My name is Korotumu Diarra, or Koro for short. I am named after my 14-year-old host sister, who is the hardest working woman I have ever met. Because I am a Diarra, I am to accuse Traores of being bean eaters. If I am accused of being a bean eater, I am to deny it.
Nevermind that a giant bowl of beans has been one of my favorite meals thus far in Mali.
The locals have given each of us a Malian name, usually after a member of their own family. Hundreds of years ago a “joking cousin” relationship was established in an effort to keep the peace within the population. I’ll save you the gory details on how leaders were able to convince an entire civilization that they were related and therefore should be nice to each other, but just know that it seems to be an effective strategy for peace-keeping.
It is important that we were given Malian names so that we, too, could have cousins to accuse of being bean eaters.
My sister and namesake runs my host compound. I hear her sweeping beginning as early as 5am every day, and she does not go to sleep until well after I do. She cooks, does laundry, runs errands, cleans her younger siblings, and helps me with my homework.
Also, ninety percent of the country is Muslim. Their highly communal culture results in them throwing out blessings to each other at most encounters. In addition to losing my American name, I have also lost my American absence of religion. A month ago I was Liz, the daughter of a priest and who didn’t go to church but loved Christmas time. I am now Koro, the sister of a Muslim, who spends her days telling people she hopes Allah brings them peace.
I have lost mac n’ cheese, lattes, pants, my name, my attachment to my ambiguous relationship with religion, and tomorrow I will lose about half my hair.
I have gained a smart phone, an incredible flip flop tan line, the ability to say “My brother studies helicopter flying” in a West African language, and the knowlege on how to treat a well.
And next week, I get to see where I’ll be living for the next two years.
My name is Koro, and I just completed one month with the Peace Corps.