I ni ce blog followers!! Mali has quickly become my home away from home. For the past week and a half I’ve been living in what we call “homestay” which is basically just an exchange program in villages around Bamako (Mali’s capital) to allow us to adapt to the language and culture faster than if we were to learn about the language and culture in a classroom setting alone. After a three day orientation in our Peace Corps training site (named Tubaniso), we were quickly shipped to our new homestay site. With virtually no language, we were forced to communicate any way possible. Though I’ve only been here two weeks now I feel very comfortable with the language in regards to my immediate needs.
My personal experience with my new family has been nothing short of amazing. My host mom is very VERY attentive to my needs and is very patient with my lack of grammar and vocabulary. Every day I get better and better at communicating with people in my village, but my mom and I speak a special language, there’s not much I can’t communicate with her with enough time…I’m very slow. I have three sisters, one of which I am named after: Mariam Diaby. This was a bit of an initial shock for me as my sisters didn’t initially interact much with me. When I was named after my oldest sister (age 18), I was worried she would be mad at me b/c I “took” her name in a sense. Actually, as I found out later it was an honor for her, and it actually made our relationship better…it allowed us to bond. My youngest sister is Bajene, and she was the first I bonded with as Bajene does most of my aid. Her job is to walk me around so I don’t get lost, clean my room, and buy the bread that I eat for breakfast. It definitely takes some getting used to to be waited on, but with time you start to feel the culture and not just observe it. It’s so not American culture to allow an 11 year old to clean YOUR room, however in Africa it’s an honor, so it’s important that I let her. I have two brothers, one of which is studying at the University in Bamako, so I was only able to spend a tiny bit of time with him and another whom I joke with on a daily basis. He’s 14 and is very curious about me, but very shy around me. His dad told my LCF (Language Culture Faciliator, my trainer) that he wanted me to teach my brother, Ibrahim, English. My first lesson was, “See ya later Alligator; After while Crocodile!!” It cracks me up every time!!
The change in diet is definitely a shock compared to the American diet for a couple reasons. One is most families (or at least many) actually eat the same meals every day. When I say the same meals, I don’t mean rice and a different type of sauce. I literally mean the exact same rice with the exact same sauce. There’s no variance and no pleasure in eating. Here you eat to fill your tummy. You eat as quickly as possible. Many times they prepare their food in ways so that the food can be swallowed easier, it can be slimier than what most Americans are used to. After a couple meals though, and some expectation of what you’ll be eating, it’s not so bad. I’ve actually come to enjoy our breakfast porriage, which they call “moni”. Another reason the diet is a shock is how they eat it here. Here they don’t have a plate per person. The way the culture here eats (generally speaking) is the women sit around a very large bowl of rice, beans, or some type of pasta and use their right hand to eat. Everyone eats from the same bowl and getting food all over your mouth is not rude. If they eat a piece of meat that has bone or bad part to it, they put it in their mouth, chew it up, and then spit out what they don’t want to swallow on the ground. They couldn’t figure out why I would swallow everything I put in my mouth. Many times they could tell I didn’t like what I was eating so they communicated to me that it was ok to just spit it out. I then communicated that in “Ameriki” , as we call the United States, when goes in does not come out. I said I would try to change, but it would be difficult for me to spit food out in front of other people. They just laughed.
Many times communicating can be frustrating. However, many times it adds a challenging twist to my day and I find it to be very fulfilling to attempt success at conveying what I want to say in a way other than speaking. One time I wanted to ask my mom to help me study money counting (as the system of money is very difficult to understand here). She couldn’t understand what I wanted so I role played with Bajene. I told Bajene that she was me and I was my mom. Then I did what I wanted Boncana (my mom) to do. THEN Boncana understood what I wanted. It was a very victorious feeling. These feelings feed me through the days that I find myself dragging.
For instance, there was a wedding the first week in homestay. I was so excited as I love to dance and everyone knows that at weddings, you “donke” (the word for “dance” in bambara) This wedding happened to be held on the one day we were LCF-less. LCFs provide us with a connection to the language and culture around us, and if we are ever unsure of what an interaction meant, we go to them and talk about it. I went dancing and thought I was doing nothing wrong when one of the women grabbed me and pulled me out. She told me “a banna!”, which means “it is done”! I lost so much sleep worrying that I made a total idiot of myself in front of half the women in the village (as there were only women at this ceremony) because I couldn’t talk to an LCF until the next day. Of course I later found out that I did nothing wrong and in fact they were very impressed with my dancing. The woman was just worried that I would get tired. It’s fascinating to me that the women here worry about me getting tired after 3 minutes of dancing, but I can watch a young woman dance for a half an hour straight with a baby tighted to her back by a small piece of cloth and no one says anything to her. On the one hand it’s comforting knowing that random strangers are constantly concerned with my health and well-being. However, on the other hand it can be frustrating at times that I am not allowed to work hard here. I am used to manual labor and hard core dancing. However, I’m a visitor, and a respected elder, and therefore am required (am allowed) to sit and relax.
The children here make everyday worth waking up to. Half the kids in this village of 9,000 know my name and scream it blocks away. “SARAH! SARAH!! MARIAM DIABY!! I NI CE!!!” They are so absolutely adorable! They long to touch my hand because they are convinced it will feel different as it looks so different from any hand they have ever seen before. The smiles on their faces are bigger than any child I’ve ever seen before. The more I learn about the work I am allowed to do, the more excited I am to start formulating projects. I know without a doubt that I will be doing many projects with the children of my village.
I don’t have much access to internet, however, I do get on skype occasionally, and actually will for sure be on skype any time during training that we are in Tubaniso, our Peace Corps training site. (There is wireless internet in Tubaniso.) Should anyone want to chat it up I’m usually on sometime between 4:00-6:00pm your time, which is 8:00-10:00pm my time.
Thanks for all your support, and I look forward to hearing from you about the happenings in the US!! “K’an ben kofe!!” (See you later!) from Mali!!