I left my village for the last time yesterday. That’s a sentence I never thought would actually come. I feel as though I’ve lived a lifetime in the last two years, and, in a way, I have.
When talking about my time in Senegal, a friend of mine once shared with me a quote by Walt Whitman that says, “O me, what I was for years, now dead (I lament not, I am content).” It’s one of those quotes I kept coming back to month after month, reflecting on, as I had new experience after new experience here. It’s not that I think I’ve changed drastically from the person I was when I arrived, but more as if I’ve solidified into the person I always had the potential to be. These two years have defined a part of me that was untested before. In a selfish way, I see it as the greatest gift being in the Peace Corps has given me. It’s a steel that wasn’t there before, a readiness to get out of life everything I want to.
The physical goodbyes of yesterday, to my host family, work partners, and friends who have seen me through these last two years, was painfully difficult. We’ve been through so much together, not the least of which was their acceptance of an outsider into their homes and lives whom they took care of as their own.
Recently, my friend Megan was in Yacine Lakke visiting. We were sitting under a neem tree with my host mom on a hot afternoon, discussing mine and Meg’s imminent departure from Senegal and how sad it would be to leave. My elderly host mom, in her enthusiasm to agree with that sentiment, pulled out her left breast from underneath her loose tunic dress and held it before Meg, gesturing between it and me. ‘Ko bi am,’ she said, ‘Ko mi muynii mo’. ‘That’s my daughter. I raised her’. Meg and I giggled (no matter how long you live here you never fail to be amused by the casual appearance of a grandmother’s breast during the course of a conversation) but we understood. My host mom was saying that I wasn’t just an American who showed up and worked there for two years; I was a part of the family, I was one of her own. It’s a very special thing to feel that loved by someone who didn’t have to care so much. It adds meaning to my time as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Walking out of Yacine Lakke was hard, but walking out a stronger person than the one who came in was empowering. I’m forever grateful for the people and places in Senegal who made me the more resilient person I am today. I look back on the trainings I did, the programs I ran, and the projects I oversaw and only see the people who helped make them a reality by helping me, showing up, and being involved. Without those partnerships, and the bad times to really highlight the good times, I think the last two years would have felt empty.
Back in the States, I have a Grandma Trudy, a truly spectacular and wise lady you should consider yourself blessed to meet, if you ever have the chance. She and I have a thing between us where neither can ever say ‘goodbye’ to the other. It’s too final. It leaves no room for possibility. We always say ‘see you soon,’ in place of it. So that’s the last thing I said to my host family and village before leaving because goodbye forever didn’t seem quite right. Instead I said, ‘haa gongol’. Until next time.