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My twenty eighth birthday came and went with perfectly manufactured fanfare. My first two birthdays in Mali had been spent at the Peace Corps training center, neither of them under the most optimal of circumstances. I was a little nervous about spending a third birthday alone in village, but as soon as I returned, I knew I would never be ‘alone’ in village. I also quickly realized I was not going to eat toh on my birthday, and thus devised a plan: Yassa. Yassa is an onion sauce eaten over rice, generally with fish or chicken. It’s one of my favorites, and as I’d arrived at the tail end of onion season, it seemed like a good choice. Continue reading →
Poor Baniofla. In all of her two and a half years, she had seen nothing so scary as a slight woman covered completely in light pinkish skin. And it was to her misfortune that such a woman arrived and insisted on living right across the widening from her house. Gone were the feelings of safety she’d felt living in the only village she’d ever known, each day predictable and consistent. In its place was only fear and the shame that accompanied that fear as all the others laughed and teased her for such feelings. How did they not understand the potential dangers of such a person whose skin turned out so terribly wrong? Continue reading →
My first weeks in village contained a lot of tea. I didn’t mind so much, because adjusting to village and my new diet of millet and more millet was a lot easier with caffeine. I was still a novelty, so everyone wanted to come sit and chat, which of course required tea. It took a while to reassert myself into the routine of village life. I guess we can just say I got a lot of reading done. Continue reading →
The patchwork of compounds in my crescent shaped village were divided into six neighborhoods, the western-most of which was mine. Belakuna was its name, though I’d still never gotten the story behind it. Belakuna was dissected by a path, which skirted between the walls of Seydou’s family’s compounds then widened before continuing on past the neighborhood, past the village, and disappearing beyond the fields into the brush. This path was inconsequential, like any other, except where it widened. Continue reading →
I’ve heard it said you can never go home again. I’ve always thought this to be true. Until now.
I sat in my courtyard under my newly built gwa, shielded from the midday sun. One by one, the important men shuffled in to greet me and welcome me back. They brought in chairs—the long reclined palm wood kind and the smaller metal framed rubber band kind—and they perched around me in a rough half circle and asked about my trip. Behind them was a wall of children, perhaps fifty in all, standing, sitting, pushing, smiling, scolding, crying, laughing. So happy to see their toubab! I scanned their faces—they all looked the same!—and I was so happy to see them, too. Continue reading →
My bus from Bamako barreled past all the familiar, forgotten places. Fana, Segou, Bla, Yangasso. The road to Dieli. Diabougou. I made my way to the front as we started up the hill and announced my upcoming descent, much to the surprise of the front row passengers and driver. They looked out at the seemingly endless expanse of dust covered bushes and asked me, “Are you sure?” We crested over the hill and in the distance I could see the white beacon of the Koroguelabougou plaqui, or sign, glimmering in the blanched white sun. It was small, easy to miss, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of it. It was the first indication that I was almost home. “Yes,” I said confidently, “I’m sure.” Continue reading →
The passengers stood waiting in the yellow-tinged darkness of too-early morning. Children slumped at their feet on top of bags and boxes and other children, and a stillness pervaded them, the kind only found in these early morning hours. Soon, the sky would brighten and the bus station would bustle with its general chaos, but for now, things were almost orderly. Continue reading →
Let me set the scene.
There’s a place on the road to San where just the trace of a path crosses the hot asphalt. If you blink, or day dream, or glance at your phone, you would certainly miss it. It’s even possible to be scanning the flat, monotonous horizon and seemingly be staring right at the path and still not notice its well-worn twists into the dull beyond. Behind you were pockets of forest, and ahead of you lay spiky partially cleared millet fields, then a village, then fields, then forest: the same pattern you’d noticed for hours. So it’s understandable to miss the details. I certainly didn’t notice my first time by. Continue reading →
Where to begin?
I’ve wondered a million times how to start a story from the middle, and I feel no closer to an answer than when I started. It’s a puzzling place for a storyteller to be. So much has happened, and, yet, still not enough. Continue reading →
Ramadan ended with a feast, one of the two biggest holidays in Mali. Excitement flourished in the days leading up to the feast. Preparations were made; new clothes were purchased at market; meals were planned. The feast was called Seli Fitini [Little Prayer], or Seli for short. On Seli-Eve I let my host sister Fanta and Seydou’s little sister Warakia henna my feet. Seli-Eve night, Shitan and I went to Seydou’s to hang out and eat meat and macaroni. An evening rain had left the moonless night cold and muddy. I wore a fleece and still had cold hands and damp feet, which was more frustrating knowing it was probably only around 80 degrees. Continue reading →
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