How do you describe being in Africa? Being here is definitely surreal. I think about all the times I used to “rough” it when I was little and went camping with the family but that doesn’t even come close. For one thing, I can’t just pack up and go home after a weekend out here. Even though we have other volunteers out here with us, we all have to face the daily reality that we are alone. For each of us this means something different. For me it means I won’t be able to see friends and family for a while (please visit!). It means I will continue to struggle to communicate in a language that is foreign to me. But, I suppose, that’s also the reason I’m here. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. Instead of sleeping in my huge, plush bed, here I sit in the dark, writing with mosquito bites all over my feet because I’m so hot I can’t physically fall asleep. But, for all that Mali has going against it, the people truly make the experience worth it. Have you ever eaten a great home-cooked meal in the dark just staring at the stars? The number of stars I’m able to see makes it seem like I can just reach out and pluck the stars one by one. A lot’s changed in a week, and this is only the beginning. I’m just going to have to take things day by day. One last strange feeling. Who knows what two years is going to do to me. I really wish I had a fan.
I’ve been here for only 2 days I feel like I’ve already met everyone in the village several times. How is it that I feel closer to people I just met than I feel to some people in my neighborhood I’ve “known” for several years? People here don’t have much but what they do have, they try to share so that no one goes hungry. Many Americans are selfish and only look out for their own while the people I’ve met so far in Mali have been warm and hospitable with so much less. Why is that? Why can’t we live in a world where people don’t have to go hungry? My walk through the neighborhood could easily be a commercial for some Christian relief program but instead of seeing sad faces and starving kids, for the most part, I just see regular people trying to live their lives as best they can. It might not compare to life in America but for people who’ve never experienced anything else, is life really that bad? Some people could have a little more and things could be a little cleaner but couldn’t the same be said for people living in Philly? Maybe it’s realizing that we’re not so different that we can start to see each other in a different light. Maybe, we’re human after all.
Day 2 of my time here in “real” Africa. After the initial shock of being in such a poor country I’m slowly adjusting to life as I know it for the next few years. The language is pretty easy but having faced so many transitions all at once has made learning difficult. It’s more or less a bunch of awkward moments between myself and my family. But the thing that annoys me most is the heat. I wake up at 3 am only to find myself drenched in sweat with only a few more hours to try and get some sleep. But the reason I woke up was because I couldn’t sleep anymore. It’s not good. Not only that but I constantly find myself fending off mosquitoes who apparently love my blood. I need to eat more onions.
Last night I had a conversation with my host mom Bintu and two other local ladies. I’m pretty sure they were talking about PCTs in town because one of the ladies mentioned Alima aka Jessie. Will I ever get used to life here in Africa? Constantly I think of how my situation would be different were I back home, even in my dreams. I am enjoying my time here and learning a lot, about my physical and mental limits, but I don’t know if I could do this for two years. Lord willing.
After spending some time in Mali it’s hard to write it off as a sad situation and one of the poorest countries in the world. Mali doesn’t have all the amenities that America has, but people here are more alive than those in America. For being a country that is so connected (via internet and phone) I find it supremely ironic that some Americans have to resort to computers and algorithms to find a spouse. Meanwhile here in Mali it’s not unusual for a man to have several spouses. I’ve already been asked several times why I’m not married. Americans have so much money and it’s not uncommon to find many children have all the toys they could want and still not be satisfied. Meanwhile here in Mali the kids spend their time fighting over who’s going to get my empty Coke bottle. It’s definitely a different pace of life that I’m starting to appreciate. At first I asked myself how I could make these people’s lives better. But now I ask, how can I help these people preserve their way of life. We automatically assume our way of life is better and that more money will solve all their problems. But as far as I can see most people around here are just busy living their lives and taking care of their families. As far as they’re concerned having a little more money would be nice but would it make life that much better? Probably not. Malians are a very resilient, closely knit, and creative group of people. They’ve taken the lot they’ve been given and done the best they can with what they have. It’s only when people like us come and show all these pointless material things that they realize how little they have. And even then, their hospitality is bar none. Alright, time for my bucket bath. Who says there’s no love in Mali? If anything, I’ve learned that life and love transcends race and circumstance.
2 days ago a relative came to visit from Bamako. She had a kid named Levie. He was extremely cute and still very young. He just walked around and did as he pleased. So I played with him and absolutely terrorized him. I would keep him from walking forward by trapping him between my legs. There’s a step in the doorway he had to climb over to get inside to his mom. Every time he got over I would pull him back and make him do it over again. I would pick him up, spin him around, and get him completely disoriented and have him start walking in a random direction. There was a bucket I put him in so that he couldn’t move or get out. Then I’d carry him around in it. By the end of it the sight of me made him cringe every time I picked him up he started crying. Despite all that when I left the next morning for class his mom told me he followed me all the way to school. Children are funny that way aren’t they? I guess he had more fun with me than he thought.
Tonight it rained. In bambara it’s called san ji, which translates as water in the sky. Watching it rain here in Africa is unlike anything back home. It’s nice to see rainfall as God instead. It’s hard to ignore the effects of climate change on weather patterns. The lightning is simply everywhere and it’s pretty much like that scene from The Lion King with Mufasa, but at the same time surprisingly peaceful. The rain is disturbingly peaceful. Pictures couldn’t do it justice. I go back to Tubaniso on Sunday and I can’t wait. I’ve been so out of touch with everyone I’m sure people think I’m dead by now.
I’ll be spending my last night here in Kobalakouro before heading back to Tubaniso tomorrow morning. These past 12 days have both been the longest days of my life and at times some of the best.
The last day of my first month in Africa. I suppose I’ve been pretty fortunate with my digestive issues since being here but during my stay at Tubaniso the second day I started having a terrible case of diarrhea. I probably went 15x the first day. The second day I spent the morning in the med unit. All I did was rush back and forth from the bed to the toilet. I took a stool sample and later found out it was bacterial diarrhea. I took cipro and am feeling a lot better. Although now I’m having trouble pooping now. I’m enjoying my sky here in Kobalakouro. The language is getting easier so my interactions with family and friends is a lot smoother than at the beginning. I’m pretty thankful I’m a Samake. Life could be worse.
I woke up around 5:30 this morning because I was so hot it felt like my entire body was on fire. My throat was dry and my head was pounding. I think all the MSG in the cucumber salad is finally catching up to me. After enjoying the crisp morning air and taking my morning dump it began to rain. It has been raining for several hours now and the streets are completely flooded. It doesn’t look like the rain’s going to give any time soon but who knows? This is Africa. I’ve spent most of my morning cleaning and organizing my room. I really don’t want to walk to school as I’m sure most of the green pools have flooded.