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Abeja Dispatch

A World Class Lesson in Hospitality
from the People of Mali

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Mali
Habíb Koíté

Day to day life for dozens of people revolves around the courtyard of Baboal Thiem in Bamako, Mali. Jasmine, Kavitha, and I learned this when his second youngest daughter, Dabel, invited us home. As we entered the courtyard from the street, we were immediately struck by the activity as well as the leisure that it contains. To the right, under the car park, sat three men, chatting and brewing the traditional Malian black tea with mint in a small pot over a small charcoal stove. Straight ahead on the porch sat several older women in long, brightly colored dresses, fanning themselves against the heat. On my left, under a thatched roof, several younger women were cooking over coal-burning stoves, or playing with their children.

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A young boy, five year old Moussa, ran down the brightly tiled steps, then noticed us and stared shyly, with a huge grin. Dabel introduced us to the older women, her stepmother and two aunts, and then left us alone to try, with everyone's limited French (their native language is Bambara) to make what small talk we could. Dabel's family is Muslim, a religion which requires prayer five times a day - so Dabel needed some time to change out of her work clothes and go to a private room and pray twice, for each of the times she missed at work.

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Members of our "Malian" Family
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Babaol, Dabel's father, is eighty years old, and a fairly wealthy factory owner. He often sits in his downstairs living room and meets with visitors. When we arrived, he sat on the couch wearing the simple long gown that is typical attire for men here. At his feet, a man with whom he does business sat, relaxed, talking. He accepted us graciously and told us that his home is our home, and anything we wanted we just needed to ask for.

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Dabel and her father, Baboal
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His house is large, yet modest, and it is always open to the rest of his family, who fill the rooms with laughter and love. Here in one of the five poorest countries in the world, in a Muslim household, wealth is not displayed by extravagance, but rather through kindness and hospitality. In the Islamic faith, hospitality to family, neighbors and travelers, as well as giving alms to the needy, is highly emphasized.

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Chillin with Dabel on her couch
Chillin with Dabel on her couch
Dabel grew up here, constantly surrounded by brothers and sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews. "How many people do you think live here?" Kavitha asked me one day. I couldn't hazard a guess. Often over the past few days, I've sat in this courtyard and watched the activity go on around me. There are so many relatives and friends that pass through -not to mention domestic workers and business associates - that I can't keep them all straight. Everyone who passes by smiles, shakes my hand, and greets me-"Bonjour! Ça va?"- the French equivalent of "Hi! How's it going?"

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Cooking with a smile always makes the food taste better
Cooking with a smile always makes the food taste better
It is a true blessing for us to relax in such an open, kind household, especially after the challenges of our trip from Ghana! One afternoon, we sat in the upstairs living room watching music videos. It was a great example how something that seems so basic back home can seem like a luxury after you've been on the road. Not only did we get to see all the newest music from the States, but also an amazing mix of African and Middle Eastern artists we'd never heard before.

Meanwhile, someone washed our clothes and another of the workers brought us a tasty lunch of couscous, vegetables, and fish with a tomato-peanut sauce all arranged attractively on a platter. Moussa, Dabel's nephew, kept coming in to talk to us and offer us little treats-fried plantains, popcicles, popcorn. Moussa's little sister, Fatou, mostly clung to her mother, Dabel's sister in law, Miriam, and stared at us shyly. But when Jasmine whipped out the digital camera and then Kavitha had pictures of them up on her computer screen, Fatou crawled into Kavitha's lap to get a better view!

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Another member of the family!
Another member of the family!
On Sunday, the household fills with family and friends for socializing and lunch. By this time, we felt like members of the family! We sat in the upstairs living room with the younger men, and Miriam began bringing in the food, with Fatou strapped happily to her back. A cloth was laid out on the floor, and all the men sat around one huge bowl of Tiéboudienne (chey-bou-jen), a traditional West African dish of rice, fish, and vegetables in a pimiento and tomato sauce. Water for hand washing was passed around, then the men dug in, (right hand only, remember!) They would make a ball of the rice and fish, then dip it in a bowl of the thick sauce and pop it in their mouths. It was messy, but it looked fun. Those of us who live in the United States, Dabel and the World Trek team, were given plates and silverware around the table, with our own platter of Tiéboudienne.

After lunch, a guitar appeared, and one of the family friends started playing. When he broke out into a Bob Marley song, Kavitha and I sang along. One man came in with a small tray, a small pot, and two small glasses, and then walked around the room pouring everyone a "shot" of the traditional strong, sweet tea. People came and went, said hello and good-bye, laughed and chatted. It was a perfect day with a wonderful family here in Bamako. The world trek team has been welcomed to yet another country!

Abeja
 

Jasmine - Jasmine is Jammin' in Africa
Kavitha - Someone to Watch over Us
Kevin - After All, Fare is Fair!
Monica - A Letter Home One Year Later
Making A Difference - Who Wants to Clean Out the Sewers?

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