Speak in tongues

09 Jul

I have had the opportunity through my twenty-eight years to experience many places and different cultures. Growing up, I attended a British school that educated Indians, Sri Lankans, British, Arabs, Filipinos and expats from different corners of the globe. I was also able to attend an Indian school that brought me closer to my own culture. America, from the close-knit communities of Utah to the craziness of New York, added to my experiences. My childhood gave me the opportunity to meet and mingle with different cultures and to learn to approach the world with a non judgemental view. I thought before coming to Mali, that I had seen it all. I was and am wrong. Everyday, I learn something new from my new adopted country.

Language is a critical piece of any culture. I have been attempting to pick up on Bamanakan which is the local language in Mali. Nothing in Mali starts without a greeting. Even if you go into the market, the greeting comes before business. An attempt to dismiss the greetings may sometimes work to such a disadvantage that the person may not sell to you. You greet everyone you meet. Not only people in your own community but beyond the village or city.  The greetings move past the barriers of status or religion. It highlights among Malians a strong sense of community in Mali. This past week, I have attempted to polish my greetings in Bamanakan. Now when I greet people, I may still be the toubabou( white person) physically, but the minute I greet them, I see faces light up, only to fade with my abilities as the conversation continues. 🙂

Here are some greetings I learned this past week:

Hello (any time of day)
i ni ce

How are you? (Are you well?) ( to one person )
i ka kεnε wa?

How are you? (Are you well?) ( to more than one person )
Aw ka kεnε?

Fine, thank you.
kεnε, tɔɔrɔ te, ko tε, tana tε

What is your first name?
i tɔgɔ?

What is your last name?
i jamu?

My name is ______ .
ne tɔgɔ ___

Thank you.
i ni ce

You’re welcome.
basi tε (literally ‘no problem’)



Excuse me. ( getting attention / begging pardon )
(aw ye) hakε to!

I’m sorry.
a yafa n ma

k’an bεn

Goodbye ( informal )
n taara

Keanen too has attempted to learn the new language. Everytime I give him something, he will say “i ni ce” to me which means Thank you. Language seems to be less of an issue between kids. He has consistently layed with his cousins for the past week for hours on end. It is nice to see him gain new friends and a new confidence. However, he has started to miss his old friends more and more. Each day consists of a new activity to find a present to send to his friend Miles. He has created pictures and airplanes in the hope that he can mail these to his friends. Miles has been with him for the last 5 years. They grew up together and Miles was like a brother. Carmen too seems to think we are on vacation and that she will get to see her friend Quinn soon. She has started drawing( scribbling) all her friends. My kids resilience to their changed environment proves that kids are stronger and more adaptable than we sometimes give them credit for.

Language too is an essential tool on the campaign trail. As we go from village to village and meeting to meeting, I am impressed to see how culturally different people are. Yeah like a chameleon adapts to his environment. What works in Bamako( the main city) may not work in Sikasso. It is extremely important that Yeah know the cultures of the different regions that make up Mali. A wrong move could cause him that region in a country where the voting percentage is pretty low. I am confident that this will change as people see one of their own campaign. Yeah’s message of fairness and access to education/healthcare is essential at a time when the economy is suffering. Right now the unemployment rate sits at above 35%. Yeah came from very humble beginnings and has not embezzled money from his country. Hopefully he will be the message and hope that his people need. We have but one life and it is essential that we can help ourselves and those around us live a fulfilled life.

This experience has humbled me in more ways than one. At least once a day, hopelessness washes over me as I attempt to learn a new language and culture. However, I am also excited to learn more about the different cultures and better understand the cultural implications of the language so that we can better integrate into the Malian community.


Posted by on July 9, 2011 in Past Posts


6 responses to “Speak in tongues

  1. Gretchen

    July 9, 2011 at 00:46

    Yeah could not do this without you. I too was impressed on my two trips to Mali by the strong sense of communiy and family. One of the first things that impresses Susanna about Yeah was his untarnished integrity. What a gift he has to give to Mali.

    • Marissa Coutinho-Samake

      July 11, 2011 at 23:17

      Gretchen, I hope you can come soon to Mali and once again feel the community feeling. Yeah is a good man and I feel blessed to have an opportunity to be on this journey

  2. Mom Allen

    July 9, 2011 at 15:21

    I Ni Sogoma! dear Marissa. (So do I greet you based on the time where I am, or the time where you are?) I am so touched with each of your messages. You are an amazing woman, and I hope and pray you know this. What a joy it has been having you in my life these many years – and you know I look forward to the time we can be in Mali – my second home – together! As well, your family is wonderful – I can just see Keanan with his cousins at the family compound – again fond memories with those cute kids running and screaming chasing a tire, a chicken, or one another. Keanen will teach you much! Please give both Carmen and Keanen a hug from Nanna!

    Yeah is an incredible man – it has been a blessed experience watching him grow into the man he has become. He has strong roots and life experience that will bless the people of Mali.

    Keep the faith, your wonderful sense of humor, and smiling!!

  3. Marissa Coutinho-Samake

    July 11, 2011 at 23:20

    Ini su mom. I ka kene? Sumogow ka kene? ( Good evening. How are you? How is your family?) . I miss you and your constant support. Hopefully you can come here next Jan with your expedition. I will give your love and hugs to Kean and Carma.

  4. James A

    July 12, 2011 at 23:21

    I LOVED THIS POST. I want to just jump on a plane and come live with you guys for a year. I am excited to come with Shelby at the beginning of the year. Your optimism, despite the harsh realities of adapting to another land, people, culture, weather, food, etc. is inspiring. Keep your head high. We think of and pray for you all often.

    • Marissa Coutinho-Samake

      July 13, 2011 at 17:15

      Just when I start to waver you give me a push up. Thank you my friend. Please keep praying coz i’m going to need each one of them and Yeah will need them this coming year as well.
      I look forward to seeing you.


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