Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Reflections on Homestay

So Nicole and I have finished our first week and a half living with an actual Malian family. Here are some notable highlights:

  • I have been renamed Umaru Kone, and Nicole is Mamine Kone.
  • We are learning Bambara, which is spoken by 80% of Malians. It's a pretty easy language to learn, especially compared to those learning Fulfulde and Dogon.
  • Our language class is awesome. We have a great teacher and great classmates. We have great fun saying weird things. N'ye kaletigela ye (I am a trouble maker).
  • They don't have words (or wonder, it seems) for different stars or constellations. To them, it's just lolo (star) and kalo (moon).
  • Living without electricity is easy, because at night we have kerosene lanterns and flashlights (AA and C batteries are readily available).
  • Pooping in a hole in the ground looses its appeal real quick
  • I think that the food is pretty good. It's just a bit too repetitive (rice for five days straight gets a bit boring).
  • You can't beat 9 mangoes for 20 cents.
  • Working in the field is fun, but hard. I was using a daba (kind of like a hoe but with a 2 foot long handle) to clear out the weeds between cornstalks. My family definitely understood me better after farming (why is this guy here? he doesn't farm, just goes to this guy's house all day).
  • Kids are kids no matter where you go. We had fun making sounds with our tongues. They love Old MacDonald and Go Fish and when I dance.
  • It appears that everyone eats a lot. We are never able to finish the food that they give us (Nicole, me, and one of our host dad's sons eat together out of a big bowl using our right hands). Unfortunately, protein is scarce so there are lots of carbohydrates (rice, millet, potatoes, spaghetti, beans).
  • Big conversation topics are food and poop.
  • Our host family is really nice. I'm very glad to be here and can't wait until I can speak Bambara and have meaningful conversations
  • I've done a lot of reflection on how our countries are different. Here, it is okay to beat wives and children, which is bad. But on the flip side, Mali didn't invade Iraq. Malians have a lot of checks to prevent conflict, like joking cousins. The joking cousin idea is a fabulous one. For example, all Traores eat dogs. (They don't really, but these jokes help keep everyone lighthearted). Also, I'm not allowed to fight with a Traore, or a Dembele, or a Dumbia, or a Koulibaly, but if I need someone for conflict resolution, I can use one.
  • Polygamy is the norm here, as well as really large families. While this isn't great for the world's population, it does create really fun, caring families. Family life is really important here, so while they have hardly any material possessions, they are rich in familial love.

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