Friday, June 29, 2007

Fun, Sun, Staph Infection, and Laura Bush...all in my fun-filled Mali adventure...

Hello all. I write you on the eve of my departure from Mali, and who knew that so much could happen in a week long period. First off, Mali is WONDERFUL! I have had such an amazing time seeing another country (including being bribed at the border just to get in), meeting other volunteers, learning about shea trees/nuts/butter, contracting a staph infection, and meeting First Lady Laura Bush.

To say that my trip here has been interesting is definitely not saying enough. I departed Bobo at 8:30 AM for my 14 hour "joy" ride to Bamako. I was told by countless volunteers to just buy my visa at the border. It is about $80 cheaper to do just have to deal with the Malian Gendarmes. I approach the border guard and he immediately starts yelling in garbled French that I don't have a visa. "Why don't you have one? You can't have to go back to Ouaga and visit the embassy!" So, I tried to explain that I came from a village and that I didn't have time to purchase one, that I was coming for a formation, and that I was told I could get it here. He again starts his little tirade about how my friends were wrong...I had made a "faux" and that he couldn't help me. I started to get a little angry, but then it dawned on me that this is Africa...there is always a monetary solution. Trying to look resigned I started to walk away, only to have him trail after me. " to this guy...he'll take care of you." I get ushered over to this window where they tell me I have to pay 15,000 CFS ($30) or they were going to send me back. They hand me a receipt for 10,000 CFA, so I give them that. He continues to stare at me, and places his hand out again. It dawns on me that the other 5,000 CFA ($10) was the bribe--a cheap bribe if you ask me. I ask him why my receipt says 10k when they want 15k, and he very calmly explains that if I don't pay the extra money they will keep my 10k and just send me back to Burkina...nuff's the $10.

Not surprising from a 14 hour bus ride, I arrived in Bamako with "cankles"....REALLY big "cankles." At first I thought it was just the transport...but I was neglecting to remember the cuts on the bottom of my feet that I had gotten due to all my running. As the days progressed my feet only got bigger, and then developed sores on the ankles. It got to the point where I could barely walk. But, as most PC volunteers know...we practice a grin and bear it approach to feeling sick or being injured. I finally break down and went to see the PC Mali nurses in Bamako where I learn I have a staph infection...FUN! So, needless to say I had to wrap both my feet up like casts and I am now on a seriously strong bout of antibiotics to knock this stuff out of my system. Oh, I love Mali!

Regardless, I spent a fabulous week at a shea butter formation learning all about the opportunities that exist in the shea butter industry in the world market, how to produce good nuts/butter, how to create/manage women's groups that could produce/harvest the nuts, and more. It was really invaluable for me as I work to get shea groups established in my village, and help various organizations with exportation and selling overseas. From what I have learned, Shea Butter is quite a hot commodity on the world market. What makes it wonderful is that shea production is done almost exclusively by women, so it gives them an opportunity to take ownership and control over a part of their lives, in a society where they are not allowed that much autonomy to begin with. It is really inspiring to sit at a table with 25 Malian women as they become empowered by knoweledge, and discover the confidence to create their own enterprises. I can't wait to take this information back to Burkina Faso and get the ball rolling there. Burkina Faso (along with Ghana) are actually the two most developed countries in regards to Shea Butter/Nut refining and there is so much exciting opportunity in this area and I am only skimming the surface. Not only that, but the formation was held in Siby, Mali....a world famous hiking and rock climbing spot--and even though with my infected tootsies I couldn't really take advantage, it was beautiful scenery.

As if things couldn't get better, we heard that the First Lady was making a stop in Bamako, Mali and we were invited to head out to the Ambassador's Residence and meet/greet her. Here is a little pic from the meeting:

There I am in the front row with several Peace Corps Mali volunteers...

It was so much fun. She stopped and thanked all of us for our service, and talked about some interesting initiatives that she is working on to battle Malaria and HIV/AIDS Nutrition (check out That is Sarah's NGO that Mrs. Bush personally visited).

I have had such an amazing time on my trip to Mali...meeting new people, conquering crazy infections, and shaking hands with the president's wife (even if I don't necessarily agree with most...actually all...of his policies). Well...I am off tomorrow...14 hours back home...FUN TIMES!


Anonymous said...

Exciting stuff Steph! We miss you and love you. -Ali & Byron

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