Thursday, August 7, 2008


I'm back to Tubaniso for a couple days. Here's the update:

I've been training in a village called Keleya. It's a town of about 3,000 people on the road from Bamako to Abidjan (port city, in Cote d'Ivoire). There are eight other PC Trainees with me in the village. We each live with a host family, most of whom are related in some way. Our two language instructors are also living there while we're training.

In Keleya, I live in a mud hut with a thatched roof, in the concession of the village chief, whom I have been named after: Wolo Bagayoko. Since I kind of stand out already (maybe its my bright, gleaming personality), the whole town knows who I am. I consistently get called to when I walk around town, "Wolo, Wolo..." which is better than what some of the other PCTs get, "Tubabu, tubabu" (meaning foreigner, and generally chanted by children under the age of ten). It's a lot like college in that I stop to greet dozens of people in transit to and fro.

The people here have welcomed eight of us into their homes, though it is clear that we are more a project for the entire village than simply for our homestays. Most people don't speak French, and only a handful speak any English. On the day of our arrival, the village elders welcomed us with drums and dancing, short-lived though it was. Since then, I have hardly had an uncomfortable moment, though getting used to some of the cultural peculiarities has been difficult.

I have been there a while now, but allow me to share a bit from my journal (only slightly edited) from early in my stay:

Essentially, I am a two year-old. I eat and I sleep, and I disappear to class for large chunks of the day. I don't really communicate with them beyond basic functions that can be conveyed through pointing and simple hand gestures. My wimpy American immune system requires that they treat my food and water differently. When I eat with my hands (as they do), I get food on my face, on my clothes, and on the ground. The novelty of all this means that there are new mechanics to everything that used to be simple in my life: eating, washing, shaving, bathroom-ing. They specially cook my food. Either as a guest, or as a man, it is entirely inconceivable that I would ever make my own food or fetch my own water. They always rearrange the chairs to give me the best one, and my host-dad sorts the meat so that I get the best cuts (by his standards, which I can't quite make sense of yet).

All this is to say the following: I have come here as an American with my incredible education and lots of good intentions about how I will help them. It is humbling to be in a position where I am so unable to provide even my own basic needs and functions. As much as I have to offer them, I am absolutely worthless until I can learn to communicate and to function under these conditions. Furthermore, as poor as they are, they have welcomed me as a guest, and have provided for me luxuries they do not even allow themselves. As is true in many teacher-student relationships, it is sometimes hard to know who is gaining more.

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