Thursday, December 29, 2011

Bike Tour/Christmas

It has been a long time since I blogged even though I have internet just about every day, but daily busy work isn't very interesting.

But! From the 12th to the 16th, I broke the mold. I believe I've spoken about stage houses/transit houses, but as a reminder, stage houses are houses owned by Peace Corps in larger towns that act as safety houses and allow volunteers who are far from a bank to spend the night when they need to come in. All volunteers are assigned a house, and I'm assigned to the San house. Everybody that is assigned to San is referred to as San Kaw.

So among San Kaw, there are only 3 of us on the Mopti road, and I have been to see them during their village's market days, but the rest of the volunteers in our Kaw are between the Segou road (going directly West out of San), and the Koutiala road (going directly South out of San. They are all clustered and I figured I could easily bike from one site to the other and getting to see 8 villages in 5 days. On top of that, there is a new group of volunteers (a stage) that arrived a month or so ago and their site visit was planned for that week giving me the opportunity to see their sites as well. Their arrival also meant that most volunteers would be at their sites to get as much time in before the site visit party which happens for every new stage that arrives.

Overall I biked about 200 km with the longest trip in 1 day being 80 km. I was very happy with myself, because I was going at a speed of roughly 25-30 km per hour on a mountain bike.

It was great to see all the volunteers one on one and see how they behave at site or what they're working on. I also confirmed that I really did want to be in a small village. Visiting friends who live in villages of less than 400 people was awesome. Life is more difficult in those villages but the atmosphere is different and there is a level of community that seems to be degraded in bigger towns. The culture is also more traditional, making it more apparent in everyday life. Here in Tominian, it's very difficult to break into the traditional culture, especially because I don't speak Bomu. This doesn’t mean that I do not enjoy where I am nor that being in a bigger town prevents me from getting work done. Actually, I often feel that being in a bigger town gives me more options and opportunities to have an impact on a greater number of people than I might have in a small village. It just goes to show that every Peace Corps Volunteers experience is different.

In other news, Merry Christmas! Last year I went hiking in Dogon country with other volunteers so I didn’t get to experience a Malian Christmas. I have to say that it was definitely an experience. It was basically exactly like Tabaski (besides the ritualization of the slaughter), but with beer. I originally thought the families would kill a pig, but almost everybody killed a sheep because most of the families have Muslim friends who they invited to celebrate and in order for them to participate, they couldn’t kill a pig. My host dad actually asked a Muslim butcher to come the day before to properly kill the sheep so that he could invite his Muslim friends. For me, this emphasized the solidarity and tolerance among Malians. Regardless of whether a person is Muslim or Christian or Animist, everybody celebrates each other’s festivals. As Malians say, “An be nyogonfe” (We are together). Everybody celebrates together, everybody suffers together, everybody helps each other out. Everybody is together. Besides Tabaski, or maybe a French wedding, I don’t know if I’ve ever eaten so much before and everywhere I went I was given an entire meal, a beer or a coke or two, and tea. So for most of the day I made the rounds of town greeting people and refusing, in vain, the food and drinks they were trying to give me. It was a lot of fun, and although it was very different from Christmas' in the past, I really enjoyed myself.

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