My 9 hour layover proved to be a blessing, as it afforded me time to call my family and dearest friends and say goodbye. Hanging up the phone proved to be extremely difficult as it marked the last time I would be able to (easily) call my loved ones back home.
The flight to Paris was long. I was hopeful when my neighbor sat down – she seemed nice enough, the kind for woman who would help you if you need it, but who would mainly mind her own business. I realized within seconds, however, that she was a chain smoker. She reeked of cigarette smoke, and much I tried to avoid her acrid stench, I was stuck with it for the night. Sometimes it would randomly become even more overpowering, and I would try desperately to shift into a position where she smelled less. She also had a wet cough which plagued her the entire trip. (I wonder where that came from?) It was so bad, you could hear all the mucus in her poor lungs, and I began to worry that sooner or later she’d cough one of them right up. On the bright side, we had tv-on-demand and I got to spend the first couple hours watching “Midnight in Paris”. If you haven’t seen it yet, you totally should. It’s one of my favorite movies – very funny with a great cast. The opening montage definitely made me want to skip my flight to Bamako though…it makes Paris look wonderful. I recognize that that isn’t especially challenging, but I love it all the same. Anyways, if you love art, music, literature, etc and you haven’t seen “Midnight in Paris” go rent it. Right now. Don’t dilly-dally, don’t argue, just do it.
Anyways, we arrived safely in Paris and my friend Emilia and I freshened up before meeting the group at the gate. This turned out to be a really good thing, as we both forgot that we had full Nalgenes in our bags before we put them through security. The guards searched our bags and told us “Il faut que vous boire,” holding up our water bottles. I was confused as to whether that meant I needed to drink it in front of them, so I just smiled and said I was sorry and totally forgot about it. My guard kindly disposed of my water for me, but Emilia was forced to chug hers before we could leave. So that was exciting. We joined up with some other kids from the group for a small lunch. I was feeling totally nostalgic, as we were visiting the same part of the airport where I had left Paris with my mom two years ago. We even ate at the same café and I had a piece of quiche loraine with some sparkling water. Nom. It was really nice, though. We sat around and talked about the trip and Carleton, and which malaria pills everyone was taking. Maybe it sounds kinda lame, but for the first time since I walked into an airport, I was feeling comfortable with this trip.
The flight to Bamako was uneventful. I mainly slept and read. I was placed in the bulkhead, however, so for the first hour of the flight I kept thinking of David Sedaris’ piece where he talks about how much he despises the bulkhead. Thankfully it wasn’t totally awful though. The dinner they served was actually pretty good, and the Air France crew were all really nice, I was especially fond of one of them, who asked me about Bamako and my plans. He lives in Paris, and adores it, so we had plenty to say to each other. As we left the plane, one of the flight attendants announced on the overhead “Good luck Minnesota!” It was a little strange, but nice too. The best part, however, was walking into the airport and getting swept up into a big hug from Cherif. Love that man. Of course, immediately after said hug we were swept into a police room, but we’ll ignore that.
So, after a long and stressful trip, retrieving my bags, and riding in a bus under a neon sign that read “Bienvenue à Bamako” I have finally reached my destination. Cherif met us with pain au chocolat and pain du rasin and fruits at the hotel where we’ll be staying for the next three days. Then we head off to a village for more orientation before finally moving in with our host families. Crazy no? There is no way I can describe my emotions right now…it’s wonderful and terrifying to be visiting this strange and beautiful continent. I cried a bit earlier upon opening my suitcase and finding the note mom wrote me. She left a warning, but I ignored it. Mom’s been leaving me notes since I started eating school lunch in first grade. She’d stow a few lines and a picture in with my lunch to tell me she loves me. The new equivalent is that I get a note now whenever I pack my suitcase for a new destination. And I can always count on the fact that no matter how happy I am to be somewhere, I will cry shortly after arrival due to her lovely notes. It’s a nice feeling, in a morose sort of way. Anyhow one note, a few tears, and a cold shower later I am sitting here, typing this up, and on my way to bed. The next few days are aimed at orientation and recuperation, so I’m excited. You’ll undoubtedly hear more from soon, but till then, bonne nuit tout le monde!