This blog represents my views, and not those of the Peace Corps, the government of Mali, or anyone else.

Still Going

In the wake of the Bamako hostage situation last week and Peace Corps suspending operation in Mali Friday, I've been doing some soul searching.  The thick and thin of it is that I am still going to Mali.  I have family and friends here in the US who are worried, but my wonderful husband is being totally supportive.  I am going to celebrate my friend's long-awaited marriage by her side.  I am going to celebrate with her family, and with an entire village of friends.  I am going.

I am traveling for human reasons, not humanitarian reasons, and I think that makes it all the more important that I not let terrorism get in the way of my trip.  One of the most important parts of my Peace Corps service happened before I ever left the US - I read Monique and the Mango Rains and my mind was opened to the possibility of meaningful friendships with the faceless mass of villagers I was picturing.  I am sure I would have made friends with Rachelle even if my heart had not been primed for it, but I think it sped the process along.  My openness to friendship was so vital to my service, because it turned the faceless mass of villagers into individual people - Rachelle and Samuel who I may have introduced you to through this blog, but also dozens of others.  Easygoing Isayi, jokester Jean, softspoken Hera, outspoken Bajeni, my pineapple-loving togoma, helpful Mari and devoted Daniel are only a few of the people in my village who touched my heart, and whose faces are firmly planted in my memory.

There are plenty of people in my village whose names I never learned, but there are very few whose faces I don't know.  My service was one of exchange and success because I had relationships directly with the people I was working for, and the enrichment of lives went both ways between us.  Those friendships were real - are real - and my trip honors the value my friends have brought to my life and celebrates new value coming into their lives.

I know there's the little matter of the Atlantic Ocean, but that aside, nothing will divide me from my friends, fear for my own safety least of all.

Hazel is so helpful! #packing #helpfulcat

A photo posted by Pilar Lyons (@pilarlyons) on

All that being said, does anyone want to come and help me pack!?  I really am terrible at packing light.  The only thing I can think to reject so far is Hazel the kitten...

Postscript: I'll be traveling from Dec 8th through Dec 30th, in case you want to know (as my mother puts it) "when you should be worrying." But please, worry about me remembering to put on sunblock and properly seal my bug net. Worry about a baby spitting up on my fancy new wedding clothes. Worry about whether I will be able to remember enough of the local languages to keep from embarrassing myself when they inevitably make me make a speech. Worry that I will have to sit on the bus for hours next to a stinky old man despite my best efforts to avoid that. Worry that the airplane food will be cardboard. Don't give any of your emotional energy to the people who want to inflict terror on us, please. Thanks!

Looking Forward to a Wedding

In March of 2014 I visited Mali again.  Any second now, I may post photos from last year's trip.  Don't hold your breath, though.

Next month I'm going back again to Mali to celebrate something I've been looking forward to for five or more years.  My Malian best friend is getting married!

Between my 2014 visit and now, I was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia.  The main symptoms I experience are pain, 'brain fog', and fatigue.  I've gone from running half-marathons to being in debilitating pain for days after only a half-mile run.  Now I stick to aquatic exercise and walking.  Cold weather increases my pain, so I am looking forward to getting out of late fall in upstate New York and into early "cold" season in Mali with an average low of 58F and an average high of 91F.  I am not, however, looking forward at all to the two days of travel to reach my destination (three hours of train travel followed by 18 hours of air travel, and then after a brief sleep, a seven hour bus ride).  I'm not looking forward to sleeping on a foam mattress.  I'm not looking forward to a five hour time difference.

Since my diagnosis, I have traveled by car across the US, which left me exhausted and washed out for well over a month after a 10-day trip.  By the sixth day, my pain level was so high I stopped being able to enjoy myself.  I am terrified of spending all of this money and time to travel back to Mali and being unable to enjoy myself.  I am worried about brain fog - the lack of cognitive function - flaring up and stealing my ability to communicate.  I'm worried about trying to explain Fibromyalgia to my Malian friends without either making it sound much more severe than it is or minimizing it so much that they don't factor it into consideration when making plans for me.

Part of me feels totally prepared - ready to leave tomorrow, let's go!!  The rest of me thinks that I have way too little time and I will never be able to get myself together enough to even take the first step.  Sorry, scared part of myself, I already have the plane tickets, and I've taken the first, second, and even third steps by now.  It's time to get serious about my plans!

I have a few ideas for making it easier on myself.

  • I've printed off a French description of Fibromyalgia to show people.
  • I'm planning on actually packing light for once in my life.
  • I'm hoping to shift when I take my medications little by little so that there won't be a sudden 5-hour shift the day I arrive.
  • I'm not planning to travel much in-country once I actually get to my destination city, Koutiala.
Hopefully I'll come up with a few more ideas before I leave!