I was greeted in Toulouse by Anne, my first host, at the airport. As soon as I saw her friendly smile and the sign that read “Amy” I realized Servas was my new favorite way to travel. We drove the 40 minutes to her house in the country side. We talked, joked and laughed the whole way.
The first week I spent in the country living in an old barn that was turned into their lovely home. My host family did a wonderful job introducing me to France. Anne and Xavier Moulas have three children, Collette, Joseph and Pierre. Each played an instrument and spoke some English. Truly feeling like part of the family, I helped prepare the meals and teach the kids English as they helped me with my French. They live about 10 minutes from a small village where we shopped at the farmers market and visited friends. We spent a lot of time playing with the dogs and parrot, sitting in front of the fire and getting to know each other over tea. We ate delicious home cooked meals and shared recipes. Sharing meals with family friends and neighbors made me feel so much like part of the family and was the most valuable aspect of my first week. By the time I was supposed to leave, I didn’t want to. We connected in a way that made me feel like I was leaving home again. It was sad to say goodbye to this wonderful family.
The following week I set out to a tiny village in the Pyrenees called Mayrègne. My hosts, Yannick and Josette, have a beautiful old home that has been in their family for centuries. They live in a village with 29 permanent residences. When I arrived the mountains were still covered with snow and the sun would shine on them beautifully. My hosts’ grandchildren were visiting and we made snow men and went snow shoeing up the mountain. I taught them an American card game which they insisted on playing again and again. We went for beautiful drives through the snowy mountains and looked out at breathtaking views, stopping along the way to explore several tiny, old churches. We made and ate all our meals together in their old family home and visited over strong coffee. Yannick taught me how to drink Armagnac, a strong French brandy that I’m pretty sure put some hair on my chest and told me about the vineyard that used to belong to his family. While walking though the nearby villages, we sang songs and photographed the valley below. The nearby city of Luchon is a spa town about 7 miles from Yannick and Josette’s home. We went into the town several times to enjoy a talented jazz trio and the famous, naturally heated sauna in the caves. My time spent in the Pyrenees was quite rejuvenating and I feel very fortunate to have had to opportunity to enjoy a tiny village (and lovely family!) I may never have come across without Servas.
By the end of my second week in France and after the positive experiences I had had so far, I was feeling very comfortable. At this point my French was improving and I could follow along with conversations around me in a way that I wasn’t able to in the beginning. As I headed on the train to my third host I thought about how grateful I was to have been brought into these families’ homes and been treated so kindly. I was already feeling a profound connection with France.
My third host, Alain, has been a math teacher for 12 years. I was his fist Servas guest and he made me feel very welcome. He has a great apartment in middle of Toulouse. The city is about 500,000 people and just as many bricks. It is known as “The Pink City” because of all the redbrick architecture. On our first walk to the Capitole I felt very comfortable in the city. It felt familiar to me and I could imagine myself spending a lot of time there. The Canal du Midi and Canal de Garonne that run through the city make it feel tranquil. Alain hasn’t spoken English in many years so I was challenged to communicate only in French. We explored the city and went Salsa dancing. It was exciting to navigate the city’s public transportation on my own and make friends around the city. I was invited to a feminist party and ate amazingly rich desserts.
My forth and final hosts were David and Agnès Northey of Annecy. They were incredibly hospitable and thrilled to host me. I felt so at home and welcomed into their family for the week, I didn’t want to leave. With many shared interests we connected in a genuine and special way. We talked about photography, politics, travel, family and everything in between. We went on several walks around the gorgeous nearby Lake Annecy and to the old town only a short distance from their home. They invited me to sing in their choir, attend an incredibly intimate concert in their local library and join them in a birthday celebration for their son at Agnès’ sister’s home in the surrounding mountains. We went on adventures in the snow and made jam from fruit we bought at their Farmers Market. The entire week was filled with experiences I will never forget.
Had it not been for the generosity of Servas and receiving the Mogerman Scholarship, I wouldn’t have been able to have this wonderful SYLE experience. Since my return I’ve been reflecting on what an incredible network of people make up the Servas family and trying to figure out how I can go on another SYLE. I feel incredibly grateful for the experience and kindness of everyone that played a part in my trip.
Bon voyage, Servas Peace Builders!