Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Site Visit

First of all, there are a lot of things to talk about, so I’m going to try to keep the site information brief and tell a few stories instead. I know this blog is long, the next post I find to be the most important thing I have to say.
Fortunately, I got to take Peace Corps transport up to my site, which meant that I got to take extra luggage up without having to put it on public transportation, which I’ll have to do when I fully install. My site buddy (a previous volunteer who knows the area) names Alyssa Mouton was awesome and showed me around the areas that she knew, but since she had only been to my site to visit a fellow PCV (Peace Corps Volunteer), she only knew the market area where the previous volunteer lived. However, it was extremely relieving how comfortable she felt as a woman in a large city, and also very comforting to have her there when my housing situation went awry. Basically, my housing was a complete fiasco. Just a quick note: Peace Corps is excellent about finding people housing and counterparts to work with… I just fell through the cracks. Anyways, my house wasn’t ready (I was about to stay there for 5 days) because it wasn’t clean, not up to Peace Corps regulations, and occupied…. So, they found me another place while they told the entire family to move out, which, apparently they hadn’t paid rent for over a year, but I didn’t come here to displace families.
Long story short, my 5 days at my future 2 year site was rather chaotic but is currently being taken care of and I will have a place to live that is secure and up to Peace Corps regulations within the next 3 weeks which is when I swear in, become an official volunteer, and then move to my site for the next 2 years.
Ok, so I know that details are warranted. My first thing is that my site is pretty cool. I understand that I might have said, and will say things that make it sound negative, but there are many things that factor into that appearance through words. First of all, I expected a small village. All the programs I had considered or thought about were around this thought. I was chosen for my site for very legitimate reasons, I understand and agree with them. I am looking forward to living there and I plan on doing the best I can to improve their education system among other things. First of all, the site is not pretty. This is not necessarily a bad thing. It just isn’t attractive. The land in incredibly flat, very sandy, shrubs thrive (at least in the rainy season), very little grass, and some trees. There is river that goes through the Northern part of town, but we’re in the rainy season… and it’s still barely a creek (and creek is the wrong word, because that makes it sound cute, and green, but it’s just sand). The streets aren’t paved, there is a big market, and very few multi-story buildings. Essentially, imagine Ann Arbor without the greenery, all the houses are made of mud and not more than 1 story, and the streets are all mud except for main street. So it feels like a very large, slightly disorganized sprawl. I will be living in a private walled concession with my own house of 4 rooms (one of which is a bathroom), a separated kitchen, and a separated single room. I have 2 trees within the walls of my compound, and some dirt where I plan on making a garden with lots of vegetables.
City life is very different from my small town of Soundougouba. First of all, I have electricity and running water (internet is supposedly at the new high school, but since school isn’t in session right now, I can’t really use it). I don’t have to greet everyone, but I am the really weird white guy, so I say hi to as many people as possible in order to make friends and establish more security. I know I said last time that my Bambara might be useless. This was much to strong, and I understood that when I wrote it. I was just frustrated at the time, but although French is the “official” language, Bambara is the “national” language, and even if they don’t speak the language, they understand what I’m saying. My favorite part about this city is actually the fact that there aren’t only Bambara people here. There are Sonninke, Bambara, Malenke, Fulani, Moors, and Mauritians. All have their own features, language, and dress that I’m starting to learn to recognize. Definitely excited to start dressing like a Moor, because their fabric designs are awesome! Anyways, all kinds of different cultures coming together and once I get language down, I’m going to have a field day. I was extremely happy to find out that I can understand a good deal of Bambara as long as I know the context. If I know where the person is going with their story or what they are trying to tell me (which when I meet people it’s almost always the same 4 or 5 questions), I can respond appropriately. And many people speak French and they all think I’m French. I actually made a point of when people spoke to me and I had the ability to speak in Bambara, I would. This way, they would understand that I understood them and was willing to meet them halfway/speak their language and not only were they more receptive to that, but they were more friendly. Of course, usually this led to me saying, I only speak a little Bambara, and as the conversation progressed, we would switch to a mixture of Bambara and French. So I answer anything I can in Bambara, and use French as a crutch, which hopefully won’t stunt my Bambara. Anyways, as I said, there are an incredible number of cultures here, and so my homologue told me that my name, Tieman Diarra, was too obviously from the Segou region, and that I would have to get a new name. So I told him to start listing first names. He couldn’t think of enough, so I decided that I would go with Shek. This is a much more Muslim name and since the city is more conservative and Muslim, I thought it would be appropriate. Most of the people I speak to know me as Tieman, but now I’m using both names.
But!!!!! Then I was hit with an amazing idea. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to implement it because I thought of this the last day and didn’t get to introduce myself enough. My new name, it sounds very Arabic, I know, but bear with me, it’s basically perfect. My new name, is now Saiph Diarra. This only means something to a few people back home, but it’s one of the best names ever regardless of what people working at the planetarium might think, it’s an awesome name that means “The Sword”. I mean, thinking about it, being a Peace Corps volunteer, and the fact that Diarras are known as lions, the most appropriate name would be Mebsuta (the outstretched paw), but I’m a big fan of Saiph. Plus, it’s a sweet star that is part of the Orion constellation. So, we’ll see, I’m not 100% sure I’ll keep it because so many people know me as Tieman now, but whatever, it’s all good.
Also, you know how I spoke about joking cousins? Well, my favorite is the Traore – Diarra relationship. Maybe it’s just because it was the first joking cousin I learned about, but they seem to have an exceptional joking attitude towards one another. My favorite joke, which is a huge hit among Malians, is that Diarra (known as the lion), is a walaba (very strong lion), and that Traore is a jakuma fitini (very small cat). This is an awesome way to gain someone’s friendship and one that I exploit as often as possible.

Please excuse the typos, I wrote this rather late last night.


  1. That is AWESOME, Saiph. Though, I have to admit, I think Mebsuta is a better name =)

  2. Thanks for the shout-out! I am really glad I got to go with you and meet you. I am looking forward to hearing about what the rest of your time there is like, so keep writing!