Monday, September 12, 2011

The Toughest Job You'll Ever Love

As I post this blog entry, I have successfully surpassed the first month mark at site. I am surviving. I must admit though that around the third day I was ready to pack it in. That evening, I was overcome with this intense wave of loneliness and homesickness. It was such a suffocating sensation that it took the greatest of effort for me not to have a physical reaction at that moment. All the familiar aspects of my life had just, a few days prior, been twisted and distorted to where everything became new, questionable and frightening. And these rush of thoughts and impressions bombarded me all at once. I had just spent the past two months with an amazing group of people and formed these wonderful relationships for it all to disappear (I currently have no cell service at my site, so I can't contact anyone!) After all of the trainings and formations during PST, the uncertainty about what to do and how to commence my task at hand as a volunteer was overwhelming.
I endured the night and woke up the next morning trying to wash away those dark doubtful thoughts. I now understand why this is the hardest parf of the 2 year service for many volunteers. Even now, after I have somewhat settled, I still experience these intense moments of doubt and frustration where all I can hope to do is try and swim through those perils of my day and simply exist. But then there are those days where you succeed and make simple achievements like understanding a conversation, having a baby sit on your lap without crying, or making a Malian laugh when you attempt to pound millet or work in the fields. Those are the days that become your life vest when you feel you are lost and drowning in the depths. Those are the moments that you will remember. Those are the moments that make the hardships worthwhile.
As I continue to form and develop relationships with those around me, everything becomes easier- the days flow. Having settled into a routine, I have already become quite comfortable in my village and have even formed an attachment. The people are truly wonderful and my site is beautiful. I spend the day walking in view of the rolling hills of KIta, and on a perfectly cloudless night, the sky is so completely blanketed with stars that I can only stare in awe at how amazing and pure the world really is. I am lucky.
But for now, my day to day life is pretty simple. A typical journee consists of me greeting and yala-yalaing in the morning, then accompaning the women out to the fields in afternoon (where I sit, read, and entertain the babies) and then sitting around and chatting at night. However, if it is a football night and Mali is playing, I can expect to see almost the entire male population crowded around a 15 inch television screen at my host family's home. And God forbid the battery goes out! Since there is no electricity in my village, all electronics run on car batteries. So, if the battery is abanta (finished), all hell breaks loose until someone fetches another. The days do become repetitive though, even right down to the conversations. Not a day goes by where someone doesn't ask me I can farm peanuts, take them to America with me (right now everyone and their donkeys think they are coming home with me, so get ready Mum and Dad!), or if I am married. I receive the most devestated looks when I reply "No" to the last one. My response is always the same: that I am here to work. Almost everyone then says that they will find me a Malian husband to which I reply that if he can cook, wash clothes and watch the kids, then I will consider it. That always ends the conversation in laughter, because no Malian man does that kind of work and the women know it! But however monotonous and repetitive the days are, they are crucial to my integration. As my language skills develop, these converstations are an excellent forum for cultural exchange and will allow me to pursue avenues to discussing why I am here and how I can help my village help themselves.


  1. Taz, it's Laura V. I just want you to know that I experienced exactly what you so (beautifully and eloquently) described during my two months. I spent the first two weeks wondering if I would make it through the following six, crying for the first time since arriving in Mali and just slowing down to take it day by day.

    What I'm trying to say is, those who did this before you relate to you, we understand because we were there too. Exactly where you are now. And we made it through. Kita are a group of really strong, resilient volunteers and that is why you were so correctly chosen to join the ranks of Kita Kaw - because you too, will get through it because you're resilient and passionate about being here.

    You have the right approach! One day at a time. And know that whatever you need, even if it's to have me meet you somewhere by your village to just vent to another Toubab, I'm here for you! What you're going through is completely normal, but, of course - the hardest part of the hardest job you'll ever love. Hang in there! I promise it gets better!!

    Laura Vest