As of tomorrow, I will have been living with my host family for a week. I can’t stress how great they have all been to me. They are extremely welcoming, they are patient with my inability to speak French, and they are all very sociable and pleasant people! My integration into their lives has been easier than I ever imagined. While I am struggling with understanding and speaking French and Bambara, I am finding the cultural differences very easy to adapt to. First of all, their house is very similar to houses in the United States, so my living conditions are comfortable and familiar. My family is privileged in that we have all the luxuries (such as air-conditioning, hot water, wifi, etc.) that a lot of Malians don’t have. The only large difference in living-style that I have noticed, is that their kitchen is outside. They cook over a fire in the courtyard and then, except for my host dad, we eat outside as well. That is another cultural difference; my host dad will always eat his meals separately from the rest of the family.
Initially, I thought that I might have a hard time getting used to the food or that I wouldn’t like a lot of things, but I was wrong! Every meal that I have had has been delicious! A typical Malian breakfast (le petit dejeuner) consists of coffee or tea with a baguette. However, today we had a special larger breakfast that consisted of beef with some kind of sauce that was eaten with the baguette. For lunch (le dejeuner) and dinner (le diner) we have rice with some type of meat (usually beef or chicken), vegetables, and plantains or french fries. With my meals, I usually drink water or bisap, which is a delicious juice made from hibiscus flowers. Another popular drink is gingembre, an extremely spicy but sweet juice made from pure ginger.
Another thing that has made integration into Malian culture fairly easy is how sociable everyone is! Today, my host sister and I went to the park to meet up with a bunch of her friends. However, I didn’t realize that half the people I met tonight were meeting my host sister for the first time as well. They greeted each other and began conversing as if they had known each other their whole lives. The language barrier has made it a little difficult for me to interact with people, but it also makes it fun. One of the girls I met tonight really enjoyed speaking to me, knowing that I couldn’t understand her. She would try to act out what she was trying to say, and I would guess using the various words I know in French and Bambara until we understood each other. It made conversation slow, but it was also pretty exciting whenever we could understand what the other just said.
So far, my time here has been pretty relaxing. It is extremely hot during the day, so we mostly stay inside, eat a lot, talk, hang out with friends, etc. But, I have also done and seen a lot as well. I have been to three weddings, I have been to the museum and the park, I saw Transformers in French with my host siblings at the cinema, I have visited many homes of my host family’s large extended family and friends, and have done quite a bit of sight-seeing.
As I am beginning to settle into life here in Mali, I want to now primarily focus on improving my language skills. In case you are interested here are a few of the key Bambara phrases I have learned so far:
I ni ce (Hello)
K’an be (Goodbye)
N togo… (My name is…)
I togo? (What is your name?)
N fara (I am full: this is a very important phrase to know, as Malian will always push you to eat more and more food!)
A ka di (It is good)
Be tana (I am tired/going to bed)
N be taa… (I am going…)
And here are some pictures from today: