I survived the first 2 weeks in my host village! As you may remember from the last post, I was getting ready to head off to a small village about 10 km from Bamako where I, along with 6 other Peace Corps Trainees, would be living with host families for our training period.
Although I’m adjusting to the life in the village more with each passing day, the first day was quite a shock. Upon arrival, we were greeted by the dugutigi (the town leader) and several other village elders. As a thanks to the community we presented the dugutigi with a bag of kola nuts – a traditional Malian gift that is also used in marriage proposals and to celebrate other significant life events. After greeting, we were escorted to our host families by a member of the family.
My host family is wonderful and big – parents, 7 children, 4 grandchildren (one of which was born just days ago!), and my mother’s mom all live in a “concession,” where we share a bathroom (hole in the ground surrounded by a concrete wall) and an outdoor sitting area. I have my own room with a bed, mosquito net, water filter and trunk for my clothes. Although it’s no row house on Capitol Hill, it is a great place to rest my head at night.
With that said, most nights are filled with interesting noises, which I’m slowly adjusting to. The night usually goes something like this – rainstorm on the tin roof until 1 or 2 am, a few hours of sleep, the 4 am call to prayer, an hour of sleep, the 5 am symphony of roosters, donkeys and sheep and a 6:30 wake up call to get ready for class! Earplugs would probably be a good investment, haha.
The first few weeks of training have been overwhelming, but it’s incredible the progress that I, and my fellow trainees, have made in such a short amount of time. Our days are filled with language lessons and technical training for our future positions as Small Enterprise Development volunteers. My language skills are improving dooni, dooni –“slowly” in Bambara – and I’m adjusting to the Malian culture more every day.
Greeting is an extremely important part of the culture here, so much of my free time during the day is spent walking around the village and asking people about their families and how the day is going. I also spend a lot of time drinking tea with my host family or the families of other PCTs. As most Malians are Muslim and do not drink alcohol, they share tea as their social beverage of choice. The tea to sugar ratio is about 1 to 1 and once fully prepared (quite a long process of pouring the tea in and out of multiple cups to ensure the sugar is dissolved just right) it is typically poured into small “shot glasses” and shared with the group. On a good day, I probably have 3-6 “shots” of this tea.
I’m back at the Peace Corps training center until Saturday afternoon, so I’ve had some time to digest my experience thus far and reflect on what is to come. During the next few days time, I’ll try to post again with some additional details, and perhaps even pictures (!) of my life in Mali. As you can imagine, it’s hard to pack all of my thoughts and observations into one blog post! Until then…