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Parle Vous Francés?

12427-1475712-thumbnail.jpgUpon landing, one of the very first impressions was not visual, but rather auditory: no one speaks English.  This is a bit unsettling if you aren't expecting it and I really wasn't.  Despite all the prep about the trip, including reading about Mali's French colonial history, I never quite brought into consciousness that very few people in Mali would speak English.  Not hearing English, nor being able to communicate in French, made the country feel more foreign than even initially expected.

As the trip progressed, I came to learn that there are several other languages spoken in Mali and that many speak them at the exclusion of even French.  These languages include Bombara and Tamasheq.  The profusion of different languages, and the inability to rely even on French alone, made me long for the mythical Babel Fish -- the sci-fi parasite imagined by Douglas Adams that, once embedded in your ear, will translate any language.  You can get many parasites in Mali, but babel fish are not among of them.  Therefore, having a guide and translator is essential for an enjoyable visit to Mali.

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