I’m back! Sorry that I’ve neglected this blog for almost a year now and that the last post was a filler that didn’t say anything. As I mentioned in that post, I didn’t know if I could put into words the impact that my Peace Corps service had on me. For the longest time I couldn’t and only talked about it with fellow volunteers who could understand the impact that it had on our lives. Now a year has gone by and a return trip back to Senegal and to my village later, I’m ready to take a stab at it and to give you a conclusion to the story that started in March 2010.
Where to begin? One of the Peace Corps slogans is “The toughest job that you’ll ever love”. My time in Senegal was definitely the toughest job I’ve had, but something that I wouldn’t change for the world. Throughout my three years, I had my share of ups and downs, of successes and failures, times of pure joy and times of sadness. A year ago, as I was making my last trip to village and getting ready to say goodbye to a country and a place that I called home, I was overwhelmed by the love and support that everyone showed me.
My trip to village was a chance for me to show my love and appreciation for a family and a community that took me in and showed me love and kindness. In return, my host father organized a special prayer event for me, where he invited a religious leader from another village to come and lead it. He told me that he wanted to do this for me because I was a blessing and he wanted to send me back to my father and to my country with all the blessings for a good and fortunate life. I was so touched by his words and his actions and the only thing I could say was “Thank you”. Those last days in village were so precious to me. I spent time with the children and my family and the people that I became close to in my village. I handed out my phone number and collected others in return so that we could try and keep in touch with one another (which I haven’t been to good about other than my family). The last night, I stayed up late to savor those last moments under the stars with my family, even though I was planning on leaving at first light to avoid goodbyes. As I kissed the kids goodnight, I was so sad, not knowing when I would see them again. The next morning, while attempting to sneak out of village, my oldest brother caught me and walked me out to the road in silence.
The ride back to Velingara was a jumble of emotions and my goodbyes weren’t over yet. I had a small goodbye party with volunteers, playing a game of bingo all around the city. Then I had to say goodbye to my coworkers. I had gotten close to several of them during the year that I worked with them and while it was difficult to say goodbye, I knew that I would be able to keep in touch with them via Skype and the internet. My last night in Velingara was filled with packing and several surprises. One of my friends came to see me off and spent the last night with me. My sitemates dropped in to say goodbye and one of my friends came by to surprise me with a going away gift. Although I only spent a year in Velingara, I had several close friends. I already had the language skills and was comfortable in the environment, so I just jumped right in and formed friendships much quicker than I had in village.
As I was preparing to COS (close of service), I had to write several documents for Peace Corps. This helped me to organize me last three years and to reflect on the projects that I had done. Overall, I am proud of the work I did and although there were some projects that I regretted, I learned a lot from the experience. I learned how to fail gracefully and how to persevere through those trials. I came out of my Peace Corps experience with a broadened perspective of the world and a second family, but also with a stronger sense of self.
I am currently pursuing my MPH in Global Health with a concentration in public nutrition at Emory University. This program had brought me to Sierra Leone for the summer and provided me with an opportunity to return to Senegal, less than a year after leaving it.
I returned to Senegal a couple weeks ago and going back to village felt like going home. My host father knew that I was coming back and told everyone in village and the new Peace Corps volunteer who had just arrived less that a week before my arrival. Going back was a whirlwind, but it felt so natural. I knew that there was a new volunteer in village and I wanted to tell her that I would be visiting, but I wasn’t able to. I was conscious of the fact that she was just starting her journey, while I was coming back and coming full circle. I sincerely hope that my visit was a positive for her, but my reasons for going back were selfish, I just wanted to see my family.
Walking up the road to my village, I saw that there was a new bridge that traversed the rice fields. Remember the time that I had to cross a flooded road in order to enter village? Well, hopefully that won’t be a problem for anyone anymore. Upon entering the village, I was greeted by my babies (who aren’t babies anymore). Amadou and Aissatou came running out to meet me! I was so happy to see them again and excited that they hadn’t forgotten me. I met the volunteer and sat with my host mom and my sister. I learned that my other two sisters- in- laws were in Dakar and wouldn’t be back in village before I left. I spent 5 wonderful days catching up with all my friends and my family and eating a ton of mangoes. Its crazy how fast time flies. Amadou is now a rambunctious 4 year old who acts like a little man and who would bring me back a mango every time he left the compound. Baby Wilma is now over a year old and is walking and running around.
As with last time, leaving wasn’t easy. The children, my host mom, and the new volunteer walked me out to the road. As I arrived in Dakar, my sister-in-law Binta met me at the stop! She was one of my best friends and I was so sad that I didn’t see her in village. I was so happy to be able to spend a little bit of time with her. It seems like I’m always saying “Till next time”; never knowing when next time will be. Hopefully, as with this last visit, something will bring me back to West Africa and I will have the opportunity to see everyone again.
For now, I have pictures and memories to hold me over till the next time.