Bonjour and I ni sogoma! Things in Mali are going really well; I find it hard to believe that October is already upon us.

This week has been as wonderful as any, though these past few days have been hot. After I returned home from school on Friday, I walked into the living room to find all the little ones sprawled out on the carpet, just laying there watching the fan’s lazy rotations. I said to them in French, “It’s a beautiful day, you guys! Go outside and play!” They all just gave me this look that said, you are a fool if you think people can actually function in this nonsense heat. However, they wriggled around to make a spot for me on the carpet, and I admittedly didn’t move for a good couple hours.

Lately, I’ve been taking walks around the neighborhood during my down time. I find that it’s a great way to see the area and interact with people. Most everyone I come across is just so friendly– the typical greeting here is to start with a “hello” and a few “how-are-yous?” and then move on to “how is your family?” and sometimes even go through asking about all the individual family members. The whole thing is a very sweet, good-humored exchange. When people on the streets find out that I have a little bit of Bambara knowledge, you would’ve thought they just won the lottery, they’re so excited. It’s not uncommon for me to have women laughing and shouting with glee after I say I togo Aleema (My name is Aleema, which is my Malian nickname).

Which brings me to another topic: the communication here. I remember before leaving the US, I was told to be conscious of indirect communication while I studied abroad, and that oftentimes my host-family or friends would not tell me that they’re unhappy with me. However, I have found the communication here to be quite the opposite- it is very direct. The people like to voice their opinions, and they want to make sure everybody is hearing them. Pretty much everyday at school there is some type of yelling-match between teacher and student about a difference of opinions, though it seems to me that for most of these disputes neither of the arguers really cares much about the subject at hand. For example, just on Friday, one of my teachers was talking to us about how the girls must always wear skirts going past their knees at school. One girl, Nana, started full-on screaming about how unfair this was, and it quickly turned into a battle-royale between student and teacher for a good fifteen minutes. However, I figure that neither really had much at stake in this argument, because no one conforms to the dress code, and the teachers don’t ever seem to care (except for the sake of arguing, in this case).

The amount of yelling that goes on here, however, is surpassed by the abundant laughter and shouts of delight. People here laugh loudly and honestly, and I can never help but join in, even if I have no idea what I’m laughing at. This kind of infectious, genuine joy that so many of the people here possess has made me quickly fall in love with this country and its’ citizens.

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(I just made up that nickname for Bamako, don’t go thinking that people here call it that or anything.)

More pictures! They’re a bit random; the road outside my home, unlucky goat, happy goat, my classroom at school, and the ladies here cooking a typically wonderful meal!

 

Bon soir! Today is Friday, and this week has been somewhat of a vacation for me, because school ended early on Wednesday and won’t recommence until Monday. This is because yesterday, September 22nd, was the Malian Independence day! It is referred to here as the “Fête du Mali” (which literally translates to Party of Mali), and was a really great time!

The driver and I set out in the morning to go watch the festivities happening in the city center. However, we got a little turned around, and ended up driving around Bamako for an hour or so. This was a good chance for me to see different parts of the city than I have before, and also was some quality driver-Hope bonding time. He asked me to marry him a few times, in good humor. I politely declined.

Anyways, once we did reach the parade-motorcade-air show thing, it was insane! There were tons and tons of people there, and it was extremely hot yesterday. I’m fairly sure that my arms got more tan in 40 minutes of standing in the sun here than they did over my entire summer in Seattle. Everyone at the event, despite having to wait around in the heat, was just really happy. It was moving for me to see all these thousands of people who felt such great pride at their county’s independence.

Once we returned back to the house, a feast was to be prepared! There was a slight moment of panic among the children when they saw a severed goat head in the kitchen and our family goat was not in his goat-home. However, it was quickly explained that the goat was just out on a walk with the older men. I was relieved because I have some pretty strong emotional ties with that goat at this point now too.

 

More pictures! The top pictures is of the 2nd wife (on the far right) with an aunt and me. The whole polygamy thing is really interesting for me to experience here. The second wife is very kind to me, and I actually see her more often than my host mother, because my host mother works during the day time as a teacher.
On the bottom is Meena being washed up by Aramatta, who is my favorite host sister. The boy filling up the water is Adou, who is twelve years old. They both are really great to me, and are always helping me out!

Today the students in my class were sent home after an hour, because our teacher just didn’t show up. Because of this, I have a free day ahead of me! My mission is to learn how to cook with our servant, Maria. Hopefully she will agree to let me help out!

 

Just outside my bedroom, and my little friend Meena!

The picture on the top is the 2nd floor, just outside my room. It is very beautiful! On the bottom is the terrace, where the children and servants eat their meals. I sometimes eat with them, if I’m not invited to eat with the women. In both pictures is Meena, who follows me around everywhere.

It’s pretty slow uploading pictures, so I’ll put them up little by little.

Bonjour! Today was my first day of school, and second day of living with my host family. Both have been a major departure from my life in America.

My host family is really nice, and also very large. My host father actually has two wives, but the first wife is considered my mom. I’m not really sure who the second wife is, because there are always so many women (sisters, aunts, friends, etc) hanging around the compounds. In addition to these women, there is an impressive amount of children occupying the house. Again, I’m not actually sure which ones are my “siblings,” but they are all very friendly and sweet, and tend to be more understanding towards my lack of skill in speaking French.

The house itself is beautiful! It has many levels, all for the different family members. In Islam, if a man decides to take on more than one wife, he must vow to give exactly what he has gifted one wife to the others as well. As a result, there are many identical rooms, rugs, furniture…pretty much everything. I have my own room as well as bathroom, on the second floor. They are both very comfortable, though the whole living situation will take some time to adapt to I expect.

School today was hard, to be honest. Living here is making me realize how much more difficult it is to speak a language than it is to read and write it, as I have been taught to do in school so far.  Today my classes were Ecology and French Literature. Basically, the teacher would read from a paper he has previously written and we are to copy down the passage word for word. I knew that this was the style of learning that I would encounter before I came to Mali, but I did not acknowledge how difficult it would be. However, people always say that the first day is the hardest, and I am still filled with joy when I think of living here.

There is a cyber-café right around the corner from my house, which is very convenient! I just came here with all of my host-brothers in tow, who are now stirring up mischief in the streets. The little girls at first were more shy than the boys, but I think that playing with my hair for a good hour won them over. I’m thinking of my family back home!

Hi, readers. These last two days have been tightly packed with activities and information, and all of us are running on little sleep. Tomorrow morning we are being sent off to our host families! I cannot wait to meet mine.

It’s 4 pm now, and this past day our group went to a medical university to get a tour and simultaneously received a lesson in French. We also went on a hike to a view point which overlooked the whole city. Our Malian-coordinator, Sounkalo, explained to us that when he was a boy, he would go there to watch the soccer games from the top of the hill. Coming back was all uphill, and it was HOT. I was sweating up a storm. We were trying to kill some time after our return from the hike, so we walked through a small community of houses and shops just off the road. When we were passing by the people’s houses (or huts, I suppose), the small children would run after us and chant, “toubabou, toubabou,” which is the Bambara word for “white person.” What an experience!

The rest of the day was spent walking around the Parc National du Mali and the Musee National du Mali. Both were very impressive! The textile section of the museum was my favorite; I cannot wait to brave the market-place and buy some skirts for myself! The colors and patterns are incredible.

I’m not sure what the Wi-Fi situation will be from here on out, so my posts will probably become less frequent. Au revoir!

We’ve arrived!!!!!!!

So the fab five made up a theme song: Basically, you sing the spider-man song, but insert “Bamako” into it instead of spider-man, and say things at the end such as “the place where all the cool kids go,” “we lost our luggage though,” and “I wish I brought my piccolo.”

It is so different than anything I’ve ever encountered. I don’t know where to begin in talking about things here, and it’s only my first day! Weather-wise, it is cloudy but extremely humid, and (tolerably) very hot. That’s different.

Every last one of us lost our luggage! Good thing it’s so super amazing here that I don’t really mind. Thanks Mom, for making me pack that change of clothes. Good call. Hopefully our things will arrive promptly!

Today we’ve been taking lessons in Bambara and learning about Malian culture. We’re taking a quick break before we head off the lunch, and then tour around the city. Pictures are to come as soon as my luggage does.

I hope that this message finds everyone well!

Hello, all! A quick disclaimer: I am currently very, very excited, but equally exhausted. I will always try to be composed and eloquent in my writing, but that might not happen for this post. Okay.

I’ll start at the beginning: saying goodbye to my family was sad, but quick; it was like peeling off a band-aid. The Seattle airport was impressively stressful and it was early in the morning. Then to Houston, then to Washington D.C.  There Andrea (my fellow Seattlite) and I met with the three other Mali-bound girls, and our wonderful program coordinator, Sidney. We quickly bonded over playing cards (good one Seve!) and exchanged stories of airport craziness.

Next was the nice and long flight here, to the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. I got my romantic comedy fix for the next five months during that 8 hours. Yay!

And that brings me here, sitting in the terminal, waiting for the flight that will bring me to Bamako! So….close…. All of us girls are giddy with excitement and running low on energy, so we’ve all got the giggles. Everything is in French. This is different.

Okay! That’s the gist of my travels today. Hope all the students had a wonderful first day of school!

On a personal note: Happy almost birthday sweet Daniella!

Hello, readers! I am boarding a plane in a few days, and still am yet to settle on one emotional stance towards my journey. For the most part, however, I feel complete elation.

My packing is going extraordinarily well. The whole packing-light thing is a bit of a struggle, but I already am learning things of importance, and I haven’t even left America yet!

MALI

Wow.

So much anticipation!

I hope everyone has a wonderful labor day weekend, and by my next post I shall be transatlantic!

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