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Canadian bonding and Meet the Malians (or I Ni Sogoma) June 15, 2006

Posted by Nima in Uncategorized.
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So as it turns out, finding an internet connection in rural Québec isn’t as simple as I thought. In any event, here are is a rundown of a quite packed first 10 days or so: I’m going to do my best to summarize the most essential developments, but I reserve the right to come back and comment on things I forget now because of the pressure of having to type before dark, rendering my hour-long walk home in the country quite interesting.

I arrived in Montreal at the Canada World Youth office on Sunday, and there were already quite a few of the 8 other Canadians there. From there we boarded a good old yellow school bus and headed north for our orientation camp in La Visitation (the actual name of the village) in the Centre-du-Québec region. This was certainly the smallest village I`ve ever spent any time at (officially the population is 180, but I swear they must be counting cows and horses). We were staying in the village community centre/dormitory/ city hall/ banquet hall…pick up joint…help me out people. Essentially, not too much to do in La Visitation. The Canadian participants spent the first few days getting to know each other and the program, preparing for the arrival of the Malians and reinforcing regional stereotypes.

The other Canadians come from across the country, different types of backgrounds and each very interesting in their own way. We all have different motivators for joining the program. For the experience; for travel; Goals we’re chasing or ghosts of ourselves we’re trying to outrun.

There`s Claudie from Gatineau, Québec, heading into her last semester at University of Ottawa. There`s Pirmin, originally from Halifax with a Swiss background, he spent the last year in Vancouver. (He also reinforces every Maritimer stereotype I could have; a heavy drinker, loves to tell jokes and laugh his hearty laugh, stresses his Caaaars and Baaars just to get a rise, says “Get `er done” and hums Missy Elliot…alright, the last one I don’t get but I now assume this is what every Maritimer does) Brianna van de Wijngaard (only she gets a last name because of coolness) from Victoria, who’s roughly 6” 3, self described “whitest person you’ll ever meet. Ryan from Midland, Ontario, a guitar playing student in forestry at Lakehead, at 20 he’s the baby of the group but avoids being teased because he looks like an American Gladiator. Sonam from Belleville, a Glendon grad who spent the last year teaching English at Victoriaville, a stone’s through from Nicolet. Sebestien from Québec, Québec, the only pure francophone of the group. Sara from Edmonton, who wears a turquoise cowboy hat at all times and was quite heart broken to miss most of the finals. Then there’s Fallon, a fun-loving Ojibwa from Massey, Ontario (near Sudbury); before the end of the week she decided the program wasn`t a good fit for her and headed home, which did leave us a little shaken; it was sad to see her go but we wish her nothing but the best, and she’s promised to meet us at the airport upon our return.

Then there’s Martin, our 26 year-old Québecois supervisor who has to be the lankiest, goofiest person this side of the St. Lawerence. But he’s very silly and loves to tease and be teased in both languages, so I don’t think things could’ve turned out better.

We spent a few days reflecting on Canadian identity, going over what the purpose of the community program is, listening to former participants testimonials and the like…Actually very interesting and quite enjoyable (at least for me). We even snuck in a few beers over a camp fire before the Malians arrive (they’re generally Muslim and don’t drink)

After a few days getting to know the Canadians, we then hurried to prepare for the arrival of the Malians to La Visitation by learning a few words of Bombara (the main language spoken in Mali, although all participants speak various degrees of French) and plan out a “soirée Canadienne ” a night of traditional Canadian theatre, dance and music. (yeah…I know) We were all quite anxious to see the Malians and to see how the relationships would work. I remember feeling overwhelmed (first day of school butterflies times 100) as the bus pulled up and they debarked.

But things were remarkably smooth from the start. They’re very easy to talk to, very warm, innocent and full of interesting characters. They’re all Muslim with the exception of one Catholic girl, but none of them are particularly religious. They all study at an agricultural centre in Mali and the program counts as their apprenticeship. Within the first few hours I was having long, fascinating discussions with them about politics, economics, marriage plans, social norms…I learned more in those few hours than I would’ve in an average year.

(Sidenote: I keep thinking that this experience would be an excellent premise for a reality TV show or documentary. Granted we`re missing a natural gimmick, but we have all the other ingredients: intrigue, culture clash, laughter, tears, frustration, flirtation, miscommunication. The only thing missing? The textbook nightvision lens love scene.)

For the soirée Canadienne I was suckered into being the MC, and managed to learn as many silly Bombara phrases and Malian cultural tendencies I could within a few hours. It was the closest thing I’ve had to a stand-up set in French, and it remarkably was a big hit with the Malians (although they were quite supportive even of the jokes which bombed)

The next stage was to select our counterpart for the program: this is the Malian who we`ll be living with and working with for the next 6 months, while we`ll only be seeing the rest of the group roughly once a week. From the beginning I had a strong connection with one Ahmadou Denon, 22 from the capital of Bamako. He loves international politics, knows France intimately well despite never having visited, loves to smile at everything, is a huge soccer and sports fan…a great fit quoi. We’re both the babies of our families: although his father had 3 wives (thank you Islam) and so he`s the youngest of 24…Twenty Four! He has sibling who are in their 50s.

There’s a world more to say including where we are now, what we’re up to and some other silly stories along the way. But it’s getting dark and I don’t feel like sleeping among the cows tonight.

Until next time…

Nima

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Comments»

1. Daniel - June 15, 2006

Nima,

Just amazing. The experience really would make a fascinating documentary. I can’t tell you how wonderful I think it is that you’ll have the chance, because of your French, to get to know Ahmadou (and the others in the country) intimately. In Ukraine, our lack of Russian prevented us, with a couple of exceptions, from forming real relationships and from having those in-depth talks…it’s one of the few things I regret about the summer. Enjoy it! I’m sure you’ll take advantage to the fullest.

PS: you are missing some fantastic World Cup diving and some even better writhing on the ground.

2. Jade - June 15, 2006

Wow Nima, it sounds like an amazing experience. It is great to see you learn about other cultures and meeting new people. You are definitely getting the best out of your summer so far!

Stay in touch – Jade

3. Angie - June 21, 2006

flirtation?!? oooh la la!!!

Sounds like you’re having a great time and getting all you can out of this so far! Thornhill is the same old…and you are MISSING OUT…(not really at all)

4. Greg Wadel - January 6, 2007

Great Site, we know how important links are, would really love to link with your site, thanks greg


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