"But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps—who works in a foreign land—will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace." - John F. Kennedy

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The End of a Chapter

Last time you heard from me, I was learning to cope with Mali’s extreme heat, getting better at Bambara and planning my birthday celebration/reunion for our stage in Bamako. Currently, I am freezing in Michigan, forgetting all of my Bambara and trying to figure out the rest of my life. How did this happen, you ask? Let’s start from the beginning….

In my village, people were getting used to my presence – less kids were crying when they saw me, less people were staring in general, and my host mom was allowing me to help cook more ( I bought and fried potatoes for my host family once a week). Life was good. For March 8th, the International Day of Women, I even made dinner for my host family – spaghetti with tomato sauce – they loved it! Then at the end of March, the coup happened…

March 21st, 4 weeks before Mali’s election, some military members were unsatisfied with how Mali’s situation in the North was being handled – they felt like they didn’t have the adequate weapons/support to fend off the rebels – so they decided to overthrow the current president. I remember that it was Thursday morning; I was sweeping in front of my hut, when one of my friend’s from the village stopped by and told me that the president was overthrown the night before. Immediately, I knew it was no good – and I was visibly shaken by it. My friend, as well as the rest of the village, throughout the day kept reassuring me that everything was going to be okay and this will be over soon. I really wanted to believe it, but deep down, I had a feeling it wouldn’t.

In general, there were no changes in my village. Life went on as normal. Everything seemed to be happening in Bamako, the capital. At first, I was told to stay where I was and await further instructions. Then, a couple of days later, me and the rest of the people in my region – about 6 of us – were told to go to the regional house nearest us with one bag of essentials and await further instructions. This was when it started getting real. It was nice being in the house because I was surrounded by other volunteers in the same situation – we had internet, bonding time, and great group dinners! On the other hand, every day we were there we kept speculating on what will happen next. Depending on what the news was saying, we were either certain we were getting evacuated or hopeful things were turning around for the better. Finally, after a week and a half of being stuck in this limbo, we were told to all report to the training center which was about a half hour from Bamako. That was when most of us realized that there was a strong chance we were getting evacuated.

On the way to the training center, one of my friends said “This is the craziest thing that’s ever happened to me – having to flee the country.” I replied “This is the second craziest thing that’s happened to me – already had to do that once.” The war in Bosnia started in April 1992 and about 20 years later, I find myself fleeing another country due to unrest/conflict – crazy, right??

We got there in the afternoon on Tuesday, April 3rd, and that night around 7pm was when we got the email that it was official – we were getting evacuated. The only things they told us at that time was that we were leaving sometime by the end of the week and we were going to be evacuated to a neighboring country. As the week went on, we spent our time getting last minute souvenirs, playing card games, enjoying the pool at the American club, and calling our friends/family in country and abroad updating them on our situation. Finally, we were told that we were going to be evacuated to Accra, Ghana on a chartered flight for a close of service conference. We ended up leaving that Sunday, April 8th

Leaving Mali was very bittersweet. We had all been there for different amounts of time, but we all had our own connections to Mali and our respective communities. That part was extremely hard. On the other hand, we were getting a trip to Ghana and staying in a hotel on the ocean. It was very sad, but also kind of exciting at the same time. When we got to Ghana Sunday night, we checked into our amazing hotel, got coconuts with straws handed to us and were led to our rooms. Then we had an amazing buffet dinner. Afterwards, we were all exhausted, emotionally and physically, so we went straight to bed in the most comfortable bed we had slept in in a long while.

The next day, and the rest of the week, we spent our days in sessions where they provided us with options for our life after the evacuation. There was the option of direct transferring – going straight to another country from Ghana – to finish out your service, delayed transferring, which was going home for a little while before going to another country, applying to Peace Corps Response, which is a shorter commitment where you would work with an NGO, or re-enrolling in the Peace Corps and starting all over again. The last option was to close out the service and figure life out from there. 

For me, before I knew of the options, I wanted to continue with Peace Corps. In my case, the two places I could have gone were either Cameroon or Senegal. After thinking about it for a couple of days, however, I realized that this wasn’t the best option for me. I wasn’t feeling the same excitement about doing it again as I had felt when I was getting ready for my Mali service. Also, I really wanted to finish my thesis so that I can get that degree!

So, I decided to close out my service with the Peace Corps. It was not an easy decision, and a decision that I really had to think about. I can still re-apply and do it all over again, or apply for a Peace Corps Response
position - so my ties with Peace Corps don't have to be completely severed yet. 

After the conference was over, that Friday, me and two of my friends ended up traveling to Cape Coast, Ghana. Cape Coast is another city on the beach – with many tourist attractions. We explored  the town, ate local food, walked on canopies in the rainforest, and stayed in this beautiful hostel  right near the beach! Cape Coast was wonderful! It was good to get away with two of my friends and explore another city of Ghana. Pictures are on Facebook :)

Although my time in Mali was relatively short, about five months, that doesn’t mean that it impacted me any less. I fell in love with the simplicity of life, the kindness/hospitality of Malian people and the resiliency of Malian people as well. The women in my village had to carry water in buckets from wells in order to water their huge garden – on top of cooking/cleaning every day – but they never complained. Malian people faced hardships (water shortages, dirty water, famine) that most of us have never/will never have to face – but they didn’t complain. They did their best to make it work.  My Malian host family opened their home to me and fed me without expecting anything in return. Life was simple. Life was good. Hopefully one day I can go visit my village and properly thank them.

Not only am I thankful for the experience I had with my village and Mali in general, but I also am really glad I got to meet my fellow volunteers as well. We had amazing times together, quite a roller coaster. Although we all went our separate ways, I know that we have a bond that will stand the test of time. I expect big things from everyone!

So, the question I get most is what now? That is a good question…and I don’t really have an answer. For right now, I am focusing on finishing up this thesis, getting this degree and finding a job. 

I can tell you one thing for sure though – my relationship with Africa is not done yet! That is why this is the end of a chapter, but not the whole book.