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Someone accidentally called me “mom”, and I’m enjoying it!

It is crazy that the only non-French-speaking member of the family — 4-year-old Asana — talks to me the most.

On the day I arrived at my homestead, she stared at me whenever I’m I her vicinity, as if scrutinising my every move. She would come close to me, put her little finger in her mouth, and stare at this “giant fair-skinned visitor” with her big black bubbly eyes. I could almost see her little brain trying hard to figure out whether to go even closer. Then all of a sudden, she would burst into giggles and run off.

Day two was a complete different story. She happily held my hand all the way to the church, except once when she was distracted by a flower to pick it up. Well, actually she held my pinky. Her small fingers made perfect circles around my pinky, and I could feel her soft skin rubbing against mine in a tight grip. Connected.

It must have taken her a long time to figure out that I don’t understand her language. Or perhaps she still hasn’t, for every day she would run over to hug my thigh and babble words in Kabyé to me. Soon we developed some daily rituals. Every morning she would come knock on my door, and I would come out to pour her tea from the thermo and watch her drink in the cutest and most satisfyingly manners. Her eyes would close into a line while she sips the tea, and after swallowing she would turn to me and go “ahh” as if she just tasted the most exotic wine in the world.

Soon, the simple hug evolved into even bigger physical gestures. She was literally on me every day. She would stand on my feet, climb up onto my lap or jump onto my back in an unexpected strike. And our daily ritual also evolved. She would still knock on my door every morning. But instead of drinking tea, she would stand at the threshold looking up at me with her big black bubbly eyes, and say: “bonbon!” (Candy in French)

I must have fed her enough “bonbons” that she accidentally referred to me as “maman” one day, and everyone bursted into laughter.

I couldn’t be happier. Not only because Asana trust me as a mom, but also it was a clear reminder of how friendly, trusting, hospitable and caring the people here are. Asana is perhaps an exaggerated and naive example, but the sense of trust and openness is typical of everyone in the community. I have never been in an environment where every single person is so well-meaning and welcoming. My host mom took care of me as her daughter from the very beginning; my host sisters showed me around, eager for me to become as Kabyé as them; even my “distant relatives” who lives around my house came to salut me every day… This relational purity and warmth is something we are often missing in the US, and something I’d cherish long after Duke Engage.