I have made it to Mali.
It’s very surreal. I started questioning myself as we landed in Bamako, but the instant I got off the plane, the smells, the air, the sounds: it was unmistakably Mali.
Our training is intense, and only going to become more so. Almost all of our time is scheduled from sun up to sun down, and I have more information crammed in my head than I have had in quite a while.
We are staying at the training center, which is called Tubani So. It means the House of the Dove (Get it? PEACE Corps training?). It’s fake Mali, which I guess helps to ease us in. We staying huts with electricity. We have pit latrines, but toilet paper is provided. We are cooked for and given silverware. Yesterday we had a fake market where people brought in fabrics and things that we could purchase, with traditional drumming and food. They take many precautions to make sure we are eased into this.
Despite my attempts not to, I find myself tending to compare this trip with my trip to Senegal. Mali is a very different place and Peace Corps is a very different undertaking, but nevertheless, the comparisons continue. When I arrived in Senegal, I was staying with my host family from the second night. It was a crash course in Senegalese living. Here, we are learning cultural aspects little by little, which makes it less scary, but provides more room for anticipation and nervousness. I spend a lot of time wondering how my host family will be, instead of experiencing it.
Also, when I got to Senegal, we spent a few days driving around Dakar and getting to know the area, while here, we have not left Tubani So since we got here. So we spend almost all of our time with Americans and Malians who are very familiar with our dispositions.
However, Senegal was a much different experience with a different purpose. We were staying in a fairly cosmopolitan city, not in a rural setting as most of us PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) will be doing. We were there to study, not to learn how to live on our own, so there is much more training which is required for our experience than the one I had in Senegal. And thus, I’ll probably be thankful for this week when I get to my homestay family.
All in all, I think the Peace Corps is doing a fine job. We are being trained by current volunteers which helps provide relevant answers to our questions, and helps make us feel like a new part to a great community. The expat community in general is small in Mali, so any time a big group of new people come, everyone is very excited for new faces and new stories.
Back to my comparisons with Senegal, there are a lot of things that I expected to be similar that aren’t. The food is similar but not as uniform. In Senegal, almost everyone eats ceebu jen every day (fish and rice) while here the diet depends on the region. In Senegal, lunch is the big meal of the day, but when I asked about that here I got strange looks and was told that all meals are important. The Senegalese hiss when they want someone’s attention. I have been told the Malians snap. The Senegalese paint their vans and cars and boats vibrant, beautiful colors, while the Malians do not.
The fabric is the same, the tea is the same, and the idiosyncrasies when Malians speak English are the same. (They often say ‘you know’ ‘ok’ and ‘so’.) The other thing I am noticing about this trip compared to my time in Senegal is that when I first got to Senegal, I noticed everything. I paid attention to everything. I analyzed everything. Here, the culture has not been blowing my mind in the way it did in Senegal, however I do not know if that is going to change when I get to my homestay.
Tomorrow I leave for my Homestay village, which I will be in off and on throughout the rest of training. They break us up into small groups between villages. My village will have 6 other volunteers in it, all of whom are Environment volunteers, and all of whom will be learning Bambara. I can’t wait to get out into real Mali life and acquire a new language. I’ll let you all know how it goes in two weeks.
One last antidote: today was our first technical training session, in which we spent some time walking around looking at plants and trees. Our instructor, Yakuba, at one point looked down at his watch and said “Ohhh, it’s almost done…But one is never done talking about TREES!” I think this shall go very well. Inchallah.
Lastly, I have a cell phone, so if you want the number email me and I can give it to you!← Staging The Introduction to the Life and Times of Bougourie Diarra →