Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - First day at homestay

So, today I left the Peace Corps Training center (I call it Camp Peace Corps) in Tubaniso to head to my homestay village in Soundougouba, Mali. Myself and 6 other Peace Corps Trainee’s (PCT’s) all came to the village of Soundougouba together to mainly engage in some intensive language training (total immersion…dropping us in a village with nearly no Bambara words to communicate with, ha ha). When we first arrived, the village people had all congregated at the chief’s home and were singing, dancing, and playing drums and gourds to welcome us. We had to dance around the circle with them, and then we eventually were sat down across from the chief and the other elders of the community. We were given a very nice welcome speech by the chief and a few of the other elders (in Bambara…our Malian PC counterpart, Christian, did the translating), and John (PCT) presented the chief with kola nuts as a kind gesture/thank you. Soon after, each of the PCT’s names were announced to present us to our new host families. We had to do a quick dance around the counterclockwise moving train of Malians, and then our families announced the Malian names to be given to each of us. My new family name is Traore, and my new first name is Zan, meaning the "second son".

After that whole rigmarole, we walked from the chief’s place to each of our own homestays. They wouldn’t let me carry my own internal frame backpack, but my host mother (one of my host mother’s…my host father has 3 wives J) quickly realized that it was too heavy for her back…so she put it on her head, I wasn’t surprised, ha ha. I was shown to my room, was helped putting up my mosquito net, and was then served lunch (rice with some sauce on top). Wife #3 (yes, they each have their own status) poured water over my hands as I cleaned them with soap before lunch. This is very important because you’re not only eating with your hands, but you're sharing a community bowl (with the family), and so you want them to wash their hands too before you all start digging in J.

I sat and went through some vocabulary with my host dad (yes, it was very difficult being that neither of us could speak a word to each other). One thing that was extremely helpful is this visual dictionary I brought that has thousands of pictures and has the French and English translation right next to each picture. So, being that I can just flip to a picture when I’m trying to ask what a word is, I started writing the Bambara translation right into the book. I have a feeling it’s going to be a great learning tool for me!

After a few hours being on our own at our homestays, we all met back up at 2:30PM at the chief’s house to have a quick debriefing session, went back to our families for a bit, met back up at 6PM for a quick language review, then back to our families at 7PM for a bucket bath and dinner.

This is definitely going to be extremely challenging, but I’m excited for what lies ahead, and picking up some language skills!

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