Continental Drift

October 22, 2009

I think I got a sunburn in the shower this morning…

Filed under: Uncategorized — unaleona @ 10:15 pm

This would be entirely possible as the outdoor outhouse/shower I currently call my own has no roof.  This is very pleasant in the evenings when I look up through the palm trees to see the stars and the water from the bucket feels warm compared to the cooler-than-usual night air.  Less pleasant in the mornings when I squint through the bright sun that is already so hot that the water feels freezing and the water evaporates off my skin as soon as I pour it out of my little blue plastic cup.  Bucket showers are only one of the many ways in which I am relearning how to do seemingly very simple things.

Until this week, I did not know how to:

Shower when there is no shower.

Wash dishes when there is no sink.

Walk down the street when there is no sidewalk. Or road.


My general incompetence at being a functional adult human being here is, luckily, amusing for Malians and counted as a normal part of the adjustment process by my fellow Americans.  So I am starting with the basics: literally learning my own name.

Maimouna Dialo.

Pronounced My-moon-a Ja-lo.

I acquired my first name from fellow MHOP-er Devon’s host mother, who felt it was about time for one of these Americans to take her name.  My last name is the name of the guy who runs the fast food restaurant on the road between my house and the office, who was very excited to meet me the first day.  It is a Fulani last name, which makes everyone laugh.  No one has explained to me why it is funny, but we all just joke together at how ridiculous it is that I have a Fulani last name, as if it wasn’t preposterous for me to have any sort of Malian name in the first place.

I have also acquired, unbeknownst to me, a husband.  As my Bambara teacher told me tonight during my first lesson, “If someone asks how you are, and how your mother is, and then asks how your husband is, you say he’s fine. And then when they ask his name, you say Claude, or Jean or Robert or whatever, because if you don’t then they will never stop bothering you.”

I arrived at about 3AM last Sunday morning, and this almost-a-week I’ve been here has been a slow acclimation process.  In the mornings after my bucket shower, I head down the made road in Sikoroni through the market, past the soccer field, and turn right at the blue and green gas station.  I might stop at the boulangerie for a baguette (300 CFA or 60 cents), or at the alimentation for a yogurt (1 dollar) or a bag of water (15 cents).  After a few minutes, I turn left at the mosque and walk down the street of the MHOP office where I attempt to greet everyone in Bambara. Now that I’ve started classes, I’m sure I’ll improve, but up till now my greeting skills tend to fizzle out after good morning (Anisogoma).  Everyone responds with a flurry of words that I don’t understand at all.  When I stand there blankly they laugh at me, I laugh back a little, until I give up and say goodbye (Kambe).  As I get closer to the office various children run up to me shouting either toubabou (white person) or the Malian names of the other Americans working at MHOP.  I point to myself and tell them “N togo Maimouna” at which point they yell that amongst themselves while I escape into the office.

I have yet to do much work here at the Mali Health Organizing Project, but I’ve been spending this week understanding where all of our different projects and programs stand and learning what the next steps will be.  Eventually, I will be coordinating our Community Health Worker program, called Action for Health. But hopefully, it will be a while before any coordination is necessary on my part.  Before I’m ready to do that, I’ll need to take many more baby steps on the path to being a real person.

Now, its time for me to head to bed.




  1. Maimouna–back in the blogging business–yay!


    Comment by Paul — October 23, 2009 @ 8:08 pm | Reply

  2. Glad to hear that you have arrived safely. I will be eagerly following your blog!

    Comment by Susan Nusbaum — October 25, 2009 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

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