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Notes from Abroad: Claire Harper ’12


Religion Major

Studying abroad in Mali

Living situation: Host family


Solidarity and Sharing

I consider myself good at sharing. I am a middle child and shared a bedroom with my siser until I was at least 8. I almost always am happy to oblige if someone asks me for a favor, keeping in mind the sayingwhat goes around comes around. My home-stay in Bamako, Mali is making me consider what sharing means and my personal definitions of private and public space.
In Bamako, I not only share a bedroom but also a bed with my 24 year old host sister. There is no private space within the family. While she and I are the only two people who sleep in the room, all 7 women who live in my house keep things there and come in and out at will. There is no conception of privacy within the family, or at least among its female members. This comes out of the value Malian culture place son solidarity. You don’t deny your family anything you can afford to give up. It frustrates me not to have my own space and when my host sisters act as if they are entitled to my things, but I have to ask myself why that frustrates me so much. I believe that personal space is important in order to think, study, and maintain my mental health.
As I learn about the lack of basic education and literacy in Mali, I have become more convinced of the need for privacy for a society to increase its standard of living. At the same time, the American obsession with private property has, after two months, finally started to seem rather odd to me. There is no reason not to share as much as you can. There is also no reason not to use the resources of your family and friends.
This really struck me when my host-sister learned that my older sister, though she is finished with her studies and has a job, does not contribute to my or my younger sister’s college tuition.It had never occured to me within the context of American family structures that she would. In Mali, it is not only the most natural thing in the world, it is expected. I thought I knew how to share before I came here, but Malian ‘solidarity’ goes far beyond the boundaries American conceptions of independence have put in place.

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