (B+)
·         “Something Borrowed” Emily Griffin  (C-)
·         “Ship Fever” Andrea Barrett  (C+)
·         “Shades of Milk and Honey” Mary Robinette Kowal (D-)
·         “The Seagull” Anton Chekov  (B+)
·         “The Cherry Orchard” Anton Chekov (B+)
·         “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” Joseph Campbell (A+)
·         “A Poisoned Season” Tasha Alexander (B)
·         “Friday’s Child” Georgette Heyer (B)
·         “4:50 from Paddington” Agatha Christie (B)
·         “Irish Thoroughbred” Nora Roberts (F)
·         “Lady of Quality” Georgette Heyer (B-)
·         “My Life in France” Julia Child (A+)
·         “Strong Poison” Dorothy L. Sayers (B)
·         “Hallowe’en Party” Agatha Christie (C)
·         “Confessions of a Shopaholic” Sophie Kinsella (A)
·         “House of Mirth” Edith Wharton (A)
·         “The Help” Katheryn Stockett (A)
·         “Taken at the Flood” Agatha Christie (B-)
·         “A Short History of Nearly Everything” Bill Bryson (A+)
·         “Sparkling Cyanide” Agatha Christie (B+)
·         “The Book Thief” Markus Zusak (A+)
·         “Cousin Kate” Georgette Heyer (B+)
·         “The Lost Symbol” Dan Brown (B-)
·         “A Murder is Announced” Agatha Christie (B-)
·         “Our Mutual Friend” Charles Dickens (A+)
·         “Rose in Bloom” Louisa May Alcott (A)
·         “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” Maya Angelou (B)
·         “The Rose of Sebastopol” Katherine McMahon (D-)
·         “Peace in Every Step” Thich Nhat Hanh (A)
·         “The Four Agreements” Don Miguel Ruiz (B-)
·         “A Loving Scoundrel” Johanna Lindsey (B-)
·         “Touching Peace” Thich Nhat Hanh (A)
·         “The Hours” Michael Cunningham (B+)
·         “The Stuff of Thought” Steven Pinker (B-)
·         “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” Bill Bryson (C)
·         “Oliver Twist” Charles Dickens (A)
·         “Overture to Death” Ngaio Marsh (B-)
·         “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox” Maggie O’Farrell (C+)
·         “Murder Must Advertise” Dorothy L. Sayers (C+)
·         “A Fatal Waltz” Tasha Alexander (C)
·         “Sleeping Murder” Agatha Christie (A+)
·         “Civil Contract” Georgette Heyer (D)
·         “Venetia” Georgette Heyer (B+)
·         “Me Talk Pretty One Day” David Sedaris (B)
·         “Shopaholic Takes Manhattan” Sophie Kinsella (A)
·         “Clouds of Witness” Dorothy L. Sayers (A-)
·         “Shopaholic Ties the Knot” Sophie Kinsella (B+)
·         “Murder is Easy” Agatha Christie (B)
·         “My Anecdotal Life” Carl Reiner (A)
·         “David Copperfield” Charles Dickens (A)
·         “Hickory Dickory Death” Agatha Christie (B-)
·         “A Christmas Treasury” Various (C)
·         “Miss Marple’s Final Cases” Agatha Christie (B)
·         “A Pocket Full of Rye” Agatha Christie (B-)
·         “The Magic of You” Johanna Lindsey (B)
·         “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” J.K. Rowling (A)
·         “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” J.K. Rowling (A)
·         “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” J.K. Rowling (A)
·         “Sex With Kings” Elinor Herman (A)
·         “Survival of the Sickest” Dr. Sharon Moalem (A)
·         “Gentle Rogue” Johanna Lindsey (C)
·         “Bridget Jones’ Diary” elenHeHHelen Fielding (B+)
·         “Dead Water”  Ngaio Marsh (B+)
·         “ The Secret Garden” Francis Hodgson Burnett (A)
·         “The Handmaid’s Tale” Margaret Atwood (A) 

Friday, June 1, 2012

One Year Ago Today

One year ago,

I was crying in an airport.
My hair was long and dark.
My skin was pale.
I had never been to Africa.

 I hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, and my heart was beating like a drum off-rhythm.
I checked into the hotel room in Georgetown and my legs became restless. I wanted to run, to jump, to kick, to stand on my head and spit quarters, ANYTHING to relieve the tension in my veins. I was constantly on the verge of tears and giddy laughter.

"It's amazing," my roommate said "You don't seem nervous."

"Thump, thump, thum-THUMP, thump, thum-thump", replied my heart.

I met 22 people. One in the hotel room, two in the elevator, nineteen in the conference room.

I was nervous. Beyond nervous. I talked way too much.

There were icebreakers, skits, paperwork, flip-boards.

We were worried about bugs, sickness, technical know-how, being cut off from family and friends, learning a new language and the local food.

One year ago,

I had never spoken Bambara.
I had never eaten to. 
I had never had malaria.
I had never been to Mali.

 I was far too nervous to eat. I hadn't touched a speck of food all day. I should try to eat SOMETHING, I reasoned with myself. I had a strawberry.

More paperwork, more icebreakers, Q&A sessions, briefings, schedules, passports.

Then we were sent back to our hotel rooms. We agreed to all go out to dinner our last night in America. We  were going to meet in the lobby in an hour or so. Time enough to change and shower.
I had no "going-out" clothes. No make-up. No hair-spray. Oh well. I changed my skirt for pants.

We all went to an Irish pub. I sat at a table with three other people and ordered a Philly cheesesteak sandwich. I somehow managed to eat it all. Not that I could have done anything with the left-overs.  After the pub we went to a bar and all did a shot of vodka? tequilla?

I walked back to the Holiday Inn with four other girls. I stole the pen from the hotel nightstand, put it in my purse for the next day, and I fell asleep at 2:00 in the morning.

One year ago,

I met 22 people.
22 amazing, talented, intelligent, kind, people.
Some of my best friends on earth.

One year ago,

I had no idea what I was in for.

Thank you to Peace Corps Mali and the Goodfellas for giving me the best year of my life so far.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Journal Excerpts ~ A Story of March

March 1
Go into Bamako at the respectable hour of 2:30 and proceeded to stay there an extra day to try and be a shoulder for Mary. She’s on med hold because her leg is still messed up from her fall, but the far more worrying issue is that her depression is coming back and Peace Corps seems ill-equipped to deal with it. So far the PCMO’s have told her to exercise more (with hot season coming up!) and try to eat healthier (in MALI!!)
Obviously I want Mary to get to get better, that’s a given. But I want her to get better here.  It’s gotten me understandably flustered.  Mary still talks about training this summer and things like that but I’m still worried.
March 3
                Nothing too drastic to report today. I managed to fetch water on my bicycle and not die a horrible, gravelly death or even humiliate myself. The butigi had my favorite kind of biski and the five packets I bought this morning are already gone.
                After much pampering, lotioning, soaking and ped-egging my feet are almost back to normal. Matt texted me last night but I didn’t get it until this morning. I sent him a trademark witty reply.  Rather worryingly, I’ve texted Mary three times today and she hasn’t even responded to a single one. I never thought the day would come when Mary would be less reliable than Matt.
                It really has got me worried though. What if she decides to leave and doesn’t tell me? What if she’s already gone? Oh no! But she wouldn’t do that, would she? I have too much stuff at her house.
                I want her to get better.
March 7
                Mary’s leaving. For good. Forever. 
                I found out this morning because she called Dori so she could help her move out.
                I’m trying to be sensible about it now but when I first heard the news I couldn’t help but breakdown.
                Everything is going to be so different now.
                I’m trying to be the best, most impartial person around Mary and be a good friend to her until she leaves.  After that I’m not sure how it’s going to be. Thankfully I have Dori and Carter here in Kati until June and then there will be a new person in Mary’s old place.
                I feel like an eight-year-old kid watching all the other children on the block move away. I feel abandoned, I feel hurt, I feel betrayed. I’m so lonely and it’s only going to get worse. This is life isn’t it? People crashing into each other at random, like asteroids, and then drifting apart, leaving little fragments behind.
                Goodfellas is down to 19 now.
                Even though I know it’s probably all for the best, I’m still horribly sad. I’ve had “Ghost” by Ingrid Michaelson in my head all day. I think it might even follow me into my dreams.

March 10
                Back at site. Mary should be back in America sometime tonight.
                All of this emotional upheaval has taken a physical toll on me – I’m drained and utterly exhausted, I woke up at nine this morning and still fell asleep for a brief minute or two on Dori’s couch, I was falling asleep on the sotrama and now I’m sitting here and wondering if I can stay awake until dinner.
                Can the body convert loneliness into sleepiness? My tongue keeps getting dry and stuck in my mouth. I just want to go to bet and dream about happy things.
March 12
                Been lying low the past two days cultivating my apathy. It’s worked pretty well so far – I’ve just been at one constant emotional level – my tiredness has worked itself out.
March 15
                Today I went for a walk up in my hills and ended up getting lost. I really wish I had a GPS until on me and a map where I could see my path- it must have been ridiculous. At one point I was in real though because I couldn’t find Mt. Greylock (that’s what I’ve decided to call my mountain with the cell tower on top) and I couldn’t go back the way he came.
                I didn’t panic but kept walking and eventually I found Mt. Greylock in the distance and set for it like a homecoming pigeon. I ended up having to climb the hill behind Yusuf’s house in order to see the road and my village. But I collected a lot of amber on my hike and got a wicked sunburn – thank god I inherited that aloe vera from Mary.
                I don’t know why I like amber so much. Maybe because it comes from trees which I’ve always had a personal affinity with.  Here it grows on one specific kind of tree and the way it seeps out and curls and bubbles makes most of them look like worms or grubs in shape. I found one today that resembled a snake- with a bulbous head and a slim, coiled body like a spring.
                After my hike I was so tired that I just flopped down on my bed and took a three hour nap – just as long as I had been out hiking.
                I need some nice dreams tonight.
March 16
                Not very nice dreams at all – in fact all about murder and killings. Must try harder tonight. 
March 20
            I cut my hair. It’s really short now, it hasn’t been this short since I was eleven. It doesn’t look bad actually – I look like a flapper – or Ashley Judd from “Divine Secrets of theYaya Sisterhood.”
                I just thought – f*** it. I’m sick of people giving me advice, I’m sick of not being able to stand on my own two feet and make my own choices. If I make mistakes, I want them to be my mistakes. I want to control over myself again.
                So I cut my hair.
                It was actually a huge adrenaline rush, my heart thumping, my breath short, there was a kind of giddy thrill when my scissors cut through that first wet stand of hair. Then I kept cheerfully hacking away until I was left with this bob. I also gave myself bangs, which I’ve wanted for ages.
                I washed it and it’s drying now. Kiatu came by and said it looked good – but this is from a girl who hennas her eyebrows.
                I’m glad I did it. I actually feel a little more self-possessed, though I still miss my family like crazy.
                The wind is warm but nice. I could fall asleep right here. I didn’t get to sleep until 3 or 4 last night – it was entirely my own fault – I was reading Juliet Marillier for the billionth time.

March 21
                It’s windy today – cloudy and relatively cool. It’s as though hot season had forgotten to come and in June we’ll just go straight into rainy season. I swept my yard this morning but the wind keeps blowing dry eden leaves all over the place, so in reality it makes no difference.
                ~ Got a text first from the U.S. Embassy then Peace Corps about civil unrest and gunfire in Kati and possible demonstrations in Bamako.  I don’t like Kati being so turbulent – it’s like my home away from home. I have a woso lady there and everything.
                Oh lord.
                The first U.S. Embassy text: “Reports of gunfire in Kati, recommend American citizens limit unnecessary movement in Bamako due to the possibility of unrest,” and I just got one now that reads: “Reports of gunfire in downtown Bamako, recommend American citizens shelter in place.”
                What a mess.
 ~ Jolie just called to make sure I wasn’t in Kati (I texted the Whereabox on St. Patricks Day) and to make sure I got the text the text messages.  Dori called to assure me that she was alright but she was far less than comforting when talking about what was going on. We’ll see what BBC has to say anything about it tonight. If anything.
March 22
                We’re at standfast. There was a military coup last night and ATT was kicked out – possibly arrested.  Military is in control now, they took over Malian television to make the announcement. Have been on the phone with Dori, Mattheson, Lucas and Marcy (in that order) Both Lucas and Marcy are stuck at stage houses which is kind of sucky. Zach’s at village and Dori’s in the heat of everything in Kati.
                Meanwhile in the village life goes on like there’s nothing wrong. Of course, out here nothing is wrong. I wonder if they’re worried.
                I really wish I hadn’t cut my hair now.
                ~ Not much else happened today, Peace Corps texted me three times to say we’re on standfast. This afternoon I sat with the girls in front of my house and we played rock jacks (I failed miserably) and this evening we had an impromptu art class and I have some nice drawings from Kiatu, Kadja and Rokia that I can keep in my memory tin.
March 23
                Today is Ben’s birthday and I luckily caught him on the phone while he was Mom. With everything that’s going on I nearly forgot, I was talking to him for a good 30 seconds before I remembered. He’s 21. That’s a little insane, I think.
                Tomorrow every other region goes into consolidation. Koulikoro, of course, is stuck in standfast. I wonder if tomorrow they’ll call us individually and schedule a time to pick us up. I mean, how can Sikasso possibly be in more danger than we are.
                They told everybody else to pack enough clothes for up to the 27th. That’s when the curfew supposedly will end. Four more days of waiting…
                They know what they’re doing of course, they’d hate to be that school district that cancelled school the night before because of an impending blizzard that turns out to be a dusting.
                I just really hate waiting.
March 24
                Been very peaceful and quiet all day. No new messages from Peace Corps as of yet, just one from the Embassy this morning telling American citizens to shelter in place and informing us that there had been no significant changes overnight.
                It is incredibly hot but there’s a nice breeze now and then. I’m sitting outside on my mat and have been for some time. I wish this tree at my back was more comfortable. I woke up this morning with a massive knot in my shoulder. The tree is now just pulverizing the rest of my back.
                Stage houses must be crazy right now. I have no idea how they’re going to pick me up if they do want to evacuate us or consolidate us since I’ve heard the military is commandeering cars, trucks and SUVs they find driving on the streets.  I wonder if anyone in the village would offer to take me by donkey cart…
                Lord I’m tired. Think I’ll take an itty-bitty nap. All the Malians seem to think this will all be over on Tuesday.
 I want to know what’s going to happen. Oh lord, three more days of waiting…
March 26
                Waiting, waiting, waiting. The hours pass like molasses, the minutes crawl like snails, the seconds stretch like rubber bands. Waiting… waiting…waiting…
                I haven’t felt like this since that first week after installation. How can I do any work if I don’t know if I don’t know if I’m going to be here in a week? The phone ringing or beeping makes my stomach go queasy and the familiar metallic taste of fear wells up on my tongue.
                My nerves are shot to ribbons. Add on top of that that it’s impossible to get more than a couple hours of sleep, what with the heat and the mice sounding like they’re throwing a kegger under my bed.
                Went out to my telephone tree to call Marcy yesterday and when I hung up with her, I felt something brush up against my foot and I of course thought it was a vine or twig or something, but no, it was a snake – a pencil thin, black and yellow, vertically striped snake. So naturally I shrieked and kicked it off and had a good old fashion freak out and then started warring my insatiable curiosity to get a closer look. It was such a little thing; I could have kept it as a pet. The size and vertical stripes really actually fascinated me. Then I backed off since my phone call was over and scarpered back to my house.
                Just talked to Mom, Dori, Jenna, Jolie, Zachariah and Mattheson.
                Here’s the verdict:
                Mom: You’re coming home. I’ll pray for you to come home. Hang in there!
                Dori:  Are you going to Bamako, Danielle and Jillian are. No? Well, hang in there!
                Jenna: Yeah, Jolie told us to pack, did you know they’re giving out coup credit? No, I haven’t gotten any notice to consolidate. Don’t freak out. Hang in there!
                Jolie: Hello Katrina, Bamako is calm, protests were calm. We want you to pack a bag as a precaution. We’ll keep you updated. Hang in there!
                Zachariah: Well, I hope we don’t get evacuated, I left my guitar at site. There are about six of us here in Bandiagara, everything’s very chill. It must suck being at site right now. Hang in there!
                Mattheson: We’ve gotten a bunch of e-mails today, one from Mike saying that evacuation depends on a lot of factors. You know we might not get evacuated and go all the way home, we might just go somewhere for an extended amount of time. ECOWAS is meeting with the Junta tomorrow; I think it all comes down to that. I’ll keep you posted. Hang in there!
                Peace Corps: Hang in there! Hang in there! Hang in there!
                If one more person tells me to hang in there I’m going to hang myself!
 March 27
                It’s 7am. The sky is a hazy glowing orange and the world is rosy gold.
                How is it that the sun can take something as common and ordinary as a mud wall and enchant it? I look over and see the hay stacked on Yusuf’s gua and it reminds me of Monet and his haystacks, painting them at all hours of the day. He would understand what I’m feeling now, I’m sure of it.
                I read through a good half of “The Secret Garden” last night and I feel oddly calmed and better about my situation this morning.
                Maybe it’s because I’m secretly assured that something will happen today.
~ There goes the phone again, twanging, and there’s that metal taste in my mouth again. It’s only Marcy checking in on me, and I’m very grateful for it.
~ Miriam sits in front of me dressed in a pale yellow smock, cheerfully playing with the dust with her small- uncoordinated hands. How she loves Kiatu! How she adores her and looks at her with those great wide, trustful eyes. You can tell she has absolute faith that nothing can go wrong as long as she’s around.  The dust looks like powder on her dark skin. She plays with the rocks, picking them up and dropping them, picking them up and dropping them.
~ Lying out here with the sun softly shining and the wind gently blowing and an orchestra of birds, it feels like there’s very little harm that can come to me.
~This truly is quite a wind. If I didn’t know better I’d say there’s a storm brewing.
~ So tired, wish I could sleep until the wind blew this whole coup over.
~ Wind has forced me back into my house, it was kicking up more dust than is healthy for my lungs.  
~1:00 and still nothing, just have four more chapters to go in “The Secret Garden.”
~ 2:15 and still nothing, not even a peep from Peace Corps. Why cant they just come and get me? If I could only watch TV or browse the internet I’m sure the days would go by much faster. I’m so frustrated I could scream. I have to wait for fricken BBC at 3:15 to give me a five minute blurb on Mali – if that! My parents have a better idea of what’s going on than I do.
 I’m perpetually nauseous, dizzy, tired and aching. I could scream!   After this is all done I need a vacation.  If we simply go back to standfast I’ll bloody well go insane. I cant sit in this house one second longer. If this coup doesn’t get violent, I will.
~ 6 pm.  Am miserable. Am tired. Am hot. Am missing people and food and home. Am feeling very pathetic and worthless.  In the corner is the familiar frantic buzzing of a fly being wrapped in a strong, sticky cocoon of spider’s string. It’ll go away soon, just as the spider bites it and injects its paralytic venom – there it’s stopped now.
Bocar just drove up and I stood there like a petulant child awaiting scolding – shadows of tears still on my cheeks. He asked if I had eaten, he asked if it was hot, he asked if I was alright.
                “There are no problems, I’m only worried.”
                “About Mali? About the coup?”
                I nodded my head.
                “Don’t be worried, it’s over, it’s Tuesday, people went back to work. Don’t worry, it’s over. Do you understand?”
                I gave some sort of affirmation and then he was gone.
 Why is this taking such a toll on me? Why,why,why? Everyone else seems calm and cool and collected. Is it just the crushing loneliness that makes this so unbearable? I thought we’d have an answer today for sure. But Jolie mentioned something about hopefully knowing by Thursday.
                I wish I were at Dori’s.
                I wish I were at the stage house.
                I wish I were home.
                I wish I were anywhere, anywhere, anywhere but here.
March 28
                The spiders bob up and down, up and down, up and down, making a come hither motion with each one of its eight legs. I cant tell what it’s doing exactly, perhaps making its web. No wonder Zachariah was afraid of these spiders, their legs are as long as my finger. Still, I like them much better than his flat, octopus-looking spiders.
                It is incredibly windy today. The bursts keep either slamming my door shut or yanking it open. My wind chimes never stop chiming. Luckily the sky is mostly blue, so I can charge my kindle and read some familiar books again.
                I’m trying to write my own romance novel in order to distract myself – I mean, how hard can it be?
The wind hasn’t stopped. In fact it’s gotten worse. It’s almost a little frightening. Just had a strange mini-dream and now head is filled with images of being murdered with a baseball bat.
The curtain keeps billowing toward my bed and then all of a sudden – FWAP!  It gets sucked up against the screen.
Okay Katrina, go to bed, go to bed, go to bed. Take advantage of this lovely only-slightly-sweaty-and-therefore-relatively-cool night.
                You do NOT have to pee.
                Just listen to that wind howl and whistle and whip!
                Go to bed, Katrina, bed.
                Read a book, forget about being murdered with a baseball bat (where is anyone going to find a baseball bat in Mali anyway? You’re more likely to be killed with a soccer ball. Honestly!) don’t think about having to pee, and go to bed.
March 29
                Another incredibly windy day. I can hardly see the hills outside my window there’s so much dust kicked up in the air. I dusted the house and swept only an hour ago and I already know I’m going to have to do so again, and soon.
~ Just talked to Zachariah and Matt. Both of them were a delightful mix of awkward and well meaning. Everyone else has got orders to be on consolidation until at least Monday. Bastards.
Jenna agrees.
Mattheson wants to read my book.
March 31
                I haven’t looked in a mirror yet today. I’m sure I Iook like hell walking – I certainly feel like it. Tired, dehydrated, weak and in pain. I feel almost like I’m hung over – that’s hardly fair I think. It’s not even that I don’t drink a lot of water – it’s just that I sweat it out all the time. Thank God March will be over in a matter of twelve hours or so. It has been a truly awful, long, laborious month. The short, overwhelmingly sweet pleasures of February seem like an eon ago.  
~ No news, just more waiting.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Two Weeks, Four Regions

So, I’ve been on a bit of an adventure lately, spanning across four regions in two weeks.

First there was a mini-summit of Goodfellas in Sikasso for our friend Maria’s birthday. Sparkling rose wine was popped, tipsy, wrong-handed jenga was played, Rihanna was blasted and somehow we managed to sing “Happy Birthday” in six different languages – though curiously enough, never in English. Sikasso was nearly as green as everyone had promised – lush and verdant as far as Mali goes. Lots of delicious things for sale - pineapples, oranges, avocados, carrots – not to mention the perfect onions, tomatoes, and bell peppers to make sauce for our pasta dinner the last night there. The only downside is that there were slightly more bats than I’m used to, and Sikasso bats seem a little bolder than Koulikoro bats.  At one point when I was sitting outside and talking to my father on the phone a bat came so close to my face that I could actually feel the wind of his wing against my skin. Now, I’m not proud of it, but I was very hard-pressed not to think of that horrible bat/chimney scene and I might have let out a tiny, itty, bitty (very loud) shriek.

Valentines Day seven of us bundled ourselves into a bus bound for Segou and entertained ourselves for the first hour and a half by playing “Celebrity” – where you write a celebrity on a piece of paper, switch papers, stick it on your forehead without looking and proceed to ask questions. (Am I a female? Am I an actress? Etc.)  Little did the fellow passengers know they were sitting among such names as Courtney Love, Nicolas Sarcozy, Amy Adams, Robert Redford, Rihanna, Drogba and Mike Tyson.  

A very long and hot time later we arrived in Segou for the Festival Sur le Niger.

I feel like I dont see Segou area volunteers often, but now I completely understand why. Segou is amazing. If I lived there, I would never leave.  On my first night, I was introduced to a restaurant simply known as “The Shack.” Beef brochettes with onion marinara sauce? Yes please! Then I took a moto-taxi to the mission to the Catholic Mission where I was staying. Lucas had seen the mission before and assured me that I would absolutely love the architecture. He wasn’t wrong. The mission was beautiful.  Simple, with lots of arches and a kind of old Spanish influence – it looked like Zorro was about to leap out around every corner, sword  blazing.
And that favorable first impression gave way to an incredible week, because, for all of the festival, I was just so on.
I stepped out of my comfort zone but suddenly it didn’t seem to faze me at all. I met some amazing people, developed new friendships and strengthened old friendships.  I just reached out a little and the world embraced me with open arms. I was never tired, never worried, never stressed or overwhelmed. The more I realized that people were genuinely enjoying my company, the more warm and happy and affectionate I became, which in turn, I think made them enjoy my company even more. I let the best, brightest part of me shine through and found it almost universally accepted and adored. Talk about a confidence boost!
With all the walking around and socializing and shopping during the day and the music and dancing at night, I don’t think there was a night that I get to bed before three a.m. the whole week. It was a giddy, marvelous, fantastic week, one I don’t think I’ll forget for the rest of my life.
  I should have been sad to see such a week draw to a close, but I couldn’t, not with my face turned toward my new adventure with Matt and Zach up in Dogon Country.
  Since Matt’s wallet got stolen at the festival – not that there was any money in it anyway – we decided to hitch-hike our way from Segou up to Sevare. Although I had never hitch-hiked before I had seen multiple movies on the subject (It Happened One Night, A Sure Thing, Overnight Express) and thus felt adequately prepared for numerous mishaps, crazy characters and ribald adventures that might ensue. Whether I was disappointed or relieved when we managed to flag down a really nice, sturdy-looking SUV, only my inner heart of hearts knows. 
We talked to the driver and told him where we were going and he agreed to take us there for 1,000 or 2,000 cfa less than a bus ticket, so we threw our bags in the already over-stuffed back and hopped into the back-seats, only to find a toddler watching a nature video on a portable DVD player.  It was so surreal, to sit in a car with a seatbelt on, un-squished and cool and not stopping every four minutes to pick up another passenger. Matt started chatting in French with the man in the passenger-seat – I smiled politely and tried to look pleasant and grateful and followed their conversation as best as I could.
  It turned out that we were actually in a hired car with a hired driver, the man Matt was talking to was originally from Dogon Country and was now working and living in France and he was taking his three-year-old son, Maurice, to see his grandparents for the first time.
  It was a really enjoyable trip, hands-down my best so far in Mali. We only stopped once, in San, to stretch our legs awhile and then sit at a nice auberge and drink a couple of cold cokes.  I also somehow managed to get a little bit of sleep on the trip, no doubt lulled by the soothing background music of Maurice’s nature programme.
  We arrived in Sevare around three or four and waited at the stage house for Zach, who had taken a bus, to turn up. An hour passed, two hours passed, three hours passed, and still no sign of Zach. Just when I had given him up for being kidnapped we got a phone call from Zach who had gone past Sevare and onto Bandiagara. We managed to have a great, low-key night in Sevare regardless and made some really excellent French toast in the morning before heading off to Bandiagara to meet up with Zach.

Bandiagara reminded me in many ways of Kati – a little city that you can walk around and find everything that you need. Matt tried to take me on a short tour of the city but most of his observations were along the lines of “This is kind of a famous building, I don’t know what it is though,” or “Oh, we passed it, but there’s a house somewhere back there and that’s where so-and-so lives,” or “That’s where we go to drink.” We wandered around in the nearly dried up river bed and looked at the little pools of water people had managed to make in order to water their gardens and catch itty-bitty fish.
The next day, Matt, Zach and I went to Matt’s village which was staggeringly pretty. It’s a kind of cliff-side village with a very rocky terrain and baobab trees all over the place. I’d never seen anything like it before. It was amazing. His villagers were all very welcoming, although they all speak Tomokan, which is completely different from Bambara. Most of the men and women knew Bambara however, so they greeted me in both. Two words I did manage to learn in Tomokan were the words for “friend” and “wife.”  Matt and Zach both spent a lot of time and energy trying to pawn me off as the other one’s wife. Not exactly flattering, but highly amusing to watch. There was a lot of singing, a lot of entertaining of children. I saw the springs that Matt is hoping to develop into a cleaner potable water source, which were really cool. (I don’t think I’ve ever seen a spring before.) 
The next morning, after having what we all agreed was the worst night’s sleep ever - too cold and windy outside, too dusty and hot inside – we all went on a hike. Dogon Country is spectacular. I’ve been in Mali for nine months now and I thought that I’d be used to being out of my element every day, but Dogon really instilled in me a sense of wonderment. Everywhere I looked was like a spread in National Geographic. It was so nice to look around me, knowing that I was somewhere beyond my wildest imaginings.
Some time in the course of our wanderings we stumbled into this valley where everything seemed so big and oversized that for a second I was certain that we had shrunk.  I was deeply concerned, I’m short enough already, I can’t afford to shrink!  It was so pre-historic looking and so surreal that after we had climbed out of it and resumed our normal sizes we dubbed it “The Valley of the Small.”
  We spent one more night in Matt’s village and then the next day we went on another hike, this time from Matt’s village to Zach’s village. We had heard rumors that there was a hyena in a nearby village and therefore decided to investigate. I had the boys on either side of me, like two opposing poles.  “It won’t be a hyena,” Matt said “It can’t be, right? It’ll just be like a really ugly dog or something.” Meanwhile there’s Zach, making sure that he’s got his flip camera out, enthusiastic and believing.
The kids in the village led us to this house where there was this big pile of baskets and sticks and cloth in a corner, shuddering and rustling slightly. Slowly a woman removed all of the clutter, being careful to stay semi-distant from the rustling. Finally the debris and suspense is lifted, and there was a hyena cub - its leg tied to a pole struggling to escape. It was so pathetic and cute that it made us feel kind of bad for it even though most of the kids were rightly terrified.  Matt and Zach asked some questions and found out that there are actually hyenas living on this big mesa between their two villages. We left the village with Matt still looking slightly gobsmacked and Zach happily rattling off fun-facts about hyenas.
  “Did you know that they don’t have a pivoting hip bone like most mammals, and that’s why they always have their asses low to the ground all the time. They also have the strongest jaws of any mammal. They can like chomp through an elephant bone, right?” (No idea if these are accurate, just quoting Zach to the best of my ability.)
    The hike went really well but in the middle of the day it just got so hot that Zach’s village seemed like a distant mirage. We were mock complaining for the last hour or so of the journey and as soon as we got to Zach’s house Matt and I passed out immediately while Zach tidied up. That afternoon we had a mini-concert for Zach’s kids and that evening we spent with Zach’s villagers. At one point Zach and his friends were sitting in front of me, talking, lit by a flashlight on the ground and it almost reminded me of a play. Well, all the world’s a stage, I thought, I don’t see why Mali would be an exception.
        The next day I had to say good-bye to Zach and Matt and I left for Bandiagara to hang out for one more night before my twelve hour bus ride to Bamako. We went out for what turned out to be two rounds of drinks and two rounds of dinner and talked about anything and everything for hours. It was quite honestly the perfect end to a perfect trip.
So all that was a while ago and now I’m back in my village, still working out the kinks in my wat/san committee and I have a couple of things coming up like “Take Our Daughters to Work Week” at the end of the month and hopefully I’m going to be trying to start a school garden soon.

Yep. Life is good. Month ten... let's do this. 

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Kat vs. The Very Small Mountain

There is a very small mountain on the outskirts of my village. I have been looking at it for a very long time, partially because it reminds me of Mt. Greylock near my old college – it has a cell tower on top, which is similar to a beacon – but mostly because I just really want to climb it.
  Yesterday, after my family shocked me by giving me rice for lunch – I always have it for dinner, I honestly looked at my clock to make sure that I hadn’t blinked six hours away – my butt was kind of sore from sitting in my bamboo chair and reading David Copperfield, so I decided to go for a walk. I put on my walking ensemble –heavy duty sandals, big straw hat and a long sleeve men’s button-down – and got out my door when I decided, I’m going to climb that mountain today. Quickly, I went back in my house and grabbed a few more essential items – camera, phone, water bottle – and started wandering off in the direction of the mountain.
  Since I had never been over there before, I decided that I should travel as the crow – or the long-tailed African blackbird – flies. Which meant, basically, I went trudging heedlessly through the African bush, stopping to wonder at a very, very big baobab tree, a green, iridescent bird and the colors of the landscape in general.  All the while the mountain looming closer and closer. I had nearly got there when a hill seemed to pop up out of nowhere.  Seriously, I have no idea if the mountain in the background helped disguise it or what, but it was like the swamp scene in The Neverending Story when Atreyu is just walking along and BAM, giant turtle.
  I looked at it, and it lured me halfway up with a tree that looked more like a twig, leafless and devoid of all life except some yellow balls of fruit hanging in clusters. Naturally curious, I went to examine, half desperately hoping they were oranges.  It was only a local fruit – very hard outer shell/peel  - I had to whack it against a rock – and the inside looks like a very slimy, brown artichoke. Needless to say, I watched with satisfaction as it rolled, un-tasted, down the hill. Having climbed thus far, I thought it only right to continue climbing to the top of the hill.  I was rewarded with a spectacular view, seeing the sun shining on the tiny tin roofs of my village in the near distance.  I took pictures, I quoted Kate Winslet from Sense & Sensibility “Is there any felicity in the world superior to this?” and then, like a general, I turned around to study and contemplate my opponent, the very small mountain.
  I thought I saw an easy, quick way to make my ascent, taking it gently for awhile and then scrambling over the giant rocks that littered the side of the mountain. I nodded once, bravely in the face of adversity and then looked around me, befuddled. Now how am I going to get down from this hill? Going down the way I came wasn’t really an option, and the side of the hill that would get me closest to the mountain was strewn all over with loose gravel.
  A note on loose gravel: I hate loose gravel. It is my sworn and mortal enemy. No other object of nature has so treacherously plotted against me as loose gravel. Roots have occasionally made me look the fool, low hanging branches have occasionally assaulted me – but loose gravel has made me skin knees, fall flat on my ass, and create little, pebble-shaped indents in the palms of my hands more times than I can count.  Incidentally, it has also reminded me more times than I can count that all Malians like to do when someone falls is cry Attention!  which, even though I know it’s French for “careful”, just always makes me think: Attention! You look like an idiot.
  So, I gingerly took a few sideways steps on the slope of the hill, desperately clinging to any bush that didn’t have thorns – there aren’t many that don’t - before I decided that this was utterly, utterly stupid. So instead of risking breaking any of my precious bones – I only have 206 you know – I take off my men’s shirt, tie it around my waist, sit down, and slide down the hill. Not very dignified, I know, but a heck of a lot of fun, with my shirt and pants being the only casualties.
Getting on my feet again, and brushing myself off, I started to close that very small distance between me and the base of the very small mountain.
  The gentle, easy track that I had viewed  from my hill-top observatory, turned out to be a lot less easy and gentle than I imagined. A lot more scrambling over boulders and less strolling, enjoying the scenery. I reached a clearing and sat down to take a few gulps of water, and heard a rustle in a nearby bush.  Every muscle in my body froze and tensed as I saw a patch of dark brown fur through the leaves. Silence, heartbeats, fear.  Why did I wander so far from my village on my own? I’m going to be a bloody corpse on a very small mountainside. Is there a big stick nearby that I can hit it with?
  It’s a goat. Two goats, to be exact. They look at me - the odd creature sitting with wide, green eyes. I let out a giant exhale.  So, I’m not a bloody corpse, good to know. And I continue on my merry way climbing over craggy rocks.  

Almost at the apex I stop to perch in a nice shady spot under a twisty tree and take another water break. It proves to be so nice that I decide, if I ever become a Buddhist nun (monk-ess?) or a hermit, this is exactly where I’m going to live and contemplate the meaning of existence. (I’m telling all of you this with confidence that you won’t come and bother me while I try to attain inner peace.)  

A very steep set of sharp rocks and I make it to the top at last. Kat conquers the very small mountain! The view is magnificent, beautiful, breath-taking. It amazes me that even way up here I can hear the cars and trucks barreling down the road at twice the speed of light. They’re pinpricks moving in the distance, but the sound echoes for miles in the empty air above us.  Lining the horizons are many other small mountains waiting to be explored.

Getting down the mountain isn’t nearly as dramatic, I do indeed find a nice, long, leisurely path that brings me down the easiest side of the mountain and then follows the road back to my village. Nice to know a way to go if ever I decide to bring a picnic backpack up there. 

One shirt – torn.  One pair of pants – torn.  One hand – cut.  One foot – blistered.  D├ęcolletage – sunburnt.   

Yep. Good day.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

20 Resolutions for 2012

1. Be more careful, concise and exact with my words.
2. Try to see the best in everybody.
3. Be kinder.
4. Be more informed about politics, global happenings, religion, history after WWII and all those other grown up things.
5. Live through hot season.
6. Ride a camel.
7. Keep my cool during the immanent and certain apocalypse.
8. Look up date of said apocalypse.
9. Improve water AND sanitation in Mali, Africa.
10. Write faithfully in my journal.
11. Find some way to repay Mary Emily Carter for all of the good she's done me.
12. Get better at creating the foam when making Malian tea.
13. Get rid of the mice in my house (OR, become Cinderella and have them do my bidding in exchange for kernels of corn and tiny mouse clothing)
14. Adopt to Kelly Clarkson's "I Do Not Hook Up" as a mantra at parties.
15. Meditate successfully.
16. Take more pictures.
17. Be braver.
18. End the year wearing 18 bracelets (symbolizing 18 months in Mali)
19. Write an absolutely amazing duet with Zachariah Postle.
20. Finally watch "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights."