My Peace Corps chapter of my life deserves an ending. Not one that ends with an abandoned blog, unanswered questions and feelings of loss.

I wanted to give it time before I wrote this final report, hoping that my thoughts would become more concise, more comprehensible to someone who wasn't in my head. After almost an entire month of being back, as I sit here in my parents' basement, I'm still at a loss of how to get all these conclusions out.

I guess I'll start off by saying that I have very little complaints about Peace Corps. I think entirely too many people cut it down. It is what it is. It's an opportunity for Americans to give a little and take a bit more. It's a chance to see what lays outside the comforts that you know, and how the rest of the world lives everyday. It's a opportunity to see the world in a way that you might not be possible without the Peace Corps. And it's a way to take this generation, which is slowly losing its compassion for each other and reintegrate with the core of being a human being. 

Because, there is that moment for every volunteer, when you are sitting in your village, whether it be in the Sahara Desert of Mali, or the tropical islands of Vanuatu, where you come to realize we are all in this together. That thousands of miles away from where you are sitting with your host brother playing cards and betting with seashells, you can picture your own brother learning to play a good game of Texas Hold'em. And yes, they are entirely different environments, but the overlying theme is the same. We are all in this together. When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter your skin color, your citizenship, your job, it matters that we are all humans. And the beauty of Peace Corps is that it allows you to find your humanity again. It forces you to forget the differences, and see the similarities.

Some would say I've been dealt an unusually difficult hand this past year. The tragic loss of a boyfriend, the evacuation from my home in Mali and an unsuccessful run in the South Pacific Islands left me worn down to a place I didn't even recognize myself. I had deep wounds and was trying to cover them with band-aids of rushed new relationships, repression and sheer denial. I wasn't fine, and no matter how many times I said it, I knew deep down, I wasn't. Yet, a month back in the states, with some time to think and take a step back, I can actually say I will be fine. But let me clear, it's not because of some moment or cheesy quote I read. It's because of my experience as a whole with Peace Corps.

I learned an important lesson in understanding and living life. I've lived in one of the poorest countries in the world, where people struggle each day to feed their children. I've seen happiness in places that seemed so dark that I never thought light could reach. And that is what Peace Corps allowed me to do. It allowed me to take my problems and take a step back and say, “Is this really how you want to handle your life?” The things and people that have been taken away from me this past year will always be a part of me. Living in Mali and Vanuatu did not downplay the pain of the past year, but it did allow me to learn how to react.

You see, Peace Corps allowed me to go to a country where I learned a lesson I will repeat every morning when I wake up. Mali and Vanuatu taught me that you have two options to live your life. You can sit and say, 'Man, this sucks. Nothing is going my way, I can't catch a break, why won't just one thing go the way I want?”. This will cause you to never let go. I could sit here and question the death of a loved one, the heartbreak of leaving a country and village that felt like home, or I can make the change that so many people in Mali and Vanuatu have shown me. I can take a step back and say, “Ok. This happened. Now let's look toward tomorrow.” Malians showed me first hand that you can't live in the past. Especially in a place where so many things go wrong, it's not feasible to focus on every hardship. Instead, you celebrate when the good things happen. You party like it's 1999 and remember that tomorrow is a new day.

I came back to the United States to a party. It was my cousin's wedding and it was a fantastic weekend. I was welcomed back with dozens of open arms and tons of questions about Mali and Vanuatu. There was a moment where I was sitting watching everyone dance at the wedding. I was distracted, thinking about, well everything--the past 13 months of my life and the rollercoaster it has been. And then I remembered Aminata, my host mother in Mali. I remember what she told me when I offered my condolence for her deceased brother. She said that there are too many good things in life to focus on the sad. Too many miracles everyday, right in front of you, that you will miss if you focus on only what is going wrong.

I looked into the crowd, saw my entire family celebrating this amazing occasion and followed Aminata's words and did the only thing that felt right. I fist pumped my way into the circle of my family looking at every one of their smiles with an immense sense of gratification and happiness.

So thank you Mali, thank you Vanuatu, and thank you Peace Corps for giving me this opportunity. It's been one crazy ride, but I leave with very little regrets and a new understanding of not only my own life, but the undeniable human connection and optimism that can exist right before our very eyes.

 
 
I returned to the United States last month.  The following is an e-mail I sent to my close friends and family explaining (sort of) my decision.

I plan to write a longer entry in the next couple days.

Hello all,

For some of you, this e-mail might be redundant, and for others, sorry
I am dropping such a bomb.  I've decided to return back to the US and
terminate my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  I'll be returning
back to Michigan at the end of this week, in which I'll quickly skip
over to Chicago to celebrate the first marriage of my generation in my
family (!!!!).

I wish I could put it simply on why I am leaving Vanuatu.  It'd not
only be easier for you to hear it, but also really soothing for me to
put into words why I am just..well, unhappy.  But unfortunately,
things just aren't always so clear and you sometimes just need to
listen to yourself and go with it.  If you really want the list of
reasons, you can pay for a cup of a coffee for me and I'll tell you
the story.  But to be honest, I'm not sure that coming home is the
answer to my problem.  But I know that a change needed to be made and
I confidently feel that this change will be good for me.

I come away with this experience with this: Africa is awesome.  And
not awesome in the way a surfer dude says the waves were awesome, or
that shirt is awesome, but awesome in the way the word was meant to be
used.  The places I have been in Africa actually inspire me with
awe--a feeling of inspiration, fear and reverence.  And I think when
it comes down to it, while Vanuatu is a tropical paradise island, I'm
left with little emotional connection.  The people were great, the
scenery is breathtaking, but the work I was looking at doing was
simply not my cup of tea.

So what is next?  Well after an upcoming weekend of celebration, hugs
and happiness with my family in Chicago, I'll be taking a small road
trip with my brother and mom to New Jersey and New York to visit my
grandmother and a couple friends (for those of you who live in NY,
SURPRISE!!!) After, I'll sign up for a years worth of science classes
to acquire all the necessary pre-reqs to apply to go to school to be a
Physician's Assistant.  I've realized from my time abroad that I
indeed do want to do work in the medical field (cue Dad's
exclamation).

I thank you all for your support while I was abroad.  I've saved all
letters, e-mails and love that was sent from afar and I can't even
begin to express how much it all meant to me.  I can't wait to start
this next chapter and see all of you a bit more regularly.

Peace, Love and Life Changing Decisions,
Lee
 
 
I've been stunted for the written word these past couple days. It feels like I'm in paradise waiting for the other shoe to drop. It can't be THIS beautiful all the time. Not every person can be THAT nice. So in the meantime of my very weary introduction to the South Pacific, I've decided to hold a Q&A for all my loyal readers. I must preface this entry by saying I have yet to spend any large amount of time outisde of Vila. This means I have been exposed to the wealthiest ni-Vans (locals) and have a VERY narrow idea of what life is like here. Enjoy, and hopefully soon I can be a bit more poetic.

Question: How are you feeling?

Answer: Nervous. It's hard to not fall into this trap of thinking this whole thing is going to be a breeze. I'm surrounded by beauty--- the ocean, volcanos, GREEN, all things I've been sorely missing the past couple months. But then I remember it is also considered to be one the most dangerous countries for natural disasters in the world, isolation is a guarantee and I'm here hiding out in a pretty nice hotel overlooking the Vila Bay.

Question: What do you eat?

Answer: Right now, being in Vila, I've been eating pretty standard food. Since this town is extremely touristy, you can find most anything here, but the prices are even more expensive that what you might find in NYC (Read: cannot afford as a Peace Corps Volunteer).

Question: Where are you living right now?

Answer: This past week I've been staying in Vila in a hotel going through 8 hour days of orientation. I've started learning Bislama which is coming along quite well as it is based off of English and requires you to think like a 3 year old. Tomorrow I head to Emua, a smaller village on the northern part of Efate (main island).

Question: Have you been to the ocean?

Answer: Yes, I live on a island where it takes about 1.5 hours to go completely around the island in a car. I see it every day, and yes, it unbelievably beautiful and I still can't believe I am going to live here.

Question: What are the people like?

Answer: So far, so good. Being in a tourist town, it's hard to differentiate yourself from the Aussies and Kiwis roaming around in short skirts, but once you start to speak Bislama, most people guess you are Peace Corps. Since we are the largest volunteer organization in Vanuatu, we are pretty well known, even in the smaller places.

Question: Where will you be living in 3 weeks?

Answer: True to Peace Corps form, I do not know yet. I know the three locations that they are sending us to, but we do not know who is going where yet. The three islands are Efate (northern part), Malekula, and Ambae. Check em' out.

Question: Lots of bugs?

Answer: Yes. Fortunately, there are no poisonous snakes or spiders on all of Vanuatu. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean there aren't a million different types of bugs to pester you.

Question: When can I come visit?

Answer: Whenever you'd like. Cyclone season is from November to April, so I'd probably recommend heading over here not around then. Most volunteers have said they can usually get flights from Los Angeles to Vanuatu for around $1800 (RT). I also plan to come home next summer for about 4-5 weeks in July/August for these two people I know getting married.. :)

Question: What is your internet situation?

Answer: Starting tomorrow (Sunday), I head to my homestay village for two weeks where I will have no internet. After that I should have internet on and off for about two weeks. Then it's off to my island and I will have to update then about the potential or lack thereof of internet. As a guideline from other volunteers, I'll probably have internet every 3 months or so.

Question: Are there are lot of fisherman and divers?

Answer: On the islands, everyone fishes. They use spears and usually eat reef fish which aren't great in taste but the deep sea fish are too expensive for the locals to enjoy. There are diving places here, and as a PCV you can do an open water dive in the pacific for about $60. You can also get PADI certified here for a grand total of $300.

Question: Was the flight in from NZ mostly Kiwis or natives?

Answer: Combination. Front of the plane was Kiwis and Aussies, back of the plane were locals and me. It was a interesting (Read: smelly) time.

Question: What is the city you live in now like? paved roads? dirt roads?  buildings made of concrete?  how big is the island?

Answer: There are paved roads in the city, but they aren't great. Buildings are pretty varied, some are tin roofs, some are concrete with glass walls looking over the ocean. Really depends on the owner. Efate is not actually the biggest island. The population of all of Vanuatu is around 280,000 with about 100,000 people living in the capital of Port Vila (where I am now).

Question: What is the drinking-water situation there? Better than Mali?

Answer: I would say as a whole, yes. There are definitely some places where people get pretty sick from the water, but it doesn't appear to be as common as in Mali. I will have an area by me that collects rain water and drink from that water source.

Question: Is it humid?

Answer: Yes. I have an Afro.

Question: What is the best and worst part of vanuatu thus far?

Answer: It's absolutely beautiful. No picture I take even comes close to the beauty that exists here. I'm not quite sure the worst part yet. I think I'll really come to know that when I am in a village on a sparsely populated island and things start to become real. I guess I'd say while Vila is nice, it's amazing how touristy and nice things can be here and know that only one island away, it's a whole other world.

Question: Is living in Vanautu (sp?) technically like living out the tv show Lost? If so, which character are you?

Answer: Kate.

More questions? Let me know! Leave a comment or e-mail me at ackerleeann@gmail.com
 

Do-Over

04/27/2012

2 Comments

 
It’s an interesting feeling being on three different continents in two weeks.  Besides the unbelievable amount of daily exhaustion that arises with me every morning and lays me to rest each night, it’s been an amazing (although I might chose a different word) that I would describe these past couple weeks.  I left my home, went back home and am hours away from flying to my new home. 

It all feels a bit surreal for a lack of a better word.  I feel like I should be flying back to Namposella, seeing my friends and family I have there and continuing this journey in West Africa.  The fact that I have packed four bathing suits should be a clear sign I am definitely not going back to landlocked Mali, but still, my brain has not caught up to the motions of my arms packing my bags for a completely new place.

I truly can’t believe I am doing this again.  I think I secretly thought when I was on the plane home from Africa that the next flight out wouldn’t be for a while.  Yet here I am, checking in for my flight, trying to get a hold of the last of the friends and family, preparing to jump on another across the Earth flight. 

I think what I find most difficult about this entire do-over is that in Mali I already felt overwhelmed with how many people back home I missed.   It wasn’t just a couple people, but it was amazing to me just how many people I stayed in touch with and thought about on a regular basis.  Now, I leave to go to Vanuatu with an entire new family of Peace Corps Mali that I add to my list of people to think about.  Who originally were the ones that coaxed me through my homesickness are now a part of the people that I will now miss.

I’m off to pack the last of my bag—nothing like packing for 2 years in 2 hours.  

 
 
As I sit in the Accra airport, there is quite a lot going on in my head. Besides a aching head from a cold I picked up when consolidated with 190 volunteers, there has been little time left to contemplate everything until now. And as I sit here, about to jet set to the United States, it makes me realize how much my life has changed in the past 9 days. A mere week and a half ago, I was in Koutiala, Mali getting ready to return back to my site to continue on my 27 month journey in Mali. Now, I am visiting the U.S for a very short time before heading back out into the Peace Corps world. Only this time, instead of the dry saharan arid land of Mali, it will be the island nation of Vanuatu, filled with a color I haven't seen in plenty for a while—green.

I wish I could say I was as excited as my family is to visit me now. It's just at this point, even as I am in another African country, I miss Mali. I miss the kindness I have never seen in another culture as I have in Namposella. I miss the ease of conversation—that whenever things turned quiet, you could always make fun of a last name and revive the chat. As great as Ghana was, it was the first time it made me truly appreciate the language barrier that existed in Mali. Being able to converse with a Ghanian was rewarding, but being able to converse with a Malian in Bambara? There is no greater lingual reward. I will miss the conversation, I will miss the jokes, I will miss the people, I will miss Mali. In six short months, it has taught me a kindness and generosity that runs deep beyond the amount of money or food you have to share.

To Mali—may peace return quickly and to the next chapter—Vanuatu, please continue your political stability.  
 
 
Picture
The maternal health mural we painted at the hospital during the coup
As most of you know, there is a Coup d'etat happening in Mali.  I won't spend time explaining what is going on, a Google search of Mali will inform you of all the details to catch you up.  I've written quite a bit since being tucked away safely in a house with 10 other volunteers the past week.  I've typed with such rage I may have caused serious damaged to my dusty laptop, I've tried to take a step back and see both sides of the story, and I've taken the time to enjoy the quality time with other PCVs.

But there is still that looming question as we go into Day 6 of the coup of the what ifs.  With each day, we have new hope or new despair.  Every hour of reading articles online, hearing from the Embassy and the Peace Corps staff, we've gone from having packed bags and goodbye letters written to chatting about our plans once we are allowed to go back to site next week.  It's emotionally draining to the point that there is barely conversation about the coup anymore.  We're over it.  

With the possibility of being evacuated, I have this little carrot being dangled in front of me.  My family, my friends, a good chipotle burrito are all in sight, beckoning me home.  But then I realize, I have accomplished nothing here so far.  I'm not ready to go yet.  Unfortunately, the choice isn't up to me.  So until the major decision is made (which probably won't be for days) I have to sit tight, buckle up and ride this rollercoaster of an experience.

They wouldn't call it a journey if it was predictable...  

 
 
Picture
Spontaneous field trip out to the farms with the ladies
I'm sitting here in my village, in a room of 18 grown women with most of them still nursing their newborn babies.  The age of women range from 16-40 years old.  They are being taught Bambara in addition to basic literacy. To put it simply, these people amaze me.  They are in the middle of Africa taking care of at least 7 children, working from well before sunrise to long affter sunset, yet they have the desire to learn.  And for what?  They will most likely not leave Namposella.  They will rarely, if ever, have to read anything.  The entire village speaks Mianiankan so they will get very little practice yet, here I am, sitting with now 19 grown women watching them try and read.  It's beyond motivating.

I come from a culture where if there isn't a good reward at the end of the line, you rarely ever commit.  You don't dedicate yourself to a cause generally "just because".  But these women, they don't seem to care about the end goal.  To be honest, literacy at this point in their lives, will not directly make their life better or any easier.  They will still care for their children, still have to do more manual labor than what their bodies can handle and still live without electricity or running water.  Yes, there is the hope that with education these women will feel more empowered and in turn make better personal life decisions such as sending their young girls to school.  However there is no school to teach that.

So we start here.  See where it goes.  Watch where this one room school with 19 grown women will take us...
 
 
There is nothing like living by yourself in a village in the middle of nowhere to give you time to pose a couple questions.  Before moving to Namposella, I spent 2 months in Bamako training to prepare for this life.  We had endless meetings about cultural sensitivity, language training and to what I found most overwhelming, health and safety tips.  So naturally, when arriving in my village, most volunteers start off extremely cautious of daily life.  I believe I am still at that point, but would like to give you a sample of the daily questions I ask myself each day while in village.

- Have I taken my Malaria medication yet today?

- Is my phone positioned just the right way that in case someone did try to text me, I would be able to receive it?

- Have I taken a multi-vitamin today?  If so, did I take it at least 2 hours after taking my Malaria medication?

- Do I have enough water from the pump to bathe, drink and water my papaya trees for the day?

- Do I have enough sugar to add to my porridge to make it edible?

- Have I bleached my water yet today?

- Did I cover the hole of my nyegen after using it last night? If not, what kind of bugs am I likely to find when I use the hole next?

- I wonder how many people think I'm crazy for doing this..

- Have I greeted everyone in my family?

- Do these Malians realize I'm reading a trashy gossip magazine and not doing real work? No? Okay.

- Are my solar lamps charged?

- Why is my poop that color?

- Do I have enough battery on my kindle to get through the book I'm reading?

- Have I spoken English today? (to myself counts as a yes)

- Did I put enough bleach in my water today? (At least 3 droplets per liter!)

- Did I remember to turn off the gas after boiling some water?

- Did I put on sunscreen today? At least 3 times?

- Can I wear this in front of Malians?

- Did I tuck in my mosquito net tight enough?

- Is that poop from lizards or mice?

- Did the salad lady come yet today to sell me some lettuce?

- Do I have any money? (If not, it's not actually a huge problem, I went 4 days last week spending only 40 cents...total)

- When is the next time I am going to talk to my family?

- Am I sure I turned the gas off?

- How many times will it take for me to walk from my house to the bathroom before someone asks if something is wrong with me?

- What's the rule on eating peanut butter straight from the jar?

- Is that child's rash contagious?

- What in the hell am I doing here?

- Is that mold I can pick off and keep eating, or do I have to throw the entire mango away?

- Oh no, the wind just blew, do I need to readjust my phone location?

- I wonder what BBC is really saying, I think I just heard that the Syrian leader doesn't like to eat with a fork and says hi to my grandma..that can't be right.  Damn shortwave radio with no signal.

- Seriously, what on Earth am I doing here?


I ask a lot of questions here.  My mind, while bored, is always running.

Additionally, here are a couple funny things Malian children do that even though now I have grown accustomed to, are found to be pretty funny to someone who doesn't live here.

1.  At least once a day, a child tries to scratch off my freckles.  It hurts.  They think I am dirty.  Go figure.

2.  My host mother is convinced the Malaria Prophylaxis I take each morning is actually hair growth medicine.  She doesn't understand how someone can have such long hair naturally.

3. When children see my watch tan line, they tell me than soon, I'll be African.  They cannot wait for next year.




4. (Story from a friend) A small child came to her house everyday for a week asking if there is a car in her house.  Her house is a 5 x 5 ft house.




5.  My host children ask to see my photo album everyday.  And everyday, I give them the same 20 photos I brought with me and for EVERY picture, they point at me and ask "Is this you?"  Which was cute, until they started pointing at my blonde friends, my mother and my grandma and asking the same question...




Back to village tomorrow..

 
 
Picture
Visiting friends in Sikasso, Mali
My village is comprised of three religions.  Christian, Muslim and Animists.  I've been exposed to Islam and Christianity in my life thus far, so there haven't been any mindblowing stories to share until this past Friday when I saw my first animist ritual in my village.

It happened as I was sitting with some women making soap to sell at market.  A large group of people banging drums, singing loudly walked past into a nearby concession.  Clemente (my homologue) saw my eyes flicker from making soap to the commotion that was happening across the way.  He eventually grabbed my hand and said to come with him.  I followed him knowing that in my past experiences of walking into some sort of function in mali, there are a couple of things were about to happen:

1.  I would be stared at.  Intensely.  Even if I know every single person who is there, for some reason everyone stares at me like I just got into town for the first time ever.

2.  Most likely, I will be pulled into a circle of dancing people in which I have to convince myself to forget any sense of American style of dance and dance like something has possessed my body (which if you know me, you know isn't too far off from that).

3.  I will be asked to eat something and will never find out what the said food is.

Knowing that, I took a deep breath and prepared for the worst--in which to anyone who loves animals, you should not read on.

While I would have been lucky to walk in on a baby naming, a wedding or even a funeral (as they are somewhat festive here), I walked into the compound to see the annual ritual of animists in my village.

Let me preface this by saying words don't generally fail me.  When inspired, which I definitely was after this, I usually don't have any hesitation describing in detail certain events.  Yet, here I am, simply unable to describe what I saw.  Men danced in traditional Malian clothing, all hovering around a single elder that was huddled around what looked like a a drum with several charred animals parts attached to it.  Still not understanding what I was seeing, Clemente took my hand and led me to the back of the group where he pointed and said "Wulu caman be" (lots of dogs here).  In which I glanced over and noticed several dogs laying down in the shade, which is not too odd of a sight to see in 95 degree winters in Mali.

Moments later, it all came together.  The peaceful dogs were now grabbed and I noticed they were tied up, pigs were brought to the center of the circle as well as chickens.  And in a matter of minutes, I was watching 4 dogs, 7 chickens and 3 pigs be killed in a haunting, yet almost peaceful manner.  There was no crazy screaming, the dancing has slowed and prayers were said as each animal was brought to be killed.

And for the first time since being in Mali, I sincerely felt like I was on a different planet.  And that to me, is the beauty of this whole experience.  It's going from seeing a traditional practice that has lasted hundreds, possibly thousands of years to sitting here now, posting a blog using wireless internet to my laptop for people literally across this Earth to read about.  It's the unbelievable ability to share cultures.  Not just from Mali to the States, but vice versa.  Because as I sat there afterwards, continuing to make soap with the ladies and contemplating how I would tell this story on my blog, I also told these Malian women about dogs and their role in America.  

So I know a lot of you have been asking about when will I start work, how much longer until I start making a difference--and here is your answer.  I already have started.  Maybe not saved lives, maybe not built a school that I can take pictures to show back home, but I'm aiding in a cultural exchange that would not exist if I were not here.  Ideas of buying a dog an actual bed to sleep in, letting a dog lick your face with love and most outlandish of all, being sad when your dog dies--that's part of my work.  Sitting here and sharing stories of a culture that some of you will never see--that's my job.  So I'm busy--relatively.  And I am working--also, another relative matter.  And I do hope to answer the question of what I am doing with a more precise answer, but until then, stories of animist ritual will have to do.
 
 
Picture
Shita, age 7.
Shita is one of my host sisters.  She insanely cute, always smiles huge when she comes home from school and sees me sitting with her mothers.  She loves to wear my sunglasses and always carries my backpack wherever we go anywhere.  We can't communicate that well, but this little girl has my back more than most and has made me smile quite a bit this past week.

As I might have mentioned before, there are a group of children that like to stand about 75 feet from where I sit at the entrance of my house and just stare.  They don't talk, they don't even sit, just stand there and gawk.  I'll smile, occasionally wave and sometimes even call them over in which they run for the high heavens.  It was cute at first, now, it's more annoying.  I'm their spectacle at the zoo and my family can now tell I've grown tired of their glares.  Last week, Shita, was walking into the concession and saw them standing there.  She started yelling at them, pointing at me, throwing words out like "our family", "go away", and "stop looking."  The boys, a couple years older than her, started laughing and completely ignored her.  She pouted, looked at me in which I was smiling adoringly at her for her efforts, smiled a devilish grin back, picked up a couple little pebbles and pelted the kids.  They ran and she followed them with stones all the way down the road screaming the whole way.  The kids haven't been back since and my host moms praised her when she came back and she even got an extra sardine for dinner that night.  I laughed so hard my stomach hurt.

A couple days ago, I was walking home from the school and saw Shita along the way.  She instantly ran up to me, grabbed my backpack and we set off on the road home.  We were making small talk, as I don't understand Maniakan (her first language) and she doesn't understand Bambara (the language I pathetically try to speak).  The conversation went like this:

Me: So, Shita, how old are you? 20? 30? (which as a side note, is not as funny in Mali as it is to American children)
Shita: No.
Me: Oh.  So how old are you?
Shita (casually): I don't know.
Me: Does your mom know?
Shita: Nope!
Me: Well, I think we should give you an age.
Shita: I want to be your age.
Me: No. Let's give you seven years.
Shita: Yes, I like the number seven. I am seven years old.

She smiled at me, grabbed my hand and I walked home with my seven year old sister.

Last week, at about 3:30a, I woke up with a start because it sounded like a flock of birds were pecking at my tin roof.  It was loud, it was annoying, and left me laying in fear thinking the apocalypse was happening.  After a few minutes of panic, I ventured outside to witness the end of the world.  Then, it hit me. Literally.  The rain hit my face and here I was, in the middle of a month that hasn't seen more than .05 mm of rainfall total in over 3 decades, enjoying a short rainfall.  So I did what I thought was appropriate in my moment of fear.  I ran back into the house, closed all the windows, lept into bed, tucked my mosquito net in and waited for the world to end.  Apparently, I overreacted. 

Off to village tomorrow, will be back next week with some more stories hopefully.
Peace, Love, Mali.