By Brianne Johnson, Mali Rising Inspiration Intern
I want to take you all back to my favorite day on my trip to Mali. It was halfway through the week and we stopped in a small village for a meeting. I felt completely out of place among a large circle of people where I was undoubtedly the youngest one there, not to mention only one of two females. I remember digging my sneakers into the red sand to pass the time and eye-balling a few Malian students playing just a few yards away- dying to go say hello.
I jumped at my first chance to sneak away from the meeting and cautiously approached two girls that curiously observed from afar. I reverted to my previously developed strategy for making Malian friends:
Step #1: Distribute gummy bears with a big smile.
Step #2: Introduce myself in broken French.
Step #3: Initiate an activity - in this case, coloring!
I had been swarmed by hundreds of students at each school we visited up until that point, so the intimacy of sitting in the dirt and sharing a coloring book page with my two new friends was a refreshing change of pace. We would pop gummy bears into our mouths and compliment each-others’ coloring with thumbs up, giggling the whole time.
I met lots of new friends that day as our group doubled and tripled in size. The students wanted to show off their soccer skills, teach me proper technique for playing marbles, or introduce me to their dead lizard and then proceed to laugh at my horrified reaction.
My time in the schoolyard had ended and our translators ushered me towards our bus. I was overwhelmed with high-fives and farewell smiles from everyone when the two girls from earlier emerged from the crowd to ensure their chances of saying goodbye. One of them tugged on my shirt, cueing me to kneel. I’ll never forget that moment when she whispered in crystal clear English, “Brianne, you are my best friend.”
My wish for everyone in the United States would be for them to have an intimate experience with Mali Rising’s students the way I was able to because you can’t help but fall in love with their desire to connect with our world despite linguistic, geographic, or cultural barriers. My wish for the students that Mali Rising serves would be for them to know they are valuable, capable, talented contributors to our world and more importantly, my best friends too.