Posted by: kristinej | September 3, 2009

September 3rd

It’s September now, and for the first time in however many years, I’m not starting classes! It’s a little weird hearing from friends that are heading back to Penn or moving on to law school, but I was definitely ready for a break. Since my last few posts have been about all the things we talked about in the training, I thought I would now make some different observations about things here and about what I’ve been up to.

First, I fasted for the first time ever on Sunday. I got up at 3:30 AM to eat rice, bread, and milk with my family, and then went back to bed. Luckily it was a really cool day, so it wasn’t too bad, and I actually made it until late afternoon without drinking anything either. Not drinking was the worst part; I actually wasn’t all that hungry, and even when we broke fast with millet porridge, black eyed peas, and later rice and sauce, I found I couldn’t even eat as much as I had thought I would. I’m thinking about doing it again this Sunday, although my host mom said that she hopes that it’s hot and sunny so that it’s harder, but if it is I will definitely be drinking water all day. To pass some time that day, I asked the girl who works at our house to braid my hair. She did a good job, and though it looks kind of weird on a white person, I’ve been told that I pull it off pretty well, and it’s been really nice having it pulled back and not having to worry about it.

As part of the training, we invited the fellows to have lunch at our houses with our families, so a couple of weeks ago about 5 or 6 fellows came over for yassa (my favorite – an onion sauce over rice) and fish. It was fun for them to be able to see what a Malian household looks like and I think my host mom enjoyed talking with them. One of our community health workers was also there, and she got into a big conversation with one of the girls from Canada about how they deal with the cold. They’ve heard how cold it is, but I think it’s hard to imagine bundling up and trudging through the snow. It was also interesting because they were asking what we do for food in the winter, and so we tried to explain how you can freeze things or that we can buy pretty much any fruit or vegetable at the store because they are imported from warmer places. It was a bit of a reminder how different things are here. I’ve actually enjoyed how you eat what’s in season here and how I can actually see where the food comes from. For instance, mango season ended right after I got here, so you can’t find a mango anywhere, but now there are oranges and bananas everywhere. Likewise, they recently planted what used to be a soccer field across from my house with peanuts and gumbo, so I have watched the plants grow and now I actually know where peanuts come from!

Last week I had a meeting in Bamako that I went to with Jessica, and we met two other team members at the new Radisson Hotel there. It’s a really nice hotel, nice even for the US, I think, and I actually felt a bit of reverse culture shock being there because when you’re inside you could be in the US or Europe, but yet you know that just a block away there are people begging and living in shacks with no water or electricity. I largely try to avoid those types of places because it’s hard to one minute be somewhere with air conditioning and big screen tvs and running water and then the next minute be back at home with my hole in the ground and bucket showers. I honestly wouldn’t want to live like that in Mali, because then what’s the point? You might as well have just stayed in the US.

I think I’ve talked about the sotramas here, the green buses that constitute public transportation. Sometimes I really enjoy taking them because you never know what you’re going to see, and other times it’s really awful because you’re crammed in there with a large Malian woman sitting on half of your lap and your legs are propped up on a bag of rice. For example:

– I was on the sotrama one day when the prendticket (the guy who collects the money) swung the door open to let someone out and the whole door just fell off. I found this really funny, for some reason, especially when they just slid the whole door behind the drivers’ seat and kept going. Lots of sotramas just don’t have doors at all, and I try to avoid sitting right next to the opening, since I can clearly see us hitting a bump or swerving and me just falling right out (possibly into a sewer).
– After sitting down with Jess one day, she informed me that there were chickens under my seat. People use the sotramas to get to the market where they sell things, so you’ll see just about anything on there.
– Last weekend I was on the sotrama when a sketchy man tried to steal my cell phone out of my pocket by reaching his hand into my pocket. Luckily I noticed and grabbed my phone, and the guy jumped up and got off right away.
– Another time the prendticket told me that the sotrama was going to my town, and I realized a bit too late that it wasn’t, so I said something and then the other Malians started yelling at him to stop and let me off. So I got off and walked quickly away without paying, and he didn’t follow me so he obviously knew that he had told me the wrong thing. Luckily I wasn’t too far from where I needed to be.


My lovely African-style braids

Example of a typical sotrama in Mali

Example of a typical sotrama in Mali



  1. love the braids, you could pass as an island girl. the buses remind me of the mini vans in Barbados only there they are white or yellow. a tip: don’t leave the braids in too long, they tend to break the hair.

    Aunt Kathy

  2. Glad you tried the fasting and not me. I like to eat too much. Ha!!. The braids are cool. Glad you had your hand on your phone. Always keep your eyes open. You never know. I am curious. What is gumbo? I thought it was a type of soup. It must be some kind of vegetable or they are in the peanut family. . The sotramas remind of the sixties and all the wild volkswagon buses. Anyway , be safe Robby

  3. I thought gumbo was soup too, but i guess it’s the name of a vegetable too? It’s green vegetable with ridges, and supposedly it’s really good for you.

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