Officially a Volunteer

If I thought the previous posts represented a crazy month, I have been proven wrong. Since my last post, it’s been an emotional roller-coaster for a number of reasons including personal relationships, lack of contact with friends and family, and experiencing site for the first time.

Site visit was pretty miserable- not going to lie. (Please do not worry- I will deal with all of this and you shouldn’t call OSS with frantic worries). I knew I would not have electricity or running water ut when I got there, my house was a wreck. The cement was just laid so it was wet inside and out, i had no screens and only one window. There were leaks in the mud and thatch roof and wasps making nests in my hut. I could not eat for a few days to a week and was very weak. Walking 5k in the hot sun each way to a market without water doesn’t help, lol. These problems, some of which are still persisting, will be solved and while frustrating, I still want to be here but I did have my weak moments and did make an early termination plan. it does not help that now we are at installation after we have sworn in and many of the problems still need work or cannot be worked on until the rainy season- will update more on the physical housing situation. What I do know, however, is that if I can live in a small mudhut with two room in the third poorest country in the world, I can do anything.

Let’s back up though:After my site visit, we went back to the training center for more technical sessions including working with my team’s agriculture product boutique to help him organize his accounting and expenses. We built such a great relationship and I hope that he does well. He has great potential and has established social relations and a good reputation in the community which goes a long way here. Social relationships are the key to respect and success here. People take care of each other here- we are all family.

You might call some of the benefits of social relationships here as nepotism, which realistically, it might be. But, it is admirable how much people care for each other. It is culturally appropriate to say “Na duminike?” to offer someone food if you are eating. Usually, they will say “N faarah” to decline politely or just take a bite. These relationships are predominantly based on age, gender, and last name (last names here such as Traore , Coulibaly (a ka nit!), Diarra, etc) or ethic category.

Besides Malians taking care of each other, we have a peace corps family. I think I’ve already said this but my home-stay village members and i are very close. Like any family, we have our disputes but all in all, we stick up for each other and I’m happy I know them. In particular, after i was going through my own personal emotional problems, they helped me and still are helping me through it.

Being finished with homestay, we got to invite a family member to a mediocre dinner planned by peace corps. We gave out gifts and thank yous to the training staff and certificates of appreciation to our families for dealing with our crap for the last two months. I felt like a proud parent at a graduation and took many pictures of my host dad.(I will try to post pictures relating to all of this information)

Then, it was swear-in. I got a tailor to custom make an outfit that would look pretty fly at the ceremony. They came out great. However, I thought that the bleeding problem was resolved when my language coordinator took it and said it would be treated so the dye wouldn’t run. Unfortunately, it wasn’t fixed and we had a sanji (a motherfreaking huge storm) and I wound up like the girl from charlie and the chocolate factory who ate the blueberry.

Everything was purple. I saturated the SUV backseat – now purple. I had purple all over my hands. I bumped into people slightly and spilled purple on them. A chair at the Embassy is now purple. i was afraid we would have to shake the Ambassador’s hand and I’d have to tell her, televised to all of Mali, that i could not do it for fear of turning her and her white jacket the tint of plum. It was pretty hilarious. Luckily, we didn’t and I managed to strip myself of my bleeding cloth and scrub myself down Gattica style in a hot shower at the American club where we relaxed by the pool and drank jack and cokes in celebration.

Later on, we went to the hotel, relaxed, escaped to a different room larger but smelled terribly in the bathroom and slept five to a room. We partied at the club near by and ate chinese food- yes, chinese food. No general tso or pork fried rice but it was pretty decent for Mali in hunger season and pretty reasonable in price.

In short, we celebrated and got to experience Bamako for the first time as true volunteers- taking taxis and not being treated like adolescents. It was nice but also it was scary. Here, in Segou, a less overwhelming city in Mali, it still feels scary at times but we are getting the hang of it as we shop for pots, pans, mattresses, and other household items. Bargaining for them gets fun but it is SO exhausting.

As I wait until tomorrow to go to my site and be installed, i hope the repairs to my house will be finished or at least better. My expectations are low and I’m disappointed for the unnecessary hitches but this is a part of the difficult experience and I just have to be patient.

But, honestly, I miss the US so much. Staying at the hotel with A/C and a hot shower is a tease. This is why I would love for people to call me more and send letters /packages. I know people are busy but it can feel like out of sight out of mind. Here, a month isn’t a month- it’s a year. A US work week and then weekend breaks up the time. Here, at site, there is no escape. It’s difficult to get over things and push through issues emotionally because everything gets compiled. There are no distractions from it despite a hectic atmosphere and activity. sometimes, it can feel that I’ve lost my identity- not wearing the same clothes, eating foods, seeing friends, normal routine activities, not being able to show my full personality or communicate what i would like to say in English because Bambara, despite my passing of the exam, is not specific like English. This is why I think many of the other volunteers seem a bit melancholy or jaded. Not sure, though. i do know they are awesome  and they are willing to help us out with everything we need. What is weird to think about is that in a year, I will be able to do the same. Maybe even in April when the next stage swears in.

Lastly, our stage name is ‘Team America”. Despite safety concerns and being a group of 80, not one person has gone home and our training staff has stated we are their best stage or one of the best ones they’ve had. We are strong. I know we will do well here.

Thank you for bearing with the month long hiatus. The lack of internet and time to actually write puts a strain on updating but it is best if there is no news because it means I’m working and being productive instead of being on a computer while I’m here in Africa. However, I am close to Segou and will be here frequently so who knows. I appreciate you checking back and being a part of this journey.

Stay tuned! (and check out my revised wishlist for packages and the NEW MAILING ADDRESS and PHONE NUMBER)

Dan 🙂

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3 Responses to Officially a Volunteer

  1. Amanda Z says:

    I have a tremendous amount of respect for you and what you are doing…so, so impressed! I really mean that (especially as I personally totally bailed and am in France instead of Nicaragua)! Hang in there. As I recall your project was something business/economics related. Please let me know if there is anything you could use from France (I’m here doing an economic law masters). Good luck!

  2. Dan Schulman says:

    French mustard, pate, little sausages that come packaged, and my wishlist is updated.
    (thanks!)

    also, thank you- but you not going means you have a great opportunity. I respect you for knowing what you want. You can still do it some other time. Living in paris seems so romantic- enjoy it! – I’d love to visit you for my vacation.

  3. Barb from Minnesota says:

    Hello from Minneapolis, Minnesota Dan! I love your post about turning purple; that is so, well, so “Dan” and just your luck. I am impressed by your perseverance, I remember back in the President’s office at The New School for yet another meeting with you, me, and Peter and whats-her-name, that lady with all the shoe pottery everywhere, and you were telling us you had just applied the first part of your paperwork for the Peace Corps. It seems so long ago, and yet, here you are in the midst of it. You have much courage my friend. And being homesick, just feel it. Have a good cry by yourself somewhere to get cleansed. I read your blog and I appreciate when you put on FB that you have updated your blog. Thoughts your way; I knew you during stressful times in NYC and the USS, and know you can do this! Love you! Barb Teed

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