Sunday, November 27, 2011

A Day in the Life of a Trainee

Here is a detailed breakdown of my daily schedule at homestay:

6:00 - The gas-powered generator in my family's compound (10 meters from my door) shuts off. Immediately the rooster starts to call (1 meter from my door) and the cows wake up
6:15 - The donkey (5 meters from my door) makes its morning cry
6:25 - My host mother Assitan comes to ask for my bucket so she can fill it up for my morning bucket bath.
6:30 - I take my morning bucket bath with hot water in the nyegen (pit latrine-style toilet area about two square meters in size) while watching the sunrise. Depending on the day, maybe have a bowel movement.
6:45 - I clean my room, put up my mosquito net, and get dressed.
7:00 - My host brother Abdoulaye arrives and we greet each other and chat while waiting for breakfast to arrive.
7:05 - Breakfast arrives, prepared by and delivered to my room by my host mother. Abdoulaye and I wash our hands with soap (which is endlessly amusing to A) and then sit on my plastic mat on the floor of my room (which happens to be Abdoulaye's old room) to eat. Breakfast is normally a small omelet of eggs and a little onion with a half loaf of baguette. After eating I make tea with milk and sugar, and Abdoulaye makes instant coffee with sugar.
7:25 - We finish eating, wash our hands with soap and water, I prepare my bag for the day, and if I have time, do a few minutes of studying.
7:45 - I leave my room, greet all the miscellaneous people in my enormous compound, receive blessings, and answer questions about where I'm going. I also greet everyone who I meet on the walk to school, which can be two or fifteen people depending on the day.
8:00 - I arrive at school, greet my LCF's host family, greet my LCFs, accept or decline to share their leftover breakfast, and chat with my LCFs and fellow trainees as they arrive from their families' compounds. We set up solar chargers in the most advantageous position to charge our lamps/cell phones.
8:10-8:20 - Class starts. We seven trainees are split up into two groups, one with each LCF. We choose spots for our chairs based on which will get the most shade and study Bambara.
10:00 - Time for a short break. We check on the solar chargers, stretch our legs, chat with friends in the other group, check our phones for calls/texts, joke with our professors (who am I kidding, we don't just do this on breaks!), and/or go to the nyegen to take care of business.
10:15-12:30 - Resume class and study Bambara.
12:30 - I slowly head home for lunch, greeting people along the way, in the afternoon heat which is normally 100-110 degrees fahrenheit (about 37-43 degrees celsius).
12:45 - If the water from the pump isn't being diverted to construction next door, I give my bucket to my host sister to fill for my afternoon bath. Then I take a gloriously cool bucket bath under the scorching sun!
1:00 - I rest until A arrives for tilelafana (lunch), we chat until food arrives. When lunch is brought by one of my host mothers, we wash our hands with soap and water from the salidaga (all-purpose plastic teapot) outside my door, then eat. Lunch is most often burning hot rice and sauce with fish. After eating, we wash our hands with soap and water. Again, endless amusement.
1:20-2:30 - I rest on my plastic mat on the floor until fellow trainees stop by on the way to class; we chat briefly and then head next door to the LCF's house for class.
2:30-4:00 - Bambara class. Lots of confusion and forgetfulness between the heat and the confusingly repetitive grammar structures of Bambara.
4:00-4:15 - Break time: Check the phones/solar chargers, stretch the legs, go to the nyegen.
4:15-5:30 - I may have a cross-cultural session with our LCFs with some Bambara to fill in the rest of the time.
5:30-6:45 - I collect the items I was charging and pack up my notebooks. I spend time with trainees either going for a run, climbing the rocks adjacent to the village, or walking/biking to a nearby village where we can purchase cold drinks. Sometimes studying happens at the same time, sometimes it doesn't.
6:45-7:00 - I return home for dinner and take a bucket bath, consider cleaning my sandals but leave it until tomorrow.
7:15-7:40 - A arrives and we chat while washing our hands and then eating dinner. Dinner is the most varied meal of the day - it could be rice/fish/sauce, potatoes and onions with a small amount of beef, fried potato with boiled eggs, or any number of things.
7:40-9:30 - A and I wash our hands, then I go to chat with my host family in beginner Bambara, go to a friend's house where we'll chat, or have a slower night and study/read/journal.
10:00-10:30 - I brush my teeth, put down the mosquito net, give blessings/say goodnight to whomever is in my compound, turn out the light and crawl back under my mosquito net. By the end of the day I'm worn out!

There are a lot of small variations to be had on this schedule, but some things (such as meals) are set in stone and this basic outline applies 6 days a week. It's exhausting, especially for an American who is used to having more personal time. One way or another I'm surrounded by people (who all want to interact with me!) all throughout my day.

Sometimes the morning Bambara classes are replaced by sector-specific sessions, meaning small enterprise development oriented sessions such as on the Malian economy or how to plan a meeting in the Malian context. These sessions are always a fun break from Bambara class! If you have any specific questions about my daily life, feel free to post a comment and I'll do my best to respond when I get the chance!

Bambara/English/French Word of the Day: 
Fali - Donkey - Âne