As my group and I approach our 1 year Anniversary in Mali, its a time of reflection on what we have experienced, emotions that first gripped us as we exited the plane in Bamako, the feeling of everything being way over our heads when we first set foot in home stay, the reality of my service the first day in site where i will spend 2 years in, the joys of new and exciting experiences, struggle with language, you know, everything I'm trying to sum up in a nut shell that in the end does no justice to 11 months in this beautiful country. I try and reminisce on everything but it's harder to do, at least specifically to each and every detail. Memories come in waves, there at the present that feel as if you are reliving it again only to pass while leaving its essence on the tip of your mind. To think of my service so far is almost a blur as time seemed to lap week after week. Someone once told me that "days are long but weeks are short". Never new how true that was until i started to be more involved in my village where time is only measured by the people you meet and grow with, enjoying times of work and good company as you chat about the day. Plus traveling around to meet up with other volunteers or trainings make time pass by as you finish one training only to come across another. But times where you appreciate how far you've come along in Mali are when you reflect on a simple experience and think about how you viewed it back when you first saw it. As we passed a market, a normal sized not-out-of-the-ordinary market, at first glace it is mayhem which we have grown accustomed to, just a market. But thinking about when we first arrived and reflect on the whole market experience, you pick out the ingredients that give the market its wild and unique character which always keeps you on your toes while enticing your intrigue at the same time.
You know when the market is coming to town. Buses upon buses arrive at the market place filled to the brim with people from all neighboring villages willing to transport their numerous goods for one full day of business and trade. Along with the merchants the buses are equally packed with the very goods they sell: Sandals and shoes of every kind, color, size, and material, some plastic and some leather, fruits and vegetables which vary depending on what is in season, clothes that are from such places as Good Will, Salvation Army, and companies equally as involved in second hand clothes that come from European countries. Plastic containers of all shapes and designs, electronics that are literally a dime a dozen, and fish that occupy a few rows in the market. How you can find this section you only need to follow your nose. When you enter, the throngs of people are gradual going in and going out. Some have beat the late rush and finished early getting only what they need before the rush comes in. You pass food vendors that sell plates of rice and sauce or snacks of different kinds that you nibble on through the market. The smell of oil being fried is overwhelming though and nauseating at first. You have fried sweet potatoes (great snack), fried flower dough balls called "pate", a french word, rice with peanut sauce or tomato sauce (not the Italian kind you think of when you get pasta), and "furufuru" which is rice cakes fried. As you can tell, oil is a stable substance in Mali that is incorporated with all kinds of food. Fruit is available, mangoes, papayas and bananas at the moment for your choosing. You browse through the food area and start to reach the edge of the market nucleus where the real market happens. Market jargon picks up in content and volume, people bargaining, men yelling at cart boys to help shuttle things through market, women being stern with their kids who help them sell things in market by walking around to sell stuff. Its a mesh of words that only a market can speak. Before entering, you must prepare for it because it is overwhelming. A lot of people and a language you are still grasping can distract you too easily and then you are at the mercy of the market, a good way to kill a day without really accomplishing what you want. So a list to stick to is a wise idea but of course, room for whatever comes your way allows freedom to experience the unplanned. So a hit list in your pocket, you travel through the isles, dodging people, walking and scanning each vendor at the same time. You, like driving a car, always keep one eye on the road because something could be heading your way. In this case, a motorcycle zig zagging through the isle. These isles are not wide by any means, about the width of a side walk. They honk and go about the pace of a person walking but still feel the need to weave through a packed isle comprised of old men, women, and kids. A hectic scene that still puzzles me on why you would drive a moto in the market. Carts that shuttle heavy items like sacks of millet and grain that reach over 100kg's bulldoze through isles. Its a wide cart that shows no mercy for feet and shins as it wedges through the crowd. While walking down isles you greet venders you've seen every week, the causal "hi, hows your family?, did you sleep well? and your market?", all normal conversations in market. It takes literally 30 seconds to greet the vendors your familiar with but a hundred greetings in a day and well, your exhausted. But greeting and meeting the vendors is wonderful because you get to know them, a little about where they come from and how they are. It brings me back to swap meets back home and how the best part of going to the swap meet was meeting the people there that showed up every weekend to sell what they had. They came from all demographics and all social backgrounds and just talking to them they would always have something to share with you. You didn't necessarily have to buy anything, it was all about greeting the person, Larry from Irvine with a wife and 2 kids, or Martha, who resided in the same place for 30 years. You meet these people and connect with them just by going to their place and saying "hi". Same goes in the Malian market as you have your "people" that you connect with in which you have built a loyalty to. Like Isetu Coulibaly who is a wonderful woman that makes street food to sell at the market. I like visiting her every day and just saying "hi", joking with her and seeing her warm smile is a great way to start the market. Walking around i try and get everything that is on the list. I try and chat with as many people i can but energy wears out and i then i bee line to what i need. The market is energy draining and there is only so much energy to keep me going. Before long, I have everything i need and make my exit, seeing Isetu before i hop on my bike and go back to site only to return next week to go back again.
As i walk through market, i think of the first time i went to market, actually to the first time i saw the market from the window of the bus. I thought about how crazy it looked, a maze of confusion which would take full advantage of me. Hesitation of the unknown would grip me at just the sight of the market. It was just a lot of things i didnt understand in a country that was much different from mine. Though with time i found that similarities are found if you look and let things come. The cross cultural experience isn't gained if you dont see for yourself. Everyday is a constant reminder of finding something new without the pre determined idea of what it could be. There are still many things i would like to see or experience but have been hesitant to come around to doing them. But there is still time and all i need to do is go with my instincts and let the experience come to me.