|My new house|
The start of rainy season means the start of planting for Malians. The crop of choice up in Bankass is millet. It’s one of the few things that will grow here. Every day I get up and run through the endless millet fields along a path that leads to the smaller villages surrounding Bankass. It’s going to be a sight when the crops come up. Except for the Falaise to the north, Bankass is pretty much sand as far as you can see. The rain packs the sand down, making it easier to ride my bike through town. It also really helps cool the place down and settles the dust in the air. Climate wise, it’s very pleasant, but there are a few downsides to all the rain. This is mostly because the water doesn’t drain anywhere. It just sits and forms huge puddles- breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Kids play in these huge trash-filled puddles, a majority of which contain runoff from the latrines and wash areas. Rainy season is not a very healthy time.
The last two or so months I’ve been at site getting adjusted. I’ve developed pretty good relationships with the people at the CSCOM (health center) whom I’ll be working with and I have a few groups of friends that I spend time with every day. Bankass is really organized and efficient with their health care system. They have a lot of well trained, motivated people who get things done. It’s a relief knowing that I’ve got such good support and access to a bunch of resources. In some ways though, it can also be intimidating. Sometimes it feels like there’s a lot of pressure on me to make a huge impact on the community, but it’s important to keep in mind that this is a really slow process and it involves helping people make a bunch of small behavioral changes that will eventually lead to improved health and an improved way of life. Bankass is a fairly large city, and the actuality that I will be able to help everyone is low. In fact, I plan on doing a majority of my work in the smaller surrounding villages.
There are a few really cool things I’ve discovered about Bankass. The market every Tuesday takes place at a massive stone building. In no way does it fit in with the rest of the city, which is entirely made from mud. I heard it was built by an Italian NGO a while back. I have no idea what it was originally intended for, but during the week women sell things there and on Tuesdays there’s the big market. During the dry season, Bankass also hosts horse races in the fields outlying the city. I managed to go to one once. There were literally hundreds of horses all decorated in Dogon styles. The ones being raced were ridden bareback around a long dirt track. It was pretty wild. The day I went was especially dusty and a lot of people were covered in turbans. I also had to wear ones to keep from breathing all the dirt and keep it out of my eyes.
I’m back in Bamako right now for a couple more weeks of training. We’re basically leaning ways we can get our ideas set into motion and how we can apply for grants for our projects. I’ve been approved for moto training, which will make it much easier to get around to all the villages. PC vols were at one time all given motos, but due to certain liability issues, they banned us from using them. Two other volunteers and I were granted special permission given our situations at our sites. The morning after I got back in town there was a half marathon that went from the PC office in downtown Bamako, through the city and back out to the training center on the outskirts. It was my first half marathon and I ran a cool 2hr 20min. Not a horrible time despite getting lost and going about a mile in the wrong direction. Last night we took a bus downtown and had a fun night out. There’s a new ice cream parlor in Bamako, the only one in all of Mali, that we all stopped at before splitting up to do our own things. I visited a few bars with a large group of people and ended the night at a dance club. It was nice having a night like that after the last few months. Today we had a soccer match against some Canadian volunteers. It rained right before so the field was a nightmare. We let our Malian trainers play with us, which might have been a mistake. The final score was US 3 Canada 4, with all seven goals scored by Malians. It was a close game; the last goal was scored in the final minute from mid field. Despite our loss everyone had a great time playing in the mud.
It rains a lot more here in Bamako than up in Bankass. Up north it rains maybe 1 or 2 times per week, but its rained every other day since I've been here. Everything is so much greener. There are also a lot more bugs. I’ve caught a tarantula a couple times sneaking into my hut. Not cool for someone with an intense fear of spiders. I’ve heard the Falaise is beautiful during rainy season when a lot of waterfalls are formed over the cliffs. I’m looking forward to seeing that. I watched a BBC show called Human Planet recently. There’s an episode about ethnic groups who live off the desert. They picked a Dogon village called Bamba not very far from me and showed a ritual festival they hold each year that just recently passed. I had heard about it the day before but I wasn’t able to go. It involves thousands of men standing on the banks of a dried up lake getting ready to run wildly into the water to grab whatever fish they can. It’s something that’s done in villages all throughout Dogon, but this particular village is the biggest and most known. There's only a glimpse of the village but it's enough to give you an idea of what it's like here. If anyone liked Planet Earth, Human Planet is even more fascinating.
That’s all I have for now. You’ll hear from me again hopefully in a few weeks. Happy birthday Mom and Grandma! And Happy Anniversary to my parents! Also, Happy Father’s Day dad! I’ll talk to you soon.