Saturday, December 31, 2011

The End of Homestay

This morning we moved the last of our things out of our host families’ homes and stepped on the same bus in which we arrived two months ago after saying some very hard goodbyes. I have almost too many thoughts to put into words right now.
I am sad to be leaving my adopted village in Mali and my host family that has taken care of me over the past two months. In our last days together we got much closer and it makes it that much harder to leave. I will miss the daily language classes with our two incredible LCFs, Claudine and Brahima. I will also miss spending so much time with the specific group of trainees in my village. We shared struggles and triumphs and put up with each other for what sometimes felt like endless hours. I will look back on the past two months with fond memories of all the people who I shared my experience in Baguineda Village with, both Toubabs and Malians! Homestay is also a unique time of learning and discovery which I will miss for its immersion and intensive schedule. For me it served its purpose quite well as a sort of incubator for us to build up our language skills and learn other basics in a supportive environment. If I could change one thing about homestay I would make it three months instead of two. In true Malian fashion our goodbye ceremony scheduled for yesterday afternoon happened the night before, and was relatively unorganized. We took it in stride and had a fine time, savoring the last chance to dance with our community. It is not clear when we will get to see them again – some volunteers return from time to time to their homestay communities for visits, but it involves a significant trek from most volunteers’ sites.
Despite the sadness that inevitably comes in such a period of intense transition, I am eager for what the transition signals. It’s almost time to go to site for good! I am looking forward to the stability of having one home instead of having my life spread out physically and emotionally between three different locations (homestay, Tubaniso and site). I am increasingly itching to get to work on site. It will be difficult to remind myself that we are not supposed to initiate any projects during our first three months on site! The purpose of this rule is to ensure the sustainability of our work. If we do not have a solid understanding of our communities when we begin working on projects we are less likely to succeed. Spending significant time immersed on site and living daily life there is, I agree, the best way to ensure sustainability.
Other things on the horizon – the Segou Music Festival and planning for the regional Take Your Daughters to Work Day slotted for early 2012. More information to come on both of those later!
Quick Security Update: Little to report up North except the recent commitment of Algerian military trainers to the Malian army and yesterday destruction caused to newly built/still under construction army barracks up in Kidal region by (supposed) militants, suspected to be linked to AQIM. No casualties were reported. It is probable that AQIM is trying to stall any entrenching of the military North of Mopti, and I imagine this kind of action by AQIM-type groups will continue. This kind of news does not get widely publicized in Mali, and although I have suspicions about why but I am not yet convinced.  Everyone knows that the North is hard to control because of the physical environment. There is also a general consensus among the Malians I have spoken with that the problems do not originate from within Mali, but come from the outside aided by events such as the fall of the Libyan regime and the resulting influx of fighters/weapons. Focusing on this aspect, however, conveniently avoids the question of how/why religious extremists ended up in Mali well before the last few months. People around Bamako or farther South seem mostly oblivious to or untroubled by such thoughts, and rightfully so – it is difficult to imagine any trouble down here.

On a lighter note, Happy New Year! May 2012 bring you health and happiness.