One of my favorite (ok, there are alot) things about living in Mali is sharing how great Mali is with folks outside the country. Last week a friend from college, Lauren, who is teaching at the American school in Damascus, Syria sent me an email with a list of questions from her 7th grade students who are studying ancient Mali.
Here's a sampling of their very insightful questions. Thanks for making me think some more about me and Mali!
2.) Did you like the place you were in Mali before your third year or do you like Bamako better?
Good question! I like them both but for different reasons. I enjoy Bamako so much because I already speak Bambara (the majority language spoken here even though French is the 'official' language) and understand the Malian culture – all of which I learned in village. Living in village has hard! No electricity, no running water, no internet! But it also gave me a very rich base in the culture, one that would be harder to gain had I lived only in Bamako. I loved living in village and feeling so connected to a family and sleeping under the stars at night without air pollution and speeding cars passing by.
4.) Are you homesick?
Not today! The feelings come and go, as with anything. Sometimes I will get an email from a friend or Skype with a family member and I'll miss being home. It's the small things I miss when I begin to miss home. Going out to lunch. Lounging at home and watching movies with my family. I've been lucky this past year though to have gone home twice and I will go home again in October. Also what helps is that I've had a few friends and my mom come visit so it's not so bad.
12.) What form of transportation do you use the most?
My boss usually picks me up for work in her car and then I take a public bus home. Sometimes, if it's not too hot, I bike to and from work on the bike Peace Corps gives all volunteers. After hours I use taxis which aren't too terribly expensive but aren't cheap either!
15.) What is the best thing about being in Peace Corps?
The opportunity you're giving to truly immerse in a different culture with a support network behind you. PC provides awesome cultural and language training – no stone is left unturned in either area! They set you up to succeed because with language and culture, you can then try to fit in and develop true relationships with people rooted in understanding.
5.) Do you want to come to Syria and help?
What kind of help does Syria need?? :) I'd love to come and visit, that's for sure!
11.) Did you feel very different once you arrived in Mali and how did you get used to the change?
I feel like Mali hasn't made me a different person but brought out more of the real me. I've learned so much about myself here – who would have thought I could learn a totally different language and live in a culture completely different from my own?? Of course, there was a lot to get used to as well but being adaptable and flexible are great characteristics to have!
12.) What has been your favorite moment while helping people in Mali?
The chance to live with the people I work (this being more in village than here in Bamako, I have my own apartment here). It wasn't like I showed up at the office, made some decisions and went home. When I lived in village and worked with the shea butter women's group and cereal bank association – those were people I hung out with at night, went to church with, celebrated marriages, baptisms and funerals with. There is such a sense of connection to your work when you know the people for whom and with whom you work.
16.) Are you happy to answer all of these questions?
You betcha! What a great opportunity to reflect on my time here in Mali and to share some of what I've learned with a curious group of 7th graders in Syria!