Saturday, August 26, 2006

The new life of Djiné Moussa Doumbia

I dont even know where to start Mali I am now back in Tubaniso from two weeks at my homestay in Sanankoroba, a big town south of Bamako. Honestly, I really dont how to begin describing how my life is here. Unless youve been to Western Africa or somewhere in the middle, I dont know if you can realistically imagine life here. And when I say life, I mean life of a local. Life how Malians live it; something so different from any other living I have ever experienced in all my travels now to 35 countries on six continents.

Sanankoroba is considered a large town or small city with a population just under 8,000 people. It is located on a main road south with one gas station on the far end of town. There is a school, small medical clinic, a few soccer fields, an outdoor market (remember think primitive here), some Boutiques, a few telephone cabines and a few other various shop type places. The Boutiques or Butikis sell some common goods such as soap, vinegar, millet, rice, sugar, and kerosene for lamps since almost no one has electricity; everything else is bought at the market. When I say nobody has electricity, this doesnt mean they dont have anything that runs on it they simply will have large car batteries and a crude system to plug appliances into it. When that runs low, my family pulls out a gas generator to run our nightly tv watching of a French dubbed Spanish soap opera. For my family to even have the battery to run something off of is quite rare and only because I live in a large community. Only two other trainees in my village out of nine have tvs and now after talking with a lot of other trainees back here in Tubaniso, an even lower percentage nearer to 5% have similar living conditions as I do. Most are in mud huts using their kerosene lamps at night with no appliances whatsoever.

All of us share the common bond of the Negan. The Negan is where Malians shower and go to the bathroom. They vary in size and whether or not they have a roof or not but basically all have concrete floors with a hole the diameter of a large coffee can or so to go to the bathroom in. Try and imagine an outhouse with nowhere to sit (you have to squat) and you also take your shower in there (shower being a bucket of water drawn up from a well and a cup to pour the water over yourself with). The negan is a big part of life here, especially for us newcomers. We get visits from Mr. D. and tend to be in there squatting quite frequently. I myself am just finishing a 6 day bout with Mr. D.

Regarding the tv, I personally wish I didnt have it. Having a tv means mostly the same thing it does in America only with one channel. Everyone stops talking and stares at the glowing box for hours on end with very little conversation conversation I desperately need to improve my language skills. I would rather be forced to communicate with my family rather than become familiar with the lives of Spanish soap opera stars. I appreciate the cultural lessons from the various Malian commercials and news programs but would prefer to go next door to watch one night a month or at least keep it under a sheet except on rare occasions rather than stare every night at the glowing box. I didnt really watch much tv when I was back in the States and now find myself drifting even further away from that mentality if you will. I talked with an uncle (some related member not quite sure how) and he has a DVD player, when I come back from Tubaniso, I am going to bring my Power of Four DVD to show my family Aspen and where Im from. Considering they dont even have a word for snow in Bambara, I think it will be quite interesting. (Power of Four for those that dont know is a promotional video produced by the Aspen Skiing Company and is essentially a great way for me to show people here where I am from).

I have found it very difficult to find personal time to myself here, a similar theme in most trainees homestay experiences. Just time to pull away and study, read, listen to music, take a nap, or even just sit in my room to stare at the wall is almost impossible to come by. Peace Corps pre-service training or PST is very structured, something supposedly quite the opposite from when we move to our permanent sites for 2 years at the beginning of October. We have training class every day from 8am to 12:30 and then from 2:30 to 4:30 Monday thru Saturday with class only in the mornings on Sundays. That one afternoon off a week doesnt leave must time for the personal activities I mentioned above considering when youre at your homestay you are swarmed around by all your family members.

When I say all the family members, I mean all fifteen of them! A grandfather, father, three wives, and ten children ranging from 3 months to 18 this doesnt even include the at least 5-10 other relations and friends always around in some quantity or another. They have taken me as a part of their family and even renamed me Djiné Moussa Doumbia. Mali is Islamic and men are allowed to take 4 wives and then also end up with many many many children. My father is involved with a sister city program in Canada and raises chickens and other various animals in our concession or little compound. It makes life interesting and quite different from that people in the US are used to with the nuclear family.

My three meals a day consist of some instant Nescafe and a foot-long baguette, some rice dish with sauce for lunch and either pasta or potatoes and sauce for dinner with lunch typically being the biggest. This is all done with a twist, or rather a flick of the wrist to be more accurate. Malians eat with their hands out of a communal bowl. I am getting better but still need quite a bit of practice. I challenge all of you to do this: cook up some regular long noodle spaghetti al dente, mix in some tomato sauce, put in a large mixing bowl (the size you would you use for a cake or a large salad) and eat with only your right hand. Hard huh?! Yeah, welcome to my life, even if just a small fraction of it. Seriously, I want to hear some feedback on how it goes oh and no napkins or anything during the meal, lick your fingers!

Another observation Ive made here is that women do a lot of work around the house. Originally, I was not allowed to do my laundry, pull up water from the well, carry a chair outside to sit, sweep the dirt from my room, cook or anything related basically they are the ultimate hosts in the way they view a guest. They insist on them doing as close to nothing for themselves as possible. I have since been allowed to get water from the well, but that is a rare occasion since they usually come into my room and grab my bucket for showers and take it full to the Negan.

When I say it is probably very hard for the average American or even the experienced traveler to imagine life here in Mali, Ill end with this: imagine chickens, chickens everywhere. Sure I have a lot at my family compound with my family raising them (in addition to the donkeys, cows, rabbits, turkeys, pigeons, small baby deer size animals looking related to an antelope and one parakeet). However, chickens, chickens are everywhere. When were sitting outside in our language lessons during the day they are constantly walking around, theyre walking down the main road in town, through the market, into your room, into the phone cabine, into the butiki, and even in the Negan. I dont think you can quite grasp what this means without actually experiencing it first-hand.

Ill end on that.

1 comment:

Ms. J said...

Thank you for sharing such beautiful stories. You are a fine writer. It is wonderful to hear about your life right now.

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