All of our teachers are Malians and so far we've been learning about how to take care of ourselves to avoid "Mister D" as the doctor calls it (diarrhea) and safety precautions among other things. Malians are very friendly people and apparently the only concerns are when you're in the city or urban areas where people are less traditional and take advantage of tourists. Don't worry about me though - I'll likely be in a fairly rural place with lots of shea trees! Mali is the largest grower of shea trees in the world but only holds 12% of the international market for shea products because the women add too many impurities to meet the standard. I had my interview with my Agriculture director who said that I would likely be working with shea butter production and the marketing of the product or fish farming.
The Niger river runs alongside our enclosed space so a few of us walked down today to check it out. This afternoon there were fishermen in gondola like boats fishing and one of them noticed us looking at him so he pushed his way on over. We exchanged greetings (nodding and smiling when we didn't know what he was saying) and it turned into him asking if we needed a ride to the hotel across the river (obviously looking out of place on a river bank away from the city). We can't really communicate beyond "Hello, my name is Jennifer, how is your family" so we smiled big and shook our heads before leaving. On our trek to the river, I of course was searching for a hippo, but alas, was lucky enough to not see one... My two current goals (aside from Peace Corps things...) while here in Mali are to meet Malick Sidibe and to see a hippo.
Today we started our language training for Bambara. It's a learnable language though we're all still stumbling along through greetings. All the volunteers here (about 10) who do our training and have been here for a year speak it very quickly and without any trouble so I know it can be done.
Tomorrow a cultural festival is happening so lots of vendors and folks will come out here to show us Malian culture in a microcosm. We leave on tuesday for 12 days for our initial homestays where we will be in groups of 8 (though each with our own family) to really learn Bambara.
It's been a week (almost) since leaving Virginia Beach and so far so good. More later!