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I can easily remember the first words my host father, Basile, said to me: “Il faut aller doucement, doucement.” For those of you who don’t speak French, he told me “it is necessary to go slowly, slowly.”
I’m assuming that most people reading this blog haven’t been to Koude yet, so I’ll do my best to set the scene for all of you. Koude is located on the top of a certifiable mountain. Now, I’m not sure if I thought Professor Piot was exaggerating when he spoke about the climb during our independent study or if I just conveniently forgot about that small but very important fact until our arrival, but let it be known that to get to Koude, you need to be ready to climb. I also live at Basile’s homestead in Lao, a community even further up the mountain than all of the other Duke students, so I spend more time than the average Blue Devil climbing up each day.

At this point in the summer, I am used to the hike, but on that night in early June, I felt like the Grinch on December 25th. I wasn’t grumpy, but I too was ready to drop some presents (I.e. my backpack and the computer I carted across 3 continents) at the top of my own version of Mount Crumpet. Guided only by the light of my phone, I lagged behind my host sister, Solange, who deftly climbed the slope in flip flops while I stumbled in my hiking shoes.

When I reached my homestead, Basile greeted me and offered that first bit of advice. Each morning before I leave for Farende or to go teach in the local school, he bids me adiou with the same warning. While he is always wishing me well on my morning commute, I have begun to interpret our exchange differently in the weeks since that first night here in Koude.

Life here moves slowly. This isn’t your typical Duke Engage that includes a 9-5 internship. There is a lot of time to play cards, read, and spend time with your host family and other members of the community. And, if you’re a little bit Type A like me, sometimes it is hard to resist the urge to move at light speed, to keep working on your project until it’s tied up with a neat little bow. So, everyday, I appreciate the reminder that I need to go slowly and our presence and engagement are just as important as the tangible results of our projects.