Odds and Ends
After lunch on my first full day in village, I am left with only Aly and his friend Basil to babysit me. The people in my region are very poor farmers, and their Bambara reflects their isolation, as it seems akin to the English of the Louisiana bayou. Words are spewed together, cut in half, mumbled, and sound almost like complete gibberish to my untrained ears. I fail to grasp most things that are said to me, despite my success in Bambara in S New. In a conversation with Aly and Basil, I am again at a loss for understanding and Basil finally switches to French, the first French spoken to me since my arrival. I respond in French, and a weight is lifted. Aly, Basil, and I discuss the concept of America (is Canada part of America? Well, it’s in North America, but that’s different from the United States of America. Is Barack Obama the President of Canada? No, only the United States. Canada has its own government, just like Mali is part of Africa, and Mali has a president, but Africa doesn’t…) Aly smiles big and says in French, “I am so happy now. We can communicate!” The feeling is mutual.
I have been told multiple times by those in my village about all the volunteers in surrounding villages and they always express in the end, “and now WE have a volunteer.” I hope I live up to their expectations.
My second day at site, I got visits from Tom and Jim, my second closest neighbor, and spent almost the entire day with them. They provided good moral support, encouragement, and words of wisdom for my next two years.
I had only one day without toubab time during site visit. In the morning, I rode with Aly to the mayor’s office where he works. It’s a half hour bike ride through the bush, and I got the privilege of sitting through a four hour staff meeting in Bambara. Afterward, we ate, stopped by a friends’ village on the way home to show me off, and finally made it home by three in the afternoon. I was exhausted, but instead of napping, had to go wander through my village and meet more people with Aly. I had not had time to myself since arriving in my village, and was completely exhausted from my morning. The last thing I wanted to do was tour the village. Our first stop was Aly’s house, then we twisted through his compound to his mother’s house. We went inside, which is rare in Mali, and she brought out a basket of fluffy cotton. She proceeded to show me that she spins the cotton into yard and then showed me clothes that she weaves from it. She grows the cotton herself, too. I was astounded. She told me she would teach me how. Perhaps whenever I get a garden set up, I can grow my own cotton, too, and have something woven that I had 100% control over the production. After seeing this, my frustrations lifted, and I couldn’t wait to learn the other secrets my village holds.
The process of arriving in a new community is full of expectations and realizations that directly contribute to feelings of trepidation, excitement, anxiety, all at once. The village has absolutely welcomed me with open arms, and has gone out of its way to assist me in my transition in any way they can. I feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to live and work in this community for the next two years.
After leaving my village, I had the chance to go to San and meet the other volunteers in my area. I have been back at the training center for a couple days and tomorrow, I will return to S New for two more weeks of language training. I cannot wait to see my host family in S New for two more weeks. I will really miss them when I move to my permanent site. However, I am also thrilled at the prospect of moving to my new village soon, getting a furnished house, and building my own relationships and routines in village. My adventure is just beginning.← The Easement The Dance →