Ep #014: Jennifer Bangoura, Mali 2008-2012

Where I was lucky enough to call home for two years - Zana, Mali

Jennifer Bangoura served in Mali from 2008 to 2012, first as an Environment Specialist in a village of 1,000 people nine hours north of Bamako, then in Bamako where she worked on a USAID-funded education contract as a Communications Specialist. We talk about a few of our shared interest, the Peace Corps and photography, and learn more about her Peace Corps story.

On this Episode:

  • How and why photography was important to Jennifer’s service
  • Malian hospitality and how Jennifer has tried to maintain that hospitality in her own home
  • Meeting her husband at the start of her third year

Photos from Jennifer’s Story

Jennifer’s Peace Corps Story

Where and when did you serve? What did you do?

I was an Environment Specialist in Mali, West Africa from 2008-2010. I lived in a village of 1,000 people nine hours north of Bamako, Mali’s capital, where I worked with a women’s shea butter cooperative and a men’s cereal bank association. After studying a Malian photographer as part of my senior Art History thesis in college, I felt extremely lucky to get placed in Malick Sidibe’s home country where I got to experience a completely different life than the one portrayed in his iconic images of parties in Bamako in the 1960s.

From 2010-2012, I lived in Bamako where I worked on a USAID-funded education contract as a Communications Specialist. While the fun I had was, once again, different from the fun captured in Sidibé’s images, it wasn’t too far off. During my third year, and Peace Corps Response extension, I took photos and wrote success stories for a primary school teacher training project that used radio as a medium for instructional support to reach over 16,000 teachers daily throughout the entire country.

What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?

Aside from meeting my husband during my third year, my favorite memories centered around adventures with my best friend, Cassie, who was another Peace Corps Volunteer I met while serving. We learned during our pre-service training that even though we grew up on the opposite sides of the United States (she on the West Coast, me in Virginia), her aunt and uncle were attending my cousin’s wedding (that I unfortunately missed) just two months after we started the Peace Corps. From innumerable, painful, bus rides throughout Mali and West Africa to floating down the Niger river in a rusty river barge and hiking the highest mountain in Mali (Hombori), we saw parts of the country that I will not be able to visit again anytime soon due to instability and that I don’t know if my body could handle in its tender 30-something years.

What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?

During my podcast interview, I talked about how I felt, and how I imagined my host mom felt, losing her 2-month old son that she and her husband had asked me to name. That remains my least favorite Peace Corps memory and also my most painful. In remembering my Peace Corps service during our interview, I don’t know that I even mentioned living through the coup d’état in March 2012 – perhaps that’s my ongoing, unconscious way of blocking the memory. That’s also one of my least favorite memories because of the depths it plunged Mali into and, selfishly, the rattling impact it had on my own life.

What do you miss about the Peace Corps?

My host mom and dad, Annie and Esayi. I’ve never felt so welcomed, so loved, and so cared for so quickly and unconditionally as they made me feel.

What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?

(Try and) get over it. I learned, in my own way, to be resilient and learned, as best I could, from the resiliency – mostly that of the women, but also of the men – around me. Life has a lot of sucky moments – wallowing in them won’t get you far. It feels good for a minute the way that poking at a toothache temporarily soothes the pain, but take away your tongue and the pain comes back even sharper. It’s better to get to a dentist and move on (I guess either by removing the tooth or repairing it – there’s something to this analogy…). This is coming from someone who has had extensive dental work and who got a root canal in Senegal, which was the best of times and not so worst of times because I had to get a root canal, but I got to spend 10 days in a really nice transit house in Dakar just hanging out while my tooth/root healed. My experience isn’t unique that I had some high highs and low lows during my service, but a good talk with my host mom or a good cry in my hut often helped and journaling helped me get the rest of the way there.

Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?

K’an kele kele wuli: may we all wake up one by one (because if everyone wakes up at once, that would mean there was danger/a crisis, which is obviously bad)

Dooni dooni, kononi b’e a ka ni delan: little by little the bird makes his nest.

A la ka tilé héré caya: may the peace of your day be multiplied!

These are all in Bambara, which is the majority language spoken in Mali and the one I learned during my pre-service training and used during my time there.

More from Jennifer’s Story:

Blog Posts:


Connect with Jennifer

Instagram: @jennifer.m.bangoura

Twitter: @jmbangoura

Facebook: Jennifer Bangoura Productions


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