We met our families after we got back from Nana Kenieba. My host mother’s name is Fanta, and I live with her, her sister Ada, and her 12-year-old daughter Bibi. They all shook my hand and kissed my cheek. They also loved that my last name is Guinee, even though we explained that it’s actually Irish and not related at all to the neighboring county. Our house is beautiful, and HUGE. There are 3 levels of bedrooms, bathrooms, 2 living rooms with TVs, a kitchen, and several terraces. I have a room to myself which is more spacious and comfortable than I dared hope for. I also have a terrace, with screens over the windows, so I can have a fresh breeze without worrying about the mosquitos. The terrace is well shaded and has a small couch which, although covered in red dirt, is quite comfortable. I share a bathroom with the rest of the family, which has HOT WATER. What?! I don’t use it all the time, as I like taking lukewarm/cool showers more since it’s already so hot, but all the same it’s really fantastic to have it when I want it. Sometimes life in my house seems pretty luxurious compared to what I was led to believe though.
Fanta, my host mother, works at the hospital in the infirmary. She spends most her day there and is always very tired when she comes home, but she’s very nice, and has been really helpful. I see more of Ada, who is also really nice, and fun to hang out with. She has started throwing different Bambara phrases at me every day to see if I can respond correctly. So I have serious motivation to learn Bambara quickly. Bibi, whose 12, is super nice and very cool. She plays basketball and loves African dance and fashion. She’s quickly become the person I spend the most time with in the house. We do our homework together, and last night we talked for hours about clothes and shopping. She told me that I need to give them my address so they can meet me the next time they visit the United States. She also told me, when I complemented her on her braided hair, that we would visit the coiffeuse soon to have my hair braided. She told me about several different styles and which are easier to maintain, and what colors I can get. So that will be happening soon.
Other than that, we live with Ibraham, a guy from Dakar who’s working at a bank here, but recently broke his foot and is bedridden, and several servants. Most of them seem to be younger girls, and they don’t speak much French. But they all seem very nice. Living with them was strange at first, but I’ve begun to talk to them, and figure out where things belong in the house, so I’m able to help a little. It turns out I don’t have a host father. He apparently lives in Dakar with his second wife, so I won’t be meeting him this term. I don’t mind though. It’s kinda nice to be living with more women.
I received my name on the first night. My host mother named me Farima Keita. I think it’s pretty, though there was some dispute when she named me. Bibi insisted I should be named something else like Mariam (thank goodness they didn’t as there’s another Mariam Keita in the group) or Rama. She still tells me she wouldn’t have named me that, but I don’t mind. We lucked out in that everyone got a different prenom, so there won’t be any confusion. And I have yet to meet a Malian named Farima, so I’m content. (I’m sure they’re out there, but I’m glad I don’t have a neighbor with the same name.). It was also good to get a new name fairly early as no one here can pronounce my name. Something about Mallory totally stumps them, and they usually end up calling me Mallo(r). I don’t mind, but it’s good to have a name that they can pronounce. That said, it was a bit confusing at first. I never forgot what my Malian name was, but sometimes my host mother had to call me several times before it registered. But I’ve caught on and now use Farima more than Mallory. Haley loves saying my name and says it all the time, so I’m getting used to hearing and responding to it.
There are 3 things that I have heard my host mother say at least once everyday. #1: Are you cold? This question always seems a little ridiculous to me, as I have yet to feel cold in Bamako…especially in this house. This is, however, the coldest time of year, and my host mom will often wear thin shawls because it is slightly chilly. #2: Are you tired? I’ve heard that one a lot. It makes more sense to me, as I am dealing with jetlag, new experiences, school, and (lately) a slight cold. All the same, I’m rarely tired when she asks me. It’s nice to know she’s looking out for me though. #3: Il faut que tu manges. This phrase has been said the most of all 3. I get it at least twice per meal as my host mother or Ada shovels more food on my plate. I try to say I’m full: “Il faut manger.” I try explaining that I have a small stomach: “Il faut manger.” If I protest they ask if the food is no good. I try to say that it is but I’m full and before I can finish they say: “Si c’est bon, il faut manger plus.” So I eat as much as I can and then put my plate away. That is how meals go…every night. I have begun to develop strategies to try and reduce the amount they give me. (To put things in perspective, I’m the girl who is forever complaining that the serving sizes at US restaurants are too large. These servings are larger.) I’ll take smaller servings at the beginning so when they serve me more I won’t be so full. I’ll try eating slowly so that I finish approximately when they do. I’ll try taking a large serving at the beginning so they don’t think I need more. Thus far, they have been less effective than desired. Only Bibi takes my side. “She’s going to get fat if you always feed her so much,” she told her mom on the first night. Her mom didn’t really listen. I’m starting to worry that Bibi may be right, however, if things don’t change. Luckily I typically eat breakfast and lunch alone, so I get more control of portion sizes there. I’m working to eat small lunches and snack as little as possible between lunch (around noon) and dinner (around 9). The good news is, I think they’re starting to understand. The other night my host mother, after putting 3 ginormous scoops of couscous on my plate, said I didn’t have to force it. Best words I’ve heard from her so far. We’re still working on Ada. Bibi will repeat that her mom said I didn’t have to force food, but Ada doesn’t put much stock in it. With time, however, I think it’ll work out. Or I’ll just be 15lbs heavier when you see me next…hopefully not…
The good news is that all of my meals have been really good. Typically it’s total starch overload (Mali was not made for those on carb-free diets), but I’ve liked everything we’ve eaten thus far. I’ve heard of some really strange meals that my friends have been served, but everything they’ve given me has been both edible and delicious. And that is always a good thing. We usually have a dish with some starch base (rice, pasta, potatoes, etc.) with sauce and some small pieces of meat (usually beef or chicken). Then, after dinner, we have this rice pudding-esque dish (basically it’s just soft rice in hot water to which you add as much sugar as you deem appropriate) which is also pretty yummy. It helps cleanse the palette too. A funny side note about Malian meals – they don’t drink when they eat. Apparently you’re supposed to wait for 10+ minutes after eating before you drink anything. That probably helps them eat so much – not that they eat half of what they try to get me to eat.
Another thing that we’ve discovered about Malian families, is that they love their TV. The first thing we did when I arrived was sit down and watch television, and that continues to be the primary activity when we all get home from school and work. Granted, all of us are pretty tired, so it’s not wholly unwelcome. My family tends to watch 2 types of programs: the news and soap operas. I had never watched a soap opera before coming here and boy is it an experience. The drama, the tears, the buxom women, the brawny men with bad facial hair, the low-budget filming and crummy editing. Some of the transitions between scenes were so quick I didn’t even realize that the show had moved to a different set. And the sound…so ridiculous. The music is always terrible, and they’ll add in ridiculous effects like a clash of symbols when 2 characters glare furiously at each other. My family watches a couple Malian programs, and then several different American and Indian ones too. The latter two are dubbed into French, but it’s rarely well done, so any remaining dignity or sonic realism is completely lost. That being said, this is clearly a family activity, so I sit through them and figure it’s probably good for my French. We have also started watching Wipeout together, which is always fun. My host mother, Bibi and I will sit together and laugh. I’d never heard Fanta laugh that much before.