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Goodbye to Amadu, time to bring sexy back

August 31, 2011

I hesitated for a while trying to decide whether or not I wanted to write one last entry. Summing up two years cannot be done. Even trying to pin down everything I’m feeling at the moment seems impossbile.

Currently travelling through Europe with a couple of friends which certainly makes all of this easier.

Saying goodbye to Mali was much harder than I thought it would be. When I think back on some of my hardest times in Mali, there really aren’t that many over a period of just over two years.

The first few months of training weren’t all that difficult, but they certainly did crawl. My first difficult time was definitely when I got my boil. I had no idea what it was, and the idea of going to a village doctor talking to me in Bambara was absolutely terrrifying. I was in a lot of pain for several days, and had a lot of trouble sleeping. I felt pretty helpless being at least two days away from Peace Corps doctors in Bamako.

The first extended difficult period I had was my first hot season as temperatures broke 120 degrees. Even harder was actually coming back from a vacation to the states. I remember that first week back, just spending tons of time in Bamako and Kayes watching TV shows, going on the computer to see everything I was missing, and really, really not wanting to go back to site.

My single hardest day was recovering from schisto, a parasite I had. The medication just absolutely knocked me out. I can’t remember ever feeling that wiped. I had another little slump in August a few months either way from a vacation, and my last hot season wasn’t much easier than the first with my blister beatles on my face and arm.

But, by far my hardest time in Mali was my last couple weeks or so as I attempted to somehow say all my goodbyes. A lot of people I knew had already left me in the dust by the time I was saying my farewells. I saw a couple people who preferred to leave in the middle of the night rather than deal with goodbyes. Some others told people well ahead of time, and then had to deal with all the requests for help with visas, all the people who wanted our stuff, etc. Some of my friends were able to take this strategy and handle it all with incredible grace.

I’m really not the type of person who needs or wants a big goodbye. I decided to tell people in Dialafara a couple days before I left. I was able to spend my last couple weeks just relaxing, and trying to soak everything in. I had some really good conversations with Tiokon, my homologue, the last couple of days. We did a lot of reminiscing, and I made sure to let him know how much he has meant to me, and how thankful I am for everything he and his family have done for me over these two years.

I went around town and said goodbyes and gave small gifts to the Berthes and Sows, two families who have been nothing but kind to me and never asked anything at all of me in return. My host family allowed me to take pictures. We exchanged contacts, and the last day they wanted everything I owned. I had so many requests for everything from buckets and bikes to mosquito nets and beds. It made me happy I only gave them two days notice. For the most part, every goodbye was a good one. Malians are quick to give blessings and many people gave me kind words before I left.

Another practice a couple of them liked to do is to shake hands with the left hand. In Malian culture the left hand is viewed as the “dirty” hand. So a left-handed handshaked is just wrong culturally. Saying goodbye in this way means that you must in the future come back to rectify the error committed in this way. I personally only felt comfortable saying goodbye the American way with a couple of Malians, but I gave out a couple bear hugs and told them that was how we say goodbye. One last cultural exchange.

For some reason, I breathed a false sigh of relief when all my Malian goodbyes were over. I still had some really hard goodbyes. My friends in Kayes saw me off with a really nice party complete with champagne. We had one more party at the newest group’s swear-in. And finally it was time for a lot of important goodbyes. We’re a pretty tight-knit group. Partly by neccesssity, since we’re so isolated.

Saying bye to all the Peace Corps staff was another thing I didn’t really think about. But, all of those goodbyes were incredibly and overwhelmingly nice. Tons more blessings continued. Despite being really, really far from Bamako, I always felt completely supported by the entire staff. They were all always one phone call away.

Between all the goodbyes, and otherwise doing pretty much nothing in Bamako it was a really terrible week. I had a ton of paperwork to do in order to officially close my service, but other than that I had nothing to do but wallow in my sadness. I took a ton of naps.

It’s funny really, I spent the entire time counting how many days I’d spent in Mali (it was 770 days), and how many I had left (zero). When I started to get close though, more and more I didn’t want it to end. It was certainly a strange mixture of feelings as my time wound to a close.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more depressing car ride than the final car ride to the airport. The three of us clearly thinking about everything we’d just left behind. My two friends and I were completely silent for essentially the entire trip. There were really just no words at all that could do the situation justice.

Landing in Marseille greeted by my aunt and uncle certainly helped things. Each of us ate our weight in cheese and seafood, and drank amazing french wine. Certainly a change from our rice and sauce; and filtered water for that matter.

Budapest was a really pleasant surprise, and Prague is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. Tourists seem to be quickly discovering that fact, and the city is flooded with English and Australian tourists especially.

It’s really weird seeing all these white people around town, and being able to walk around without every single eye on you. I’m eating really well, seeing all these beautiful cities, and just trying to take in as much of it as possible.

Still, I’m really looking forward to the day I touch down in Newark. Seeing all of my family and friends is definitely something I’ve looked forward to for a very long time.

It´s hard to believe it´s been two years already. Doesn´t feel like anywhere near that. It has been really strange being in this weird in between place that is neither Mali nor New Jersey. I´ve had an unbelievable time in Mali. Absolutely incredible the number of adventures and memories I´ve taken away from this place.

Every trip on public transport in old rickety cars on dirt or even mud roads turned into an epic journey. Parasites, blood blisters, boils, and countless stomach issues. I loved every second of it.

The best thing about life, at least for me, is all the ups and downs.  Not being afraid to experience everything, both the good and the bad. That´s what makes this crazy life so much fun.

I am incredibly happy that I took this chance and decided to join the Peace Corps. I feel really fortunate that it worked out as well as it did. It was truly a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I would have never forgiven myself had I not had the courage, or really, the stupidity to do this.

Now, I´m almost home and on to the next phase in my life. That last phase will be pretty near impossible to top. Sometimes though, life seems to have a way of surprising you.

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  1. Kristin permalink

    One of the many books I read in my 2 years (Slaughterhouse Five) has a quote (and ti’s not just the quote, it’s the whole way it’s presented) that Nick Taylor wrote on my arm (since I wouldn’t shut up about it) and I think that tattoo would best sum up what I learned about life from my time in Peace Corps Mali:

    Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.

  2. amadu's old man permalink

    Welcome home Amadu/Jeremy.
    Keep living your life to the fullest.
    Keep being open & honest.
    You are loved by many.

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