as i am.

"…but soil is a refuge for dispersed seeds."


The Introduction to the Life and Times of Bougourie Diarra

Fifteen years ago, for reasons yet unknown, some of the people of S Village decided to relocate 2 kilometers to the South. They named their new village after the old, thus creating S Old and S New. The old village was nestled in the shade of Mango trees, with crooked pathways weaving around the villager’s compounds. The new village, by contrast was not yet coddled by shade and the roads were straight and wide outlining compounds in varying degrees of completion.

Time moved slowly in the new village, as it had in the old, and villagers continued with their routines until the new S didn’t seem so new anymore. This is the setting in which I became Bougourie Diarra.

Bougourie is the name of one of my host-grandmothers. Her husband has passed away, but he used to be the dugutigi, or chief, of the village, meaning she is still known as one of the more important women in the village. I have become accustomed to responding to Bougourie, as well as introucing myself as such (it took a while to remember my Malian name). However, my instinct is that Bougourie is akin to Ethyl in the U.S. I think it is a name generally given to older women, and sort of out of fashion these days. When I introduce myself, most Malians laugh at my name. We’ll see if Bougourie travels with me to my permanent site or if it becomes a training name just as S New is my training village.

The Diarra compound is slightly smaller than a soccer field, housing roughly 20 people, 4 donkeys, 3 cows, sheep, and chickens. My host family tree is rather complicated, but the one who I consider my host mom is called Mariam. She is the one that cooks for me, eats with me, carries my bucket of water to the nyegen (or latrine). There are many small boys in my compound, ranging in age from infants to roughly 9 or 10, plus three pre-teen and teenage girls. My room is average size for a bedroom, and is furnished with a twin bed and a small trunk.

The air is dry and dusty, piercingly hot at midday but cooling off at night enough to want heated bath water in the morning. It is the tail end of cold season, so the piercing heat will only pierce harder in the months to come. Mali essentially has three seasons: dry hot season, wet hot season, and not quite as hot season. I do appreciate the lack of winter.

My days are intense but monotonous. Almost all of my time is spent learning Bambara. It is thus far the most difficult language I’ve studied. The sentence structure tends to be opposite of English in which “Do you have two packs of tea?” is “Te paci fila b’i fe?” or “Tea pack two you have?” It also seems they only made up half the amount of words needed just started reusing the ones they already had. Sanni means shopping and before. So means house and horse. Ba means mother. It also means goat. However, if one really wants to show respect for their father, or fa, they can call him ba, as well. When asked if fa was the term of respect for mothers, our Malian language teachers thought we were crazy.

That being said, we’ve had 10 days of language instruction and I can already talk about what I do during the day (get up, bathe, go to school…); I can talk about my family and their ages; I can talk in the past tense; and I know both numbers and money (vastly different; I’ll explain later). That’s a lot to know in two weeks.

My days consist of 6.5 hours of class, and almost all the rest of that time spent with my host family in some fashion. I spend a lot of time with the kids and a lot of time sitting with my thoughts while others speak Bambara. My host dad speaks French, but I don’t see him much. Most of the others do not, so the possibilities of conversation are quite limited.

My family is extremely sweet and forgiving, which is much appreciated. There is always a lot of action with so many kids. As expected, they are quite creative with their toys. The classic toy is string added to anything: an old water jug, a can of tomatoes, a plastic bottle, a stick. A stick without string is a good toy, too, because you can hit things or others with it. It can also be used as a drumstick, however the hands work fine for drumming, too. One of the most fun these boys have is when they are hitting each other. It amazes me, because it is soooo much fun, until both little boys end up crying and it is so NOT fun. Yet they continue to do it…

In my compound, there are two 5-ft-long, thinly cut pieces of wood that are somewhat warped, so they are lightweight and curved slightly. As I write, it is through a chorus of “Bougourie!”s as Lamine, Koniba, and Vie impress me with all their wood handling skills. I get a few words down, then “Bougourie! Bougourie!” I look up and Lamine drags his piece through the dirt. I smile and get a few more words down before my glance is again requested. This time, Koniba is pushing his piece through the dirt. Next they drag them over bricks and throw them in the air in front of them, then behind them. The possibilities are endless.

Just as my Malian family gave me a Malian name, the kids have all requested American names. At first it was challenging to have to remember everyone’s Malian names AND American names, but it actually helped me remember everyone and gave me something to talk about when my language was really limited (like five days ago). Thus far, we have Aaron, Samuel, Larry, Isaac, Lawrence, Gerald, Vincent, Kevin, Aby, Miriam, Anna, and Brianna. They wanted to know what Bougourie was in American, so I told them Brittany. They get a kick out of all these names.

In addition to American names, my two little brothers Salifu and Abdulaye (5 and 3, respectively) like to point to things and ask the word for it in American. Often, Mariam, their mom, will be cooking 10 feet away from us, and one of them will ask me the American word for something, such as chair, and then yell to their mom “MARAM! She said this is called CHAIR in AMERICAN!” Hopefully she finds it as endearing as I do…

Otherwise, things in my village are going well. I am finishing this post at Tubani So, the training center, and after two solid days with an overwhelming amount of Americans, I think I am ready for some more time to be sitting silently with my family looking at the stars. Hope all is well with everyone; keep emailing me. Even if it takes a while to respond, I definitely enjoy hearing updates.

Lastly, for the near future, I hear I will be back in village for another two weeks or so?  I’ll update again when I can.


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  • About Me:

    I am a Peace Corps Volunteer working in Mali for two years promoting sustainable agriculture and environment development.

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    Christina Scheller
    B.P. 02
    San, Mali

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