I’m coming home now, which I don’t think my mind has fully grasped yet. It’s a strange thing to have something you’ve anticipated for so long actually happening; I feel quite sad though am also excited. I’m not sure what to expect once I get back home- before leaving for Mali, I recall thinking that I probably wouldn’t miss my friends and family, which was not true at all, so who knows at this point.

Overhearing people’s conversations in the airport has been odd- I’m now accustomed to listening to people’s voices, but not understanding much of what’s being said. This white noise was a comfort, and I feel like a sneaky eavesdropper hearing English conversations. Someone bring me some ear plugs!

I’m very tired right now. I’m also feeling cold. Washington D.C. and then Seattle (my family!!!). Here are some things because my mind is unorganized.

Excited to: eat an avocado, get warm clothes fresh out of the dryer, not always feel like someone’s watching me, play cello, not eat rice every day, have a general sense of what’s going on at all times.

Will miss: the vibrant colors, the invariable call to prayer, delicious fresh bread, sunshine, the clear night sky and the bright stars, the greetings which are wonderfully sincere and extended, my family, my neighborhood, the challenges and the discoveries.

 

Things I’ve seen change about myself:

  • I improved my handwriting by a lot; handwriting is serious business in school here
  • I’ve become a much heavier sleeper thanks to Mr. seemingly nocturnal Happy (the goat) lodging directly below me
  • My Bambara skills have vastly improved; around November my family decided that my Bambara was passable enough for them to speak it with me all the time (very untrue), so, I’m quite proud of my speedy advancement in the fun-to-speak language. Example: Billybillyba means large, but you have to say it really quickly to be understood.
  • I’ve become more relaxed, or maybe just lazier. “Sit down, drink some tea, let’s talk a bit…” It was difficult for me at first to slow down my pace of life, but now I have to set aside an entire day to get a pretty simple task done.
  • I feel much self-responsible after staying here, and also believe that I’m better at accepting failure; both of these things were large parts of my day-to-day life in Bamako.
  • I can carry a big bucket of water on my head without spilling any, which is very tricky. You got to do what you got to do, though.

 

I do have one request: the posts from this blog will now stop coming, but I doubt that I will stop learning from my experience any time soon. I have so many misconceptions and stereotypes to unravel, and am brimming with stories, thoughts, and realizations. I wish that the people who are reading this, if they have any questions at all about my experience of Mali or studying abroad, would please approach me with your questions. I have so much to say! Granted, it is a definite possibility that I will not leave my house for maybe two days once I get home, but afterwards, let’s talk. Thanks for reading all these months, and hopefully you’ve learned some stuff about Mali vicariously through me. If you ever need some Bambara lessons, I’m your girl.

 

The Hot ToMALIs and our host families at the airport in Bamako- lots of tears! A truly incredible semester for all of us.

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These past three weeks have been quite busy for me and the time is going by insanely fast, only two more weeks left in Mali for me (Ahh!). I hope that everyone’s had a good holiday season- I’ve had an enjoyable but unconventional one. I’ll start two weekends ago:

The director of the Mali branch of the program, a sunny guy named Sounkalo, got married! Though we didn’t know it until it was happening, the four YES girls and I were the bridesmaids for the wedding. The night before, as is typical in America, there was a big dinner for all the family and close friends. For this occasion Sounkalo and his wife decided to wear the traditional Malian wedding attire, and on the actual wedding day wore the western-style tux and wedding gown. Being the bridesmaids, we were dressed up in beautiful hand-made shell jewelry and traditional Malian celebration clothes. There’s a process that involves mud and a lot of work to make the clothes, but I’m not sure how it’s actually done. The dinner was a lot of fun, especially getting dressed up like African princesses, and the wedding the next day was a blast.

Sounkalo and his wife at the wedding dinner

Traditional Malian festive clothes

The next weekend was Christmas! The YES girls and I all went to Ambassador Leonard’s house for Christmas lunch and festivities. We were in great company- the director of PeaceCorps Mali attended, along with some embassy workers close to the Ambassador. It was pleasant to eat American food again, and I’ve gained a considerable appreciation for the American cuisine. After lunch we sang Christmas carols, watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas, and exchanged stories.

Ambassador Leonard and the fab five YES girls

The week following Christmas was le composition, cue screams of terror. It’s the same as mid-terms in the US, except the whole week is super hyped up and all around stressful. But I got through it, and hopefully passed all of the exams, excepting physics, which I definitely failed.

This past week was the congé, which means I’ve been off of school. It’s been a nice and relaxing week, though I haven’t gotten as much work done as I had wanted to. It’s tricky staying on task in a house with so much activity! On Tuesday, I took a bunch of the kids to a local park called Cité des Enfants, which they were all very excited about. Before going, they told me about all the lions and giraffes that lived at the park, so I thought it was some kind of zoo, but it turned out that scattered throughout the park were hundreds of small statues of animals. Basically the same thing. On Wednesday morning, my favorite aunt here had her first baby. Everyone was rushing around in excitement, and I got to hold her- she’s really beautiful and very tiny!

So that brings us to this weekend. On Friday afternoon the YES crew and I headed out of Bamako about 2 hours, and camped overnight in a rural village. It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve ever done.  We danced late into the night with the village girls, and fell asleep under an incredible starry night sky. It was a relief to be out of the city for a little bit; the fresh air and empty land that seemed to go on forever cleared my head. Last night, while I was walking through the village, I asked a man who had been educated in Bamako but moved back out to the village, “Isn’t it lonely out here?” And he replied with, “Yes, sometimes. But in the aloneness, you get lost, and then you find yourself again.” I thought that was pretty profound, and I sort of wanted to camp out in the village for a couple weeks after he said that. But alas, we turned back to Bamako on Saturday, and waved goodbye to the giant baobab tree and friendly villagers.

The village of Kella, about 3 hours outside of Bamako

Packing it up!

I thought this was a really cute picture of Moussa. He learned how to clap! So precious!

Early Saturday morning, the other YES girls and I set out in the crisp (ish) air to a school of traditional Malian dance, called Maison des Arts.  The quaint couple that owned the place ushered us first onto the sunny terrace, filled us up with a delicious Malian breakfast, and we promptly began our dance lesson.

 

The husband of the couple, Makan, is an artistic genius and was surprisingly patient in teaching us to dance. The walls of their house, restaurant, and dance studio were covered by vibrant paintings of dancers, instruments and nature scenes, which were all done by him, Makan informed us. 

 

The dance we learned is called the degou-degou, and is the most basic one of the Malian traditional style. This dance from the ancient past- further back than I can imagine- was inspiring, jubilant, and physical. Into the afternoon we worked long and hard, pounding our feet into the floorboards in time with the four drummers who relentlessly kept us afloat. Having been classically trained in ballet, this invigorating new approach was liberating for me, and I felt no constraint, no restrictions. We mastered the dance by lunchtime, and us girls plan on presenting it for the state department once we get to Washington DC. Should be interesting!

 

Lunch was tasty, and everyone was sweaty and tired. Makan’s wife, an older woman from Marseilles, made sure we ate everything on our plates, and with a smile in her eyes grouchily told us that she “wouldn’t dance for anything.” After lunch we went back upstairs to the dance studio, and got a lesson on how to drum. My mom in the US always tells me that she believes in some past life, she was a professional drummer, and I laugh every time as she bangs her wrist against the steering wheel while listening to the radio. I have some back-pedaling to do now, however, because I feel confident that African drumming runs somewhere deep in my blood. So wild! So raw, so exhilarating! I’ll stop before I become over-excited about this. The next day my hands were puffy and red, but who cares. The price of passion!!

 

 Moving on now. At around 5 pm, the dance company started filing in, slowly warming up and stretching out as I remember well from my own dancing days. We got the privilege to watch their rehearsal, and what I saw was inspiring and magnificent. The imperfect yet overwhelming beauty of the corps as they moved together projected an unrefined devotion to every step they took. Their pain and their dedication to the story of this dance which outlines their history as a people was apparent in their eyes, and the way their feet pounded along to the resonating heat beat of the drums. After around two hours, the rehearsal abruptly stopped, and I felt like crying out, “Don’t stop moving! Please, keep going.”

 

Makan explained to us afterwards about the different movements of the piece, all choreographed by himself. The storyline of the dance follows a family, with a daughter who wants to marry a man her father doesn’t approve of. Makan told us how the dance encompasses traditional steps and music, though brings in new ideas about modernization, and how the younger generation is changing. He said to us, looking a bit downhearted, that the young ones now just want to get out of Mali, go anywhere else. “When they leave and do not come back, that is an ugly thing,” he said.

 

 It made me reflect on what I’ve heard many people ask me during my stay: why are you here in this country, we’re so poor, there’s nothing here.  It makes me a bit sad each time I hear it, and I always rush to say how much I enjoy it here, as if that could change someone’s mind. This lack of pride, nearing on disgust towards one’s mother country, has come as a surprise for me, and a frustration at that. How can I explain to someone how much they should prize their home, when everyday in geography class we learn that Africa is a continent defined by it’s problems, during school time students are callously berated for speaking Bambara among themselves, and in history we’ve learned nothing yet about Mali’s past, but instead are now focused on the technical revolution in Europe during the 18th century. I’m not saying that Mali doesn’t face many problems, but I don’t think she should be characterized solely by her worthlessness.

 

Mali has been an independent country for 51 years now, but the signs of colonization are still blatantly present, and a push to become westernized is an item of great importance among people my age- in the way they dress, speak, and consider their futures.

 

Learning to dance in the traditional Malian style was fun and interesting, and I’m glad I have this part of Mali’s culture to bring back with me and share. It made me consider, though: how many 16 year-old girls living in Bamako could dance the degou-degou? And once Makan closes up his studio for good, and all the young people move out of their villages in exchange to wear a suit into an office building, how long will it take before the dance is forgotten completely?

These are my neighbors, they’re laughing because I counted to three in Bambara before I took the picture.

Below to the left are the young ladies of my house, plus baby Moussa.    This is a friend of mine, and her baby. All the women here carry around babies on their backs- even I have a few times! Got lots of stares.These are the mud-bricks that most houses here are made out of, drying in the sun. Most of my neighborhood looks like repetitions of this picture.

This is the small boutique just down the way from my house- there are small stores like this on every corner, selling soap, bread, candies, and tea. Not quite Whole Foods!Future wife of Mr. Happy? Couldn’t exclude a goat picture. This is the soccer field close to my house, in the evening there are games and all the men come to watch. Fun stuff!

Happy thanksgiving, all! I am feeling sad about not being able to celebrate in the US today with my family, though incidentally there was a bathem (baby naming ceremony) hosted at my house yesterday, so that was a sufficient substitute for me- lots of food, many speeches, and tons of family around.

Today, while I was running around a dusty field in this truly unreasonable heat for gym class, I was thinking of all the things I’m thankful for. I had more time to think on the subject later, while driving home from class, when our car broke down and I had to take the city bus home (which is in actuality a cart hitched onto a motor-scooter). But that’s another story.

What came to mind first and foremost is my host family. After a little over two months now, I feel that they are exactly that to me- a family. I remember before leaving for Mali I felt anxiety about how I would be able to fit into a place so different from where I came from. My host family, and in particular my host mom, a woman who has taught me strength, resilience, and humor, have all welcomed me with incredible generosity. I feel thankful that they have yet to grow weary of my never-ending questions, or if they have, that they hide it well.

Of course, I cannot forget how thankful I am for my family in the US. They have given me so much encouragement throughout my journey here, and whenever I’m crying and thinking about how I’d like to go home, I remember them telling me how proud they are, and I wipe my nose and go do some cleaning.

Another big thing that’s come to my attention is how thankful I am to be an American. I know that sounds corny, and I’ve never thought of myself as much of a patriot, but I’ve realized after living in Mali what tremendous privileges one immediately has just by being born in the US. It makes me feel, along with a sense of gratitude for my nationality, a sense of responsibility. So many of my friends and classmates here absolutely worship the US, and harbor dreams of going there someday. I never thought before leaving how lucky I am just to be American, and I think it’s something that we as citizens of the United States need to reflect on, and need to appreciate more.

Finally, I am thankful for you, my readers of this blog. I’ve learned after a little of two months now, that just trying- trying to speak Bambara, trying to dance the togo wele, trying to cook facoy for my family- it’s all that I can really do here, and it goes a long way. So maybe if you are reading this, trying to understand Mali vicariously through me, then I am thankful for that. Mali, after all, is not quite so different as one would think.

Is what food poisoning felt like!

Around four am on Sunday morning I started having diarrhea and throwing up like there was no tomorrow, though reasoned in my fever-stricken and confused state that it had to pass by morning, so I spent the night whimpering around in misery.

By 11 am on Sunday morning, I was seriously dehydrated, and completely spent of all energy. I still planned on resting in my room for the day, not thinking that it was too bad. I called from my window to one of the girls to bring me a banana, and as soon as she entered my room she left again, yelling out for my host-mom to come. They all quickly concluded that I looked horrible, and needed to go to the hospital. The in-country coordinator of my program, Sounkalo, came to my house and took me there.

The hospital, Polyclinique International de Bamako, is pretty close to where I live, but the drive over on the bumpy unpaved roads caused me some additional nausea. Once we got there, I was ushered into an office, where the doctor (with Sounkalo translating, thank goodness for me) quizzed me on the normal doctor questions. The moment that it was discovered that my last meal eaten was goat head, the doctor seemed to come upon a great understanding. Goat head, as I understand it, is notorious for doling out diarrhea and vomiting aplenty, and the treatment plan was pretty simple.

For the rest of Sunday I slept, read a magazine proclaiming the wonders of the safari in Botswana called Discover Botswana (I’m convinced, and now really want to visit), and tried to recall all the lyrics from the tracks of Genius Loves Company (difficult). They stuck a few IVs in me with antibiotics, vitamins, and water, which was my first time having that done. The IV was hung on a pole above me, and in my dazed state, I did not realize that I only needed to unhook it in order to have mobility. So, for the majority of Sunday, I felt like a dog chained to a house, and held my bathroom needs in. Not my smartest moment!

The doctors and nurses there were all incredibly nice to me, even when they had to ask me four or five times to lay down because I was too busy trying to explain to them my dream (yes, it happened). There was one nurse in particular who was very kind, and sometimes would just sit with me and watch the IV drip slowly down and travel into my vein. Whenever my blankets would become tangled up, she would tuck me in again, and she kept me from ever feeling too alone or afraid.

I stayed the night at the hospital, and when I woke on Monday morning I felt much, much better. My host-mom came to visit me in the morning, and it was actually a great bonding time for us. She spoke playfully about the second wife’s incapabilities in the kitchen, which made me laugh. She had to go back to work after a few hours, but I was glad for her company.

On Monday afternoon, I was feeling very ready to go home, and had bit of a fit when one doctor came in and told me I had to stay the night again. After I got really worked up he explained that he was joking, and I could leave in good time. Not cool, doctor!

When I got back to my house all the kids were glad to see me, and I was equally happy to see all of them. I’ve been sleeping a lot lately, and have resolved to stay away from goat head from now on.  An interesting change of routine it proved to be, and I was able to see even another new side of Mali- the hospital! I’m glad to have experienced it, and so relieved that I am better, but hopefully I will not be going back any time soon!

The Fete du Tabaski was on Sunday, and is the celebration following Ramadan. From what I understand, the day is for asking for forgiveness from one’s family and friends, and sending good wishes for the future.
The day started early for me; I woke up at 6 am and donned my new bazin, which basically means fancy clothes. On Friday evening several aunts arrived with their children in tow to stay over until Monday, so our household was already full of children’s excited play at the early hour. All of the women had formed a great circle on the terrace and after exchanging the typical morning salutations to all, I was given a chair, a knife, and a basket full of yams. For the next few hours I listened their ebullient chatter and gossip whilst chopping yams and peeling garlic.
Once the sun was hot in the sky a few hours later, the excitement began when Salif, the father of the household, ascended from his chamber and announced that the sacrifice would commence. All of the children, around twenty in number, scrambled out to the street to watch the event. I looked on, a bit queasy, as Salif slit the throat of the goat and blood quickly turned the orange earth into a deep shade of red. This same scene was unfolding outside the houses of each neighbor simultaneously, and everyone was giddy, calling out good wishes across the street to one another. The young men of the house next strung up the goat to the garage door, cutting it apart and separating the meat. I looked on the entire time, something I must say I take pride in. The whole goat-cutting affair took around an hour, and afterwards, the preparation of food took on a rapid speed. Many of the women brought with them small grills to place over the charcoal clavicles, and smoke and the smell of crispy peppered meat quickly filled the morning air. All the children, myself included, waited impatiently for the meat to be doled out, for it was now ten o’ clock and our tummies were growling. After everyone had been well fed (and everyone had been, for the meat was plentiful), I set out with the younger girls to make sambe sambe around the neighborhood. Sambe sambe is an exchange of wishes for good health and prosperity, and after a child finishes, the expectation is that the adult will give them a small bit of money. It goes like this:

Child: E sambe sambe
Adult: Amiina (something of an acceptance, I gather)
Child: Sii tigi yala (may you live long)
Adult: Amiina
Child: Ba tigi yala (may your mother live long)
Adult: Amiina
Child: Fa tigi yala (may your father live long)
Adult: Amiina
Child: Koro tigi yala (may your brothers live long)
Adult: Amiina
Child: A la ka saw chaya (may we meet later in life)
Adult: Amiina may

This exchange can go on for a long time, but that’s all I was able to do. Everyone was really excited when I made sambe sambe to them, and after a while the girls began to exploit me by pushing me to the front of the group to say it, so as they would collect more money. The whole thing, though, struck me as very sweet. More often than not we would all just set inside some stranger’s house for a while, eating their goat hot off the fire and watching the older women prepare food, until we felt ready to go onto the next home. This openness that everyone offered up so easily is something I’m not accustomed to.
After perhaps two hours of meandering about the neighborhood, we returned home and ate cous cous, fried plantains, and of course, goat. I learned the phrase, N cono kera n bas a go ye, which means something like, “I’m so full that I have a child in my stomach.” I think that sums up how much I ate on Sunday. Food baby extreme. The concept of saving food to eat later is not one in practice here, and I have yet to enter a house with a refrigerator in it. As a result, what is cooked must all be eaten, and everyone readily tells me.
At midday all the men donned their traditional robes and, with prayer mats in tow, walked to the local mosque. I looked on from the roof of my house at the river of men that formed in the streets, all heading in solidarity towards the mosque. Soon after, the steady call to prayer rang out, and then all was silent again in the streets except for perhaps the faint mutterings of prayer.
The rest of the day was spent hanging around with the family, talking, resting, playing cards, making tea, and eating, always eating. In the nighttime, there was a party in my schoolyard that I attended with some friends. It was pretty crazy, and I didn’t get home until three in the morning! Two or three boys would go to the center of the field, and everyone would form a giant circle around them. They would dance fanatically until the crowd declared a winner by means of yelling and clapping. It was all very amusing, until my friends insisted that I go to the center! I eventually gave in and delighted many, I suppose, by showing off some American moves. I’m still not sure how I feel about the whole situation.
It was fascinating for me to observe this holiday, and I’m very thankful that I got to be here to participate in it. The only thing I’m not pleased with is the frequent severed goat tail that can be found in the streets, a dusty memory of Sunday’s festivities.

Hello, readers. It has been a while since I’ve posted, though I can’t say that I’ve been terribly busy. My life is feeling very Malian indeed lately, and it’s wonderful, and November is here! What a thing to behold.

I haven’t the organization this week to put together some large topic to post on, so I’ve decided to share with you some small anecdotes from my time here.

 

Why I Dislike Coal:

Often I am reminded of camping trips during the summer time in the US, when all of the kids are sitting around the fire, staring intently into the red coals before them. Eventually, someone cannot resist throwing some various items into the flames, to see them sizzle or melt or pop up and crackle like a tiny firework. Perhaps it is a paper plate, a soda can, or a serving of vegetables you can lie to your mother about having eaten. Thousands of miles away in Bamako this exciting experimentation with fire is a nightly routine, the coals that warm the tea being equivalent to the camp fire. First the items will start out small; the younger boys will throw in a few plants when their mom looks away. Next, perhaps some pieces of plastic, or your little sister’s favorite toy. Into the heat it all goes, and creates such interesting scents! Once the adults have surrendered against the muggy heat and persistent mosquitoes to retire inside, the games truly begin, and the tea is altogether forgotten. The final treat of the night is to pour cool water over the coals, what a delightful sound!

Despite how entertaining this is for the young population of my household, I honestly wish they would get some stovetops up in here, because it’s only fun when I’m camping.

 

Planting Trees

Earlier this week, I went with the other Americans to a village close by which serves as a large orphanage for abandoned children. The tour of the various compounds, schools, and sports fields was impressive, and I enjoyed getting to see a bit of the Malian countryside. There is an interesting weather phenomenon here called Benea, which is a gray haze that coats the sky in every direction, enveloping the sun, sort of like sticky fog. It makes me think of the moments when you’ve just woken up and the lines are still blurred between your dreams and your thoughts. Anyhow, on the day I went to the orphanage, the Benea was pressing heavily down on the back of Bamako. Looking out the window of the bus at the endless fields of tall green grass and an occasional friendly tree as the Benea gradually melted away, I went very peaceful. I think that Mali is a beautiful country, even if I do not know her well.

After the tour was over, the head of the orphanage requested that us five American students each plant trees around the property. So, with a well-used shovel thing and some soil that was more like gravel, I got down on my knees and planted two small trees into the Malian earth. Though it was something very small, I felt happy about having left my mark, and perhaps I will return someday when the tree has grown tall.

 

Rice (it’s what’s for dinner)

Evolution at its’ finest, I have decided, is the tiny worms which crawl around uncooked rice, being the exact same color and size as a grain of rice. A job here which will never be finished is sifting through the rice, searching out these tiny worms and small pieces of wood that inexplicably seem to replenish themselves during the process of the search. Because rice is the major staple here, each night I go to my bedroom with chalky-white hands after having helped our cook, Mariam, complete the task. The members of my family seem to think it’s very funny that I can clean the rice at all, despite that it’s a fairly mindless job. I explained to my host siblings that in my home, we buy rice that is already clean, but I do not think that they understood. I will take home with me such interesting appreciations; for clean rice, for cool nights, for free smiles, and above all else for my family.

Rice is the base of most every meal, and is topped by some kind of sauce with meat. Sauce d’arachide, or peanut sauce, is the most common one, though doesn’t taste much at all like peanuts. Another thing I frequently eat here is a mixture of cut up yams and pieces of goat meat swimming in a sauce that tastes a bit like wet sauce in the US. Since there isn’t any rice to eat the sauce with, one eats this meal with bread. All of the bread here is the French-style baguette, and is crazy long! It is folded up and sold by the boulangeries early each morning.

We mostly eat goat meat, which I’ve gotten used to by now and enjoy. Sometimes we eat chicken, which is much different than in the US. One buys the chicken whole, and guts it out, cleans it with soap, and prepares it from there. This past weekend my host-mom thought it was hilarious that I wasn’t into cleaning out the chicken insides.  Pork is never eaten, since the vast majority of Malians are Muslim. My 9 year old host brother was shocked when I told him that Americans eat pig, and thought that I was joking for a good while.

One eats with their hands for each meal, which was initially difficult but I think I’ve got it down pretty good now. The technique is to take a small bit of food, put it in the center of your palm, and roll it together to make it more compact. You then slide it up to your fingertips, and put all four fingers in your mouth to eat. This method of eating is very efficient, and saves a lot of dishes. I think I’m going to try and convince my family to take up this eating-style once I return home- much less dish duty! There’s one big platter for everyone under the age of twenty, which at dinnertime is around twelve or more people. Everyone here adores baby Moussa, but nobody wants to be the one stuck holding him for dinnertime. Holding a squirming baby and eating with so many other people (sort of scrambling for food) off of one platter is pretty tricky. The left-hand is never used, ever. I run into a problem with this when I’m trying to cut apart a piece of meat with just one hand. When the meat is tough, this requires a fair amount of coordination!

One of the first phrases I learned in Bambara upon my arrival was N Fara, which means, “I’m full.” It remains one of the most important phrases in my vocabulary. Everyone loves to grab my forearm or cheek to point out how little fat I have, and proclaim that it is their urgent duty in life to make sure that I eat as much as possible from here on out. While health-wise this renders me worried, it’s not too much of a problem because I absolutely love the Malian cuisine!  The flavors are all so wonderful and hopefully I’ll be able to duplicate the meals upon my return to the US!

6:45 Wake up by means of our goat baa-ing, the neighbor’s rooster sounding off (which isn’t just a one-time thing at sunrise, like in the movies. I hear that rooster all day long), the call to prayer from the local mosque, or a baby crying. On the off chance that all of these things fail, my alarm clock is the final assurance that I’ll get up.

7:05 Head downstairs and take breakfast, which consists of a loaf of bread and warm milk. All the milk here is powdered, and it’s a big affair each morning as to who gets to mix the milk. I tried it once, and it’s pretty difficult to get all the chunks out and make sure that the final product is the right balance of water, powdered milk, sugar, and coffee.

7:20 Get in the car with Meena, Miriam, and Sidiki. First we head to the preschool and drop off Meena, and next drive to the market and let out Miriam, the house cook. She buys all the ingredients for the meals of the day there. Finally, we rush off to Ecole du Progres, my high school.

7:50 The students have all trickled in by now, even though school technically begins at 7:30. Typically there is one class that lasts for two hours, then a one-hour class. Some days, though, there is one three-hour class in the morning. If students in the United States have trouble focusing for a one-hour long class, I would like to see them try sitting through a three-hour class. Lots of idle time for thinking!

10:30 Break time, during which I head to the cantina with my friends. The cantina is the break hot spot for the entire school (about 200 students), and it’s comprised of a couple shacks pulled together. If you want to buy a drink or sandwich before the break is over, you have to be fairly physical about pushing your way up to the bar.  However, the reward is so wonderful! They sell one of my favorite things here, a deep maroon colored drink called bissap, which is sold frozen in a baggie. To eat/drink it, you tear off one end of the bag and become blissfully cooled down as you consume it. The best part is, the fruity and gingery concoction costs only 100 CFA, which is equivalent to about 40 cents.

10:50 Class resumes and lasts for two hours. One of my tiny meditations here is watching the chalkboard being cleaned, until it is perfectly green again, like it’s brand new.

12:50 Return home quickly, in hopes that I won’t miss all the good food. The younger kids all get home just a few minutes earlier than me, and some days go ahead and start eating. Those days are not great, because then I’m stuck with some nice bland rice for lunch.

1:30ish Go upstairs and take a little nap, just like my mama back home. I’m always exhausted at this point in the day!

2:00 It varies, from here on out. Sometimes I do some laundry (I think I should get a badge that says “expert hand-washer”), and oftentimes I take a walk around the neighborhood with the older girls. If it’s a really hot day like today, we’ll all visit my friend’s pool, which is just a few houses up the street.

3:00 On Thursdays and Fridays, I go back to school until 5:00 for the evening class. On Mondays-Wednesdays, though, I have a French teacher who comes to our house and helps me with homework and my general questions and frustrations with the counterintuitive language that is French.

5:20 With all the Diarra kids forming a mob-like group, we march a little ways to the stand on the side of the road which sells patté, which is like a little pie stuffed with meat and eggs and mayonnaise. A quick word on mayonnaise: it is so big here! People put mayonnaise on everything. I submitted to dealing with eating it, after all the strange looks I got after flicking it off my food. Anyhow, we walk back home and watch Curious George on TV and eat patté, and everyone is a happy camper at this time.

7:30 Eat dinner while the light is quickly fading from Bamako. The second wife of my host-father, who is the mother of all the younger kids who live here, has recruited me to teach English to all her children. So after dinner, all of the kids gather around and dutifully repeat numbers, animal names, and simple phrases in English back to me. Even the baby has to listen in.

9:00 Wash up, brush my teeth, and quickly fall asleep.

 

And that is a typical weekday for an American girl living in Bamako, Mali! Even though I’m thousands of miles away from my home, life here is not quite so different as one would think.

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