Clap your hands and cheer: Abdoulaye has returned! Yes, my favorite potato specialist from sub-Saharan Africa is back in town. I know I already posted one photo of him dancing with my mother-in-law, but it seems to me a topic worth revisiting.
In the summer of 2005 my husband told me he'd seen a poster on campus: housing was needed for visiting scientists from Mali; did I want to do it? Sure, I said, (thinking, Mali? Mali? Where the heck is Mali?) The kids concurred, so we signed up. I chose a moment when I was alone in the house to get out the atlas: there was Mali, one country inland from Senegal, in Africa's big bulge into the Atlantic, with the Congo–the Congo River!–curving through its southern half and Timbuktu–Timbuktu!!–up there in the north, just south of the Sahara.
We hosting Abdoulaye (pronounced Ahb-doo-lie) for a semester, quickly discovering that we’d entered an entire world of parties and university politics, as he and his six colleagues made their way through the utterly foreign realm of the American university. He was here in Bozeman for two years, and when he left I thought that part of my life was over.
Now he’s back for a few months, studying techniques for detecting and preventing potato diseases and laughing his way through our lives. Last week I told him that before he’d first come, I’d had occasional qualms; just what had I let myself in for, bringing a Muslim male into my house? I’d had a vision of a haughty, turbaned man sitting at our table, demanding, “More coffee, woman!” as he gave the table a thump. (This cracked him up, and he announced that he would start wearing a turban forthwith.)
That’s Abdoulaye, washing our dishes in a down jacket, his comment on our Montana winters, not to mention our absurdly cold house. He washed most of the dishes while he was living with us (our kids were ecstatic, as this was their job) and never left a party at our house until the last dish had been washed and dried.
Yes it’s true; we don’t have a dishwasher. In fact, poor Abdoulaye found himself in one of three U.S houses without a dishwasher, a cell phone, or cable or satellite T.V. (He and all his colleagues got cellphones within a week.) It was Abdoulaye, our poor primitive from the heart of darkest Africa, who introduced us to the show 24 (back before Jack started torturing everyone in sight, at which point we all gave up with a collective "yech"); we started renting it, watching it en famille, only when we could all be there.
Now he’s lobbying for Prison Break, and prefacing stories about things he’s seen and learned with “It was on National Geographic” almost as often as I preface mine with “I heard an NPR clip this morning…” He’s also trying to get this hopelessly out of it crew to try Skype. We still don’t have cell phones, and since we did nothing when U.S. television went digital last June, we don’t even have T.V. Mali, it transpires, went digital several years ago. Last week we were all in hysterics about how Abdoulaye lives in a more primitive, backward house when he comes to the U.S. than when he’s at home in Bamako, Mali’s capital.
Our only claim to technical with-it-ness is that we do each have a laptop; in the evening, sometimes all four of us currently in residence will be clustered about the fireplace, tapping away. That is, when we're not laughing over a video, or threatening to send each other to the garage.