Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Sneaky Departure

It's a little after three in the morning and I've reached that pre-departure anxiousness that leaves me unable to sleep or stop wondering what exactly is ahead or if I'm forgetting anything behind. I'm streaming music on-line, listening to the Southern bands whose shows I used to regularly attend, while the drone of my parents' snoring rolls under the melodies. Like the calls to prayer, the honking of taxis and the bicycle tires treading gravel roads in Tunisia, it did not take long for me to grow accustomed to the sounds of Louisville again--the ring of my cell phone when a friend calls, my father's constant listening to CNN and the thumping bass of cars driving down my block, their "pimped out" rims bouncing in the stale Louisville air. Unlike my Tunisian summer, however, Louisville carries with it a certain feeling of nostalgia--of being here, but living in the past every time I go over to a best friend's house or hang out at my favorite coffee shop. And it carries with it a certain feeling of leaving--constantly calling travel agents to organize the complex criss-cross of flights I have taken and will take this year, filling out clearances for a job I will have in 4 years and rehearsing verb conjugations for a language I will speak daily in less than a week. Maybe that, more than anything, is what makes Louisville a home, in the Yohannes family sense of the word--the place you live, come back to and leave again, but a place in which your whole self is never truly settled.

On Sunday I leave for Senegal. I am already dreading the rude alarm clock awakening for my 6 a.m. flight, but I am both excited and curious for my semester in Senegal. To give you all a glimpse of my upcoming year, here is a rough itinerary (to be detailed after the fact):

August 30 to Mid-October: I will be in Dakar (Senegal's capitol), taking classes in French about development, Senegal and the Wolof language. I will live with a host family and study with the thirty-some other MSID (Minnesota Studies in International Development) students.

Mid-October to early December: I move to a rural location in Senegal, where I will spend six weeks completing an internship with a local non-profit. I will live with another host family and will be apart from the other students.

Early December to December 11: Our final week of the program is spent back in Dakar, where we write a paper and wrap up the program.

December 13 to January 2: I will have a real Parisian adventure! Melinda and I are spending about a week in Paris, seeing how our African French holds up. Then, I will head to Germany (I'm so happy to be going back!), where I will spend Christmas with some family friends.

January 2 to June 6: My semester as part of the Macalester Program in Globalization from a Comparative Perspective begins with a month long seminar led by Macalester faculty and staff, during which we will visit the Hague, Brussels and Amsterdam (!!!). Then, I will take classes at the University of Maastricht, live in international student dorms with the other participants (there are six of us together) and work on a big research paper I will have started researching in Senegal.

There is an Arabic word that should follow all of this: Inshallah, or hopefully, God-willing. Until my ultimate road trip of sorts begins, I have a lot to fit in. From the State Fair and visits to my favorite neighborhoods to sharing food with good friends and family to saying good-byes to people and places I only just said hello to, I will try to make the most of my last few days in this city. You probably won't hear from me until I have touched down in Senegal. Like in Tunisia, I will try to post as regularly as I can, but I have no idea what that will mean for this trip.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Many Finals

Today I am writing on my last day in Tunisia—a country that welcomed me two months ago and that has since housed both my frustration and excitement about learning Arabic, countless experiences in every one of its four corners and that has inspired and shaped many friendships across national and state borders. When I moved back to the States after living in Germany, my host family taught me a very useful expression—one eye crying, the other smiling. I think this is a fitting proverb for my departure from Tunisia—I hadn’t admitted how much I liked this country, its people or how very much I appreciated all the individuals in the program until the past few days, when everyone’s voice began to carry this nostalgic tone that induces me to tear up (just a little). The past week has indeed been filled with a lot of in-program reflection, juxtaposed with the nerves of taking a huge final (worth 100 points, compared to our usual 20 point exams) and an oral proficiency interview administered by representatives of the Department of State. I am happy to report that I passed all of the above and pulled out an A in the program (I’ll have proof to put on the fridge). But with the excitement of the academics coming to a much needed close, also comes the reality of good-byes. Yesterday, we had our final banquet and graduation ceremony. Every student brought two members of their host family to a beautiful out-doors event held at a classy hotel in Sidi Bou Said. We ate a buffet (a very fitting mélange of American and Tunisian foods and a reminder of how excited I am to eat some of my favourite American foods again), spent at least an hour taking photos of every combination of students and teachers imaginable and then walked across the “stage” to get our diplomas—cased in a beautiful burgundy folder with a door to Sidi Bou in gold on the cover. It was so much like a graduation—everyone milling around after the last name had been called, not really wanting to say good-bye to all the teachers or close the official door to our summer in Tunisia.

I’m very excited for what comes next though, for me and for everyone. Students on this program are going to be scattered across the globe—one friend is beginning a master’s program in Paris, another is doing missionary work in Niger, one is starting a new job on the Mexico border, one is moving to St. John’s, others are studying abroad or just graduated and are waiting to answer the question of what comes next. As for me, I am going to Senegal on August 30—leaving one day before my birthday and touching down on my actual birthday. I hope Senegal will be as wonderful a host as Tunisia has been and Tunisia has definitely given me advice to take to Senegal with me: from what not wear in a scorching climate (unfortunately, most of what I brought with me/own) to how rewarding it can be to reach out to people and take chances with your language. I will be going into Senegal with more confidence than I had originally anticipated, but stand ready and willing to have all of my expectations turned on their face.

And with this, I officially write the last period on my chapter about Tunisia—although the chapter will never really be closed.