it’s the last homestay sunset.
homestay, where you arrived with only the ability to say “hello” in bambara. and nothing else.
homestay, where goats scavenged for leftovers outside your room.
homestay, where chickens ran in and out of the negen. bathroom.
but the most important?
the faces that took you in.
the faces that led you around and carried your things and showed you how to adjust to the malian way of life.
the faces that made your daruka everyday. breakfast.
the faces that brewed you tea for two months.
the faces that measured out malo for your dinner. rice.
the faces that gave you your malian togo. name.
the faces that braided your hair. the faces that kasi’d in terror when they first saw you but now smile when you approach. faces that won’t be getting malaria since they sleep under a mosquito net. cried.
the faces that taught you all the bambara nouns you needed to don. know.
the faces that would boil hot ji and pour it into a bucket for your shower. water.
the faces that would pull up a sigilan for you so you could sit with the rest of the family. chair.
the faces that warmed their hands by sharibon since although it never dipped below 65F, it is nene waati for mali. coal. cold season.
the faces that would say naa duminike! to you each day. come eat!
the faces that didn’t mind you butchering their language and unknowingly committing cultural taboos.
these are the faces that made you an instant part of their somogow. family.
but now your room is bare again. the mosquito net has been taken down.
you’re getting ready to leave homestay. it’s the end of your training.
soon you’ll be a real sigida lakana volunteer in your permanent village. environment.
but let’s return to that last sunset in your village. it’s not over folo. yet.
you see, there are other faces too.
these are the faces of your classmates.
your fellow trainees.
your future fellow volunteers.
but your prefer to call them something else.
they’re your yala yala buddies.
yala yala. perhaps your favorite bambara word. se promener.
to walk around.
for two months, rather than being model students and going straight back to your host families and practicing bambara or adjusting to the malian culture, you’d all wander away from the village to instead stare at the sky. or the creek. or the mango trees. or the onion gardens. or the rice fields. or anywhere in the middle of nowhere.
toubab time is what you also call it. time to speak in english. time to reflect. time to be american. time to organize all the thoughts running through your heads.
[toubabou,the bambara word for any foreigner.]
time to appreciate the continent your feet are standing on.
time to enjoy time together before the period of isolation starts.
it’s the last sunset. but not the last day.
there are moringa trees to be given away.
bambara to be reviewed.
sandy wind to be avoided.
bags to be packed and mobilis to be loaded. cars.
goodbyes to be said.
obligatory group photos to be made.
or rather, the only one.
more yala yalas to be taken.
here, your friendships have developed from these walks.
the bonding over food that you love so much – and miss so much - it will just have to happen later when you’re on your own schedule.
for the moment, you bond also over sudoku.
the final bambara test is a banna. finished.
someone gives you fish to snack on. but you politely say n faara. i’m full.
and of course. the last homestay yala yala.
the mango trees you sat under at the beginning are now flowering.
the next time you see your yala yala buddies again in march (or april), the fruit might be ready to eat.
you’ve got things to look forward to.
the children of the village come out to wait with you for the car.
the final goodbyes are said.
and just like that, you’ve left your first malian village.
but you are sure to segin.
to return. rentrer.
like you always do.
back at the training center, a bonfire is started.
the big day is coming up.
the swearing in ceremony. where you stop being a trainee and become a volunteer.
some people practice their speech.
but most others are getting dressed up.
the swear in outfits are being revealed.
for the past few weeks, everybody has been busy selecting and buying fabrics in order to visit a tailor who then transforms bolts of cloths into wearable outfits.
extravagant. shiny. crinkly. bright. colorful. embroidered. these are a few adjectives to describe contemporary malian formal wear.
but you and your yala yala village buddies choose a different route.
a more traditional route.
a route linked to mali’s history and not to trends in western africa.
bogolan. cotton mud cloth.
sun-dried. woven. dyed. stitched. bleached. fermented. handmade. these are the adjectives you’re more attracted to.
wearing bogolan is also an easy way to visually define the word cool.
as well as impressive and respectable.
but it doesn’t hurt to also have a handlebar moustache.
the cameras fly out.
so you put yours away. social events and cameras are not your favorite combination.
but, yala yalas and cameras are.
especially when it’s the very last one.
or rather. the very first one.
because all three of you are finally volunteers. trainee is a title for the next batch of americans who will arrive in six months are so.
now you are a peace corps volunteer.
no more classes. no more meetings. the new life is starting tomorrow.
tomorrow morning everybody is spreading out all over mali.
sikasso. kayes. ségou. koulikoro. these are the regions where buses loaded with new volunteers will be heading.
you’re excited. nervous. a bit sad.
but most of all, happy to have squeezed in one final/first yala yala before heading out.