In my most recent post, I forgot to mention two very important things. Firstly, my Malian name! My host family and my Peace Corps trainers call me Fanta Diarra. I’m named after my host mom – an elegant, warm, fabulously-dressed woman. I will probably keep this name throughout my service, as the “th” of Beth is quite hard for Malian’s to pronounce.
The other thing I want to share is one of the most interesting cultural aspects of Mali I’ve encountered yet – “joking cousins.” The joking cousin concept, it’s rumored, started when two brothers went into the bush one afternoon to get wood. When an animal approached the two brothers, one of them became scared and they both ran back toward their home. When they returned, they began bickering about which brother was scared and which was brave.
From this was born “joking cousins,” a practice in which people with certain last names joke with people of other family names. For example, my Malian last name, Diarra, jokes with the last name Traore. So, when I meet someone with the Traore last name, I can say things to them like, “I be sho dun” which means “you eat beans, a.k.a you pass gas a lot” or “I ni fale bolen don” which means “your face looks like a donkey” – this is my personal favorite, haha!
According to the Peace Corps Trainers and other Malians, the joking cousins tradition serves as an icebreaker among strangers and helps people develop a rapport that enables collaboration, and has even prevented war.
More to come soon!