Malians have no personal space or at least that’s how it feels to my small town canadian girl self and my mind-your-own-Ps-Qs CAD sense of keeping your head down until someone is willing to share a brief insight into their lives. But here in Mali people want to know where you’re going, what you’re doing, who you’re doing it with and what you’re wearing – all while standing 30 cm away from you. It’s enough to drive you crazy sometimes but it’s also what makes this other context so unique.
There’s a novelty to being a foreigner here; people, especially kids, are not used to seeing foreigners and so basically everyone stares making it really apparent that you’re new here. Except that, the trepidation some people have towards new faces drives them to say hello and engage you in conversation. By far my biggest frustration is how many people want to comment on my life here with or without the invitation to do so. That’s a pretty ok life if your biggest frustration is that you are slowed down yr patience are tried because people are just wanting to understand you and possibly connect with you.
I think the incessant need to say hello even if people seem timid is also a unique reaction to fear or what is not understood. In CAD and the USA when we don’t understand someone new or something seems foreign we seem to recoil a bit until we can evaluate the risk. But here in Mali people don’t recoil they look directly at the misunderstood object or person and engage with it with the hopes of better understanding. It can seem so uncomfortable to me so much of the time- this attitude of constantly engaging but it’s kind of a beautiful glimpse at another social system that has some pretty obvious advantages overall.
Mali: thanks for constantly showing me t embrace the misunderstood, look it straight in the eye and engage with it to connect.