October 23, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Nathan Forsythe's Peace Corps Experience in Mali

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Mali: Peace Corps Mali : The Peace Corps in Mali: October 23, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Nathan Forsythe's Peace Corps Experience in Mali

By Admin1 (admin) (pool-151-196-110-177.balt.east.verizon.net - on Thursday, October 23, 2003 - 2:39 pm: Edit Post

Nathan Forsythe's Peace Corps Experience in Mali

Nathan Forsythe's Peace Corps Experience in Mali

Peace Corps - Mali
Chapter 8: Stage: Training Schedule, Sessions and R&R
Anonymous Quote: "Pre-Service Training is a lot like summer camp, but with college grads."

Pre-Service Training is the 11-week period when new volunteers are trained in language and sector-specific technical skills and are given cross-cultural and health information.

Language Training:
Peace Corps language training has an excellent reputation worldwide for providing effective instruction in a short period of time. Trainees learn both the national language and local languages which will be spoken at their sites. The national language of Mali is French. Malian local languages include Bambara, Dogon, Fulfulde/Peul, Malinke, Senoufo, Sonninke, Sonrai, and Tamashek among others. The language training staff at Tubani So is exceptionally motivated and talented. Language classes are kept small, with no more than five students per instructor. Nearly half of training hours in stage are devoted to language training.

Sector-specific Technical Training:
Technical training probably takes up about a third of time in stage, not counting field based training. Peace Corps Mali is currently experimenting with a modified training schedule so that as of the January 2004 stage, field-based training will actually happen a month or so after Swearing-In. The following is a list of Water & Sanitation technical training session topics in the order in which they appeared in stage for the August 2002 and January 2003 training groups. There is currently a trend toward developing specific training sessions for PCVs who will be stationed in villages and for those who will be in large towns or cities. So far this has only been implemented during field-based training, but starting with the January 2004 training group more radical changes may be made to Stage itself.

Health Sector Policy and Program Plans
Policy and Administrative Structure (for "City" trainees)
. or Gardening (for "Village" trainees)
Brick and Mortar Making
Sanitation Committee, Water-borne Diseases and Treatment
Field Trip (for "City" trainees)
. or Gardening (for "Village" trainees)
Animation (Presentation Skills)
Intro to Wells and Well Repair, Hydrology
Top Well Repair, Well Anchor
Cutting Ring Above Ground
Soak Pits (graywater infiltration systems)
Note: This does not include topics taught during field-based training.

Cross-Cultural Information:
Cross-cultural training is information presented to help trainees understand and integrate into Malian society. It includes information on social structure, norms and taboos, religious beliefs, holidays and conflict resolution (and much more). It probably takes up a about a fifth of stage.

Health, Administrative and Security Information:
This is what it sounds like. It is info to help trainees stay healthy, safe and keep the Peace Corps bureau off their back. It fills the rest of the time not taken up by language, technical and cross-cultural training.

Training Photos:
Images of Living the Tubani-Life:
The day at "Tubani So" ("TS") starts with breakfast ("daraka" in Bambara), so don't worry folks, we are well fed. photo

After breakfast there is often a little time for relaxing under the main hangar. Chilling under the main hangar is a critical part of life at "TS". photo

For many trainees ("stagiaires" in French), snacks purchased at the "buvette" are vital relaxation aids. photo

Here are two "stagiaires", John Knox and Dan King hanging out next to the hangar. Dan is my roommate for homestay. John is kind of the "wise old man" of our stage group. As he likes to say, "He is grown." photo

Technical Training Pictures:
Besides hanging out, there is plenty of training that goes on at "TS". Here some current volunteers are doing a skit (with the help of stagiaires Desman Oakley and Felicia Lindsey) to show the trainees the difficulties of trying to start a Sanitation Committee at their site community. photo

Water/Sanitation trainees (and volunteers) are incredibly lucky in having the brilliant and hilarious Togota Sogoba as their Program Assistant and thus "Trainer Extraordinaire". photo
Note: Since April 2003 Sogoba is the Water/Sanitation APCD.

Water/Sanitation training isn't just skits, flip-charts and lectures though. We actually get to get our hands dirty practicing different things that we might help build in our site communities. This is a masonry base for a concrete latrine slab. photo

Another picture of building the masonry base. photo

Another primary focus of Water/Sanitation Volunteers is well digging and repair. photo

The "brakepost" is a key safety device in well repair because it helps to lift and lower heavy loads more easily. photo

"Cutting rings" made of concrete are also crucial in well repair because they make it possible to dig into the saturated soil zone without the hole collapsing. Here is an example (on the surface for ease) that shows the shape to be excavated as a form for the concrete to be poured to make the ring. photo

Here is an example of a poorly constructed cutting ring because its walls were sloped which would greatly increase the friction the ring and the soil. This would make it more difficult for the ring to advance. photo

This is another bad cutting ring example. Its defect was that its wedge was reversed making it incredibly difficut to move soil underneath it. photo

Here is finally an example of a good cutting ring. photo

Being an incredibly well-rounded group of development professionals, Water/San volunteers also learn about gardening. Here are some examples of planting bed types: sunken beds and raised furrows. photo

In order to prepare the beds for planting, the soil must first be loosed. Here are Adam Killian and Sogoba discussing "hoeing" technique. photo

There's plenty of "hoeing" going on, as Conor Duffy shows here. photo

Once the soil is prepared, Keith Williams, Molly Mattesich and Shaka the craftsman get busy planting. photo

Peace Corps - Mali
Chapter 12: Extended Field Based Training (EFBT) -- March 2003
One of the results of the unusual phenomenon of the Water/San sector being changed for training with the August stage to the January stage was that I was asked to host EFBT after only four and a half months at site. Normally those hosting EFBT have a year of experience, and my "sacrifice" is one-off experience for Peace Corps Mali. I didn't really consider it a sacrifice, it may have been for the volunteers who had to help me and the trainees who had to put up with me. I certainly would not have been able to pull EFBT off alone. I had a great deal of help from Brooke Tydell and Adam Killian, with cross-sectoral support from Alexis Brandenburg. Above all Marc Jeulen was instrumental in all of us making it through the experience. Once again Marc hosted the first half week in Bamako and was responsible for getting the trainees to the road turn-off for Djenné. For better or worse, I was in charge from there on out.

The trainees names by the way: Tim Burrows, Greg Busch, Jared Leclerc, Jessica Marcy and Susan Smith.
There language professor was Oscar Coulibaly.
Sunday March 16: Free day in Bamako

Monday March 17 and Tuesday March 18: Activities in Bamako with Marc Jeulen including visits to GIE Sema-Saniya, the Missabougou Hygienic School Project and CREPA NGO office plus of course language training

Wednesday March 19: Bus ride to the Djenné "carrefour" (road turn-off)

Thursday March 20(morning): Meet with Nathan's service (SACPN-Djenné), discussion of construction and materials quality assurance, observe foundation laying for graywater reservoirs
Thursday March 20(afternoon): language class

Friday March 21 (morning): Sanitation service cost recovery discussion, GIS discussion and walk-around
Friday March 21 (afternoon): language class

Saturday March 22 (morning): Help with brick laying
Saturday March 22 (afternoon): language class

Sunday March 23 (morning): Free time, ATT visits Djenné!
Sunday March 23 (afternoon): Radio show preparation and presentation

Monday March 24 (morning): Free-time/Visit to market
Monday March 24 (afternoon): language class

Tuesday March 25 (morning): Guided visit of Djenné with historical explanation, Cost estimation discussion and practice exercise
Tuesday March 25 (afternoon): Language class

Wednesday March 26: Epic trip through the bush to Mopti.

Thursday March 27 (morning): Recovery time
Thursday March 27 (afternoon): Visit to Regional Sanitation Agency (DRACPN-Mopti) and pilot sewer and wastewater treatment system in Mopti

Friday March 28: Visit to Mopti Drinking Water Treatment Plant
Saturday March 29: Return to Bamako by bus

So the trainees arrived at the "carrefour" on Wednesday afternoon. They had already gotten to Moumar Kaddafi in a parade in Bamako, so they were primed for great things in Djenné. I had gone to meet them with the vehicle and driver from the "Conseil de Cercle" (elected body analagous to a "county commission"). We headed toward Djenné. The river Bani, about 4km from town, was low enough for the Land Cruiser to driver across. The trainees were taken to stay at the home of my host father's sister (I guess that makes her my host aunt). Her house also happens to be a hotel called "Résidence Tapama Djenépo." The lang prof, Oscar, stayed at a different hotel called "Chez Baba" close to market. Before retire, Adam and I explained the week's schedule.

As the schedule indicates, Thursday's morning session was a talk on construction materials and quality assurance. This is very important since it is hard to be credible in the eyes of your host community if the stuff you build falls apart. There was some construction observation to put the discussion in a practical light. The core of technical work during the EFBT time in Djenné was the rehabilition of a street leading to the Grand Mosque. On Thursday, slabs were being laid for the foundations of the graywater reservoirs we were building to limit pollution of the street.I also had to remind the workers to continue trash removal that was supposed to have been completed on Tuesday. My idea of trash removal and theirs was not the same. This probably comes from living with the sad reality of litter in the form of plastic baggies everwhere.

In terms of construction, Friday was the leveling/earthwork day. Our training session discussion was on applications of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) in Peace Corps work i.e. in planning and capacity analysis, and since these tools are unlikely to exist already, we also talked about the potential to compile them as part of Peace Corps Urban Water/Sanitation work. We followed this with a walking tour of the future "mini-sewer" construction site to highlight opportunities for data collection.

Saturday was supposed to be the last day of construction work, but brick laying went slower than I had hoped. This did not prevent the trainees from getting to try their hand at cement brick construction. The fact that the construction was behind schedule was much more worrying than normal since the President of Mali was visiting the next day to officially start construction on a road project from Djenné to a nearby city.

So, sunday, while the trainees slept in and then attended the welcoming festivities for the President, Amadou Toumani Touré, affectionately known as ATT, I started work at the crack of dawn to quick wrap-up what remained of the masonry and gravel spreading. The workers were relatively good natured about this and we got done without any major crises. In the afternoon, the trainees prepped and then presented my weekly radio show. There was a bit of a snag do to a problem with music transfer to cassette, but we coped.

Monday is Djenné's market day and we made it a day for the trainees except for their inevitable language class. SED volunteer Alexis Brandenburg arrived and this day, only to be told that the activity she was asked to teach had been cancelled. Still she was good natured about it helped lead a frank discussion that evening on the realities of Peace Corps social life.

No trip to Djenné would be complete without a guided historical tour. We took care of this obligatory activity early Tuesday morning. My friend Hamadou Cissé was our guide. He is a true professional and one of the best in Djenné. Attention to potential visitors to this "fair if filthy" city: all guides are not equal, Caveat Emptor. Already beginning to show their stripes as "real troopers", even after our two hour long walking tour, the trainees still had the energy and sportsmanship to participate in a cost estimation exercise before lunch.

The second Wednesday was a travel day to Mopti/Sévaré and though it did not turn out like I hoped, everyone came through it safe and sound, and I am sure they will remember it for years to come. If they don't remember at least one of either the beautiful sunset or the even more beautiful sunrise we saw on the River Niger, it will be a shame.

There were supposed to be office visits on Thursday morning, but given the travails of the day (and night) before, our soon to be APCD very understandingly postponed these until the afternoon and chose not to set me on fire or feed me to the starving beggar children. Setting the bar higher and higher for being "hard core" trainees, the group all showed for language tutoring before we headed to the regional level of the government agency for whom I work for an visit and discussion. This was followed by a visit to the construction site of the Mopti pilot sewer and wastewater treatment system.

Even though they had already demonstrated their "worthiness" to be PCVs, the trainees once again went about and beyond the call of duty by staying in Mopti for an extra day to visit the Mopti Water Treatment plant and regional branch of the Malian National Cartography Agency.

The trainees EFBT trial finally ended with a resounding acquital when they returned to Bamako on Saturday, March 29, 2003. Aw ni baara, guys! Aw ni baara!*

* Bambara for good work"
The construction activity that was the core of our EFBT activities was the clean-up of a street leading to the Grand Mosque.

First some before/polluted pictures:
Sadly one of the dirtiest places on the street was next to the courthouse and judge's residence. photo1, photo2, photo3
The other pollution on the street came from private residences and public littering.
The places first contaminated were the points where graywater (bath and washwater) leaked or poured out of concessions.
Some pouring points photo1, and where the wastewater lands photo2
More wastewater exit points: photo1, photo2, photo3, photo4
After moving away from the houses, the water collects and stagnates in the street making trash removal even more difficult. photo1, photo2

Next some pictures of the rehab work:
Before the graywater reservoirs could be built, we first of course had to dig the holes. photo
Next we had to lay the foundation. photo
Once we had started to get the wastewater under control, we also worked on making the street easier to travel down. photo1, photo2
Back to the graywater reservoir, here is a clear picture of the masonry work topped up. photo

In terms of the graywater reservoirs, here are the finished products: photo1, photo2, photo3

On a lighter note, the trainees as well as the PCVs who assisted me enjoyed comfortable living if not luxurious conditions during their time in Djenné. photo
Karmically, they may have paid for it later though.

And now for photos from the much storied "Journey to Mopti":

The beginning of the "hot" half of dry season is certainly not the most verdant time to travel in the bush, as this barren millet field shows. photo

Perhaps we should have taken this rather barren tree as more of a bad omen early in the morning rather than just a sign of excessive wood harvesting in a resource scarce region. photo

Contrary to what some Robert Frost fans may think, not all roads diverge in the wood. photo

Sometimes, though, the path was clearer. photo

At times we made good speed. photo

And thus the wagons stayed close together. photo

That was while the whip could still produce a response. photo

Eventually though, one of the horses fell far behind, and path ahead seemed ominous and desolate. photo

Fatigue was of course bound to set in, both in the animals and in us. Here you can see Jared and Susan both conserving there energy, although showing some pretty different expressions. photo

Sometimes the trip was enlivened by those we met. photo1, photo2

Although they were prone to be busy about their own business. photo

Jessica in turn seemed more concerned with our progress than with their browsing. photo

At last we did approach the end of horse cart ride. Here the town of Kouakourou can be seen in the distance as we enter the final stretch before the river. photo

Very sadly my batteries died at this point and so there are no photos of the second leg of our odyssey.
Amazingly enough there wasn't a QuickieMart in Kouakourou that sold AAs. I have a suspicion one of the horses suffered the same fate as my batteries, but I never found out for sure.

Happy, once arrived in Sévaré I got more batteries in time to document that we had all arrived intact.
Here are the trainees with their more or less be-turbaned language professor. What more can you expect from a Coulibaly? photo

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Story Source: Personal Web Site

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Mali; PCVs in the Field - Mali



By nyRee Brown (0-1pool33-193.nas4.kansas-city1.mo.us.da.qwest.net - on Wednesday, March 17, 2004 - 7:10 pm: Edit Post

I am trying to reach Nathan Forsythe, a former colleague. He was sent to Mali in 2002. I have tried the email address he left with, but it seems it is no longer active. Any help would be appreciated! Thank you......

nyRee Brown

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