But then it actually ends. And it's awful. Pat described yesterday as one of the hardest days of his life. We had been trying to make it known for a while that we would be leaving Saraya on April 10th. But still, some people were surprised as we made the rounds to the compounds where we had really gotten to know people. The goodbyes to the littlest kids and the oldest adults were hardest. Will these kids that we've loved so much remember us? Will these wisened old ones who have taught us so much be around if we make it back some day?
We said goodbye to a lot of people yesterday. According to Malinke tradition, we asked them for for forgiveness for anything we may have done and forgave them in return. We blessed each other (well, they know a lot more blessings then we do, so it was a little one sided; the most fervent blessing was that we would receive a child as soon as possible). And we shook hands with our left hand--the taboo hand, the poop hand. I heard this ritual described as doing something wrong so that you have to see each other again and do it right.
Over the last few days, we had a goodbye dinner at the hospital and a goodbye lunch at the bar that Pat's counterpart opened several months ago. We prepared a goodbye radio show where we greeted everyone we had ever worked with or known, all with carefully chosen farewell-themed songs in the background. (Since that show, the Blind Boys of Alabama have been singing "This may be the last time" over and over in my head.) We did it all the best we could, but it still didn't prepare us to leave. We were leaving people with no assurance of ever seeing them again, we were leaving the puppies that were born under our bed 3 weeks ago,we were leaving a place that has become home, and we were leaving a way of life. It was different than any goodbye I've ever experienced. Goodbyes accompany change, but this will be the biggest life change. Bigger than coming here. Coming here, it was temporary, and we knew we would be coming back to the life we knew in the states. But leaving this life, with its difficulties and joys...this, we will never get back.
|Pat and I with our namesakes and host parents in front of the family compound (which a grandchild recently labelled with our names)|
Allah mu nioxojela sonoyala. May God ease our seeing of each other again.
We are leaving the region of Kedougou at a tumultuous time, with an Ebola outbreak just across the border and gold-related bandit attacks on the rise. But it is also an exciting time. Next week, the new hospital that sat shining and unopened during our entire service will open its doors with an inauguration conducted by the president. It is never a good time to leave, but it is our time to leave. We are looking forward to exciting things coming up. After a summer of playing in Montana and travelling, we will head east, and Patrick will start a Masters in Public Affairs at Princeton in August (as for myself, my plan is to be determined, and I'm trying to be ok with that).
I'm looking forward to having more control over my nutrition but will miss knowing exactly where my meat comes from. I'm looking forward to running water but will miss knowing to the cupful how much water I use. I will not miss the heat or the dust. I will miss being greeted aggressively by toddlers racing to throw their arms around my legs. Let's be honest: I'll miss feeling like I'm really important. I'm afraid that, once we settle in, life in America will be so easy that it will be boring. I will miss my family and friends (both Senegalese and other volunteers) so dearly, and I pray that I'll call as much as I have promised to.
There are so many feelings right now, and it's exhausting. Now just one more week to slog through the final paperwork and health appointments, and we'll earn our "R" and become Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Our replacements will come in May and take our friends, our family, our work. (We met them last week, two female volunteers, one health (a Masters International student from Tulane!) and one community economic development. Fortunately, we really liked them, which makes all of this a lot easier to know we're leaving Saraya in good hands.)
We don't know if or when we'll be back. All we know is that we were here. It was hard, it was wonderful. I have no regrets.