I would be lying if I didn’t say that the last week was hard. It really tried me and I was MORE than ready to talk to my mom when we finally got the chance. I was feeling really homesick, although that’s pretty common for this point in the term (as my wise mother pointed out). As I’ve already mentioned, I have trouble staying in the same place for long. If I were at Carleton, I’d be having the same problem. I never feel crummy enough to leave, I’m always happy to be where I am, but I do begin to think fondly of my next destination. This is both helped and hurt by talking to mom. Helped, in that she knows me well enough to talk me back into shape. Hurt, because usually she is my next destination, and I want to head home more than ever.
I think the other tricky thing, is that I have to start making plans for next year. I’ve never been good at the whole long-term planning thing, and looking at all these classes, housing, internships, summer job offers, major requirements, and future study abroad options is probably starting to freak me out. Scratch the probably. I can’t complain much, I have tons of help from faculty and friends at home, so things haven’t gotten too stressful. But it definitely doesn’t improve my mood. And, once you combine it with daily fears about getting lost, sick, or overwhelmed, it compounds into a lot of stress.
It’s hard, it’s been a hard few weeks, but none of us can say that they haven’t been without value or (arguably) the most awesome in our lives. Not necessarily always the best moments of our lives, but I think pretty much every moment has been awe inspiring. And, at the same time that I can go on about how hard the trip has been, that would be counterproductive, unfair, and (in reality), dishonest. I was talking to a friend the other day – a future international relations major – and as we were discussing Mali’s telecommunications I told her I wished she was here to see all these things and draw research/conclusions I would never think of. Anyways, she told me that she thought she would have trouble adjusting. This reminded me of my initial thoughts as I prepared for my grand voyage. The truth is, as I packed my suitcase, I had no idea what to expect, and so I expected the worst. I’m ashamed to say, that part of me really didn’t believe it when people told me that I’d be able to buy (almost) anything here, and I think I expected Bamako to be WAY less developed than it is, and my house to be far less accommodating. I could not have been more wrong. You can find almost anything here. Some things (like chocolate) are more expensive, but you can find it! Bamako is bustling and filled with plenty of high end venues, and my house is one of the most beautiful I’ve seen…ever. To get to the point, Mali surprised me in the best of ways, and while some things have (undeniably) been hard, the vast majority of my experience has been pleasant. So, while adjusting has been a challenge it was not half as bad as I thought it would be.
The fact is, I get into slumps. My family kinda has a thing for self-loathing and indecision, and I’m really good at both of them. I also, however know their cure. Movement and action. And believe me, this past weekend they’ve worked their magic. First, there’s just the fact that I got myself to and from Point Sud alone. That made me happy. Then there were all the people. The people (as you’ve probably already sensed from this blog) are really what make this country one of the best I’ve visited. They make every day an adventure.
I had my best sotrama experience on Saturday night, coming home from Point Sud. The prontike packed us in like sardines – we were WAY over capacity even for Bamako standards, and I was predicting people would be grumpy and cramped. Quite the contrary. Women laughed as they squeezed onto others’ laps or the floor, then everyone began clapping their hands and singing, and one of them told me to clap and dance as well. It was so fun, and we laughed our way to our destinations. As I got off, they all smiled and said goodbye and I felt so happy. Where else does a group of strangers squeezed so tight they can hardly breath decide to sing and dance and laugh together? Today’s experience was just as positive. After being high-fived by at least 5 little kids on the way to the highway, I climbed on a sotrama with a prontike who knew me. A football match was on, so the streets were especially quiet. Mali miraculously made it into the quarter-finals of the Africa Cup of Nations, so everyone was gathered around the televisions waiting to see what would happen. Anyway, after I exited the sotrama, I ran into a little old woman who took my hand, ran through the Bambara greetings with me, and invited me to dinner. Sweet no? The old women here are the BEST. My favorite lives on the same street as Point Sud. I had a similar experience with her, only she and I are both Keitas. When she found that out she was INCREDIBLY excited and made sure not to forget my name. Anyways, as I walked back there was a shout from one of the windows: “Mali a gagné!” The joy in the street was magnificent to behold and I wish you could have heard the roar that went up gradually as the city saw the last minutes of the the game. The match finished on our tv within seconds of my arrival. Ada caught me up in a hug, squealing and clapping, and Fanta was on her feet dancing from joy.
Such are the moments when I truly love Mali. Moments of independence, empowerment, and connection. Granted, these are the moments that make any experience worthwhile, but having them in country as overwhelming as Mali is a special treat. There are still things I miss (skim milk for one – whoever meets me at the airport, bring me ice cold skim milk and I’ll love you forever), and there are still things that are hard (like getting to know my family despite the fact that they work all week and I’m often gone on the weekend). But, I’m starting to truly understand what a good friend of mine meant when he said that “Africa gets under your skin, and you miss it all the time when you’re away.” Moreover, I’m beginning to comprehend what all the past Mali participants meant when they said this would change us, that it would take time to get adjusted, that there would be moments you’d hate, but that every moment counts towards one of the most influential and incredible experiences we can get at Carleton.
So, all in all, I’m still happy to be hear, and I can’t wait for our last five weeks. I can only hope that they are full of equally rich, challenging, fun, scary, interesting, intense, exhausting, difficult and poignant moments that I can relate in due course to you.