Posted by: kristinej | February 17, 2010

February 17th

I know I spend a lot of time describing my various interactions with Malians, but I just can’t get over how different they are from a typical interaction with an American.  Some examples:

Yesterday I was walking through Yirimadjo to get my bus to work, and a woman walking next to me asked my name, etc, and then started giving me blessings:  May you have good luck in your activities today, May you have a safe trip there and back, May you have a pleasant day, etc.  I responded as best I could: May you have a peaceful day, May you have a long and healthy life.  But really, how often in the US does a perfect stranger start giving you these really nice blessings?

Another day I was given the front seat on the sotrama, so I was sitting between the driver and another man.  We introduced each other and the man on my right asked if I knew what ethnic group he was, based on his last name.  Fortunately for me, I DID actually know – he was Dogon, and since we had just been hiking in that region I had learned that that was a typical last name.  I also knew how to say “Dogon” in Bambara – he was very impressed.  Then the driver started the usual marriage conversation (I was married on this particular day) and said that he wanted me to find him an American wife so that he could go to America with her.  I told him that I would try, but that most American women like to choose their own husbands.  He didn’t like that, but he did end up giving me a free ride, saying that he had very much enjoyed our conversation.  That was a first, and a far cry from a few months ago when I got in a yelling match with a driver trying to overcharge me!

This is probably the best:  I was walking home when I met a lady who wanted to know my name, etc, and was very impressed with my Bambara skills.  We continued chatting a bit and then as we came up to my door she started singing and immediately I knew that she was a griot (people who come to weddings and baptisms and sing praises to the people there, in hopes of getting money from them.  I hate them).  She was singing in French, something to the effect of “Fatumata is very pretty, Fatumata is very intelligent.”  Nice sentiments, but I wasn’t about to give her any money, so I just said “merci” and slid into our compound.  The rest of the evening my host brother periodically broke into renditions of “Fatumata is very pretty…”

And it’s not only my interactions with Malians that are so different, but even those with the other Americans here.  We basically speak a garbled language of French, English, and Bambara that goes something like this:  I took the sotrama (bus) along the gidron (paved road) to suguba (the big market) because I wanted to buy some new fini (fabric).  The prendticket (fare collector) didn’t stop where I wanted to jigi (get off) so I had to walk an extra distance.  Then the finitigi (fabric seller) was harassing me, so I told him I had to reflechir (think about it) and that I wanted to yalayala (wander) for awhile.



  1. Kris, My goodness, I think you have started a new language. That is amazing. Maybe I can learn a few words when you get back. Stay safe!! Robby

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