seek and find

Monday, May 4, 2009

they are disheveled and disorganized and in that perfectly represent my life. hope you enjoy.

its like an onion... layered with stink but once its cut up its delicious

Ok, things are OK. I’m in the middle of learning the real reason that I’m in Mourgoula and it’s riddled with government corruption, an NGO’s mislead money and a ribbon cutting that should never have been. My village essentially got taken for granted, an NGO has done a terrible job and has lost a huge hunk of money – money to finish a 100m dam that is currently ruining 100acres of good crop land – to a corrupt government official (or two) and I am now stuck in the middle.
It’s a curious life, the life of a PC volunteer. One riddled with mislead information, some completely left out to justify a mistake or a mishap, and when confronted answered with a shoulder shrug and the saying “that’s how it goes here.”
I’m currently disgusted and embarrassed and confused, three things I don’t face well, and I’m in need of a vacation…
(Enter parents of the year Bob and Mohanta Schalit)
I’m leaving for Paris in under a week; on board my flight is my best friend, Megan Pilli, and our dear friend, Tim Carroll. Upon arrival we intend on getting a fountain soda, a big Mac and a large order of real French fries. We intend on having champagne and watching Oscar winners and enjoying the recycled air… like we never have before.
They are headed to the US and the UK, respectively, and so while waiting out their layovers will hopefully get to meet my fantastic parentals. They arrive a few hours after us, hopefully giving us the time to prep and speak English enough to be understood by those outside of the world of Bambara. We’ll see.
Anyway, I hope this explains a little bit of my downward spiral. My writing has become a bit more depressing and I hope you know that it is with honesty and clarity that I write but it is unfair to only write the bad and the ugly… where is the good?
Here we go:
a) My tailor is amazing and Cindy Canchola, Reagan South and Ginger (what is your last name, my dear friend) are all about to realize it. He can do anything and is a good man.
b) Dabi is healthy and happy and living a life that only a small West African man can. It’s one of strange privilege and misunderstood priority and I am blessed to be here to watch it.
c) Fisher is awesome and getting him on the phone every day that I have service is one of Ryan’s greatest gifts to me.
d) I’m about to turn 24, while in the company of my beloved parents in the region of Normandy and I’m ready for it. 23 was a great year, but a little long and a little rough around the edges. I’m done with it.
e) My huts are getting new roofs, a process that will be documented (if my camera decides to work again) and my fear of bugs is lessening… slowly.
f)Last time in village, during the sweet, musky hours of wulafe (around 6pm) I was stung on the neck by 3 bees, they dropped off my water bucket down the neck of my shirt (for those Austinites who still read this, it was my joy shirt and I found that painfully ironic. Miss you all.) And the pain was insane and the stiffness was unbearable and the hilarity of it was too much to explain. I was crying from the ridiculousness of the situation and found from it a way to help out the community – we are going to construct a basin around the pump so that water falls into a designated area instead of to the ground, creating a cesspool for disease riddled flies and painfully insistent mosquitoes and furiously thirsty bees, not to mention the ease this will bring to quenching the thirst of (grumpy) cows and sheep and goats and dogs and ducks and, well, you get the picture.
f) Ryan is the love of my life, I’m 23 and I found the love of my life. What could be better?
g)I’ve got people like Megan Pilli, Liza Clark, Dan Dayton and Jon Burgess to get me through all of this crap with a wink, a smile, a meal and less often than wanted a cocktail.
H) I’m ok, I’m healthy, and my hair is growing out and currently looks like those 1980s TV Cop hairdos coveted by today’s comedians. My skin is still is in good condition and I’m learning the gurgles of my body like no one ever should.
I) I’ve still got a sense of humor and that is probably priceless.
j)I miss my dear friends, Janna, Lauren, Ginny, Joe, Brett, Biglow, Ray, Patrick (both of you), Brandon… there are too many to continue but thank you for always being in my thoughts and brightening days and easing me into dreams at night. It’s a wonder that PC doesn’t require you to bring family and friend photos from home – for mental stability if not for anything else.

Anyway, the point is that I’m facing more than I ever thought, dealing with pains and aches and gross bugs (google: whip scorpion – these live in our huts and are fast and furious and apparently only hurtful to your nights sleep), I’m missing more people than I knew I loved and I’m 6000 miles away from the one person I want to see every single day. But I’m doing it in stride, with a hunk of salt and everyday I question why I’m here. But for some reason, one that will hopefully come to light soon, I am still here. I can leave and be happy and start my real life any time I want, but for that one little reason that I still don’t know, I’m still here, sweating out 54C highs and sand storms, and bug attacks, and bad food, and hard work, and painful nostalgia and for what?

I’ll keep you posted…

Saturday, May 2, 2009

may babies are the best babies

its May!
that means a lot of birthdays, a lot of loved ones to be thought of and thankful for.
here is just a sampling of those who i adore and miss and who will be celebrated here while wishing to be there:
Joe Houchins
Mike and Gloria Whitehair
Stew Jarmon
Reagan South
Liza Clark
Jon Burgess
Patrick McLaughlin.

love to all, even those not lucky enough to have a May Birthday.

use your imagination

25 april
You know how terrible it is when you’re stuck on a bus or airplane with a crying kid? Headphones don’t block it and sleep doesn’t escape it. It is true torture and you order a vodka with ice – only – and even that doesn’t cut it. You turn and give the mother one of two looks:
a) quickly fleeting pity mixed with discontentment or b) stern gaze of judgment and hope that somehow your luke-warm or cold sentiments will alert this mother that her toddler is throwing a fit; as if she isn’t at her wit’s end already.
Well now take that wailing baby, minus the AC and the comfy seats and the ability to order ice out of the equation. Turn the child’s shirt inside out, without pants and undies, smear crap all over its face and hands and replace the mother with another filthy child only 5 years the toddlers senior. Then, maybe just maybe you’ll understand what I wake up to and fall asleep to every single day in Mali. Small children, aimlessly wondering, crying like banshees, with no caretaker, sympathy-giver or hand-holder in sight; weeping, walking, lonesome and surrounded.

There is no mother to judge, to flight attendant to get sympathy from and no exit sign reminding you of your destination. There is only crying children and pounding millet and donkey fights and grumpy old me and dirt and sand and hot water.

tiny hands big holds

Dabi laid with me tonight, he didn’t eat much dinner but just as he was done he came and snuggled into my side and fell asleep. It wasn’t a heavy slumber, it was one riddled and interrupted by his cough, steady, scratchy and sharp.
He curled into me after playing and smiling and touching and I realized that leaving this place is going to be easy but leaving these people is going to be very hard.

The Sentiment that Accompanies the Realization of Complete and Utter Inability

23 april 2009

This job is teaching me more about myself that I care to know.
Today my boss’ boss, the Country Director of Peace Corps Mali and unquestionably the coolest guy in the Peace Corps staff, came to visit along side the Safety and Security Officer. It, as most visits go, was nice because I was able to pick and choose the people they met, the places they saw and was able to convey the aspects of the life I love here.
Today, 15 minutes after they drove off in their AC’d 4x4, I went to the pump to fetch water for my bucket bath. While in line kids were cutting in and out and I was speaking with Taati about the concept of cleaning up the pump area, riddled with swarms of thirsty bees and buzzing flies, it finally came to be my turn. I set my bucket under the spicket and grabbed of the handle and just after my first push we heard a thud.
A young woman had a seizure today. She was near the pump and I was talking with Jennaba and Musoba and had just set my bucket down. It was a normal day, the sky was rosied by the setting sun and the effects of the light with the airborne sand.
She was face down in the dirt road, convulsing. Her back was wound tight like a sprig, her fingers clutched air and then flicked pebbles, her toes curled and her eyes screaming pain that her bloodied tongue could not muster. I ran to her and froze. Although my thoughts were clear: roll her to her side, clear her mouth of rocks and debris, keep the kids away, call for help, fetch water. These thoughts were being countered by my fear, my self doubt and me knowing that I HAVE NO CLUE. NO FUCKING CLUE. This poor girl is dying and I cannot help her. Jesus Christ.
As I reached out to touch her, thinking human contact may be the way to remove her from her glazed-eye, frozen stare, lifeless trance, her eyes rolled and stared at me with pain, then fear, then nothing. I assumed she was dead but still washed her mouth free of pebbles and dirt and blood and saliva. Her nose was obviously broken, smashed in the headfirst fall, her tongue immoveable and swollen, her saliva thick like whipping cream. I called for help, for a motorcycle to take her to the clinic 6 miles away. Women mocked the noises she was making and the men nearby refused to assist in transporting her – she is poor, Umu. You should know better – was the general response given to my pleas of her immediate removal from my arms, from my sight and hopefully (but unsuccessfully) from my memory.
She stopped moving, stopped breathing, stopped clenching for air and life and breath. The noise of the flies swarming, smelling that she had defecated and seeing that her skirt was soaked in green and brown diarrhea, was all I could hear. Her body was tight, taut, and cold. I reached to splatter water on her, me on my knees and her bloody head in my lap, starring into nothing, everything; a crowd was forming and mixing up the heat and the dust and the filth and the disappointment and I became furious. I screamed in English and in Bambara at the women, old and young, and the children, filthy and heartless, starring and mocking and waving the air in front of their noses at the smell of her. I screamed and cursed and waved an angry hand at them to get away and call Saala, the village Chief’s son and my friend, to come and at least help me carry her out of the road. I was yelling at them but also at myself for being to scared to touch her, to truly help her, to check for a pulse or to do anything constructive. I screamed and people backed away. Then I could hear her, moaning, from deep inside. The moaning that comes when you’re struggling with a fever that is boiling your innards, the moaning that comes when your body is releasing its anguish in the only way it can. I was too scared to check for a pulse. Her nose quit bleeding. Her life, I assumed had slipped away as I sat and scolded myself and this community of people I trusted and now felt disgusted with.
A friend came to help me stand, pull her up and see what her body did on its own weight. The convulsions had stopped at this point, she was completely loose, limp like a noodle and a while we tried walking her a bicycle showed up and to my dislike, strapped her body to the cargo rack and pushed her home.
Although I figured her to be dead no one seemed upset, or scared, or even worried. I asked Saala, who finally showed up, if this had happened before: of course not. As Safiatu helped to dust me off and a stranger in a turban took her weight from me and put it upon his own shoulders, I realized she was now gone, and had rode off into the ever darkening dusk.
Dazed. Discontent. Nauseous.
What just happened? I didn’t and still don’t know. Maybe she pinched a nerve in her neck? Epilepsy? Possessed? At least she wasn’t dead, although I don’t know her status now, 3 hours later.
I mentally rerun my anxiety-build, my disappointment in my trusted friends who acted as if she were a poisoned calf twitching and being taken by Allah and who no one cared or dared to help. My inability to verify her pulse, my cowardice and screams; Cowardice. Their cruelty and my cowardice: Two aspects of the human condition I want little to do with but am finding that I am guilty of both.

Days before this I saw Madou try to save a chick from chocking – touching it with purpose and the sincere desire to save it. It died in his hands and its long neck was limp and its body mangled under its own weight
The chick, the girl, Sira, both helpless in my hands.
I feel sick.

(two days later)
Later I was still asking: how is Sali? The girl who fell in the street?
Every said: fine, she is fine.

I have not seen her yet. But I hope I can learn to trust these people, knowing now that they are normal and that that is disappointing in and of it self. Normal enough to form a crowd, to point and laugh and wave potent air from their noses. Normal enough to run away from the terrified white girl on her knees in the dirt bloodied by someone else’s pain. Normal enough to know their capacity for assistance, their fear of God, their sense of humor.
What is one to do when one cannot think thoughtfully enough to write, clearly enough to read and strongly enough to listen or speak in Bambara?
A poor nights’ sleep shuddered into wake by an entire flock of guinea foul (no pun intended) perched above my tent as I slept on sweat-soaked sheets and fanned myself in my dazed slumber. Strong gusts of hot winds along with crying babies and the sound of a switch piercing the tender skin of a child’s back.
Indeed a terrible way to rise and with no sunshine, only the gloomy haze predicting a major sandstorm, its hard to force a smile.

Maybe today is a good day to just write… inside… and shield myself from the elements and the locals.

well found water

20 April
Madou found water! He was so excited and proud he came to tell me bright and early. What a cool guy.

Ah, I should preface those words of excitement with this:
My dear friend and amazingly bright Mourgoula resident, Madou Sidibe, and his friend DjiDji Coulibally, have started, with the help of the Men’s Muslim Association, have started a small animal husbandry project (a chicken coop) to help the community have an easier and more accessible way to buy chickens. Any sort of protein diversification is greatly welcomed by the pallets of Mourgoula as is any form of small business. PC said, in various ways, that it wouldn’t work. It hasn’t worked in the past. Let them try and fail and be there to help him figure out how to learn from the mistakes.
No thanks.
He needs a well, which is where I came in.

Eye Spy

19 April

Segou and Allahysan (some day I’ll learn the real way to spell this kids name) came to fetch me this morning around 8am. We walked to the Mango Fields where 100foot mango giants taunt children with preseason ripe fruits just out of their reach, just beyond their throwing capabilities. As we were just at half way group of girls started shouting : i fa denni nana [your father’s smallest child is coming]. Just as I turned I caught a glimpse of Dabi, slightly scared out there, in a huge vast empty field all by himself, pregnant-waddling towards me, eyes fixed on my legs, trying his hardest to ignore the girls. When I smiled at him he smiled back and picked his waddling up into a bit of a jog and I caught him and tossed him into the air and he squealed. The most perfect noise next to Fisher declaring his love over the phone and the sound of a my mother’s morning songs from when I was little.

It was a wonderful thing for him to come running. For him to see me from afar and be compelled to find me, to run for me, to leave his comfort zone only to be rewarded with a different one.
Then, as he sat perched on my shoulder, one hand dug into my curls holding on and the other pointing at grazing sheep and passing cows he began saying their Bambara names, a game that I love terribly.
Anywho, me and my flock of sweet children went in search of nearly ripened mangos and delicious and fluffy cashew fruits. They climbed trees like Olympians, like Circe du Soleil athletes and without nets or training, they dangled and taught me clever ways of getting fruit, which were ripe enough to eat and which were mushy enough to make me gag. Dabi tired out quickly, landing a permanent spot on my shoulders – it felt so good, his hands in my hair and his calves in my hands, listening to his word game. Once we came to Wurdia and I placed him on the ground in front of her he started to cry and she looked at me and smiled and sighed and turned from his crying eyes back to her work.
It was a good morning.

Oumar Sidibe aka Ryan OBrien

Ryan O’Brien
17 April
There is little to say. Ryan came and went, in the lovely manner only he knows how; depression came and went; sure to cycle through again. However, my love – our love – remains.
I’m sad and fine. I feel little, to be honest.
It is hot. I still feel that. I sit inside and sweat pours from my skin. I sit outside and the wind and sand and sun dry it, cake it to my body. Either way it is gross.
I’m unmotivated, unmoved, blank.
Ryan’s journey to this place, to me, was one of the best experiences of my life. He worked tirelessly for months to get the funds, paperwork and dates in order. He worked tirelessly to keep me sane and happy and healthy and knowing and in charge of my life and a part of his life.
For those of you who have not yet met him, I ache for you to. I know that he will better your lives the way he has bettered mine. Not that any of our lives really need much improvement, but that’s the beauty of this man – he improves people by embracing the good that already exists, by highlighting the immense beauty of life and by joyously interpreting even the hardest and toughest things to be a lesson, to be something learned and earned and passed on. He is a treasure but I’m willing to share. A little bit.
Good god, this is hard. This is terrible. I’m so far away from him. From our home in Salida and from the goodness that radiates from him smile and warms, eases and justifies me.
I miss him when I wake up. I miss him when I brush my teeth. I miss him when I’m happy and productive and when I’m sad and lonely. Its tough, its love, its us, its wonderful.

Ryan said there was a surprise in the works for me, for us. Just saying the word surprise to me is a mistake. Of course, not when it comes from him – he makes very little mistakes. I wonder with great anticipation: a beach? A couch with AC and a good book? A yurt with a soft pillow? A hostel within our fiscal reach? A pretty thing? A portrait? A box of candy plus toothcare supplies? A surefire way to cooling water sans electricity? A kiss? A roach motel that charges? We’d make a fortune.