Friday, March 6, 2015

Hyattsville, MD and Mali converge once again

Mali RPCVs: me (2008-12) with Bill Gardiner (1985-87) and our daughters (future PCVs 2036-38)

Just when I thought Mali couldn't get any closer to Hyattsville, MD, Peace Corps Week 2015 proved me wrong. Inspired by a fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who is hosting a Malian-food cooking competition later this week, I decided to reach out to my Hyattsville neighbors through the H.O.P.E in Hyattsville listserv (essential to join if you're moving to the city) to invite folks to try Abdoulaye's and my cooking (and to test out our recipe!). I sent out the email a week before and had about 15 people reach out to say they would like to come and try some peanut butter sauce - perfect! Many were RPCVs themselves (Ukraine, Honduras, Ecuador, Benin and Mali) but some just wanted to try Mali's cuisine from the comfort of their own neighborhood!

I served in Mali with the Peace Corps from 2008-2012 in both the education and environment sectors and lived in the Segou region and then in the capital, Bamako. You can read more about my time in Mali on the blog I kept while living, working and loving there! While I spent a lot of time eating Malian food as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I did not spend as much time learning to prepare it. Thankfully, Abdoulaye is a seasoned chef and under his direction we were able to put together a delicious sauce for our new friends. My friend Nicole (RPCV Benin, with her sleeping 2 month old baby boy nearby) was an excellent sous-chef as well chopping potatoes, carrots and tomatoes like a pro.

As our neighbors began to arrive, I could feel myself smiling from the inside. How wonderful that even from thousands of miles away I can still feel Mali so close to me? I think about West Africa on a close to daily basis since Abdoulaye is from Guinea and all of his family is still there, but it's still nice to get the chance to talk about my experience abroad with my neighbors here in the US!

I asked folks to come from 5-8 to test out our cooking and there was a nice flow of people arriving. I loved getting the chance to talk with some neighbors I've met before but haven't had a chance to chat with as much and then learning more about other neighbors I had never met at all.

One neighbor was Bill Gardiner, the first to reply to my call for guinea pigs for our taste-testing. He told me in his email that he was a Mali RPCV (1985-87) and had also had a little girl just a few weeks before Lillie Foulé. How neat! When he arrived we started chatting and I learned more about where he served in Mali and that he was traveling in Burkina Faso following his service when Thomas Sankara was overthrown in a coup d'état and killed. Yikes! As we were talking, our friend Edouard Haba asked how I knew Bill and I said I had just met him. Edouard (a Hyattsville city council member) told me Bill is the former mayor of Hyattsville. Incredible!

As Abdoulaye and I cleaned up, we talked about the conversations we had with our neighbors. I told him about Bill's background and we marveled at another conversation with a woman (Honduras RPCV) who works in research for synthetic organs! When we moved to Hyattsville in 2013 we wanted to find a place, within our budget, that was close to Washington, DC for work and education opportunities. I tend to wax poetic but we truly have found so much more since moving here and settling in. Abdoulaye enjoyed learning about Bill's background and said how great it is that the former leader of our city had lived in West Africa and could relate to its diverse population from his own experience. I'm just tickled at how small the RPCV community is - and how Mali seems to find a way into my life no matter the situation!
Lillie Foulé loved meeting her new neighbors - she was pooped afterwards and slept great! 

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