It hardly feels like it’s been a whole ten days, but here I am, working at the embassy and living in a foreign country. I marvel at typing that because it’s been in my sights for so long, and in my vaguely defined imagination for even longer, and now it doesn’t quite feel like I’m really living here. You know? Like, yes, I’m in a country that is completely foreign. The motos (motorbikes) are like a swarm of ants on the roads, many of which aren’t paved off the main thoroughfares. There’s a sense of adventure and danger in driving anywhere, even though I’m not doing the driving thus far; and yet, it’s become almost normal, too: the heat, the dust, the throngs of people.
It’s strange how quickly that happens. It’s not adaptation, exactly, but more of a quick acceptance based on the requirement to report for work and really dig in immediately. After a day of trying my best to remember everyone’s names (many Malians share common names, like Abdoulaye, Fatimata, or Idrissa) and drink from the firehose of on-the-job training.
Work is going well so far, I think. I’m in charge of the procurement section, the warehouse, and travel, which means that I have a good-sized group of locally employed staff. Talking with them is a great way to start learning about the language and culture of Mali. At my apartment compound, we have local guards, and I’ve been trying to learn bits and pieces of Bambara from them, which is fun. My French has returned, if not fully then at least to a conversational extent.
I’m not mobile yet, and so I depend on others who are doing things to pick me up. People are great sports about it, though, which is a relief. The embassy community is great: friendly and supportive. There’s a real mix of agencies, which is interesting: NIH, USAID, CDC, NGOs, and so on.
Thus far I’ve tagged along on trips to the zoo and botanical gardens, a little Westerner-owned bar called the Sleeping Camel which has low-key trivia now and then, and two restaurants. I’ve also been to several people’s homes, which are huge here. It’s a relief to come home to my two bedroom, two-and-a-half bath gigantic apartment!
I’ll definitely supply more impressions (and pictures) as time goes on, but overall I’d say the heat and dust, the friendliness of both Malians and Americans, and the Niger River are my top contenders. I’ve crossed the river several times by car, and each time it looks a little different, a little wild… and still, the buildings along its banks remind me of the huge city teeming with all kinds of people. Fascinating!