But What is Mali Really Like?

In a word — in a few words —


Love to joke. Tradition of last name “joking cousins”: certain family names get the brunt of the jokes. Learn “I beh soo doon” early on: it means “You eat beans.” Everyone tells each other this after they ask for your last name, “Ee jammu?”  Adama gives me the name Kandiya Keita.  The founder of the first Malian empire was a Keita. I grow into the name over the weeks until I respond to the children on the streets chanting, “Tubabu! Tubabu!” (White person! White person!) with “N’togo Kandiya.”

Very poor. Challenge I face: how do you spread the word in a country where the majority, and the vast majority of the poor, are illiterate? Word of mouth, of course, and the radio, but when nothing is written down, rumors blur into facts until neither exists.

Relentlessly friendly. Relentlessly welcoming. Can’t walk the streets without greeting everyone.  And doesn’t stop at hello: “Hello! How are you?” “I am good.” “And your family?” “Doing well.” “You slept well?” “No problems.” “Great.”  I start in French and a week or two later in learn how to do it Bambara.  Very satisfying.  Creates a musical accompaniment that follows you down the street:

A ni wula!  Mm bah. I kah keh ney? Bashi tey. Somah ro? Toro si tula. Mmm say.

We say in NYC that this is stupid and superficial, but it isn’t. It really changes your life to be surrounded by this warmth.

IMG_7262 bath time


3 responses to “But What is Mali Really Like?

  1. Hello Kandiya! Welcome back to your blog 🙂 Love the descriptions and the photo.

  2. What a picture you paint. xx

  3. So glad you wrote in your blog! love the baby in the tub!

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