Back from my 1st 2 weeks at homestay. The Malian people are phenomenal. Everyone is extraordinarily welcoming and you really are a king, which makes me uncomfortable, but at the same time provides me with incredible security. This will probably be a rather short post for everything I have to say, but I'll post longer tomorrow.
So, first of all, I agree with Kristen about the soap thing and alientating my host family, but there are a few things that work in my favor. First of all, these families choose to have me there, the Peace Corps pays them well to take care of me, feed me, and put up with all the cultural/language faux-pas I make. They themselves were trained to recieve me and understand that I am very susceptible to diseases that they can brush off due to the fact that they've lived with the bacteria all their lives and their immune systems are equiped to deal with it. So they agreed to follow certain regulations in order to have me, and part of these included washing their hands. Also, I apologize and understand that some are culturally supersticious, but they do wipe with their left hand, and I refuse to contract some kind of permanent or potentially serious disease because of this. One of the objectives of the Peace Corps is to provide health education and teaching them to wash their hands is an easy, effective, and straightforward method of minimizing the spread of bacteria.
Anyways, homestay is awesome. A typical day involves me waking up at 5:45am, going for a 3-5 mile run with other trainees. Then I get back, greet the members of my family starting with the oldest woman. I live in a concession with about 100 people. I only have to greet those who are older than me, but it still takes me about a half hour. I have been given a Malian name, and I've been named after the father of my host father, so my name is Tiemen Diarra (pronounced Che Man Jarra) and basically means "man" which is really funny because I'm the only male trainee at my homestay. Diarra is the last name. Tiemen had 42 grandkids, all of which live in my concession, and some of which have children of their own. So then I take a bucket bath - water is pumped from the well into a bucket, then I take a cup and pour the water over me little by little. Definitely an experience haha. Then I go to my room, change, then they bring my breakfast, which involves a loaf of bread, some coffee, and a rice pourridge. Then I go to school. The children walk with me, usually holding my hand and asking to carry my backpack. Due to the village mentality, it's rude not to greet people, so the 5 minute walk to school usually takes me 20+ minutes because I have to say hi to everyone, ask them how their night was, how their family is, and then answer the questions right back.
Then I have class from 8-12, go back, have lunch, then usually I'll sit and talk with the women and have tea, sometimes taking a nap and/or a bucket bath. Then I go back to class from 3-5. I come back, then my day loses it's routine. Sometimes I get the soccer ball or the frisbee and play with the kids, sometimes I go for a walk, sometimes I just sit and chat. I'll take another bucket bath, go out and hang out with my host dad until around 8:30 or 9 when we have dinner. Then I sit around while the children teach me Bambara vocabularly or I speak in French with some of the older kids. Then I go to bed sometime around 10-10:30.
Anyways, that ended up being longer than I thought it would. I'll make sure to post again tomorrow, and I'll be using my computer so I'll actually be able to type quickly.
If you want to reach me, apparently you have to type 011 or something before doing 223. I'm not sure if international texts work, but give it a try if you want. Also, it is A LOT cheaper if you call my cell phone using skype - also, with skype, you don't need to put in the 011.
I did get sick, it's actually a pretty funny story, but feeling much better. Peace Corps takes excellent care of me. I'll make sure to include more details tomorrow.
Also, my phone is charged again, and I'll be keeping it on all day.
- Mario Felix Tiemen Romero Diarra... among other things.