Thinking about how to explain my homestay visit is not so easy. It's pretty indescribable but I'll do my best! My village, Kabe, has about 800 people and is a beautiful farming village with one water pump and a small market that has vendors on Thursdays (sometimes). It's the rainy season so it's lush and green and not at all what I expected (dust and dirt, dirt, dirt). The shea trees dot the landscape as far as you can see and I greet two cows, a donkey and various chickens when I open my hut door in the morning.I live with lots of families but am looked after by the Toure family. When we met our families, they gave us Malian names and mine is Jelika Toure. My host dad looks to be in his 70s and has two wives. His son Gibril, and his wife Korotumo, really take care of me. Gibril is a marimba/xylophone player for a band based out of Kabe and which travels around to Bamako and lots of little surrounding villages for all sorts of celebrations. He's about 30 and Korotumo is 25 and they have 5 children, Umu (above) is my favorite because she's a doll baby and curls up in my lap at night after we eat and falls asleep. Two things that I love in the United States, grandparent-age people and babies, are all around me in Kabe. My host grandmother (one of them) is too precious for words. I go to greet her in the morning but she won't talk to me until I've used the bathroom so she just pokes her head out of her hut and cocks her head and makes a "hunnh!" noise to indicate she's heard me. She's about 70 it seems as well and has lost all her teeth, but not her beauty, to age. Everyone speaks to me in Bambara like it's a first language (not because they are confident in my ability, but rather because they don't understand how I can't) and Grandma is no exception. I will go and sit with her outside her hut and sing in English to her and she'll clap, clap clap and add her own noises along with my singing which cracks me up to no end. I'm lucky because it is like living in a fishbowl, but my family does give me breathing room for sure.
We spend 6 hours a day doing language training and it's coming along at such a speedy rate! The Peace Corps is surprising me everyday with how much they prepare us. The health care is incredible - we have sessions every other day it seems about how to treat various diseases and any medicine I need, they provide quicker than I could get from a pharmacy. Also, Mali is unique (I believe, this could be heresy) because we learn the local language, not just French. My host brother speaks French which is very helpful, but I'm hoping not to rely on it too much as my Bambara improves.
Everyday is something new and different. I'm blessed to have already met incredible folks who at the sight of an eye welling with a tear offer their shoulder for a quick cry. We're all looking out for one another and it feels so wonderful to be in such a supportive, enthusiastic community.
As I write this post, I'm listening to two foreign service officers talk about their jobs which sound wild. They came out here to give us our absentee ballot applications and talk about their careers and it's fascinating. Not a job for me, but I sure do enjoy the stories.
In case anyone was wondering, fate is alive and well. While I am just outside the capital, we've yet to venture in because of our limited language abilities and we've got loads of other training things to do. My only interest right now is to get there to meet Malick Sidibe, the Malian photographer I studied for my senior thesis in art history. All of our language and training sessions are led by Malians or current volunteers and the head Malian man is a cousin of Malick! This isn't that exceptional to Malians because so many people have the same last name, but he seems to actually be related and has just relayed to me his business card with his personal number! Gloria, am I excited! I think I'll write out what I'm going to say to him before I call but I can't believe it's going to actually happen.
Training is harder than I thought it would be so far, but I can also tell this is going to be so much more rewarding than I could have ever imagined. Thank you for the emails and letters - your words are keeping me going!