Everyday on my way to work I am both greeted and expected to say hello to almost everyone I pass. Malian culture puts a strong emphasis on greeting people. Greets are a sign of respect, welcoming, and of a strong tradition of what is known as “Joking Cousins.” Joking Cousins or sanankuya is the practice of treating one another as if they are cousins or family members with whom familiar jokes or slight insults are exchanged because you assume a familiarity with one another. The most common jokes are ones like “you eat beans!” and “you’re a cowboy” which are based on peoples history or preferences. Joking Cousins is attributed to peaceful relations in the south – by these standards, you can’t take offense to what someone says, and you should encourage sharing meals, exchanging services and generally looking out for one another. Families in the north do not participate/believe in this philosophy and have a realm of conflict and trouble that many southern dwelling Malians attribute to their lack of participation.
Joking Cousins is what sets my day off to a great start everyday. Because everyone needs to greet me and we get to have small conversations about who is eating beans and how the family is and how you slept. It’s really wonderful. This morning was particularly endearing though. As I walked slowly in the growing heat of the morning, I came across an older man dressed fashionably in an olive green, linen suit walking jauntily along. I greeted him, we exchanged Malian names, and he asked me how I slept. And when I asked how he was doing he casually said – I am walking, the sun is shining, I have food to eat, water to drink, and people to love – life is good if you have all those things isn’t it?
Yes, sir. You’re right. The world isn’t so bad when you take away the assumptions, expectations, and measures to focus on the basic good in the world. I guess what I’m saying is I find the friendliness and optimism here a bit intoxicating. While I know that hard days will be ahead and there will most likely be days I want to come back to my home and native land, it’s not hard to gain some perspective when you have so many people who think of you as family and want to share life’s positivity with you.
All the love,