So I go back to homestay tomorrow afternoon. The visit to Tubaniso was short but excellent. It was a great chance to talk to the other trainees and exchange stories. Personally I've really enjoyed my experience, but others have been having a tough time dealing with their host families. We've had some good sessions including cross cultural, security, and health talks.
I'm living in Soundougouba, which is about an hour and a half northeast of Bamako.
One thing I forgot to mention last night, is that I get woken up every morning at 5:00am because of a cacophony of sounds. About 15 feet outside my door, is a family of chickens with their rooster who starts going just before 5. The donkey, who likes to sleep next to the chickens, then starts braying at around 5:30, and it seriously sounds like it could be dying. Then the mosque begins calling everyone to prayer around 5:45, so all these sounds are going at once. For all of you who know me to sleep in and never wake up so early, this is my explanation. So Kristen, the next time you want to wake me up from a happy sleep at 7:00am, just remember to bring a chicken, a donkey, and a microphone, and I will very happily grab breakfast with you. I also think the donkey has it out for me, because he brays whenever I step out of my room, and whenever I'm eating breakfast. Then as soon as I glare at him he stops and bares his teeth a little bit.
Anyways, things are good. Toilets are a hole in the ground, everything is made out of mud brick, including my room, which combined with a tin roof, makes it almost literally an oven.
Family culture is interesting. The men have almost all the power and the kids follow the adult's lead in this sense. Mali is apparently the most illiterate country in the world, and has extremely low rate of education, particularly for women. Chores/jobs for men and women are almost strictly defined. As of now, it's been a challenge getting my own water, and it's completely out of the question for me to do my own laundry. At site, I'm planning on doing my own laundry and cook my own food to demonstrate that men can also cook and do laundry, regardless of what they might believe. I've already gotten into very calm, simple conversations in French about marriage. The men are allowed to marry up to 4 wives, but they laugh and appear very confused when I ask (knowing the answer) whether or not women are allowed to have more than 1 husband. To them, this is incomprehensible and rather amusing for me. Malians have the most amazing sense of humor. Literally everything is funny to them. Actually, they have this culture called "joking cousins" where different family groups are allowed to make fun of other, specific families. As a Diarra, I have free reign to make fun of any Traore, Coulibali, and quite a few others. This is an amazing form of conflict resolution and social lubricant. Basically, it works like this: I greet the person, they say hi back, and then I can tell them that they eat beans, and fart a lot, or that they speak donkey language. I can even tell them that they are stupid or that they should change their name, and all they do is laugh and insult me back, which is hilarious. Often, if a couple is having marital problems, one of the joking cousins will go over and joke with the husband or wife in order to calm them down or diffuse the situation.
Anyways, they are some of the most welcoming, happy people I have ever met, and all they do is laugh at just about everything I do or say whether it's right or not. I'm kind of like a pet, which is entertaining... for now. They tell me when to sleep, they tell me when to wash myself, they tell me when to eat, the kids pet my arm hair, they yell my name all the time (probably the kid's favorite past time), and they bring me a chair every time I want to sit with them. It's pretty funny.
Also, they absolutely love frisbees. I threw one, and they get super excited and chase it, and squeal. Even the boys my age squeal like little girls, duck out of the way and jump around. It's really funny.
Anyways, it's been fun. I'm observing a lot, and I hope this is satisfying everyone's curiosity. I know I didn't include specific stories, but you can take my word for it that I've been having a good time.
I do have a lot of time to think because I still can't quite communicate, so I've been thinking a lot about the education problem here in Mali. As an education volunteer, I do feel overwhelmed because there is so much to fix. I know I can't solve everything, and I don't expect to, but regardless, I really hope that the programs that I begin will become self-sustainable after I'm gone. At this point, that's just about all I can hope for, and the Peace Corps definitely emphasizes celebrating the small victories and that what we're really here to do is be the catalysis that will eventually result in larger developmental changes. Development takes a really long time, and 2 years in 1 village is far from enough, but we'll see how it turns out.
Staying positive :)