Posted by: kristinej | August 5, 2009

August 4th

Work has really picked up this past week with the arrival of Jessica, one of our co-directors and founders. She is only in Mali for a month and has so many ideas of things that can be improved and worked on, so we’ve been taking on lots of new tasks. In preparation for a conference we’re putting on starting next week, I’ve been translating one of the speaker’s presentations from French to English, as well as putting together the conference guide, with the schedule, Malian cultural information, and a basic Bambara guide. I’m also trying to help out with the microfinance program, since our volunteer for that is gone until the end of August, and will be soon helping Project Muso to get its financial records in order. I’m also still attending my class each morning, and it’s going well, though I always have Lee Greenwood’s song, “Proud to be an American” running through my head, thanks to my patriotic pencil.

Besides work, daily life is settling into a routine for the most part. A couple of weeks ago our Malian director, Ichiaka, welcomed a new daughter, so last week we attended her baptism. Coincidentally, her name is also Fatimata, a very common name here in Mali. The baptism was an interesting experience. The morning ceremony is for the men, and they all pass the baby around and whisper blessings in its ear. The afternoon ceremony is for the women, and includes gift giving and performances by griots. The griots are women who come to the baptism basically just to make money, and they sing songs praising the mother and the baby, and also highlight gifts given by some of the guests, in an effort to get more money from them. It all seems a little warped to me, since very little of the attention actually seems to be on the mother and the baby.

Rainy season is still in full swing, with a storm usually once every day or two. No one has umbrellas (they would usually be useless anyway, with the wind), so everyone just stays inside until the storm finishes. Last week it started pouring right at the end of our community health worker meeting, so we were stuck there for another hour, and then when we left, the road outside was completely flooded, so we all ended up taking off our sandals, hiking up our skirts, and just wading through the water which at some points was up to our shins. This is just one of a growing number of times I’ve gotten wet – I’ve also been caught in a downpour while raining and while biking. My host family has grown accustomed to seeing me trudge in soaked to the bone with mud splattered up my legs and back.

Another thing that I’ve wanted to talk about is the Malian sense of humor. Becky has pointed out that they don’t really get sarcasm, but that they rather love to tease people. One thing that will make any Malian laugh is to make a joke about beans. It doesn’t even have to be clever, especially coming from a white person, but if you just something about how the person eats a lot of beans or farts a lot, they will crack up, no matter what. I haven’t gotten into the joking too much since my Bambara is still limited, but the other night I did get to crack my first joke. My host brother farted and my mom said to me, “Did you hear that, he just farted.” And I said, “Yes, I did hear it. He eats too many beans.” So simple, but they loved it! Another national traditional of sorts that goes along with this is what’s called “joking cousinship.” There are a limited number of last names in Mali, and there are certain groups that are related and others that “enemies.” So one of the first things someone will ask you when you meet them is your last name and then if you’re in the same group as them, they will say oh, that’s a good last name, we are friends. If you’re not in the same group, they will say, oh that’s not good, and will make jokes to insult you, which may or may not include cracks about how many beans you eat. Unfortunately, my last name is not that common, and people often don’t recognize it, thinking I said Traore or Diarra instead of Dau, so that plus the fact that I don’t know which last names are good or bad makes it hard to join in. But the cool thing about this joking cousinship is that some people believe that the reason that Mali is so peaceful is because the different ethnic groups are able to joke with each other and get along in that way.

One last note- I have found a food that reminds me very much of home – corn on the cob! They actually do grow corn here in Mali, though it’s very tough and more like what we feed out cows, but vendors along the road will shuck the corn right there and put it over the stove and you can buy it for about 10 cents. It could use a little butter and salt, but otherwise it’s very good!

A rare green space along my running route

A rare green space along my running route


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