Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I Leave Mandoli for the Big City and Make Some New Friends

After Gao, we went back to Mandoli and I spent the next couple of days in the village getting my stuff together and saying goodbyes. Then I headed out to Bamako for a few days before taking off. For your dozing pleasure, here's a little review.

I Carry Water Like the Big Men (Or, Small Women. Whichever.)

I decided to try carrying water up the cliff from the spring. So, I did some light stretching (not really) grabbed a 5-gallon jug (really) and joined the chief's first wife on her water run. Here's the break down.

Her: Age-60ish. Height: 5'2" Weight: 100lbs give or take.

Me: Age-26ish. Height: 6'2"ish. Weight: 230lbs.

And, so we set off.

Now, I think I mentioned that the women usually do the hike to the spring wearing flip-flops. But, it turned out that I was wrong. They do it barefoot. I opted for my Merrell hiking shoes.

And down we went. I can't say much about it as I'm trying to block it out. But, in sum, it was friggin' hard. I mean gut-wrenching, heart-pounding hard. Like a workout from a Rocky training scene hard. Except they wouldn't show it because the general public would never believe anyone could actually do it.

That, at least, was my perspective. The chief's wife didn't seem to have too much trouble.

After we got back to village, she didn't want me to take her picture because she didn't like what she was wearing. But, I can assure you she looked fine and exactly the same as she had when she left for the spring. Now, here I am after my triumphant and painful return. Notice the forced smile and awkwardly stiff back position? It hurt. And, Rocky, you don't even know.

Please note that only some of this is sweat. I also spilled water all over myself trying to carry the jug on my head and trying to carry it like a baby. None of those carrying positions made it any lighter. But, spilling water all over myself did.

That said, wouldn't it be crazy if my hips did sweat like that?

The Kids Get Kisses

Ms. Emily Rechter sent Hershey Kiss stickers and the kids loved them. This pic doesn't even do it justice. They loved them. And, as soon as the other kids saw them, we had a crowd outside of Heather's door. Luckily, Em sent a bunch and there were plenty to go around. It must be noted that it was undeniably cute to watch them running around with big Hershey Kisses on their foreheads.

Whenever You're Feeling Good and Hungry, It's Skyline Time.
Even in Mandoli.

My last night in village in the village, as a thanks for taking me in so warmly, I served Skyline to the chief and his wife and to several of Heather's neighbors who I had become close with. They loved it. I'm not even kidding. Loved it. Like the kids with the Hershey's stickers. Anyway, it makes me happy when people like Skyline. And, it makes me happy that, thanks to the warmth and hospitality of you guys at home, I was able to share it with people I cared about halfway around the world. So, thank you again.

You'll note that, in true Malian fashion, we ate the Skyline out of a communal bowl using our hands. (Re-applying crackers and cheese as necessary.) It's really an awesome way to eat it. I think we should all try it when I'm back.

I Leave Mandoli. And, with it, I Leave Some of the Finest Luggage Ever

Samsonite has nothing on the Northlich bag.

43 of us (not including the goats) packed into this truck for a 20-hour trip to Bamako. This truck made Chris Baker's Prospector Van look like a Maserati. Seriously, the driver would turn the steering wheel completely around and the van wouldn't alter course an inch. Which made traversing washed out roads and the thinnest highway I've seen (at least since Ireland) all the more impressive.

Part of the reason the trip took 20 hours is because we ended up spending 5 hours next to a washed out road. It was actually kind of fun. Especially this part.
In situations like these, Malians seem especially easygoing and incredibly helpful. No one was overly upset or yelling. And, together, they rebuilt this road as I watched. Perfect strangers who definitely were not road builders by trade.
And when a pickup driver was brave (or dumb) enough to try an alternate route through a field and got stuck, more strangers jumped directly into the mud to help him. It was incredible to watch and speaks volumes about a really amazing culture.

Bamako? Bama-OK!
Sorry about that dumb title. But, they're blaring music at this internet cafe and it's loud and I'm going to use that as an excuse. Plus, it made me giggle. Anyway. I spent several days in Bamako and I met several wonderful people. Two in particular who not only took me in, but also befriended me and helped me see an entirely different side of Mali's biggest city.

Meet Dana and Arnim. They are awesome.

Thanks to my new friends, I went to a Malian/German wedding. (Keeping my one wedding per country streak going.) And, I got to dance to traditional Malian music and 50 Cent (not at the same time).
And they took me to a crazy hike called a hash. And, a restaurant where I got the biggest cheeseburger ever made. It was Guinness Book of World Records big. And, it was awesome. Did I mention it was big?

Here are some random pics of Bamako. I wish they could capture the feel of it. I'll give that a try with words at a later date. In the meantime, it's time to move on.

Friday, September 07, 2007

My Overwhelming Fear of Worms Crawling Into People's Ears (Which Came About After Seeing Star Trek III: The Wrath of Kahn) Is Removed, and Promptly Replaced, by Seeing Worms Coming Out of People's Other Body Parts.

Heather and I went to Gao in the northern part of Mali to do a Guinea worm project with the Carter Center. Guinea worms, for those that don't know (and I didn't know), are worms whose eggs live in fleas that are sometimes found in the water that people can drink. When the egg finds itself in a person's stomach, it hatches, and over the course of the next year, grows up to four feet in length.

Then, when it has matured, it burrows through the body (even through bone) and waits just on the inside of the skin. When it senses that the body is in contact with water, it breaks through the skin and shoots its eggs back into the water so the process can start over again.

It should be noted that, because they can burrow through anything, they can come out anywhere. And, I mean anywhere. Imagine the worst place for it to come out of a body and it can do it.

I'm sure Wikipedia has more info (and pictures - so if you're bored at work and can't think of a good thing to Google to pass the time, Guinea worms would probably be a good choice).

Anyway, we decided to head up that way. What should have taken 9 hours ended up taking 24 hours and involved us sleeping by the side of the road and paying 40 dollars to a guy with a pickup truck so he would drive us around a washed out road.

Waking up by the side of the road. When you're on a hot, crowded bus for 10 hours, sleeping by the side of the road on a cool night is actually rather pleasant. And, the view is amazing.

After our big (well, long) trip, we managed to make it in time to meet up with Steve who was the Carter Center volunteer for the Guinea worm project. And, he took us to meet the medical director for the region.

She, however, put a stop to everything. Apparently there were bandits in the area and they had attacked two different groups of people over the past two days - taking one of the groups hostage. The medical director said it was much too dangerous and she was not going to allow us to go.

Steve was upset. Heather was outraged. And I... well I thought she had a good point. I'm scared of bandits. And, while were at it, I'm kind of scared of Guinea worms.

Still, I have some pride (seriously) so, I halfheartedly pretended that I was mad about the whole thing. "That's outrageous!" I said. "I can't believe we can't go!" "How unfair!" But, inside, I was thinking, "Thank God you stopped us." And, "I hope we can go back to the Peace Corps house and take a nap." Luckily, we could. And, happily, we did.

Regardless, Steve promised to have us over later to show us videos and pictures he had taken during other Guinea worm extractions he had done. We did go over and it is seriously crazy. In case you haven't stopped reading this to Google them (or to Google the color Green or other Google searches that are much more interesting than this blog), they take them out by winding them slowly around a stick and it can take days for them to come all the way out. Did I mention that it is crazy? They've been found in Egyptian mummies. So, they've been around for awhile. But, thanks to the Carter Center, they will hopefully be eradicated within the next 10 years. And then, maybe I'll be able to sleep at night.

Anyway, other than bandits and Guinea worms, Gao was pretty fun. Here are a few pics.

We took a trip out to the Gao sand dunes. Then, I went for a little jog.
(Actually, I thought I saw a Guinea worm.)

On our way back from the sand dunes.

Gao at dusk.

Coming home from Gao, we got a ride from a guy who did not seem to care that the road was so flooded it could easily have been mistaken for a river. We somehow made it through but we were pretty much the only ones.