Tuesday, Nov. 22: This morning I went to Dialakoroba with Abou to see how the school construction was progressing. Because of the condition of the roads, the trip takes more than one hour, even though it’s less than 40 miles away. The main track really takes a beating during the rainy season because of the number of heavy trucks that use the route as a shortcut from the Ivory Coast to Bamako. You can see places where trucks have gotten stuck and created huge ruts trying to get out. The government has promised to pave the road next year, but no one is holding his breath.

The smaller side roads are sometimes less torn up, but so narrow we have to fold in the side mirrors so the trees don’t break them off.

Everyone is hard at work when we arrive at the building site. Donkeys trot back and forth between the piles of sand and the foundation, pulling carts full of sand and gravel. Women from the village, balancing buckets on their heads, carry water from the well behind the oldest school building and empty it into a cinder-block tank near the foundation, where it will be used to make the concrete for the cement slab and lower walls.

It is so gratifying to see the enthusiasm of the entire village. It is truly a community project, with a large number of villagers helping with some part of the work. There is not a machine in sight. This is all being done by hand. I took photographs to document as much as possible of the step-by-step construction before I have to leave, and Abou has promised to keep me updated with photos and e-mails after I return to the U.S. It doesn’t seem possible that my stay is already half over.

We were actually back in Kolondieba in time for lunch, and I spent a good part of the afternoon printing out the photographs that I had taken. I brought my own little printer, because it is so convenient to be able to print digital photos on the spot. I’ll make another set for myself when I return home. Needless to say, there are no drugstores with Kodak Photo Centers here. I asked Abou if I could make a poster or display of the photos of the school construction, and he gave me the go-ahead to use a bulletin board in the vestibule of the sponsorship offices.

Wednesday, Nov. 23: Most of the day today was spent with the entire staff in meetings with Modibo Bamadio, from the Bamako office, who is in charge of monitoring and evaluating STC’s programs. The handouts were all in French, but having a written list of topics to follow made it easier for me to follow the discussions — at least the basics, though not necessarily the fine points. STC has undoubtedly been the most effective NGO in the Kolondieba district, and they are constantly re-evaluating programs to identify problems and make their projects more effective. As a result, more and more villages are asking STC for additional classrooms and support with their education, health and nutrition programs.

Thursday, Nov. 24: It’s Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., but just another working day here. I borrowed Abou’s computer and e-mail hookup and finally sent off an e-mail to a large group of friends, relatives and local newspapers, bringing people up to speed on the status of the school construction. There’s no Internet connection here so I can’t access my own e-mail account.

With all my school construction pictures printed out, I covered more than half the bulletin board with photographs, complete with captions in French and English. It received favorable comments from everyone going by, and it can be passed on to the school later.

To Be Continued.