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...


  1. I am so glad to hear it is all going well. Mali Looks lovely. Last week I met Emmanuel, he was 5 during the Rwandan genocide and survived! I went to coffee with him and a few friends. He was excited to hear I have a brother in Africa. He said "You must tell him you have a good friend in Rwanda and he must visit me." There you go you have a formal invite to explore Africa further if you get some time off. He returns to Rwanda in April. It is an offer you can't refuse. I can't wait to read about more Mali Adventures. I love you both!

  2. I realized it doesn't say Ellen Cunningham but Dirtychai. My friend and I blog about the mill and I forgot my user mane would show up but for future reference this is your favorite sister, Ellen.

  3. I'm loving the info so far - keep it coming as often as you're able! I'm glad you get a sweet ride while you're there. I hope it makes up for the food. (Or maybe that's better than expected as well?)

    Love, Staci

  4. I cannot believe you guys are in Africa!! Very cool. Blog is great- subtle humor has me cracking up over here. Bike class sounds fun- you'll need that information shortly after you go off some sweet jumps. Glad to hear you both are doing well and look forward to hearing more stories about your journey.


  5. Thanks for the comments everyone! George and I love hearing from you.

    Love Anna

  6. Just home from retreat - thank you for your news! St. Augustine said: We become what we eat. So pay attention, CLOSE attention to the food lessons tomorrow... But I think he was talking about the Word and the Eucharist - so read your Bible every day and take in the Living Word.

    I love you very much

    Love, Mom