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Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Paul D. Coverdell World Wise Schools

Overseas Phone Call from Mali

Students from Clyde, Ohio speaks with Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Darr

Today, St. Mary's Catholic School in Clyde, Ohio speaks with Greg, a Peace Corps Volunteer currently serving in Mali.

Ron Tschetter
Hi. I'm Ron Tschetter, director of the Peace Corps. For more than 45 years, the Peace Corps has helped communities around the world. Volunteer Voices is a collection of audio stories from just a few of the more than 182,000 volunteers who have served since 1961. For more information on the Peace Corps, go to peacecorps.gov.
Student
How are you treated by the people in Mali?
Greg
I'm treated incredibly well by the people of Mali. Everywhere I go, I'm like the guest of honor. Everybody always tries to give me the best chair in the house if I come over. People on the street just greet me, and they always smile. The weirdest thing about Mali is that in some ways, their public transportation is better than in America because in America, I have no idea how you would take public transportation from Clyde or Freemont to try to go to Toledo. But in Mali, anytime you get anywhere near a road, you can always find van loads of people are heading off in some direction. And for maybe a thousand CFA (CFA , short for CFA Franc, is Mali's currency) I can go to Kochala almost anytime I want to. On the flip side, though, the vehicles are a lot less comfortable. In a van in America, they might put eight or nine people in. Here it's like twenty, thirty sometimes, and the seats are usually ripped and torn, and that's only if they're upholstered. Sometimes it's just a wooden bench. The buses aren't bad. There are very good buses like Greyhound, except they aren't air conditioned, so around two, three o'clock in the afternoon, it gets hot.
Teacher
Do they transport any of their animals on those vans and buses also?
Greg
Oh, my goodness, Lord, yes. Any form of conveyance, be it a bicycle, or a motorcycle, or one of the vans, there's going to be a cow—well, not a cow—but a goat, or a sheep, or a chicken. Only once did I see somebody put a cow on there. Even then the Malians were kind of freaking out. I saw somebody with a pig on the back of a bicycle one time. I thought that was impressive.
Student
Knowing the other volunteers has been one of the best parts of this experience so far. Talking to them, and our socializing, and getting together at holidays. I've never known a group of people I enjoy spending time with this much. We have a lot of fun together. I think it's because we're all dedicated, we're all here for about the same reason.
Teacher
You really become a family, don't you?
Greg
We certainly have. I know almost more than I want to about some of my close teammates. [Laughter]
Student
The pets are a little different than they are in America. They have cats and dogs, but I hardly ever see anybody pick up an animal and put it on their lap and pet it. They think that's kind of strange. My neighbor, my nearest Peace Corps teammate, has a dog, and the Malians think it's hilarious when she pets the thing or scratches behind its ears. They do tolerate cats and dogs because they scare off other animals, especially mice and stuff like that.
Teacher
Greg, have you seen any of those old mud temples? I think the city of Djenné probably is most famous for them.
Greg
Yes, the city of Djenné is famous for its mud mosque. I know some people who went to the re-mudding, which is a yearly event. During the rainy season some of the mud gets washed off, so they have to replace it. Every little town of Mali has a mud mosque, in Bambara, Missari. We have one in Zanvellah. There's one across the street from me here in Peciva. They're interesting buildings, very recognizable because they always face east, and they've got wooden boards sticking out of them. I have no idea what that means, but that's one of the telltale signs.
Student
Many of us are ten or eleven. What do kids our age do in Mali?
Greg
A lot of them will go to school, which is nice that they have the opportunity to. The kids who don't go to school stay at home and work. And that either means for girls fetching water, cooking, looking after the babies; for boys, stuff like driving a family's donkey cart, taking care of the cows and the sheep and the goats.
Student
What have you learned about Islam since you have been there?
Greg
It's interesting around here. Most of the people are Muslim, but like somebody else said, they're Malians first and Muslims second. So it's not a very "in your face" type of thing. Right now I see a man with his prayer mat, and he's facing east and praying, and that's something that can happen at just about any time of the day, in any place—is just somebody randomly praying. They have different holidays than we do, of course. So I got to experience the holidays of Seliba and Selideni. Which Selideni is at the end of Ramadan, I believe. Seliba was just before our New Year. And those are the big holidays of the year. They don't celebrate Christmas. A lot of men have multiple wives. In Islam, a person can have up to four wives, and I know a lot of people who have at least two. I've met one guy who had four.
Teacher
Well, Greg, we want you to know we're very, very proud of you. We keep you in our prayers, and we know you're doing good work over there. Hang in with that slow pace.
Greg
All right. Thank you very much for letting me do this.
Close
Thanks for listening. Are you in a classroom? Do you want stories written just for your class? Enroll in the Correspondence Match program through Coverdell World Wise Schools. We can connect your class with a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in any region of the world. For enrollment and program information, visit us online at www.peacecorps.gov/wws/correspond.

About the Author

Gregory Darr

Students from St. Mary's Catholic School in Clyde, Ohio speaks with Peace Corps Volunteer Gregory Darr in Mali.