Joking Cousins

I traveled around the world photographing Peace Corps volunteers for a book, Making Peace with the World, Photographs of Peace Corps Volunteers that is being published by Other Places Publishing. I photographed Peace Corps volunteers in 22 countries on five continents.

My subject in Mali, Peace Corps volunteer Audra Helser serving as a Health volunteer in Kouoro Village in the Sikasso Region, was very good about getting me introduced to the culture of her country and to the citizens of her village. The Sikasso Region is part of the Sahel, a very hot and dry place. Fortunately, I was there during the cooler part of the year. Temperatures only were around 100 degrees fahrenheit during the day and dipped down to about 90 at night. We slept outside on the ground or in hammocks.

Amidou Coné is my Malian name. My Malian name was bestowed upon me by Audra. Apparently Amidou is a popular name. The last name was selected for Audra's enjoyment. They have something here called "joking cousins". There are last names that correspond as cousins, so if you have the name Coné, then people of a certain other last names are my "joking cousins". So, when you are introduced if they are your joking cousins they usually jokingly insult you by immediately telling you that "you eat beans" or that you are a bean eater. Of course this implies that you fart. Ah, fart humor - it is cross cultural! It actually was very funny because without fail my joking cousins responded as expected to my enjoyment of eating beans and much merriment and joy was had at my expense. If I met another Coné then we would assure each other that we were not bean eaters, and enjoy an immediate family connection.

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“Sunset at the Railroad” by PCV Nicholas Baylor Hall. Namibia, 2011.