Out of Africa
My Last Day in W. Africa
At many times during the past year I felt like I would be in W. Africa forever, or at least the time would seem much longer than any other two years of my life. Daily household tasks, work, and being a 'good Guinean' take much more time and energy here than elsewhere. It is this fact which I feel contributes to the rate at which time passes here. Individual days pass quickly, but thinking back upon everything that has happened since moving to Guinea a year ago, it's hard to believe that it all happened in the course of just over a year.
For the past year nearly every meal (that I did not cook for myself) consisted of a version of rice and sauce…the food selection of Marrakech, Rome, Paris, and Madrid will surly be overwhelming
Yesterday I washed all of the clothes that I had evacuated with me (maybe 20 items), by hand with a washboard…the satisfaction of being an integral process of cleaning the visible dirt out of my clothes will soon be lost to the convenience of a washing machine.
Last night I went out in downtown Bamako…it was my last time dancing to the unique rhythm of African music for a while.
This morning I crawled out from under my mosquito net and woke up with a bucket bath…I think I'll take a while for me to be able to take a shower and just let the water run for even five minutes at a time.
These simple observations and memories are what I carry with me as I leave Guinea. With it are also the memories of friends that I came to know in my community and my family that I lived with during my first three months of training. It is hard to leave all of these people behind, particularily in midst of their country being torn apart by unrest.
I spent the past month, since being evacuted from Guinea, in Bamako, Mali. It was the only time during my service that every volunteer from Guinea was all in one location. The 106 of us, some of whom I'd never even met, had an incredible chance to share our varied experiences of our country and of our lives back home. Having the time to get to know everyone was a unique experience. I don't know a better word to discribe it. Some people were ready to take the first flight back to the US others had resolved to return to Guinea even without Peace Corps.
It was the in the second week of our stay in Mali that we received official news of the PC program being suspended. This brought a new wave of emotions. Most of us had assumed that we would be gone a max of 2 weeks. This is what we had said to our villages, and in our hearts, this is what we had expected. The violence that resurged throughout the country was the sign that our directors needed to make their decision, and it is still difficult to believe the downward spiral that has taken place there. I did see distruction and demonstrations, even in my small town of Timbi, but to see the city halls of all major regions of the country in ruins, it is hard to imagine.
So, I tearfully made a list of what should be done with the contents of my house in Timbi. Sad, not because of my things, but the thought of my village loosing more hope in the changes that are being made in their country because of the outside assistance that they look to for support being pulled away. Sad because my real work had just gotten started and would not be seen to conclusion. Sad because the life that I had spent a year settling into was gone in an instant. I didn't have a chance to say good-bye to so many people that I had wanted to.
In lieu of saying these good-byes I believe that we (volunteers of guinea) came together and carried each other through this past month. It was yesterday's good-byes which were the most difficult. All of us world travelers parting our separate ways to begin new lives for ourselves. While I am certain to see many of them again, circumstance will never been the same. We volunteers often claim to have 'real lives', those that we live in the Developed world, which are separate from who we are while abroad. I would have never become so close with such a diverse group of people in any other circumstance. And the idea that the next time that we meet it will be in our so called 'real lives' is both exciting and terrifying. Will our relationships prove to have been real?
After crying my way out of Bamako on a 3:30 am flight to Casablanca, Morocco with a fellow volunteer, Katherine, I resigned to leave that question it be answered by whatever happens the future. Morocco is amazing, and I think that I would have this opinion even if I wasn't coming from W. Africa. From the beautifully decorated airport to the bank where we could change money without bargining the rate, to the high-speed train that wisked us from the airport...we were overwhelmed by the complexities of the place. Also from the moment of our landing we began to realize how a change in our surroundings was altering the way we looked to ourselves and to others. The airport was a culture shock, and the longer we stood around looking at the building and at the well dressed travelers around us, the dirtier and more unkept we felt. We despertly needed a plan, a hotel, and a shower.
Our second day in Morocco and I actually felt like I could pass for a respectable American. Currenly I am happily shopping, sightseeing, and eating my concerns away in Marrekesh. I've eaten well, had my first hot shower in a few months, am wrapped in a new scarf and have on my first pair of close-toed, slightly-heeled shoes in over a year. This amazing city is complete with snake charmers, silk vendors, brightly colored scarves, shoes and purses, spice stores and carts offering fresh squeezed orange juice. It's cold here (about 75 degrees during the day and about 50 degrees at night) and we're glad to have such a wonderful selection of clothing and accesories to purchase here both as souvenirs and as cover against the elements. Our plan is to spend another full day here, then to travel to Fes, another Moroccan city known for its exquisit markets.
After Morocco we're heading to Rome for a two day extravaganza of Italian food along with more sightseeing and shopping. Katherine is on her way home after that and I will be headed up to Paris. Visiting Spain is still up in the air, but I'd like to work on my Spanish before going and travel with someone who knows the country, so Spain will probably be saved for another time. It looks like I'll be back in Madison mid-March and look forward to seeing those of you living in/near there sometime soon. As for Seattle, I'll do my best to make it there within the next month or two, especially if I am to begin working full-time. I hope this wasn't dreadfully boring, there has been a lot of change in my life these past few months.