Posted by: kristinej | September 7, 2009

September 7th

I thought it was rainy season before, but this past week it has been raining even more than before, to the point that my running paths have become creeks and our electricity, which runs underground, has been out for the last week.  On the bright side, the rain brings cool weather and lots of greenery, which I’m trying to enjoy before Mali turns dry and dusty again in a few months.

I recently have been finding that I can pick up more and more words in Bambara, and can even manage to carry out a few basic conversations.  For instance, in the market yesterday a woman greeted me and asked how I was, how my family was, how my children were (to which I replied, they are very fine), and then what my name was.  When she heard that my last name was Daou, she said, “Oh, Daou is bad!  I am Coulibaly, Coulibaly is good!”  So I replied, “No, Daou is good, Coulibaly is bad!”  She, and everyone around her, got a kick out of even that simple exchange, remarking, “Look, she can speak Bambara!”  Next time if I can think quick enough I’ll have to throw in a bean joke.

As I’m picking up more Bambara I’m realizing what a cute language it is, and how it is really is much more simple than English or French.  One word in Bambara can have five or ten meanings in English.  Also, many words are just compounds of other words, and once you figure that out it can be rather amusing.  For instance, I just learned the word for diarhhea, which is “konoboli,” or literally, “stomach running.”  For someone whose stomach is constantly gurgling, this makes perfect sense!  Other examples include “yiriden,” which means fruit, or literally child of the tree, and “negeso”, which means bike, or literally iron horse.  My favorite Bambara word by far is “jigi” (think Will Smith’s song), which means “to come down” and is used for a wide range of things, from getting off the bus to giving birth.  I just love telling a taxi driver, “I’m going to jigi here.”  Another useful word is tigi, which literally means “the owner of.”  This too can be used for a wide range of things.  The dugutigi (literally, owner of the town) is the community leader, a wasotigi (literally, owner of the sweet potatoes) means a sweet potato seller, and my favorite, waritigi (owner of the money) means a rich person.  I just learned that word a few days ago and immediately heard several people call me it as I walked through the big market yesterday.  Here in Mali “white person” is synonymous with “rich person.”

Another great thing about Bambara is the blessings.  I may have talked about this before, but whenever you say goodbye to someone you add blessings, basically an elongated version of saying “Have a nice day” in English.  There are also lots of specific blessings for weddings, funerals, people who are sick, etc.  All of the blessings start with “Ala ka,” as in “May God…”  Here are few examples:  When you say goodbye to someone during the day, you might say “May you have a peaceful day,” “May your day end well,” or “May you have an easy day.”  If you see someone going to the market to sell, you might wish them good luck in their activities, and after buying something in the market I always tell the vendor, “Ala ka sugu ba” which means “may you have a big market” (may you sell a lot today).   To someone who is sick, you might say, “May God prevent the badness from getting worse,” “May you return to how you were,” “ May God reduce your suffering,” or “May something good come out of your suffering.”  Finally, at nighttime you might wish someone a peaceful night, or say “May we come out of the night.”  My favorite is “Ala ka kelen kelen wuli,” which means literally, may we rise one by one.  I have heard two different explanations for this: One, that you want everyone to rise individually because if everyone rises at once during the night it means that something bad has happened.  Two, that you want everyone to rise at different times because there’s only one bathroom.  So quite different messages, but I have to say that both make good sense!

I have been working on learning just a few blessings for common situations, but there are some people, elders especially, who can, and do, give 10 or 15 blessings at a time, sometimes blessings that not even Bambara speakers understand the meaning of!  It’s an interesting and, I think, valuable tradition that hopefully doesn’t get lost with globalization and the increasing pervasiveness of tvs, computers, and cell phones.

On a final note, I found out the other day that my name, Fatoumata, comes from “Fatima,” who was the daughter of the prophet Mohammed.  Also, apparently Mali means “hippo” in Bambara, and though that’s not actually where Mali’s name came from, I find this very amusing since I have long claimed hippos to be my favorite animal!

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