as i am.

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


The Homestay

Posted on by chrissy

The first time the white Peace Corps bus drove me through S New, my eyes were wide, full of anticipation, knowing many questions would soon be answered in my new home. Which house would be mine? Would my family be nice? What would my accommodations be? I quickly learned the answers to more questions than I knew I had as my days were filled with the highs and lows of cultural adjustment. After twelve days in village, I returned to Tubani So, our training center, in desperate need of some toubab time, electricity, and a break from Bambara language acquisition. However, three days were more than enough to satisfy me, especially with such luxuries as a stop at the toubab grocery store and (!) a toubab restaurant where I enjoyed a chocolate milkshake and crepes on the way back to village.

By the time the white bus delivered me to S New a second time, I was relaxed, smile wide, and content to be back. Batuma, who is 12, met me at the bus and helped carry my bag the two blocks back to our compound. All the kids gathered around as I pulled up a chair in the shade of my house, and my mom stopped her endless work to sit with me and ask about my weekend. It was good to be home, however temporary that home may be.

My second two weeks in village had their highs and lows, but they were much less drastic than the highs and lows of the first two weeks. My language has improved markedly with the introduction of phrases such as ‘in order to’, ‘I used to…’, and ‘when I was…’ I still have a very long way to go, but I can express more ideas than I ever thought possible in only four weeks of class. A few notable Bambara realizations are as follows. The words for cardinal directions are amazing. North is kokodugu or saheli. Saheli is clearly related to the Sahara desert, which is in the north, and kokodugu means salt village, and there are villages in the North with a lot of salt. South is Worodugu, which means kola nut village, and kola nuts originally came from Cote d’Ivoire, in the South. West is Tilebin, which means sunset, and East is Koron, which is possibly related to the Koran, but that is not confirmed. It is wonderful to be able to tell people ‘go straight towards kola nut village, then turn towards sunset, and I live on the left.’ In addition, Bambara initially only had three colors: light, dark, and red. Initially, I thought how could a group of people live in a world full of color without thinking to name them. But upon further consideration, the traditional Malian world was probably fairly devoid of color. Shades of brown, tan, khaki, all equate to lighter and darker with the exception of red. Everything in Mali that is brightly colored thus far has been something introduced after colonization such as paint and metal and fancy fabric. There are now words in Bambara for brown, green, blue, etc. but they are not all commonly known and were sort of made up to fill a void when the French word works equally as well. Regardless, it’s interesting to think of a world with only red, dark, and light.

My family is absolutely wonderful. I adore the kids in my compound; they are a constant source of entertainment. One day while I was home at lunch, Abdulaye and Lamine, both around 3 years old, decided to stack three tires on top of each other and jump in the hole in the middle. Abdulaye jumped in first, and the tires were almost as tall as he was. Lamine jumped in second, despite the fact that there was not enough room for the both of them, and they proceeded to knock the tires over with both of them inside and get stuck. My mom had to come to the rescue and pull them out through their dramatic tears. We both got a good laugh out of it, at least.

One night, all the toubabs cooked dinner at our Bambara teachers’ house, meaning the night before I had to tell my mom that I wouldn’t be home for dinner the following night, so she wouldn’t cook for me. Word got out that I was going to cook toubab food, and my 7 year old cousin Isa asked me if it was true. I told him yes, and he said “Mmmm! American food is soooo good!” Surprised, I asked if he had ever had American food, since he lives in a small village without so much as a Malian restaurant, and he assured me, “Of course! Peanut butter and banana sandwiches! They’re soooooo good!” Apparently, the previous toubab had made that for the family, and they enjoyed it. That’s not exactly what I think of as American food per se, but Isa is right: pb&b sandwiches are soooo good!

Isa is one of my favorites. He’s kind of quiet but likes to come sit next to me and watch me write or study. He asks me lots of questions, some of them I’m able to answer, some of them not. His voice is fairly squeaky and when he gets excited, he smiles wide and explains things with his hands waving back and forth.

Koniba is another favorite. He’s three and quiet, sucks his thumb, and follows his 16 year old sister Aby around like a shadow. Despite his shyness, he likes to play with me and when I get him wound up, his laugh is to die for. Abdulaye is also about three. He’s my brother, and is an adorable chubby little thing. He likes to come up and mumble questions to me and when I say “Huh?” he responds with “Huh?” instead of repeating what he said. Lamine is also about three, and is the spunkier of the toddlers. He likes me to watch his every move, and he also likes to hide. He will call out “Bougourie!” and then slip behind a tree or pile of bricks and then peek out to see if I’m looking.

Batuma is my mom’s sister. She’s 12. She has one of the strongest personalities I’ve come across, and likes to get a good laugh more than anything. She is also very much balancing between child and teenager. For example, my mom told her to sweep in front of our houses last Sunday, to which she replied “I CAN’T because BOUGOURIE is sitting there!?” However, regardless of how frustrated she gets, she always greets me and smiles one of the biggest smiles ever.

My mom is also amazing. She is named Mariam, and is exceptionally sweet. She is always patient and smiling with me, despite my many Malian shortcomings. For example, last week, I did laundry during my lunch break and she helped me a little, but pretty much let me do it myself like I had asked. My host dad didn’t approve and sat watching me for an hour telling me I was doing it wrong and couldn’t wash clothes right and that I wasn’t going to get anything clean. My mom, however, told me when I was almost done, “Do you have school this afternoon?” I told her yes, that I’d return to school soon. She said, “Wow, school AND laundry! You’re working so hard today!” to which I responded “You work hard EVERYDAY” and she denied it. Our conversations aren’t complex, but she’s simply wonderful. That’s a good snapshot of my family for now. Perhaps I’ll tell more about them later.

The weather is certainly getting hotter as March trudges along. Last weekend we saw rain, by which I mean water fell from the sky (but not enough to get anything wet). Rains this time of year are called the mango rains as they tend to coincide with mango season (almost here!) and I assume help usher in the hot season next month. This rain has helped make the air more humid, meaning I feel slightly more at home than the dry heat we arrived in. It has also meant it has gotten noticeably hotter, making sleep more challenging that it had been previous. There’s nothing like waking up on a sheet wet enough with sweat that it could be rung out.

Overall, I am really enjoying homestay, learning Bambara, and getting to know the people in my homestay village. I will really miss my host family when I move to my permanent village in April.


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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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  • What I’m Reading

    King Leopold's Ghost - Adam Hochschild
  • What I’ve Read

    High Tide in Tucsan - Barbara Kingsolver All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren Half the Sky - Nicholas D. Kristof, Sheryl WuDunn Prodigal Summer - Barbara Kingsolver Dirt: The Erosion of Civilization - David R. Montgomery Everything is Illuminated - Jonathan Safran Foer To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee The Education of Little Tree - Forrest Carter The Rodale Book of Composting Team of Rivals - Doris Kearns Goodwin The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling The Lacuna - Barbara Kingsolver The History of the House of Representatives - Robert Remini East of Eden - John Steinbeck Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson, David Oliver Relin The Imperial Cruise - James Bradley