It’s strange being a Peace Corps volunteer. It’s such a rich and crazy experience that there are very few people who can truly understand what it means to be a volunteer. The volunteers who were here in Mali when they started sending volunteers here 40 years have completely different experiences from those of us who are here now. The world is changing and so too is Mali. This might be one of the few countries left in the world where volunteers can come for the “real Peace Corps experience.” Even though I roughed it for a few months during my training I can’t say that I live like how I imagined. I don’t live in a hut in some village far away from paved roads. Instead I live in a town with a few paved roads, my house in concrete with an aluminum roof, I have electricity, and I have running water. It doesn’t compare to anything back in the States but here it’s pretty nice.
Over the course of two years people have asked me different questions. Before I left it was “are you ready?” I don’t think anyone’s ever ready for this experience. I remember the first time I was dropped off in my training village. It was a completely immersive experience that was sink or swim. So I dove in head first and luckily I had a great family who took care of me, I picked up the language pretty quickly, and things ended up fine. But it was still scary as hell. Then the question changed to “How’s Mali?” Mali is hot, dry, and there’s very little here. People are super friendly and once you get used to it it’s pretty much like life back home (although the breaking-in period can take a while). There are things that used to surprise me like the way women would just whip out their boobs and feed their babies, the children barely old enough to stand who have babies strapped to their backs, and the donkeys that are just wandering around but now it’s just a part of daily life. It don’t phase me no mo. I wonder if that’s a good thing……Now the question has moved on to “So what are you going to do now?” I’m coming to the end of my service. My time has had its ups and downs. I’ve seen and done some crazy stuff here I would never do back in the States. I look at the space my women’s cooperative occupies and see how it’s transformed into this really cool, productive area. When I talk to the president of my women’s cooperative, Sabou, I’m really encouraged to see how much she’s changed. She’s really asserted herself and is starting to lead and understand what so many “smarter” people fail to see, the easiest path to development is through rapid economic growth. By helping her and the women’s cooperative to take advantage of opportunities in Mali I’m trying to help them help themselves.
So what’s next? I don’t know. We’ll just see what God wills and I’ll go with the flow.