As the sun began to set and the heat finally reached a bearable level, Ashley and I walked down into the village to say goodbye to our host family. For the past week we’d been living up at the Peace Corps training site–a small slice of America with electricity, running water, English and wide variety of fruits and vegetables. But somehow we’d missed the village life and both of us felt nostalgic as we walked into the family compound. Our host mom was there and quickly gestured us into chairs under the shade hangar, insisting on sitting on the mat so that we could both have chairs.
Despite the cows, chickens and sheep the compound was unusually quiet; six of the seven children were out in the fields. We played with Naomi, the baby, while we waited for the rest of the family to come home. She had just learned to walk when we first arrived and now was entering the stage of picking up everything she saw. There are a LOT of things for Nigerien babies to pick up: knives, manure, vegetables drying on the mat. We tried to help our host mom by holding Naomi in our laps, admiring her huge brown eyes and secretly wishing we could take her to our respective villages with us.
Finally the rest of the family came home and we gave them all sweaty hugs. We inspected the improved cook stove that we’d helped them make a few days before and found that they’d finished it and had been using it–our first “development” project had been a success! But perhaps the biggest “success” came at the end of our visit when we said our final goodbyes. We hugged all of the kids and even got a hug from our host dad before turning to say goodbye to our mom. She wouldn’t look at us and started walking away, turning towards the corner as if she was going to start sweeping. We followed her and found that her face was full of tears, she was that sad to see us go. While it sounds strange to say that making our host mom cry was a “success,” both Ashley and I were close to tears ourselves as we realized how much of a part of the family we’d become.
The Peace Corps has three goals: two focused on cultural exchange and one focused on projects. While it had been exciting to see that our stove was aiding our family by lowering the amount of wood they needed to use, knowing that we’d really integrated into a Nigerien family felt like the greatest accomplishment.