No one ever said this was going to be easy. In fact, just the opposite. But the things that I was warned of, that people shed their light upon, were not the things that I struggled with. At least, they were not the things at the forefront of my life here in Mali.
Its funny to say this, and for those of you who know me you’ll probably scoff at this remark even, but when I signed up for the Peace Corps, all of 2.5 years ago, I in no way shape or form envisioned friends here. I didn’t imagine myself with black Africans working in the fields, I didn’t see women with babies and toddlers and elders sitting around cracking peanuts, I had no thoughts on the people as singular persons but more as a mass. I never thought of making friends, I guess, because I didn't know the context, the valid and painful and real context of life in a 3rd world country.
I envisioned the community rather than an individual. I never thought about the people that I would be serving as actual others but more of the abstract vision of my life in a hut in the hills of Africa. It’s a sad fact, obviously selfish and could easily be shaded poorly with thoughts on racism or elitism or other nasty ways of Westerners, but I truly believe that I didn’t know. I didn’t know if I would have friends, close loved ones, or Not that two cultures can’t coincide and cooperate but more so that I didn’t know if I could, well, coincide and cooperate.
But to my great, heartwarming and tear-jerking surprise, I can, I did, I do.
The bugs were horrific. The dog fights struck fear into my soul. The child abuse and 13 year old brides were disgraceful. The government deserving of a swift ass kicking.
Once you get in, once you sink your teeth into your community, you dig into your ground, you find individuals and you find groups and you find yourself. Its cliché and believe me it is probably just as cheesy as it sounds, but it is a fact. The life one can lead here as a United States Peace Corps volunteer is terrific and terrible, bountiful and horrific, influential and indebted. It’s a beautiful thing, this opportunity. It’s a terrible thing, this opportunity. Because with it comes great responsibility. Friendships come with that same responsibility, too. As does representing our great country appropriately and with seemingly serendipitous pride.
I think that the toughest part was patience, was waiting around for anything to happen, usually finding nothing or everything to be happening at once, never finding balance or knowing in which direction to look for answers. Although I’ve had some terrible luck (three separate incidents of assault by host country nationals, long bouts of illness, etc) I was, probably with some humor from some God, placed into a very welcoming, very hilarious, strikingly smart community south of Kita, west of Bamako.
I will never forget this experience. Ever. In some instances, maybe to a fault, but it is good to live it, to own it, the terrible and the terrific, because nothing is as good or bad as it seems unless you have something else to compare it to. I won’t ever forget that time that I woke to a dead dog carcass at the head of my tent, or the time that Dabi peed on me after falling and hitting his head and it being a sign of comfort, or the time that Kia was beaten to the point of internal bleeding and that it was laughed hysterically at, or the time that I was charged by a very thirsty bull, or the time that I was saved by a kid in an Alanis Morisset tshirt, or the time my neighbor’s little boy pooped ON my house just below the window, or the time that I was peed on by an elderly woman in a bache, or the time I sat at the bank for 7 hours only to have my number called as they decided to take a tea break, or the fit I threw when the women at the pump made fun of me for being me, or the time that I found out that baby chicks can be called to and fro, just like dogs, or the time that I rode my bike to Kita and thought almost only of Marc Jacobs and 3.1 dresses, or the time I saw three shooting stars while on my back with Dabi asleep on my stomach and Brahima staring blindly into the dark, or the time Wurdia told me about her 5 dead children, or the time when Ryan came to visit, or the time when Ryan popped into my thoughts, or the time when love overwhelmed me to tears, or the time…
As my luck would have it, I have been Medically Separated from the Peace Corps and will find myself at home, in Colorado, in 2 days. It was harder to say goodbye to my friends and loved ones in Mourgoula and Kita that I had ever thought possible. This was because I am dug in. I do love it. I do.
With my stomach in knots and my brain running over Wurdia’s tear-welling eyes, I write this (possibly but unlikely last) post to this long winded, patience testing, heart warming, stomach churning weblog and say Thank You, West Africa. Thank You, Peace Corps. Thank You Mama and Daddy and Ryan and Skylar. Thank You Trusting Dabi and Graceful Wurdia and Welcoming Brahima and Friendly Madou and Guarding Konte and Mourgoula.
Thank you for reading this. Thank you for your concerns on my health and wellbeing. Thank you for trusting in this and knowing this and digesting all of this. Its big, I know it, but it is necessary and necessarily beautiful and makes each of us better for it.
When I’m 65, I think I’ll be happy I lived in Africa. I’ll be happy it wasn’t easy but that it was beautiful and ridiculous and I did it. When I’m 65, I think that I’ll be proud that at 23 I made this decision and at 24 realized that it was one of the best decisions ever made…