Study Abroad in Mali - My Family Travels

 Traveling to Mali was the first time I ever traveled without my parents. I was 15 years old and I did not know what to expect.  Five students from all over the country including I received a government grant to travel to a Muslim country for six months in order to promote cultural understanding. Arriving in Mali we knew nothing about the culture and we didn’t speak the language but in spite of all of this we were excited.

I stepped off the boat and on to the hot sand sighing in relief, the journey to Mali was finally over and a new one had just begun. Sounkalo, our in country coordinator welcomed us to the village of Kalabougou. Located in one of the more remote areas of Mali, Kalabougou can only be reached by crossing the Niger River by boat. The children of the village swarmed around us chanting in excitement “toubabou! toubabou!” the Bambara word for foreigners. It was the first time some of these children had ever seen anyone of a different race. For a moment I felt as if I was in a different world. There were no televisions, no cell phones, and of course no electricity.

The women of the village greeted us with smiles on their faces. Immediately, they welcomed us in to their homes offering us food and water. I was overwhelmed with joy, I couldn’t believe how friendly these people were. I was treated as if I were family. One of the local women named Bintou brought me in to her home and began telling me about her village.

Kalabougou is a village that makes a living from creating pottery by hand from the clay deposits they find along the Niger River. The men and woman of the village work 6 days a week to make as many items as possible which they then sell for the equivalent of one US dollar per item at the Monday market.

I was surprised to learn how hard these people worked everyday yet they could barely afford clean water. In spite of all this Bintou was welcoming me in to her home and feeding me with what little she had. In an attempt to encourage me to eat more food Bintou told me jokingly that I was too skinny. I laughed with her knowing that this was something I would never hear back in states. Malians are the most selfless people I have ever met. Living in Kalabougou taught me that what are important are not the things in life that make you happy but the people.

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