The Hardest Thing

It’s here.

The time to say goodbye.

How did two years go by so quickly?  Looking forward into it, two years seemed like a lifetime.  All I could think about was what I would be missing out of in the states while I was working, ‘serving’ in the Peace Corps, the ‘Hardest Job You’ll Ever Love’ or so they called it.  It seemed daunting and grueling, like a never-ending contract.  Little did I know what I was actually getting myself into…

In this place I have found myself.  I have learned so many things about people and relationships.  Most of what I have learned I cannot put into words, mostly because they are very complex realizations but also because my English abilities are slightly dulled by my 24/7 Pulaar.  I could probably describe them better in Pulaar than English at the moment.  I have found that, through this language, I can be immediately accepted as a community member, as a family member, as a friend, as a bean-eater (a joke among joking cousins).  I have gained relatives, many of which I feel just as close with as I do those of whom I really do share a common bloodline.  They have adopted me.  Accepted me, and everything about me (even the stupid things and my constant mistakes).

I am putting off the goodbye’s until the very end by planning a HUGE party.  It started off small: a party for my family and friends.  Seemed simple enough.  But when it came down to begin inviting people to the party, I realized how many friends and family members I actually have and how many of them I want to be at this event… It has now gotten so big that I am renting speakers, a DJ, and multiple shade structures and seating for guests. I had previously purchased a large sheep for this specific occasion, but with all the people coming, it’s looking like I probably should have bought a cow.  I have gone through my phone inviting a lot of people, while others I have been visiting in their villages to personally invite to the event.  This would be a terrible precedent to set if I were to have a volunteer replacing me in my site, but, that is not the case this year.  Therefore, I am free to be extravagant.

I said some of my first goodbye’s in the past few days.  I didn’t know what to expect when saying goodbye’s.  I remember when I first arrived at site and I saw one of the older volunteers who was about to leave site.  She was torn up, a mess.  She was so in love with her site and the people there that it made her incredibly emotional.  I remember thinking, ‘yea, I’m not really an emotional person, so I don’t think I’ll ever really feel that same way about leaving.’  WRONG.  I’m a mess.  Luckily I’ve been so busy with planning this crazy goodbye party and then helping to orient one of the new volunteers who will be placed in a neighboring village, that I have been a bit distracted.  Today, however, it hit me hard.  I was hanging out with my friend Basiru in Matam and we went to go get thiakry, my favorite food in all of Senegal, from his sister-in-law, like always.  Thiakry is made with millet or other grains, rolled into balls and steamed into a kind of tough tapioca consistency and then eaten with yogurt. (This lady adds nutmeg and raisins as well)  As we said goodbye, we expressed that this was actually ‘goodbye’ goodbye.  “Don’t forget me,” she said, “Don’t forget any of us.  Call us all the time.  Put me in you phone as ‘the Thiakry Seller’ and think of me often.”  We shook hands and then she did something that is only acceptable in this one context: She offered me her left hand and we shook.

The Left Hand

The left hand has it’s use, and that’s in the bathroom.  It is indecent to use it for anything else, including simply handing someone something.  It would be extremely offensive to offer someone to shake with your left hand.  The left hand, however, is shaken in one instance: upon saying goodbye when it may be a long time before you see that person again.  It is purposefully offending that person with the expectation that the two people must meet again in order to rectify and pardon the offense.

It is on the day that you leave that your language skills and cultural understanding will be the best.  Just, logically, that makes sense, having all these skills be cumulative, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.

Leaving this place is going to be undoubtedly the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life up until this point.  I have had a relatively easy life up until this point, I can feel lucky about that.  That doesn’t demean the emotional heartbreak in anyway, however.  It feels like I am being ripped away from my mother right as I am beginning to know the interworkings of her life; being pulled away from my sister-in-law right as she is beginning to enlighten me about her marriage; being dragged away from my little brother just as he is beginning to be able to hold conversations.  This is my family.  This is my house.  These are my uncles, aunts, cousins…  I don’t know when I am going to be able to see them again.  It’s not like when I left for Senegal, knowing exactly my end date and that I would probably have vacations in between that time where I would see my immediate family.  No.  This is goodbye for a long time.  Or hopefully not.  But who knows where life takes us?  All i know is that these amazing people have found their way into my heart and they will never leave.  These next few days of saying goodbye, saying thank you, saying my apologies for anything I could have ever done to offend anyone and anything I may ever do in the future, will be a trial I have never faced the likes of before.  Knowing that some of these people, even when I do manage to come back, I still may never see them again… hurts.  Baaba Demba Sy… he’s almost 100 years old… might not be here when I come back.  Things will change.  This is life.  My life will never be the same.

Gardo ko kotoowo – the one who comes will always leave

Ndiyam, so boyii e channgol fof, to mayo faty – any water that states for a while in the channel, in the end will still always head to the river. 



5 thoughts on “The Hardest Thing

  1. Karrie Roth

    Dana you are such an admirable soul. You amaze me. You have my endless respect for you and all you’ve done and become….

  2. Nancy

    Sweet Dana, as much as I want you to come “home” so that I can see you and hug you; your love and compassion for your new family, friends and home brings tears to my eyes. You are amazing and I am so proud of all you have accomplished in two years !! I send you love and strength to ease you through your departure from your “home” ❤

  3. Kate

    Amazing. That is you, Dana! That is the life you have lived in your village, that is the impact these wonderful people have had on your life, and that is what they will always remember you as. Amazing.

    We are, of course, hoping to see you at XMAS, but you must live your adventures as you want to while you are over in this amazing place, in this amazing chapter in your life!


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