Monday, November 3, 2008

How old are you and what's your weight?

Here's my always beautiful host-mom Annie with her baby Christine on her back, pulling water from the well in our compound.

This is my endearing and lazy cat Caya (pronounced chai-uh). She likes to wait until I've started reading on this table and then jump on and lay on top of the book.


Two things that are reversed in terms of cultural ideals here (for an American) are the perception of weight and age. In America, women and men would gasp at someone telling them they are old or putting on weight. However, where I am, people take pride when others comment on their increasing age and telling them they're getting fatter.

My host dad keeps saying "Djelika, you need to eat to be big and fat so when you see your family they'll say, 'Mali is good for you - look at the weight you've gained!'" I try to explain to him folks back home don't view weight gain in quite the same light but he looks at me suspiciously like I'm just telling him that to shut him up. Yesterday when I told my host mom how beautiful she is she replied "Oh, I don't think so, I'm getting skinnier now that it's harvest season, maybe when I put on weight." The juxtaposition of the American fixation with being skinny and the Malian ideal that the fatter the better is a bit jarring and is still taking some getting used to.

And as for age. Perhaps it's a universal value to respect your elders but in Mali, it's a source of pride as soon as you can start to say you're getting older. This isn't as jarring as the weight issue for me since I've never had a problem (in the States) of folks thinking I'm older than I am. However, while I know many people perceive me as distinguished and wise because of my uncontrollable laughter and skipping around, I don't think I actually come across as being all that old. When a man came to vaccinate the farm animals in my village this past week he asked me how old I was. I asked him to guess and he said, "35?" Smile on my face and suppressing a laugh I told him he was only off by a few years.
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