How constraint leads to ingenuity in Kola

•April 22, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I just recently finished, Better, by Atul Gawande, a general surgeon at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. The book presents Western Medicine as a field which has made enormous progress in patient care over the past century (and even the past several decades), whether it be in reducing maternal mortality rates through anesthesia and Cesarian sections, or reducing mortality rates in wounded soldiers through army forward surgical teams. But the book also exposes the weaknesses of medicine. It sets out to try and resolve the problem of how to continue to improve performance in medicine given all of its constraints: limited resources, uncertainty in diagnosis and treatment,  limited control over the outcome of a particular patient’s case,  the constant threat of malpractice suits, etc. The book is split into three major sections, “Diligence”, “Doing Right”, and “Ingenuity”,  representing Gawande’s suggestions for improving performance. In his view, these are three essential ingredients for success and improvement in medicine. In each of these three sections, Gawande pulls in examples from different success stories displaying one of these three qualities. One of the most striking examples Gawande uses, of how “diligence” is key in improving performance in healthcare, is in his examination of the drastic decrease in mortality rates in wounded soldiers over the past couple of decades.  During the Vietnam War and “even the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War, mortality rates for the battle injured remained at 24 percent. Our technology to save the wounded seemed to have barely kept up with the technology inflicting the wounds”(pp.52).  However, it wasn’t until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that we saw a “marked, indeed historic, reduction in the lethality of battle wounds….just 10 percent of the wounded American soldiers have died” (p. 53). Gawande attributes this decrease in mortality not to new treatments and technologies but to the efforts on the part of military doctors to “make a science of performance, to investigate and improve how well they use the knowledge and technologies they already have at hand” (56). Two major steps military doctors took to help decrease soldier deaths were the enforcement of protective “Kevlar vests” to protect the core from blasts,etc.,  and also in the implementation of “Forward Surgical Teams”, which are “small teams, consisting of just twenty people: three general surgeons, one orthopedic surgeon, two nurse anesthetists, three nurses, plus medics and other support personnel” that follow the troops “right out onto the battlefield” (p.57).  Basically, through self-evaluation, military doctors were able to understand that the time it took to transport a wounded soldier from the battlefield to a medical facility was often too long to save his life, so they adapted their system in order to try to save more people. The book is filled with similar examples of efforts at self-analysis and adaptation in medicine that have significantly improved results in patient care.

So anyway, after reading this book, I got to thinking more about healthcare in Kola. There are some glaring constraints: there is a small health clinic with very few materials and only two official personnel: a nurse and a midwife. I’m also often turned off by the way the nurse speaks with his patients–I often find him condescending and unwelcoming. I also know he tends to overprescribe medicine. Things are not run perfectly. However, the effort to self-examine, and the will to  improve  is nonetheless there, and I am in general really impressed by it. Last year, Unicef helped fund relais trainings throughout Mali. Relais are basically community volunteers who act as messengers between the community run clinics and the surrounding villages. Their role is to get people to use the clinics more. In theory, they educate people about vaccinations, pre-natal consultations, the advantages of giving birth at the health center, and  inform the clinic about the needs of the people. So there are  eleven relais who act as messengers between Kola and the surrounding villages that the clinic serves. For the past couple of months the relais have been making trips to each of these surrounding villages to meet with community members and ask them what their issues are with the health clinic. In otherwords, trying to better understand what may be preventing the villagers from using the clinic for births or for vaccinations. The point of these troubleshooting sessions is to get the clinic to better respond to the communities’ needs and to further community members’ understanding of how the clinic works and the resources available there. Not all of the relais are motivated, but in general, I find this sort of initiative really impressive and progressive.  During one of these meetings, a villager mentioned that one of the major drawbacks to giving birth at the health center is that there is no food for the patient. The patient’s relative or in-law is supposed to come along with her with their own food and prepare it for the recovering mother. As a means of solving this issue, the relais suggested that people from the surrounding villages find a host family in Kola (where the clinic is) who can cook for them in case they come in and use the clinic. This issue has also gotten the relais interested in building a cooking hut and buying cooking materials forthe clinic. Two simple solutions that will hopefully encourage people to come to the clinic.  Way to take initiative, Kola!

So then a couple of days ago I decided to assist Kola’s midwife with a birth. I know very little about birthing, so I mainly just stood there and felt my legs  become weaker and weaker as I witnessed a fairly difficult birth. It was a fourteen year old Fulani girl. Her age puts her in the “at risk” category. I know nothing about birthing, but I do know that tapping and pushing on the stomach is generally not a recommended thing to do. So as the midwife tapped and pushed the girls stomach to try to force the baby out, I was a little concerned, but at the same time, I did not feel like I was in a position to intervene. The midwife kept complaining to me that the girl was too small as she pushed on the girls stomach. I will skip the gory details, but the baby finally came out, wide-eyed and crying and energetic , and it made me wonder if maybe Djenebu (the midwife) had been doing the right thing afterall. Because there are so few materials and personnel at hand in case something goes wrong, births cannot be prolonged affairs. Again, I know very little about this, but I assume that the midwife was using her best judgement when she was somewhat forcibly pushing the girl’s stomach. She probably figured that it was more risky for the baby to just hang out in there than to force it out. And voila, it all seemed to work out in the end!

And as for the nurse’s prescribing too many medications, maybe he’s doing it because it is not always easy to diagnose patients and he figures it is better to cover his bases rather than try to treat the wrong illness.


Mama Dowell’s Visit to Mali-Pt. 1 (Bamako to Djenne)

•March 4, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I am sitting in a barricaded, air-conditioned internet cafe in Bamako, on the main East-West drag, the “route de Koulikoro”, somewhere between the Peace Corps Bureau and the Hotel Tamana. My mom’s visit to Mali came to a close last night when I accompanied her on the long taxi ride from our charming oasis-like French hotel out to Bamako’s “Senou” airport, a good half an hour south of the city. I could have gone to the Peace Corps bureau to write this post, but the prospect of a crowded computer room combined with a reluctance to jump back into my normal pace of life as a Peace Corps Volunteer, has caused me to seek temporary shelter in this excedingly clean and modern internet place. So before worrying about the reproducive health classes I need to be planning, our non-functioning shea butter cooperative, and the stalled nutrition/baby-weighing campaign in Kola, I am going to try to synthesize these past couple of weeks with “Mama Dowell”, so as to convince myself that this whirlwind trip really did happen.

At some point around the time of Obama’s inauguration, I got a surprising text message from my dad telling me to call back as soon as possible regarding “your mother’s trip to Mali!” News of this trip came as a complete surprise, as I had left home after Christmas  with the idea that no one in my immediate family would be visiting me in Mali. If I were living just about anywhere else in the world, I would have had to really scramble to make hotel reservations and plan transportation . Fortunately though,  I live in West Africa, where things tend to miraculously come together, and the way of life is favorable to last minute planning (though this is probably becoming less true in terms of booking places at the artsy hotels or chic thai restaurants that are popping up in Mali like the ones I will soon mention). So, while I was a little stressed out about the length of my mom’s trip–sometimes even losing sleep over thoughts of how on earth we were going to keep ourselves occupied for two whole weeks in Mali, I still wasn’t worried enough to start planning the trip before the day my mom arrived. I should actually mention that one thing that did stress me out a bit about my mom’s trip, maybe more than its length, was the climate factor. Mali’s hot season basically begins in mid-February and continues on through May, when the first rains come. The warmest months are April and May when it gets into the 110s and even 120s in some areas. The high season in terms of tourism ends right about now. I was having visions of my mom and me waking up at dawn and going on a pre-breakfast walk to avoid the heat of the day, lazing under my mango tree from noon until around three, and then regaining our strength and resolve for an afternoon stroll through the village. In the end, I completely underestimated my mom’s stamina and ability to adapt seemlessly from one climatic and cultural context to another. I was often the one who was complaining of heat and physical and mental exhaustion. Anyway, onto the trip itself…

My mom’s flight arrived in Bamako on Wednesday, February 18th at 9:20 pm. It just so happened that another volunteer named Amanda had a mom coming in on the same flight. Since we were staying at different hotels, we didn’t head out together, but were able to find each other at the arrival gate, where we laughed and worried a bit about how each of our mom’s was going to manage getting through the baggage claim area . We exchanged information on the physical appearances of our respective mother’s so as to help each other locate them.  I was a little disappointed in myself for not knowing what length my mom’s hair was, but I said confidently that she will be wearing Indian clothes. The other Amanda described her mom as “red haired and frazzled”, but at first I though she said “red hair and frizzy”, which made me really confused when I saw a frizzy redhead walk out who Amanda completely ignored. I located my mom first–I was surprised at how together she seemed given that she had just come off a long transatlantic flight with an anticlimactic destination.  Anyway, shortly afterward, the other Amanda found her mom, and we headed off to the city and our separate hotels.

My mom spent her first evening in Bamako in the city’s hippest area: “the hippodrome”. Our jungly french hotel/ “guest house” (I still haven’t figured out what defines a ”guest house”) is located right across from a trendy club called the “bla bla”, which, according to the guide book, is popular with Bamako’s “art scene” (??). It really amuses me how journalists describe Bamako. Anyway, all along the street running perpendicular to the hotel are various bars and restaurants which are bustling, even on a Wednesday night. Again, I wasn’t quite prepared for my mom’s stamina. After moving into our immaculate room at the hotel Tamana, my mom was the first to suggest that we freshen up and hit the clubs (she didn’t quite say it like that). I think she was hoping to have a poignant experience somewhat like the one she had in Madagascar when I took my parents to see some live-music and she exchanged a smile with a Malagasy prostitute. Her night in Bamako may not have lived up to these standards, but “La Terrasse” , the club we chose to go to, still provided some good people watching.

After spending a day and another night in Bamako, during which we visited the “national museum of Bamako”, and walked around the city a bit, my mom and I headed to the village. The village experience is almost a complete blur for me, partially because I was running on such little sleep (that whole week I was having really bad insomnia), but I do remember that both my mom and I were completely overwhelmed by the welcome that she received. The bus we took from Bamako didn’t arrive until after dark, but we got off the bus to find around fifteen village women awaiting our arrival. Children became little porters and took all of our baggage to my house. That first night is really a blur, but I do remember my host mom coaching my real mom on how to eat with her right hand.  I also remember all of the meals we ate, because it was all remarkably better than what I am used to, which I made sure my mom understood. (It is important for her to know that her village experience, during which she was welcomed by a constant procession of villagers bearing chickens, guinea fowl, fresh fish, eggs, and different Malian dishes, in no way resembles my day to day Peace Corps experience.)

Highlights from the village stay include watching my mom slowly but surely get a handle on the outdoor bathroom situation and hearing her impressions of the villagers, particularly those who I really appreciate, and seeing that they have made similarly strong impressions on her, despite the language barrier.

Though the village experience was a highlight for my mom, I was happy to get out and experience Mali as a tourist, looking forward to experiencing the luxurious but fair-priced hotels I had previously admired from afar in Segou and Mopti, and learning about the history of the country, which I have pretty much failed to do during my year and a half as a Peace Corps volunteer. I did learn a ton about Malian history during these past couple of weeks with my mom, but the transition from volunteer life to life as a tourist was much harder than I expected and often put me in a foul mood. I loved the romantic sunset pirogue ride we took on the Niger in Segou, but I was disturbed by the subsequent tour of the “Bozo fishing village” on the other side of the river. There is something really unnatural and wrong about walking around a village where people are busy barely getting by, and snapping photos as if they were zoo animals. My mom was busy documenting the fishing nets rather than the people, but in general, I was really strict with her about picture taking throughout the whole trip; probably much more than I should have been. She was never rude or invasive about it. I was just scarred by the German guy I once saw with a huge telephoto lens sticking into a Malian woman’s face. Peace Corps has made me a really self-conscious tourist. I don’t like the voyeuristic element to touring other countries, and the racial divide makes me all the more uncomfortable with the whole situation. I definitely noticed a harder edge to the Malians in Segou and the Dogon country than the ones in Kola, and I am sure this is directly related to all of the tourism in these areas. For instance, I was deeply disturbed and frustrated when I greeted a Malian woman on a donkey cart in Segou and she just stared back with an angry, hurt expression–maybe she has had one too many photos taken of her by strange white people.

From Segou, a city which both my mom and I really like (despite the jaded nature of some of the people), we went to Djenne with a hired driver named Abdoulaye in his run down but reliable car. My mom had read about a nice hotel run by a Swedish woman in her Air France magazine on the flight over, and we were able to get a room there.  What this former interior-designer has managed to build in two years completely blew me away, and while I left the place inspired to start flexing my own artistic muscle more in Kola, it also made me sort of insecure about the comparatively meager contributions I’ve been able to make to my own village in the past year and a half. I made up for this insecurity by speaking to her staff in Bambara…I think I got her there. 

This hotel, the djenne djeno, named after an ancient city near today’s Djenne, is constructed out of mud,  in the traditional Sudanese style which Djenne is famous for. The owner has managed to equip the place with interior plumbing and electricity, has impressive tropical gardens growing out of a desert landscape, and has even started an atelier supporting local artisans, where she designs her own hats and other textiles. Her place actually reminds me of a sand castle…as does the city of Djenne more generally, because the buildings need to be re-crepissaged (dont know the word in English) with a new layer of mud every year during the dry season. If not, they will gradually dissolve.

I am not going to go into detail about the tour of Djenne I took with my mom, during which I got really angry at our guide who had an attitude problem, and got really concerned that my mom was going to unintentionally buy out Djenne’s cultural heritage (she wanted to buy ancient beads and old Koranic school tablets). I was trying get a straight anser from someone to figure out if this was illegal or not. My favorite quote from our guide though, was when he got offended when I wanted to pay him seven bucks for the tour (already a rip off) and he said very seriously, “I have been in this business for fifteen years”. The guy couldn’t have been older than twenty-two. I think you sort of had to be there.

Seliba pt. I

•December 16, 2008 • Leave a Comment

Two weeks ago, I did something incredibly naive, especially given the fact that I am now a second year volunteer and should know better: I travelled shortly before seliba, or Tabaski, the most anticipated holiday in Mali.

To give a little context, Tabaski is a Muslim holiday, during which Muslims who have the means to do so demonstrate their devotion to God through the sacrifice of a sheep (or multiple), and reinforce communal ties with their neighbors through giving blessings and demanding pardon. The sheep-sacrificing recalls the story of Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Ishmael to prove his love for God. However, when I asked my seemingly very faithful host dad about the significance of seliba (Bambara for Tabaski), he didn’t mention this. As is true of the Christmas holiday for many Americans, seliba seems to be just as much about getting together with the family and eating way past your comfort level than it is about proving your devotion to God. While the older generations head to the mosque, the younger ones tend to stay at home and cook and prepare the meat. There is certainly religious significance in the sharing of meat that goes on between community members; wealthier families are encouraged to give a portion of their food to the poor. However, it seems that this sharing aspect is as much a part of the Bambara tradition as it is of the Muslim tradition.  

In an effort to relate to this holiday, I like to understand Seliba as a cross between Halloween, Christmas, and Thanksgiving. The importance of this holiday, the build-up, the universal freaking-out over the seliba outfit reminds me of Christmas (we freak out over the gifts, Malians over the clothes). The little children who go around from door to door giving blessings and hoping for coins and candy in return (they all prefer coins) makes me think of Halloween. The amount of effort and time that goes into preparing and eating the food, which leaves every one completely exhausted and unable to look at meat for several days afterward, reminds me of Thanksgiving.

In any case, I made the horrible choice of travelling to Bamako the week before seliba. The trip was ill-fated to begin with. I spent six hours on the side of the dusty road that passes Kola waiting for transport. There are two varieties of public transport that leave daily from Dioila, the market-town just south of me, heading to Bamako. The first is basically a van, the interior of which has (I assume) been gutted and refitted with four rows of five seats. Each seat is big enough for about half of a normal-sized person. The people working these buses tend to squeeze five people in each row, regardless of their size, and regardless of whether or not they have one or two infant appendages. The second mode of transport is a big bumbling slightly antiquated looking bus which has comfortable, spacious seats, but which tends to be stuffy in cold-season and an inferno in hot season. Yes, the amount of people and luggage that they stuff in, behind, and on top of these cars is impressive and often the cause of blown tires and other accidents, but for the most part, I have been lucky in avoiding these incidents. So, I spent six hours two Tuesdays ago, watching various vans pass me, all bursting with people, belongings, and suffering sheep, until finally, at about two in the afternoon, I got a ride in a large pick-up truck owned by the government owned cotton company, CMDT, which dropped me off in a large-ish town called Fana, which is halfway between Bamako and Segou. Once in Fana, I was able to find a van heading to Bamako and got myself a rear window seat. Long story short, I didn’t realize there were sheep tied to the top of the roof right above me. They shat on me the whole ride to Bamako.Two friendly Malians helped me wipe the sheep-poop off of my bag and pants (onto the seat and floor of the bus).  The ride back from Bamako to Kola (two days before seli) was far worse as it involved waiting for several hours amongst throngs of impatient people in what I consider the all-time most miserable place in Mali: the “gare Ngolonina”, the hub of all buses heading to Dioila. Ngolonina=pure squalor.

Clearly this entry is beginning to take on a more negative tone than I had planned, and I am getting bored with it.

What I hope to write about, at some point, is the family drama that unfurled during seliba, which provides an interesting insight into Mali’s overall reluctance to give up certain (in my opinion) retrogressive traditions such as polygamy in the midst of its overall push to educate its women, and its failure to offer professional opportunities to its more progressive, educated youth.


•October 8, 2008 • Leave a Comment
improved shea-butter

making improved shea-butter

I am not sure what the protocol should be in terms of maintaining the privacy of my villagers as far as this blog is concerned, but the fact is, I don’t think any one reading this will be meeting any of the people of Kola any time soon, if ever at all, so these names might just as well be fictive. Even so, for the sake of protecting the interest and privacy of Kola’s villagers, I will withhold last names, and perhaps just hint at them (those who are a little familiar with Mali should know that, given there are only about twenty last names in Mali, your chances of guessing someone’s last name off the bat are pretty good). But anyway…here goes the first post:

I love that “Ya” is a legitimate name in Mali. My host brother’s name is “Yaya”, and my forty-something year old neighbor friend is also named “Ya”.  As my neighbor-friend is a woman, the name is apparently cross-gendered. I may be mistaken. The name may just be short for something, like a nickname, but I’ve never heard these people called anything other than “Yaya” and “Ya”. When yelled across the courtyard, as it usually is, “Yaya” is also pronounced “YA!”

In any case, I’d like to try to describe “Ya”, as she is older and more interesting than my seventeen-year old host brother “Yaya” who spends his vacation days pimped-out in baggy pants and an oversized yellow baseball cap, grabbing his crotch, listening to Akon, awkwardly trying his game with his older tubab (white) sister, and….reading the English dictionary under my mango tree. His goal is to make it to America , like his older brother, and become the next Akon, who, for those who aren’t familiar with Akon, is a rapper with Senegalese origins. Well, maybe Ya is sort of interesting in his prototypical teenager way. But I think I’ll leave him for a later post.

So just yesterday I took the early bus into Bamako, with Ya, who I had chosen to come with me. The goal of the trip was to do a hit and run visit to one of Bamako’s many markets, Marche de Medina, or Sugu Kura, in order to buy a bunch of shea-nut boiling materials, so that Kola’s recently formed shea-butter co-operative can transition from roasting their nuts to boiling their nuts so as to get better prices for there butter. I wrote a really long, descriptive, shea-butter-themed e-mail a while back, so I will try to spare you all the details again now.

Before describing the success of our trip yesterday, I wan’t to say something about Ya.  She is one of my favorite people in the village, and though generally a pretty subdued, behind-the-scenes sort of person, she has basically taken the reins and become the leader of this shea-butter experiment-of-sorts that is happening in Kola right now. She was the first one who got really interested when I started talking to Kola’s women about changing their shea-butter production techniques, she was the one who attended the ameliorated shea-butter training in Banamba, organized several months ago by another Peace Corps volunteer, she is also my go-to person before I hold women’s group meetings as she has, for months, always been able to understand anything I say, from the first time I say it, even when my Bambara skills really aren’t there to relay whatever fairly-technical shea-butter related thing I want to say. Anyway, when the other women in the shea co-op give me exasperated or impatient looks, mimic my Bambara, and say “what do you want to say? can you hurry up? we are tired and want to go home!” (This is generally said in good fun, but will often make me want to go in my little mud house and escape Mali for a while), Ya is pretty much always there, always patient and ready to segin a kan, or “say again”, what I have just said, but in more eloquent Bambara. 

Ya, with her third grade education, which is quite hard to come by in women of her age-group (mid-forties), has been, for awhile, a leader of Kola Bambara’s women’s credit group, which meets on a weekly basis, and depending on the time of year, after lunch or after dinner. Since she can write, she was also nominated secretary of Kola’s shea co-operative. She is one of the many people in Kola who strike me as incredibly smart, and who, in the end sadden me, because I always think of the wasted potential of these people who could, under different circumstances, go a lot farther but have not been given the opportunity to do so. That said, I think Ya is pretty happy, and she is lucky to have been given, or to have been chosen-by a very kind, smart, and honest-seeming Malian farmer. I noticed him two nights ago with his little toddler on his lap, giving him little kisses on his stomach, which is a very rare site in Mali. So any way, unlike some Malian women I know and feel really sorry for, Ya and her co-wives seem to be in really good hands.

Ya’s whole family is also really good-looking. She and all of her children have a lighter complexion than most, and she has passed on her huge green-ish eyes and curled eyelashes to all of them. My twenty-three year old sister, Fatim, once pointed out to me that Ya used to basically be the beauty of the village, but that years of work in the fields have tired and aged her prematurely. Though I know she works really hard, I don’t know if Malian life has really taken all that much of a toll on her appearance. She is still quite pretty.

In any case, Ya and I came into Bamako yesterday to buy our shea-boiling materials. At first, I was a little hesitant about coming in with her, and wondered whether the shopping couldn’t have just been done myself. Walking into the Peace Corps headquarters in Bamako with her was particularly awkward. The guard, who provided her with her fancy “guest pass”, which I helped pin to her dress, lectured her about not having travelled with her “carte d’identite”. Then, passing about fifteen shiny white Land Cruisers and a few dozen recently-arrived volunteer bicycles, still with their plastic wrap on, we walked into the air-conditioned Peace Corps computer lab so I could drop off my bag full of books I have either read or decided I have no interest in reading.

This is the kind of situation where the whole “haves/have nots” dichotomy becomes glaringly and painfully obvious to me, and I begin to feel that my life out in the village is really just comic. It’s like some sort of joke or farce. I wonder what is going through Ya’s head in this computer lab, though she doesn’t say anything. When we got off the bus, Ya had mentioned something about having a relative in Bamako who she had wanted to call. I had told her she could use the Peace Corps bureau phone. Once in the bureau, I lead her to it, but she makes me dial, as she clearly has never seen or used a landline-phone before (on the otherhand, let me clarify here that ninety-percent of Kola’s villagers have Nokia cell phones. I don’t want to send the wrong message. In some ways, Kola is very avant-garde. Cell-phones arrived before landlines). I ask, a little hesitantly, if she needs to use the bathroom, and am thankful that she doesn’t. I am not sure if she would know what to do with a flush-toilet. I also wonder what she is thinking about these computers.

So anyway, we get lunch at the “rice-lady” outside the Peace Corps bureau with another volunteer and then take off into the market. We walk around for a bit, not knowing where to find the giant cauldrons and large ladles. I keep suggesting we ask someone, but for some reason, maybe a combination of embarrassment and pride, she decides she can find everything without asking. Twenty-minutes later, we find the cauldrons, and start the bargaining. I am, in the end, very happy to have Ya with me. Though our prices end up being over what we had originally estimated, she is a viscious bargainer, and doesn’t give in. I think she actually scared the merchants. So anyway, charged with all of our cauldrons, ladles, and burlap bags, we head to the bus station and just make the 3:30 bus. I put her on it, and tell her I’ll see her tomorrow. I need my couple of days of anonymous bliss in Bamako. I also need to vote for our president.

Ok, well I need to catch today’s 3:30 bus. Will hopefully update again next week. Hope all is well in the States.

an experiment

•October 7, 2008 • Leave a Comment

As I sit here alone in the fluorescent-colored Peace Corps bureau in Bamako, my pulse races. I don’t really know why I am so nervous about this, but starting a blog is actually quite stressful. The strange techno music that just came in on my ipod isn’t helping much. I am hesitant about posting my thoughts so publicly because:

a) I am worried that this exposure might change the tone or personality of my writing

b) I know I will have to heavily censor myself so as not to offend Peace Corps or Mali. Maybe my mass e-mails will become darker as they will become my sole outlet for stress and frustration (I can’t handle journal-writing).

I do see the benefits of a blog though. First of all, you don’t need to understand computers well to start one. I didn’t realize this until recently. I used to think that having a blog meant I had to understand dreamweaver. The main reason I have decided to start a blog, however, is so I can discipline myself to write more regularly. Maybe the fact that I am posting to the public will give me more of a sense of accountability, and I will therefore feel a healthy pressure to keep on top of my posts.

Keeping a blog will also be a means of not forgetting. Since I don’t actively keep a journal in the village, I find myself repeating conversations or incedents in my head in order to brand them into my memory so I don’t lose them. This strategy probably won’t work too well in the long run though. I will therefore try to combat memory loss by keeping a blog, where I will mention conversations, poignant moments, activities, etc., so Mali can stay relatively fresh in my head for a long time to come.

It is 11:27 pm, which means that the bureau will be closing soon. I am also sleepy, as I woke up at 5 a.m. this morning to catch the early bus (which didn’t actually arrive in Kola until 9) to Bamako. I will therefore officially start my Mali-postings tomorrow.

But first, the necessary disclaimer, which I am going to copy directly from a friend’s mass e-mail list: This blog in no way reflects the views or opinions of the Peace Corps. All ideas reflect the solely the author’s point of view.