So I just returned to the training site from my homestay village. It has been a really rough 11 days, but I am definitely on the upswing and am happy to see the other trainees and volunteers again.
I am living with the chief and his wives (I think there are two, but he might have as many as 4) and brothers and about 20 children ranging in age from a few weeks old to 16. They are really nice and my mothers are great cooks! I haven't been able to eat much because I got blasto (a parasite) and have been vomiting a lot, but they want me to feel better. Unfortunately, my regular vomiting within the short walls of my negen (toilet) are heard by all 30-40 people in the compound, and I am now constantly plauged by intense laughter and vomiting sounds as I exit, or whenever they see me around town. In Malian culture, you joke to diffuse tension and make people feel better so I am chocking it up to that, but it can certainly be frustrating to be known around town as Sitan blaghhhh.
Oh also, they gave me a first name - Sitan, making my full, proper name Sitan Diarra. The Diarras are the best family in Mali, and the Traore's and Dembelay's and Coulibaly's are totally lame (they are my joking cousins - so I am obviously kidding). My joking cousins all eat beans (aw be sho dun) (implying that they fart a lot - the biggest cultural faux pas in Mali). The idea behind joking cousins (aka the bean joke) is really neat. Essentially, back in the day there was a bunch of inter-group tension, but that has mostly disintegrated now into jokes between the groups that everyone laughs about when they meet someone from their joking cousins' factions. It has really helped the stability and increased peace here. Plus, joking and laughing is always a great way to interact with people. It really gives you pride in your family name.
My host brother is just about the coolest person in the town. He is only 13, but he rides around on a motorcycle all the the time and plays with his slingshot. All the kids follow him around (when not following me), and he is their ringleader. One day he came walking into the compound swinging a really big (like 2' including tail) lizard that he had just killed with his slingshot. He then proceeded to machete its head off, impale it on a stick, and cook it on the fire, but not before he tried to show is prized catch to me up close and personal. I started shreiking AYE AYE AYE! and am now taking a ton of crap for that from my family. I guess I deserve it, and it's hilarious when they mock me like that, but sometimes I feel like I am only being used for their amusement. I suppose I am....and I guess I'm ok with that. It's all in good fun.
The Bambara lessons have been pretty good. I can now successfully understand about 50% of what people say to me (although granted, that is mostly greetings, which are really big here - you don't greet, you don't exist). It can be frustrating, but no major problems.
I also washed my clothes with my host sisters this past week. That got a good hearty laugh from everyone, as did my pounding millet, which is incredibly difficult. Just so you all know, millet is nothing like what we had at the ethiopian restaurant. "To" is this green gloppy stuff that has the consistency of playdough, and which is usually dipped in sauce. I have tried a few times, but just cannot stomach it. Thankfully I have been getting rice or macaroni instead, and have also eaten a lot of fruit. The oranges are green, the melons are yellow, and there are mangos and bananas, and all of them are delicious. Fruit is a major staple of my diet here (when I can keep things down).
On an important note: I will be here at the training site until Wednesday morning with power and internet and phone service, but after that will leave to go back to homestay for another 12 days. When I have power, my cell will be on when I am awake (8 am to 11 pm GMT - 3 am to 6 pm EST). When I am back in village my service stinks and I only have my phone on a little bit, but usually try to be in a service area between 8 and 10 pm my time (3 and 5 pm EST). Please call me!
My cell phone here is: 011-223-784-555-13. I don't get texts but I can send them. If you get a french recording, that is my voicemail, you can leave a message.
I'll have another update when I can before I go back. Hope everything is going well stateside!