This weekend marked the end of Ramadan; the fasting, boy and girlfriendless, and all around odd hour month. Ramadan ends when a tiny sliver of moon is finally seen after the new moon. People can eat finally during the day, but it also means that there are a million things to do. I attempting to help my family out made dinner for them on Saturday so they could continue prepartion while I made them their meal.
I made a similar dinner to there normal meals but with a Mexican twist. There normal meals consist of some starch on a platter piled high with another type of sauce on top of that. It is usually eaten with their hands. My neighborhood American friends, Sarah and Emily, and I made salsa, guacamole, groundbeef and beans main dish, and put it over rice for them to eat. Everyone loved it. My dad even allowed me to watch TV with him that night. I couldn’t understand anything because it was the Bambara channel, but I felt appreciated. He even clapped when I put on my Malian dress, which is the most emotion I have ever seen him express.
My Malian clothing was remarkable, and nothing that I ever expected. I was underprepared for what it would look like because I was merely measured tby a man speaking Bambara and did not pick out fabric or a pattern. Knowing that I was going to receive Malian clothing I thought I would never fit in but Malian people love white people wearing traditional clothing. Mine was a white dress that has gold embellishments and makes me look relatively like a Greek goddess, minus my blond hair and very white skin I could have easily dance into 400BC Rome and have fit right in.
Next my cousin Yemerdou braided my hair. This first off does not make sense because the girls here braid their hair to be able to cover it with long straight hair, or a long straight ponytail. Needless to say I did not understand why my very very straight hair did not suffice, but it was braided nonetheless.
However on the day of the fete I fell ill. I literally slept the whole day. For some reason Mali takes everything out of me, but my sisters insisted on me going on the boite and would have it no other way. So I will just divulge one bit of information from my club experience, there was a black light. I was a white person in the midst of Africa wearing all white traditional Malian garbs in the black light. I literally glowed in the dark.
But what I learned from my experience on the town in Mali, is do not go with your sisters. I felt unsure the whole time, my sisters do not talk in French but rather Bambara when they are out, which unfortunately I have not picked up on. And being their exchange student I am not treated like a friend but rather a parasite clinging and yearning to go where they go without failing to fit in. However when you are white you cannot fit in among the masses in Mali.
In contrast, the American students went out the night after the Ramadan party and were greeted with open arms. People literally think white people are celebrities. To find a balance in Mali is incredibly difficult because on the outside all Malians seem always ready to help and make sure you are alright, but when you get past the first conversations their intentions have either changed or they no longer want to help but rather talk to you in a different language or talk to you faster. While this greatly improves my French when I do understand what they are saying, when I do not understand it feel like a fool.
Mali is very tough because it is just not what I would expect. We are often in situations where no one speaks French, and sometimes not even Bambara. I did not realize how hard it would be to communicate. My sister returned from her exams but missed how I have already improved my French so insists that I carry my dictionary. It is difficult because no one gives you a chance before they laugh. While being easy to laugh off, because everyone does that here, I often search for an opportunity to practice these languages and being told to get my dictionary is not rewarding nor encouraging. Alas I am improving and am excited. I can respond in French much quicker and also form my sentences more complexly and this is only week four. There is still hope!!
So while there are many ups and downs in Mali, I also know that I have to look at the whole situation. I know that I came here to research not necessarily come back knowing about the personal lives of all my sisters and perhaps at some point I need to make the ultimate decision to pick between the two. Africa still holds many of my interests I just need to find where they are!