On December 4th Esayi called me - excitement palpable even through the phone lines of our choppy connection. 'Annie had the baby!' he said. I squealed and replied with the requisite blessings for a baby in Mali. Allah ka den balon. (May God give the child a long life) Allah ka na kan dia. (May God bless the baby's arrival) and so on. 'Can you come to name the baby?' he asked. I replied immediately with an 'awo!' (yes) as I looked at my calendar.
And so this past Saturday I made my first outside-of-Bamako public transportation trip in nearly 4 months to head back to village and see Annie and her new bundle of joy. I'd been collecting baby things over the past month in anticipation of Annie's delivery and so I packed up lotions, powders, soap, fabric and baby clothes in my overnight bag and headed to the bus station. As I bought my ticket and eyed the Gana bus in the parking lot I braced myself for the stifling ride ahead. Close quarters with screaming children. Lots of dust and thick, sour air. But it would all be worth it once I got to see Annie and the baby* - at least that's what I kept telling myself!
Once my bag was safely stowed under the bus and my name called to load, I chose a seat expertly located under an open (and uncovered) vent and opened up a new book - I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloane Crosley - and settled in for the journey. A man carrying a cooler, briefcase and prayer mat gestured to the empty seat next to me and asked if it was taken. All views of my surroundings were temporarily blocked as I looked up to the voice and saw nothing but folds upon folds of pale blue bazin and embroidery. I nodded my assent and the blue cloud arranged his affairs and crunched into the seat beside me. After exchanging pleasantries and some Trident gum we turned to our own bus-ride past times - reading sarcastic short stories (me) and calling relatives in Senegal and speaking loudly in Wolof (him). Mr. Senegalese man talked with his across-the-aisle neighbor about Bandiagarra (his final destination) and what gifts he could get there. He decided it would be best to buy his 'samas' here in Bamako and so descended at the outside-Bamako check point to presumably purchase apples, bananas and bread. He returned, arms overflowing, with bags of apples, bottles of water and his headphones secured in his ears as he shouted more Wolof and laughed loudly. Once nestled into his seat again he turned to me and gave me a bottle of Diago water and two apples - 'On est compagnons de voyage!' he said when I feebly protested his generous gifts.
On Sunday morning I got up early to head out to village. The ride out was peaceful as I passed familiar faces and trees and the early morning wind blew cool on my face, in my hair. I pulled into the Coulibaly compound just after 8 am and spent the day sitting next to Annie, cuddling with Christine and cooing over the baby. When I talked with Esayi on the phone on December 4th I asked him if he wanted to know the baby's name then. He said no - that it could wait until I came back to village. Then, a few days later, he called me and asked me to go ahead and tell him since they were filling out the baby's birth certificate. After spending a lot of time talking with my family and friends about the baby's name, and trying to pick one that Malians can actually pronounce, I decided on Jean Morgan - the names of my step-Dad and Dad respectively. Annie liked the names and said Jean Morgan's nick-name would be Papa. Emma kept calling him ce-koroba (old man) which I am particularly fond of and adopted myself. At the end of the day my heart and belly were filled with baby yawns and macaroni (respectively) and I left Annie with promises to return in February for Jean Morgan's (and Christine's) baptism.
Monday morning came quickly and I hurried around San greeting familiar faces. Abu, the tailor, Moulie, the shopkeeper (Bacho was out farming rice), old-man Traoré who runs trucks from San to Gao, the gnomi maker near the BNDA. 'I ni faama!' we'd say and quickly catch up with one another. No, I didn't move to America. Yes, I live in Bamako. How is San? The family? The kids? I told them I'm here to see my 'jatigi-muso' (host-mom) who had her baby. They would give their blessings and tease me about when I'd be having some of my own! That's a few trips away I'd say.
And then, after less than 48 hours away from Bamako, I boarded a bus to take me back. From my spacious seat behind the driver I giggled aloud at Crosley's sassy writing. I napped uncomfortably against the window pane. I thought about what this trip to visit Annie and Jean Morgan meant to me and to them. While in village I saw the house I lived in for two years. Greeted market vendors and goers at the weekly market and saw the projects and people I worked with on them. And I came to a mini-realization/mini-reminder. Sustainable development is a pretty couple of words. Yet I think the most sustainable developments during the past two years I've spent here as a Peace Corps Volunteer are the relationships with which I've been blessed. From blue-bazin clouded strangers to surrogate mothers like Annie, friendly acquaintances in market and treasured friends hailing from around the world. While I enjoy high-yielding outputs and success stories as much as the next person - if these relationships are the indicators by which my time here is marked - I'm feeling pretty sustained.
Please someone, find me something cuter than a baby yawning. I dare you!
See more pictures of Jean Morgan, Annie and me here!
*Esayi came to Bamako the day I left for a training with the volunteer who replaced me. I'll get to see them both for dinner this Thursday before I leave for the States for my one-month home leave