One year ago, on this day, April 30, 2013, I officially became a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), said goodbye to Senegal and returned home to the US. I don’t know why it has taken me so long to write my final blog post but what better way to reminisce about my final days in Senegal then to write about it on my one year anniversary home. I can’t believe it has already been a whole year back home. It’s weird, some days it feels like a lifetime ago I was living in Senegal, other days it feels just like yesterday I was saying goodbye to my fellow volunteers in Dakar.
I remember the final weeks in village just flew by. Probably because I was so busy that whole last month. I had finally received my USAID grant for my last and final project in Mboula; a women’s garden! Since I first arrived in Mboula, the women couldn’t stop talking about their desire to have their own garden. They saw it as an opportunity for them to get together and socialize while still being productive. A chance to get away from their household responsibilities. Also it was a means of financial independence from their husbands. The money they would make from the garden would help fund future projects or things to embark on. I agreed . Not only would the garden benefit the women but it would also benefit the whole community by increasing the abundance of freshly grown produce and overall improving the nutrition of the community. The grant money unfortunately took much longer to receive than I had anticipated. USAID apparently don’t just hand over 2,000 dollars lightly. By the time, I received the money and was able to start buying supplies, I only had a month left of service. I was nervous the project wouldn’t get done before I left.
|My couterpart Saer and Dabo helping the mason mix cement|
The garden was completed with less than two weeks of my service left. I was able to organize a two day garden training for all the women. I wanted them to have the right information and knowledge about sustainable gardening practices in order for the garden to truly be successful and last well into the future. I brought in this guy who worked for the department of agriculture in Linguere and he taught the women techniques, like double digging a garden bed, spacing the seeds, companion planting and fertilizing. It was a very valuable two day training, and the women had so much fun learning and getting their hands dirty. I even got a few agricultural Peace Corps volunteers to come help out as well (can’t thank you enough Bonnie and Teagan). And of course my right hand man, Fae was right by my side where she has been my whole service! I don't think I would have survived two years without her. I unfortunately won’t get to see the long term success of my garden project but I am very fortunate to be able to pass this project along to my replacement volunteer, Drew, who I met during my last week in Mboula.
|Meet Drew, my replacement!!|
|Working hard with the women!|
|Learning how to seed|
|My amazing counterparts Saer and Abdou!|
My final day in Mboula was a difficult one. My whole room was packed and ready to leave bright and early the next day for my last bush taxi ride. I spent my last day going around to each compound saying my thanks and goodbyes. I heard a lot thanks, prayers and blessings. Some people didn’t want me to leave, others wished me luck in finding my future husband. In Senegal, when you say goodbye to someone that you are not going to see for a while or rather a more permanent goodbye, it is custom to shake hands using your left hand and say “taggu na la”. As some of you may know, you never use your left hand for anything. It’s your filthy poop hand. Well the only exception is for when you are saying a permanent goodbye to someone. It was a bit awkward shaking with my left hand, it felt wrong. Also not many Senegalese people knew what I was doing. They kind of looked at me like why are u giving me your left hand. Probably because they don’t really ever say goodbye permanently. Not many people leave their lives for good. My host mother was having a really difficult time with me leaving. She would come into my empty room and start crying. Senegalese people tend not to get weepy or sad so it was really unusual and hard to see my mom so upset. I tried to comfort her. I told her not to cry and that I would keep in touch and that one day I would return (God Willing).
|Ami winning her award|
That evening, the Elementary and Middle school held an awards ceremony for those students who showed academic excellence in the classroom. All of Mboula came out to cheer on the winners and show their support for education. My little Ami, was rewarded for best in her class. I was so happy for her. She is such a bright young girl and I know she will go far in life as long as my family continues to support her education. All of the children performed little comedy skits, half of which I just didn’t understand. They sang songs and danced around and one middle school aged kid even gave a short speech in English. It was pretty impressive. After the awards, my two counterparts, Abdou and Saer, both got up and made a speech to the community, explaining to the village that my time in Mboula had come to an end and that I was leaving. They thanked me for all the hard work I had done and that I was going to be very missed here. The teachers of the Elementary school awarded me a certificate of completion of my service, as well as a traditional Senegalese Outfit with a beautiful necklace. Then Ndey Awa, one of the leaders from the women’s group, spoke on behalf of all the women, how grateful they were for all my hard work and that I would always be a part of the community. It was then my turn to talk, which was probably a good thing since I was on the verge of crying. In my best possible Wolof, I thanked everyone, told them how much I would miss Mboula and that I could never forget them! I then said a Senegalese blessing my family taught me and said good bye!
The kids acting out their skits
|So proud of my Ami!!|
The last dinner with my family was a hard one. It still didn't quite feel like I was leaving them. Everyone was pretty quiet around the dinner bowl, not really knowing what to say. I ate my last mbaxal gerte that Njiaay cooked and I knew I was definitely going to miss that meal! I said good night to all my little nuggets before they fell fast asleep and then I hung out with the adults for one last night! Xhady kept asking me why I had to go and that I should stay. It was sweet to know that I would be missed. I couldn’t believe all the love my community showed me that day and how lucky I was to have known them. I said my goodbyes to my family that night not knowing who I would see in the morning. I cried myself to sleep that night, I don’t know why but I did. I will say that I absolutely do not miss sleeping in my stick bed or waking up to the sound of a Mosque at 5:30 am.
I awoke early that morning and started to gather my stuff up. Njiaay Sibi unexpectedly entered my room and said she would help me carry my stuff out to the car. Instead of taking Elhadji’s bush taxi, my neighbor Abdou was going to drive me to Dahra in his little car, he was going that way and had room for me. To my surprise, all the women had awaken to say good bye to me again. I was overwhelmed with emotion and was on the verge of tears. I went back into my room one last time, to gather up the remaining bags, when baby Aida came running in calling my name in her baby talk, “Fatty, Fatty”. I lifted her up into my arms and completely lost it. The tears just flowed down my face and when we walked outside I wasn’t the only one crying. My mom, Xhady and even Mamtou had tears in their eyes. It was by far the hardest and saddest day of my service! My father blessed me with safe travels, good health and a rich and fulfilling life. I then took my father’s left hand and said goodbye. My mom was sitting on the concrete slap crying, it was time for me to go so I walked up, gave her a great big hug and told her I would miss her. The rest of the women walked me to the car, and we all said our goodbyes. As we drove out of Mboula, it all finally felt real. I was leaving a place that had begun to feel like home. I cried the whole way until I reached Linguere and Regional house.
|We Survived the Djolof!!!|
However my Peace Corps family knew just how to cheer me up as I arrived at the Regional House, a nice cold Gazelle (Senegalese version of Natty light-yuck)was waiting for me as I walked through the front gates. Six of us started this journey together and now five of us were leaving Linguere and the Djolof family together. It was weird to say goodbye to everyone, we all had become so close but at least it was comforting to know that I would most likely see them again in the U.S. The hardest part was saying goodbye to Helen Keller and Sparky our loyal watch dogs. But I know they will be in great care, as more and more volunteers cycle through. They will always have volunteers looking after them!
|Team Linguere for LIFE!!|
My last day in Dakar was also my last birthday in Senegal! I was fortunate enough to spend the day with incredible friends I had made throughout this journey before my flight at midnight! We took a little fishing boat out to get to Ngor Island just off of Dakar, where we spent the day exploring the Island, picnicking by the water, buying anything and everything from the local women selling things (I’m pretty sure I bought natural coconut oil, trying to spend all of my CFA before I left) and enjoying my very last Senegalese beer, Flag. We then watched the sunset on top of Sarah’s new apartment in which the girls had bought me a delicious birthday cake and sang Happy Birthday! I couldn’t have asked for a better last day! That night, teary eyed from saying goodbye, I boarded a plane and said good bye to my new lifelong friends and to Senegal. Leaving had finally hit me and I was now worried about the thought of being back home, a place I had not been back to since I left for the Peace Corps.
After an exhausting whole day of traveling from airport to the next (Dakar- Lisbon-Newark), I had finally arrived at West Palm Beach airport excited to see my family waiting for my arrival. To my great surprise, as I turned the corner to see the waiting room, I was welcomed not only by my family but by a whole crowd of people screaming my name and holding signs. I of course didn't have my contacts in and it took me a good minute to realize that those crazy people screaming were all of my amazing friends welcoming me home!! Honestly it was the greatest surprise of my life, and I am so grateful to have such wonderful friends and family! And I have to especially thank my little brother who planned the whole surprise. He is absolutely the best!
|I had a Jack and Coke waiting for me to arrive, thanks bro|
It’s crazy writing this blog, looking back on my experience and thinking it has really been a year since then. I miss Mboula and my family everyday! I often think about them and wonder what is going on. I keep in touch with them as much as possible through skype although it just doesn’t quite feel the same. I miss the children the most especially my little baby Aida who I watched grow up from a newborn to a talking two year old! I am forever grateful to the people of Mboula, for embracing me as one of their own and to the Ndoa family for taking me in and caring for me as if I was one of their own children. Mboula will always be a home to me just as Fatou Ndoa will always be a part of me. Since being home I have seen a few of my Peace Corps friends and have remained in close contact with them. I believe I have fully adjusted back to life here in the U.S however I still really hate how cold the air conditioning and always feel like I’m freezing inside my house. When I think back to my Peace Corps experience, I think of how much I’d grown throughout those two years and all the experience and life lessons I gained. I am forever grateful to the Peace Corps, it was an amazing experience that I do not regret doing for a heartbeat! It was the hardest experience of my life for sure but when I think back to my time in Senegal, I think about all the fun, the laughs, the weird crazy moments and all the happy memories. All the tears, sweat and work were all worth it. Asked if I would ever consider doing Peace Corps again? I say this: “If I was wealthy and could afford being a volunteer again, then absolutely YES!!!”