In October 2003 I went to Mali for a 6-month internship with Canadian NetCorps. After spending a few days in the capital city of Bamako doing things like getting my visa and some local currency, I went out to Markala, a small village of mud houses and dusty dirt roads.
I lived with the family of the director of the organization which had applied to have me as their volunteer. Typical of Malian family-compound dwellings, this family lived in and around a small, rectangular yard which contained a well and two trees. Several metal chairs with nylon-strung backing and seating were moved around the courtyard as needed. The vast majority of waking hours were spent in the courtyard
Two sides of the courtyard were lined with small, banco buildings and the cooking hut. Along the third length of the courtyard was an unfinished stone building, half of which was used to store chairs, dishes, tools etc. Along the fourth side was a wall and the ‘bathroom’ – which was actually a small enclosure with no roof and a cement floor with a hole cut in it.
There was no running water – we drew from the well. Bathing involved crouching naked the unfinished building and splashing myself with water from a bucket while mice, birds, lizards and bugs observed me.
I was grateful to have the luxury of a small room to myself, within which was a bed, a small mirror, a little bench-like table and some hooks for clothes. A dusty lace curtain hung in the doorway, upon which crickets would cling and call out.
I lived with the family for 3 months and while we grew accustomed to each other, I never felt like I really integrated. The women in the family did not speak much French and so it was difficult to talk with them. While I could converse with the men, the clear gender lines made it awkward to spend too much time with them.
So I would spend much of my time in Markala sitting in a chair without speaking much or being spoken to, watching what was going on around me, often being studied by small children or eaten by mosquitoes.