Gift giving—a love language my good friend Jess told me way back during our collage days. She said that people are accustomed to receiving and giving love in different ways—each person having their own type of love language: gift giving, quality time, acts of service, words of encouragement, physical touch. I think I am finding out that Mali’s love language is acts of service.
Acts of service in the hospitality and humble beauty of the people I have been lucky enough to be around. Malians do not have much. Many of the people I am surrounded by do not live extravagantly by any means but they are comfortable. And yet there is always the act of going out of there way to make a guest feel welcome and comfortable. You are giving a seat right away, a cup of water to drink, complements on your dress and how happy they are to see you. It’s a great welcoming.
I was feeling a little off a couple of weeks ago and could not pin it down to any particular reason or event. Maybe it’s the end of service blues –but I feel I hardly qualify for that since we have about 6 months left. I will consider myself close to the end of my service once we are in June. Its March now—there is still a long way to go. Anyway back to feeling “off.” Things at my service and the women’s cooperative are going well. Nothing particularly exciting at the office but my homologue and I did agree that we will start jogging in the evenings. He just had his blood presser checked and did not get very good news. So we are going to start evening jogs from his house to his corn fields. I am looking forward to it since Katie and I have put our running on hold due to the heat. The evenings will be cool and I think it will be a good and healthy challenge for my homologue to get fit.
I spent time at Madame Diawara’s last night to celebrate the prophet Mohammed’s birthday. She is the president of the women’s cooperative I’ve been working with. I have been meaning to spend some time with Madame Diawara in the last couple of months. After getting all caught up with putting the design on and then heading to Kita for a tech exchange training, I only get to see her at the Cooperative and not have any down time so last night was a nice get together. While sitting on her porch and contributing to dinner by being assigned the cutting of the onions and tomatoes, I forgot how “normal” her life is. Normal? What do I mean by that? Well its just that I am looking at this Malian lady preparing dinner, watching her four year old monster of a son, stopping to breast feed her newborn and still making space to watch the rest of her favorite Brazilian soap opera. This is just like anything I would see in America—just that its in Mali. I think I have the tendency to forget that I cannot contextualize things in an American frame. This is life in Mali for this particular family and at this given time, I have been given the opportunity to be part of it—to observe. The dinner is one of the best meals yet-grilled fish in a salad of boiled potatoes, carrots, peas and lettuce. How did I get this lucky. We sit and while watching her menace of a son overfill a cup full of water, spilling it in giant plops then spinning around slashing the rest of the water on his mattress and front door, we talk about disciplining children, the effectiveness of spanking and how difficult it is to raise children in any culture. Yes just normal and I was not only happily full at the end of the evening but was also lucky enough to have quality time with a woman I have so much respect for.
The plan was to go home but as I was riding out to the dirt road I saw all these people just walking around in the streets. Night time in the city is pretty busy for the most part but last night there was extra hustle. Women were walking in bunches, their heads wrapped and prayer beads in hand coming from or going to mosque for the late night prayer marathon. I took a quick turn and decided to ride over to Koro’s house. Koro, another member of the women’s cooperative is married to a distant relative of the ruler of Sikasso, in addition to a nice family history, she also gets to live in the family’s old house which is this deep red mud building with little hallways, staircases and a mosque—which was the meeting point for last night’s prayer session.
Its dark for most of the ride besides the motos that decide to come out of nowhere and thank goodness I had my headlamp. I am hitting speed down a little hill when I wonder if I am even going the right way—then I see the lights and of course the prayer call over the microphone. There are people gathered in a half circle with men in the front and women in the outer circle. I get a little closer to see the front is occupied with silver bearded men dressed in white Muslim attire. Behind them are the small garabu boys—looking obediently at their small chalkboard of koranic writing. I park my bike in the back, greet the family staring (wide-eyed) at me and call Koro. We meet in the back and as any great hostess, she offers her seat which I do not take and instead sit beside a woman and her little daughters on a mat. Beside Koro’s occasional check-ups, I spend the next two hours just sitting and listening to everything going on around me. There is a main speaker telling stories through the microphone, the group of older men leading people in prayer and kids running around. I find myself lost in the drone of the prayers, the clinging of coins and the humming of motos. I look up and see that the whole area is not only lit up by the fluorescent light but by a beautiful bright round moon. I am happy that I decided to take a detour and explore the night. I am happy that I was given a chance to receive a wonderful act of love from the Mali where I found myself under a bright beautiful moon.