The word for host family in Bambara is jatigi. Literally translated, it means guest owner. My host family is one of the most welcoming, wonderful families in Mali. They live in the compound next to mine, and it hasn’t taken long for me to feel like part of the family.
My host dad is a regal man named Adama Coulibaly, but we call him Baba. He is probably in his fifties, is quiet by nature, and even through a language barrier, it is obvious he puts thought into the words he says before he says them. He has three wives, Mamine (whom we call Ba), Mariam (whom we call Na), and Seitou (whom we call Batuma). Nouhoun is Ba’s son, and his wife is my friend Hawa. They have two kids named Amedou (4) and Mariam (9 months, whom we call La). Shitan, 15ish, Fanta, 12ish, Selimata, 12ish, and Sefa, 8ish, are my core group of host sisters. I also have two host teenage brothers, Sidi and Daouda, both roughly 16, and generally too cool to hang out with me. Then, there are the smaller children who are also host siblings Tijani, 7ish and Younisa, 3ish (both boys), and Anatou, a baby girl. There are more kids in my host family, including a sister who lives across town who just had a baby, and a brother in Bamako at University. However, the above listed people are the ones that live at my host family’s house, and feel like my core family.
Baba’s older brother, whom we call Cekoroba (CHAYkoroBA, which means old man, and is a title of respect to anyone old person, since so few make it that far in life) lives a 3 minute walk away on the inside of the village. (I live on the outskirts of town.) He is the head of the extended family, and his house is called the duba (dooBA, or the big house). My host family’s house is called the dukura (or new house). All of the cooking is done at the duba, and the cooking work is divided among the younger women of the extended family. Hawa, Hawa, Hawa, Mamu, Mamu, Jelica, and Jenaba each cook lunch and dinner one day per week. I’m not yet certain who cooks breakfast (it’s possible that is done within each family? Mine just shows up at my door…). All of these women (and more) are married to men in this extended family (Baba’s brother Amedou who lives on the other side of my house from Baba; Cekoroba’s son Nani Seydou who lives on the other side of Amedou, and others). I do not yet know all the relations between all of the above people, but I do know the women who cook for me well. These seven women and more all pound millet together near Cekoroba’s house in the morning and early evening. They are kindhearted, with enough patience to speak slowly to me so I can understand them.
The longer I am in village, the more I grow close to my extended family, as well as other villagers who live in my area. I guess I never really conceptualized the process of making friends in my village prior to going. However, as gradual as the process of friendship-making always is, my friendships in village formed a lot more naturally than I anticipated they would, considering the enormous language and cultural barriers we faced. Some people seem to just be naturally drawn to certain other people, and regardless of circumstances, can become friends. I am so pleased I have been placed in such a welcoming family and community; I am so excited to continue to get to know my friends, my family, and my villagers.← The Routine Culinary Adventures of Mali →