Wednesday, December 2, 2009

One Last Post

I’m not sure if many of you know, or if anyone is still reading this, but I have been back from my African adventure for about 2 months now. I thought I’d write one more post on this thing and sort of bring the whole thing to an end.

I get a lot of questions when I see people out and about. The most common one has to be “How was it?” I’m not sure why people ask this and I never know how to answer it. It was great. It was terrible. I made friends. I lost friends. I met people and got to know them over two years and became closer with them than I am with people I’ve known 15 years. I’ve seen people at their absolute best and at their absolute worst. I lived in a place that in no way compares to anything I knew before I left. So it’s kind of hard to sum all this up into a compact 30 second answer. Any longer than that and I see people start to lose interest. It’s frustrating.

Another common one is “Was it hard coming back?” Or “Was it hard to readjust to America?” It was harder leaving Africa than it was coming back to America. I was gone two years, but America hasn’t changed THAT much. Honestly it wasn’t that hard getting back into the swing of things. In fact I could probably jump right back in where I left off if I wanted to. And I kind of notice people expect me to do that on some levels. I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine and she told me that it would’ve been very easy for her to just forget about the two years of her service and pick up life in America, but she didn’t want to do that. And I don’t think any of us really do. So I guess the hard part is finding the balance between your life in America and the life you had in Africa. Those two years happened. But you have to figure out where the balance is between where you are now and where and who you were there. And for me it feels like I have to let go of something in a way. I can tell you that leaving Mali was a lot harder than leaving the U.S. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out why this is. My friend Natalie summed it up well in her blog. I hope she doesn’t mind if I steal a bit from her.

How many times in your life do you leave a place you love behind? I don’t mean places like a beautiful beach you visited on vacation or an overlook that you passed on a trip somewhere that you took out your camera and took lots of pictures of. I don’t even mean a city that you fell in love with on a trip, an exotic place unlike any you’d visited before and became one of your favorite places. I’m talking about the places that have hurt you, where you’ve fallen and almost couldn’t get up, but when you did you came to like yourself and the place that much more for challenging you; or a place where you have memories of joy and sadness, where you’ve cried your eyes out and also laughed with abandon until you almost cried as well.

I guess the thing I miss a lot about Mali is the feeling that your really living life. The highs are super high and the lows are super low. Here in America people get so caught up in mundane things like bills and work and errands and all the things that go into daily life here. It can become mundane if you’re not paying attention. There you work your ass off to make sure your family has enough to eat and if you live through each day and wake up the next morning you chalk that one up in the win column. And that’s about all there is to it. There’s not much worry about clothing for the Fall season, or celebrity gossip, or even the economy, but there is happiness in the village that I have yet to find here. It’s peaceful.

I also miss the volunteers I served with. We were a pretty close group and we made excuses TO see each other. Over here people have excuses NOT to see each other. “I have the kids” or “Got work tomorrow” are my two favorites. Americans get too busy living life that they forget to LIVE life.

So I guess will about wrap it up. I could go on longer, but e-mails and Facebook are probably calling your attention away. If you want to hear more I’m always ready to chat about Mali. It’s been a great two years. I’ve enjoyed reading your comments on this thing and they helped get me through during some bad times.

I still have trouble accepting things with my left hand and for some reason a sense of dread still comes over me when my cell phone dies. I still have to fight back the urge to bargain with cabbies and I’m trying to shower every day. I’ll get there, but I guess some habits stick with you.

I ni ce

K’an ben

Monday, August 24, 2009

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Saturday, June 6, 2009

I was sitting at site and thought of another funny story about Ghanaian English.

We were sitting at the bus station waiting for our car to eave and this little girl came up to us. Hand to God the cutest girl in all of Ghana. She was selling bags of water. I know that probably sounds weird but that is how they sell water here. Not in plastic bottles but in little plastic bags. You bite the corner off and suck on this sack of water until it’s all gone. Its fun.
Anyway she came and was trying to get us to buy her water so I asked her
"I'm not very thirsty, is your water good?"
She replied"I have the best wat-ter."

So I said
"The best! Wow you must have good water"

She answered
"My wat-ter is beautiful."

Good answer.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


I'm not sure if I ever explained "joking cousins" here, but if I have then this'll be a refresher course in Malian culture. In Mali, your last name is everything. And people know certain things about you by the last name you have. So if your last name is Coulibaly then you joke with everyone whose last names are different then yours. And this joking can get pretty intense. It isn't uncommon to here people call other people donkeys or a common one is "ah Diallo, your my slave." Back in the day the Fulani people used to capture other ethnicities and make them their slaves. So now when people joke with Peuhls they always say "Now your my slave!" I think I have talked about bean jokes in one of my first posts, and this joking cousins thing is where the bean jokes come in. So anyway...

Last year I spent all of hot season at my site and ever since I swore that this year I would get out of Mali and away from the heat. So, after 60 hours on buses, sleeping overnight on cement floors in bus stations like bums, broken down buses in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night, and probably the worst case of B.O. I have ever had, myself and 3 other volunteers made it to Ghana.
And it was good.
Good food, great weather, the beach. All my maladies that have been pestering me in Mali cleared up almost immediately after the border. I think I saw Jesus there too.
Oh and they have good beer and more than 2 kinds.
Most of the trip was just hanging out by the beach and thats exactly what we wanted. No schedule or itinerary of things to see or dates we had to reach certain places. Which really, when travelling in Africa is the way you have to do it. If you come to this continent with a set plan and try and make it work on public transport then...
But we did make it to a few sites. In a town called Cape Coast there is a giant castle that was built in 1482 (I think. I forgot to write it down) and for long time it was a main hub for the slave trade.

One time a Mali volunteer went to this castle and actually ended up running into a Malian who had been living in Ghana. So they go on the tour together and find out they are joking cousins. The whole tour they are going back and forth raggin on each other until the Volunteer yells out "You're my slave!" to a Malian, in a slave castle. I think the joking stopped after that.

There is also a rain forest preserve in Ghana. These crazy Canadians built these little platforms around the trunks a some of the trees and then built bridges to connect them and now tourist can come and walk these bridges that zigzag through the canopy of the forest.

So I guess those were the highlights of the trip. After we headed back to Mali. Right after the border my sinuses clogged back up, my stomach hurt, wounds that had healed and were long gone came back. I think I saw Lucifer. Maybe I exaggerate, but there is a huge difference between Mali and Ghana. You forget just how poor Mali is until you see a plce like Ghana and what could be.
So after Ghana I had my COS (close of service) conference. This is where they tell you that you time is almost over and you need to start thinking about wrapping up projects, moving your stuff out, and they tell you all the paperwork you have to have filled before they will release you. Most of it was unnecessary, but it was fun and good to see people that I haven't seen in a long time. Some of the people there I hadn't seen since April of 2008. I also didn't realize how many people had gone home. We came in with 82 I think and are now down to 51.
At this conference most volunteers pick their dates to go home. They hung paper on the wall with all the dates and then just kind of set us loose. I was expecting fist fights and broken faces over those early dates, but surprisingly people were very well behaved and I think everyone got pretty much what they wanted.
And before i knew it, it was over. That is the last time my whole group will be together in the same place in Mali.
So (if anyone is reading this) you might be asking "When are you coming home Braxton?" And the answer is, I'm not. At least not yet. I asked for and was given a 6 month extension so I will be here through March 2010 and we'll go from there. The extension is open so if I want more than 6 months then I can stay longer, but I thought lets start at 6 and go from there.
I think you are all up to date now.
Hope life is good in Ameriki.
Take Care
BraxP.S. Ghanaian English is hilarious. My buddy Antony was on public transport and a Ghanaian opened up the window on the bus. As the window slid back it clipped the man's hand who was sitting behind him. The man raised his hand up and full of outrage he exclaimed "ah! You have wounded me."

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Hard Times

I'll keep this short but I wanted to tell people back home whats been going on since I got back from America. On December 2nd there was a tragic accident here in the Mopti region and we lost one of our best. Cristina Nardone was a RPCV who had taken a job as the coordinator of the Global System Tourism Alliance (GSTA). She was visiting a village where she had helped fund the building of a water tower to help irrigate a medicinal garden. Cristina asked that the village fill it and as they were walking away it collapsed and killed her. Another woman, Brenda, suffered a broken leg and we later found out that after surgery infection set in and they had to amputate.

I'm at a loss at what else to say. It is especially tragic because she had finally made up her mind that it was time to go home and be with her family, but she agreed to stay until March so a replacement could be found. She had gone home for about a month as she transitioned from PC to her new job, but really her family had not seen her for the last 3 years. But she loved her work and believed what she was doing was making a real difference in peoples lives. It wasn't just a job for her and I think her project had the success it had because of her. She very easily could have done a lot of her work from behind a desk and sent others to do her field work like most NGO workers, but she loved going to these small villages and working with the people to help improve their lives.

I'll wrap it up before I get too sentimental. It has been a hard few weeks for us all here. Peace Corps is an enigma to me in that I've only known the people here for maybe 15 months, but some of my teammates have become closer to me than people I have known my whole life. Cristina was one of those people and I miss her.

She was the best of us all and you won't find anyone here who will argue that.