23 december 2008
One of my most prized reasons for joining the US Peace Corps was to find an appreciation for America, the appreciation my parents feel and the appreciation my Grandfather and Great Uncles fought for – pride in our country, in our Constitution, in us as the American People.
Because my generation has nothing to be proud of, we have no movement in which we conceived, ignited or participated, we have no drive to better the whole, only the individual. We’ll live on the street as long as we’re carrying an iPhone and an UsWeekly. Many don’t vote because we know “it just won’t matter anyway.” Many reiterate just what the newscasters spout and we wear tie-dye and drive VWs and listen to the StringCheeseIncident on our way to the bank where we have an account that has nothing to do with us, but our parents, whom we never thank.
Coming from a liberal school amongst a very conservative, very loud state, my thoughts were these: if I leave this lucky life of mine, filled with parental pampering and luck that seemingly won’t run out, with Whole Foods just around the corner and a flare for fashion, a government that has nothing to do with the people and a general sense of American stupidity reigning true and I go and move to a developing, 3rd world country, where, even if you are able to read and write, you cannot speak or put to paper sentiment such as this, if I go and have to eat with my hands and poop into a hole and live without electricity or communication or ease of any kind, I’ll probably come back and think America is the best.
Although many of those statements are factual, they are not the reason, as of yet, that I am prouder than ever to be an American.
Megan and Dan invited me to Segu, a slightly northern city with lots of culture, for Christmas, Pilli’s 27th and New Years. The three of us had been inseparable during training and the two of them were able to see each other, spend holidays and weekends together, while I was thrust out into the abyss of Western Mali. Although many of our friends have it much worse than us, for example, Dan and Cahill were both evacuated from their regions due Touraeg rebel attacks, the three of us suffered severe separation anxiety – mine consisting of the fear that I’d be totally left out of our little group after 3 months of solitude and theirs being a fear that I’d loose my mind out there in the bush. Lucky for me, we were all a little right and all a bit wrong.
I decided to take the early bus, set to leave Kita at 2 am, and make it from Bamako to Segu by 4pm the same day. 4 hours after our scheduled departure we finally left Kita on our way to Bamako. On the way we hit a donkey and a dog and had to rouse an elderly dugutigi (village chief) and formally apologize for both. Finally, upon arrival in Bamako, and literally just as we were deboarding, a woman vomited and it splashed all over my feet and legs. With the exception of the slaying of the donkey, a true tragedy in this country, everything else went just about right.
I bought my ticket, and with an accidental 4 hour layover in Bamako, found myself sitting amongst other travelers. Everyone at the bus station was black, and although there was a bit of shock and awe when I came, sat down and went through the traditional greetings, I was sort of hushed and their eyes went from my face to just above my hair. All eyes were fixed on the 8in TV set mounted just above my head. The current tv show was a special on Giant Lizards and the Women Who Love Them. Its hilarious to see their reactions to the gilamonsters feasting upon a horse-sized deer, blood and meat and grunts everywhere. Big eyed, drop jawed and breathing heavy, they watch as the French woman kisses the still bloody scales of her favorite’s head – a 7ft, 280lb lizard named Saul.
This is yet another reason for why, when called Toubabu (translation: Frenchman) I clarify that I’m from the USA and with that single, seemingly simple remark, we cover any number of traits, including the fact that I am a proud representative of the United States of America, that I am culturally sensitive to these people and that WE DO NOT KISS GIANT LIZARDS.
I immediately made friends and just as a rat the size of a large cat ran over a pile of rice sacks and near a very large trash pile smoldering with its soon to be firey destruction, the bloody, scale-ridden kiss fresh on our minds, we sat around and dished about just how disgusting the French can be and reiterating just how awesome America is.