I ni faama (It’s been a while)! Malians use this phrase even when it’s only been a couple days since they’ve last seen me, so I’ll pretend it’s only been a couple days since my last post. I apologize for such a long absence, but such is life in the Peace Corps. Another anecdote about timeliness – I have been unable to find a way to say “I am/was late” in pure Bambara, the best that has been given to me is “N ma na joona,” or “I didn’t come early.”
I am now firmly rooted on site, with two full weeks under my belt. Problems abound with my apartment, ranging from not getting keys to a room I’m paying for to a broken pump to just general difficulty keeping the place clean. One of the disadvantages of having a “real” apartment with white tile floors (a serious luxury for volunteers) is that it’s much to see dirt than on other surfaces. My city is a dusty place outside of the rainy season, which I have yet to see but am nervously anticipating (see earlier posts on the legendary latrine flooding that comes with the seasonal rains). Even keeping doors and windows closed dust accumulates at a remarkable pace. This means lots of cleaning, which I haven’t quite gotten a hang of but to which I will be forced to adapt.
My friend Kevin came up for a visit from his town a few kilometers away on Monday and he helped me take stuff left by previous volunteers to my house. It’s feeling much more like home. There was a good amount of large objects such as tables, so our only real option for transportation across town was to pay a boy with a donkey cart to take it to my house. Our little toubabs caravan across the city drew less attention than I expected, but still plenty. One of the advantages of living in a larger city! Kevin’s Malian name is Yiriba (big tree) which is endlessly amusing to Malians because not only is his name unusual but my Malian name is Ceyiri (man tree) is not only close to his but also unusual. We make quite a pair and are frequently mistaken for each other.
I am still trying to define my place at work since I have a number of opportunities to pursue. I am concentrating for the moment on the women’s sewing center which I was originally expected to work with. Once volunteers are on site it is they are free to determine how they can best aid their communities. This not infrequently results in volunteers doing work outside of their sector, so for example I am looking at ways I can be involved in health education and English language instruction. As I said, though, at the moment I am concentrating on the women’s center. I enjoy working with the students who are mostly young women between the ages of 15 and 20, are residents of Niono and have for various reasons stopped going to school. The center exists as a way for them to independently generate their own income. A number of them are mothers, which adds to the difficulties. In addition to practicing Bambara whenever I am with Malians, especially at the center and with my host family, I have started one-on-one tutoring sessions with an elementary school teacher who teaches Bambara as a national language. For my first few months Peace Corps will help me to pay for my tutoring as part of the support they give me in adapting into my new community.
Lastly, it is a great time to be in Africa because the African Cup of Nations (CAN) is well underway! This continent-wide tournament is an event held in different countries every two years, and the hosts this year are Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. A welcome surprise for me was that the previous champions, Egypt, failed to qualify for the tournament. I watched with dismay from Senegal as they defeated Ghana in the 2010 final. Mali also qualified and despite rumors that the team wasn’t good this year they dispatched of Guinea nicely and showed themselves to be a formidable opponent. I was less pleased to see Senegal eliminated after only two games, showing no energy and failing to score even when they had good opportunities. There are two matches per day at this stage of the tournament, which provides a lot of entertainment for us.
Watch for Mali’s next game Saturday and look for another blog update soon!