|There is absolutely nothing unusual or ridiculous about this image... in Mali.|
I've struggled to define the days here as part of a culture shock. Of course the nuances hit me hard sometimes as I long for a day where I can go outside without being stared at incessantly for exercising, but it feels more like us Westerners get stuck in a crossfire of irritation, sickness and the upheaval of random adventures. I'd love one day without streets teeming with potholes and people wanting to be given money or things. Let's face it: I feel more foreign here than I did in all of California (laugh as you may, this had honestly been a huge culture shock for me at first!), Latin America, Canada and all European countries combined. Yep, I'm living in a massive dusty, dirty African village complaining. I sometimes get my head stuck on that weird Baz Luhrmann song from like senior year of high school that talks about life where it says "live in New York but more before it makes you hard; live in California but move before it makes you soft." Cliche as the idea is in theory, Luhrman, darling, you ain't seen or smelled a hospital in Mali. Point blank.
|I've not yet seen anyone drop bundles four times this size (we're talking folded mattresses tied with twine).|
I really adore the American International School of Bamako, or AISB. The two days a week I spend there are filled with art, ESOL and outdoor gym classes - with small class sizes of 8 to 15 kids - and really interesting young people from all over the world. (Literally, 200 students from over 30 nations.) Beside the younger grades where paper cutting, glitter, and pastels are popular, I also teach a few tech-savvy kids in the high school class about graphic design. The school director asked if I'd lead the creation of the new school brochure and literature for potential students and teacher recruits with them, so we're going nuts for Photoshop's less fortunate half-sister, a free program called Gimp.
Since I'm only at the school on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 7:25 to 3:30pm, I do my writing on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and as necessary on Tues/Thurs after tutoring my host sisters, Laura (12) and Iría (10), when they need help. Or maybe it's more like when I need entertainment. They're crazy cool chics, really smart and really confident.
|Outside of AISB.|
Laura loves to help cook food in the kitchen, do her homework right when she gets home, and pick my brain about interior design and architecture. She's a gentle, thoughtful older sister but, like all big sisters, has her patience tried enough to bust out the discipline when necessary. Laura seems to be somewhat quiet and mellow with her classmates, and is very well-liked. But I love her ability to question everything. I could see her doing something in academia someday - challenging professors so much they'd need her to get on their team. She's going to be very tall too. Maybe I can convince her that sports aren't so bad...
Iría has a different personality than Laura even though they get along flowingly (when she's not singing at the top of her lungs). She bubbles over with so much infectious energy that she ignites a room. In public, she's quiet and polite, but at home, her laughter erupts at the dinner table on a nightly basis as she throws wigs on her dad and sings the latest LMFAO song while pushing the meat and vegetables around on her plate. I sometimes wonder how her huge personality got wrapped up into her tiny little frame...then you see her on the soccer field and it all makes sense. She's a spitfire and should be run nonstop. Before or after not eating dinner, she sneaks into the kitchen to make sweet treats, like crepes with globs of Nutella or lemonade with spoonfuls of sugar.
|My host family: Laura (back), Emerithe and Iría (front). Not pictured: Mario.|
I brought my yoga dvd to the house right after moving in and have done it a few times with Emerithe. The girls hated it. They said stretching hurt too much. Emerithe hits the gym each morning after dropping the girls (and I) off at school and somehow still has energy sometimes to do my 71-minute power yoga. If you met her, you'd understand how. She's a strong, gregarious, tall force to be reckoned with. A woman who loves to laugh and wear bright colors makes me adore this lady. A couple weeks back she fired their household help, Sali. Since the incident, all of her friends tell her they'll hire her to come take care of any type of issues that require "a firm backbone" since they're likely aware of the volume and opinions she has no problem sharing.
|Fresh air but uninviting appearances - the outskirts of Bamako.|
Besides this, I'm getting very excited for the holiday season to come! The school has a break from the 23rd of December until classes begin again on the 9th of January. I look forward to relaxing a little, focusing on my writing and enjoying the time off before I get the students as a full-time art teacher for the month. I'll likely work day and night for those few weeks, but that's okay in the short-term.
I wish I could talk more about everything - since there are plenty of great stories, great kids at AISB, and memorable experiences that surround my weekends with American folks in the ACI 2000 neighborhood - but I'll leave those to emails and skype sessions. For now, know that we miss the snowfalls and holiday decorations that are light the chilly U.S. skies and wish that snowboarding, cross-country skiing, lefse-making and thick sweater-wearing coffee mornings would be in our cards so badly. But alas, it's still 90-100F... and I'll never complain about not shivering, promise.
Thankfully, we're feeling all powered up by the incredible goodies from the care package that came over the past couple of weeks (you know who you are!). There is nothing better than knowing there's a piece of home in my back pocket as I start each day in this faraway land.