Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Homestay- Head First Into Malian Culture

View of Our Village from a Rock Formation

Road from Our Quaint Village to the Big Town

 Bambara Language Class

View of George's Compound
(KEY: Red Circle=Compound / Yellow Star=George's Shower / Yellow Line=the Road)

We are each living with separate host families (10 minute walk from one another). Although it is strange to live apart, it allows us to work on our language and forces us to integrate with our hosts as opposed to leaning on one another. The homestay phase lasts through the end of March, with brief periods of time in which we come back to the training center.  We will also have the opportunity to visit our permanent sites
Our homestay families--Cunningham/Gamble role reversal.

I (Bintu) am living in the dugutigi's compound. (Dugutigi = Chief of the Village). The compound is big and so is my host family!  People are always coming and going. It took days to figure out who was who in the family and I must admit that I still don't know who is who. The chief is elderly, my actual host father is the chief's son. I am named after my host mother. My host parents have 5 kids, two of which are married. The three youngest all all girls, ages 9-13ish.

While my nuclear family of 7 doesn't sound that big...the compound itself houses at least 5 family units and other individuals all connected in someway that is too complicated for me to understand based on my current language skill level. The compound is a rectangle with multiple dwellings/rooms that all open up to a very large shared courtyard.

As far as I can tell my host parents have one grandson. He is about 2 and everyone refers to him as "dugutigi." His actual name remains a mystery. He has the run of the house. For the first week I was there he threw baseball sized rocks at me (this was greated by laughs and little discipline). Belive me--life seems overwhelming when eating meals with a new family, speaking language at the proficiency of a two year old (on good days) and finding that the other two year old in the family was more interested in making me a target for rocks than being my friend. Little by little he has warmed up to me. We had a breakthrough moment a few days ago and have now hugged once.

OK, I will admit that Sherri's boys probably never threw large rocks at her houseguests while they were growing up, but I am getting a taste of life in a big busy household.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Our New Names (given by host families)

Anna = Bintu Kone
George = Salim Coulibaly

*next time you see us, we will only respond to the above
**we will also respond to TOUBABU! which is what all children yell at anyone who is white, and they think you are French in general if white and will say Bon Soir regardless of the time of day

We are happy and healthy, back here at the training center for two days with electricity, running water, and silverware.  GI tracts are also working well!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Three Cheers for Tom

After giving us a wonderful send off in Washington DC, we got to spend one final evening with Tom here in Mali. We just sent him off on the dusty road back to Bamako after he joined us for a quick training center tour and dinner. It was a gift that his job brought him to Mali and he was able to work with the Peace Corps staff to arrange a visit tonight before we ship off to our homestays for the next 2 months. I am sure that in a few weeks we will be eternally grateful for the gummy treats he imported as well! 
George and I will be living with seperate families for the next two months but we will be in the same village. We will be learning to speak Bambara which is the most widely spoken language here in Mali. We will not have internet during homestay but we will come back to the training center every 2 weeks.

Please keep us in your prayers, send email or post comments here so that we know you are all out there and doing well!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Coming Soon...

George's custom made outfit
The latest in Malian cell phone technology
Visit from Tom Cunningham tomorrow?
Salidaga - a multi-color plastic teapot that doubles as toilet paper

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Back to school: Bambara, bike maintenance, and malaria prevention

Day 3 of Toubaniso:

Quite alive, and quite well at our training center outside of the capital, Bamako.  There has not been much time for reflection, as our schedules have been really busy with various classes...and SO MUCH to process.

We have 64 volunteers in our group, an average size for training in Mali.  Although the layout of the camp is something like a summercamp with a dining hall, dorms (sort of), a medical office, and teaching buildings with and without walls.  Anna and I, as a couple, get our own room, complete with a large mosquito net.
outside our front door

main hangar (open air classroom with sand floor) on
left and language huts in background at dawn

bike maintenance class in the main hangar

Sample of classes thus far: 
  • Medical Kit and Malaria
  • Cross Cultural Training: Malian Sterotypes
  • Repairing Your Bike When There Is No Mechanic
  • Intro to Bambara (most common native language in Mali)
Very cool, but exhausting.  We have had no less than 7h of class a day.  Along with work evaluations, French tests, medical evaluations, meals, and navigating the stand-alone showers my head is overly full of new things.

We have learned basic Bambara, which is a really interesting language.  Responses to the main greeting = "Nba" if you are a man and "Nse" if you are a woman.  "Nba" roughly translates to "Because of my mother I am here" - how do you like them apples, Mom?

French test was hard, but speaking French here is very easy.  Malians are incredibly patient, allow gramatical mistakes, and understand the gist of what I say even if half my words are made-up.  If you want to learn French, I would recommend here over France any day.

Cross-culture classes: First of all, when all of us trainees compiled our list of Malian steriotypes, we were embarrassed that most American steriotypes of Mali were not of Mali (a country much larger than Texas), but of all of Africa.  Malians are shocked that some Americans believe this can be a dangerous place.  These people are warm, welcoming, and much different than expected (more on that another day).

Malaria: basically you don't want it here.  Parasite that builds up in your liver, then releases itself into the red blood cells and can lead to death.  Symptoms don't sound great, and the main strain here is a bad one.  Not to worry- there is an easy solution: 1 Larium pill per week and sleeping under a mosquito net.

Bikes:  As Peace Corps Mali volunteers, we cannot drive cars or motorcycles, so the solution is bike riding.  I was envisioning the standard issue to be a Huffy with 500,000+ miles on it, WRONG, instead we will be using some pretty good looking Trek mountain bikes with front shocks.  Lars, James, Keegan, and Caleb would be jealous of the bike repair lesson we got today.  I can't wait to get my bike.

What about our work you ask?  Well, need to figure our some language and culture basics first, or we will not be much good.  So Tuesday we head to homestays in nearby towns for 9 weeks with local trainers, after that we are assigned to a city or village and a project is determined for each of us.

Goodnight for now.  Find any spelling mistakes? well spellcheck is in French right now, and I am too tired to find the configuration center to change it to English...

Thursday, February 3, 2011


We've arrived at training. An energetic group of Peace Corps staff and current volunteers met us at the airport, loaded our luggage in the back of a truck and we all piled into vans/busses late last night.

The PC training center is called Tubaniso. Trainers live at the same site as the volunteers. We will be at the training site for the next 5 days. On Tuesday the 8th we ship out to homestays for the remainder of training. Homestay sites are TBD.

Accomodation highlights:
  • Electricity in each hut and ceiling fans. We are enjoying the luxury while we can.
  • We arrived at the end of the "cold season." This means it was 85 when we went to bed last night. (In the coming months we will provide a Fahrenheit vs. Celsius lesson)

Other notables:
  • George rallied volunteers and Malian trainers for a game of sand volleyball before dinner.
  • I saw a lizard let itself into our hut. Since apparently lizards eat bugs, I welcome our new roommate.
  • Peace Corps language exam today confirmed the fact that I (Anna) am a novice at the French language. George's exam is on Saturday.
  • Peace Corps is hosting a Cultural Festival on Sunday at the training center which should give us a glimpse of traditional Malian food and music. We hope you all enjoy America's annual Cultural Festival (aka the Superbowl) on Sunday as well.
  • We will be getting cellphones and it is free for us to receive calls. Don't hesitate to take advantage of your West African long distance calling plans. Phone numbers TBA.
  • We will try to take some soon. Based on the internet connection here we may or may not be able to upload much.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bon Voyage America!

Boarding busses in 45 minutes to head to the airport (with a quick Yellow Fever immunization detour). We will keep you all posted as we settle in at the Peace Corps training center 20 km outside of Bamako, Mali.

We love you all!