So the 65 other PCTs, that arrived in Mali just two weeks ago, and I have survived our first week and a half homestay village experience!!! (This is not w/out some medical conditions such as Amoebas, giardia, swolen feet, heat rash, and food poisoning to name a few) Besides a little Mr. D and Mrs. C, I'm keeping in good health, don't worry ::knock on wood::
Here is my phone number as promised: 011+223+78455446. 1PM-5PM EST is the best time to call. It doesn't cost anything for me to receive calls but is about $1 a minute to call the U.S. Usually I can call really quickly and then you can call me back. My phone is usually off in village since I do not have electricity
Anyways, so much has happened since I have arrived in Mali that it feels like I have been here months instead of weeks. I don't know where to begin...
Soundouguba, First Impressions
Me and 6 other WATSAN volunteers arrived in our homestay village via a white PC minivan to music and dancing. We greeted the dugutigi (chief) and elders and presented a gift of Kola nuts. Each of us was presented to our host families and given new Malian names. My name is Mariam Doumbia and my host father is Arauna Diarra (most everyone in the village has the last name Diarra).
Where I am living
I was then taken directly to my room which is one room among a dozen in a rectangle facing inwards called a concession. My host dad lives there with his two wives, 6 children, two mothers (his father had two wives and is now diseased), older brother's son and wife and three kids, along with two of his brothers, their wives, and children. I have a family tree drawn out but don't have the total online. The family tree was really fun to figure out with limited language, but my host dad is very patient and actually pulled out everyones Malian birth certificate to help me understand and get ages. The oldest member of the family is 77, my host dad's mother.
My room is simple but has a relatively comfortable bed with a mosquito net. Ventilation is sort of an issue but I am so tired at the end of the day that it doesn't matter. The bathroom is a basic pit latrine, no cover, complete with cockroaches at the bottom. I like to aim for them when I brush my teeth in the morning, but have learned not to go in after it rains since they all exit the pit....There is a seperate wash area where I take my bucket showers twice a day (once in the morning after my run and once before dinner). My host family would like me to shower at lunch too but, nope. (Malians think Americans are dirty since we rewear clothes and don't shower that often. Yet they don't wash their hands after the bathrooom).
Altogether, my family is really nice, patient, and not suffocating in comparison to others. My host dad gave me a childrens Bambara book and reads with me every day when he comes back from the fields. I don't even really understand the book but he goes to great lenghts to explain in his limited french and by acting out things (even getting children to fetch certain items so I understand). Ofcourse, there is a fair amount of laughing and staring at me. Bascially I have the language level of a two year old in a 22 year olds body. I am learning slowly but surely. It is the most frustrating aspect of PC so far but I am really enjoying Mali and learning about their culture.
The food actually has not been that bad. I was sort of afraid the first day since I had rice for lunch, and just rice water for dinner. However, there was food of more substance the next day. Breakfast consists of coffee (with lots of sugar and concentrated milk), a loaf of bread (literally), and rice poridge. Lunch consists of Tao (pounded millet type substance that is gray...) and a green, okra sauce also spaghetti noodles with a tomato type sauce. (Yes, two meals...) Dinner consists of boiled potatos and beef (misi in Bambara), more spaghetti, and sometimes rice and a peanut sauce. The woman that cooks for me (host dad's older brother's son's wife/my niece who is 24) has also taken to knocking on my door around 11/12 at night to give me 3 hard boiled eggs even when I am asleep. So, they are really trying to fatten me up. Though, I have not had to go to lenghts to hide my food like in Ghana.
I have not had any really bad food cravingings yet except for something cold to drink. Our village doesn't have electricity, therefore no refridgeration. We have walked the 2k to the nearest homestay village which has cold drinks but really annoying, stalker children. I also went through all my grape, gatorade mix since that is much preferable to warm, chlorine water. (MI water, I miss you!)
Water and Sanitation
The sanitation situation in Soundouguba is pretty low. The latrines are basic pit latrines and the excess wash water from both the latrine and wash area enter right into the street (no soak pit let alone sewer). The animals have free reign and deficate everywhere. Dishes and clothes are washed on the ground or in the canal. There is no real waste management system and this is a city just outside the capital, Bamako. I am curious to see what the sanitation situation will be like at my actual site that will most likely be more remote.
As I mentioned before, no one washes their hands after the bathroom and/or before eating. I eat with "my niece" and she only rinses her hands...I'm trying to get her to use soap but I like the company more than when I was eating alone. Though, that did coincide with the start of Mr. D...They really do believe that washing your hands brings bad fortune ("washes away your wealth") and really think we (white people) are weird for doing so. Don't get me started on their reaction to brushing teeth...(they usually only use sticks).
The water situation is much improved from sanitation (as usual). They use three different water sources in my concession ( one of the three India-Mali hand pumps, personal well, and private tap in concession). They pay for the private tap (about $10 US a month) and it is supposidely treated and they use it for drinking. The well and pump water are used strictly for washing and cooking. I did wash my clothes once in homestay and the women and girls in my host family really had a kick out of that one and basically did it for me but I'm still going to try to learn.
5:00AM-Awoken by call to prayer on loud speakers from the mosque right across the street from my concession
5:45AM- Bathroom trip, changing for running, and washing face (you can not greet people until you wash your face...)
5:55AM- greet everyone in my host family that is awake starting with the oldest
6:00AM- Pick up Matt and go running for 30 min (damn it is hot and I'm not really acclimating that well. Combination of dehydration and poorer nutrtion I am sure)
6:40AM- Return to concession, greet everyone, and basically get thrown in the shower.
7:00AM- Eat breakfast in room (they don't let me eat outside for breakfast anymore because of the flies). I usually review a little Bambara before class
8:00AM- Time for language classes with three other volunteers in my village.
12:00PM- Morning class is over and time for lunch and sitting around with family, mostly studying. I used to take naps but not so much lately
2:15PM- More language classes
5:00PM- Back to homestay, shower, dinner, studying, sometimes watching bad TV (battery powered), teaching english of the words I know in Bambara
9:00PM-11:00PM- Time for bed. Sometimes studying and journal writing
There are many different ethnic groups in Mali but most distinctively 8 from the 8 different regions. Each region has common last names. People of certain last names joke with others of a different last name. This is actually really fun and you can say and call them anything; mostly donkey (I ye foli ye) and that they eat beans (U be sho dun). (Don't worry, I am learning some useful Bambara too.
Ofcourse the rights of women here are very limited. Polygomy is legal (up to four wives) and womens work is womens work (washing, cookings, cleaning, etc). I did have some fun conversations with my nephew and aunt when I told them that American men only had one wife. My nephew proceeded to say that that was bad and you need 4 wives and many children. I said, I would like to have 4 husbands and that got a laugh from both of them. I did explain to them that my parents were divorced and they were very somber on that subject (culturally sensitve). They were also really surprised that my Mother's sisters were "so old", unmarried, and had no children not to mention that I only have one younger sister.
I did tell them that I was single with no children. Some PCTs and PCVs create husbands but I decided I wanted to sort of educate them on that aspect of American culture. So far I have only gotten one marriage proposal anyways. Though, I will get a ring for whenever I travel.
Also, when a man and a woman get married in Mali there "honeymoon" is spent in a special house in the village for 7 days. The man is allowed to leave after 3 days and visit friends but the woman is not supposed to leave for the entire time.
Dancing (Donke in Bamanankana)
Some of my favorite moments at homestay have been dancing. There was a random traditional dance for a few hours on Weds. similar to our welcoming dance and music. Me and the other girl in my village tried to mimic the Malian moves but mostly proved that white people can't dance. However, it is still a great experience to listen and watch. The drummers are amazing with no sheet music and women dance with sleeping babies on their backs.
Last night (Saturday night) we had a dance in our village but a little bit closer to an American dance. It took a while to get started (we showed up at 9 and it didn't start until 11). I was really surprised to see young, Malian girls dressed in outfits that you would see clubbing in the states...We did get our chance to shine on the dance floor after they spent an hour replaying the same 2 minutes of song for random people to dance...We showed them some "American" style dancing that probably wasn't too culturally appropriate for Mali but hilarious. Apparently many pictures were taken... After we did our American dance, the party really got started and I had a great time. Stayed until 2AM eventhough the dance ended at 3AM since we needed to return to Tubaniso (the PC training camp/little America) at 8AM.
Wow, this has been a long entry. I really need to get to bed. As I said we are back in Tubaniso (little Ameriki) for some technical and cultural sessions. I now realize why all the PC volunteers love this place. I do feel so much more comfortable here surrounded by americans and provided with better food (Salad and fruit!), as well as fans in our rooms. We go back to our homestay villages on Wednesday after a short tour of the capital, Bamako. We will be in our villages for another week and a half. We return for a week in Tubaniso where we will receive our site assignments and then visit them for a week (that will be a major milestone).
Again, everything is going well but I just wish I was better at picking up the language.
Thanks to everyone for all the e-mails and, hopefully, soon to arrive letters and packages (yay!). Really I don't have any requests besides grape gatorade which I believe my Aunts, Mom, and Nana will be sending.