Thursday, September 27, 2012
Thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul for following my blog
this past year. It has meant everything to me that even though I was a
world away you took the time out of your busy lives to learn about a
culture different from yours, and to open up your hearts to read about
suffering and loss and beauty that you could have easily shut out or
been indifferent to.
Thank you for your comments, prayers, encouragement, emails, light, and
Thank you for not forgetting me.
Now that I am back, it becomes even more amazing still that anyone would
have paused their routine to become immersed in the struggles of the
life and death drama that played out in front of my eyes in Tchad.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude.
You truly were my lifeline.
I am going to continue writing my blog - so I encourage everyone to
continue reading it. The focus will shift to the next chapter in my
life - my move up to snow country, Homer, Alaska and all the adventure
and hardship that that will entail. I will truly be going into another
culture, starting once again at the bottom of something I don't
understand and am not prepared for - and I will write about it.
I have the opportunity to house-sit a beautiful rustic home on the top
of a mountain - over looking the town of Homer and the glaciers and the
bay - I will have to figure out how on earth to cook a fish, swing an
ax, and drive in snow for the first time.
I will arrive in Alaska Oct. 15 to start my new life! Right now I am
living out of boxes and suitcases and by the generosity of family and
Please feel free to contact me via email as well:
firstname.lastname@example.org and my new address and phone number are
available upon request and at my discretion.
I want to open my arms up wide wide wider than the earth and the stars
and hug all of you, so tight, and somehow transmit to you this gratitude
that is bursting out of my heart for those of you that truly were my
lifeline in one of the hardest and best years I have ever had.
Love Love Love Love
- and keep reading!
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Cars and cement and shiny plastic red shoes, spikey and garish and dull, how much do you think those cost he said.
“$500? no, $150?”
No, [laugh] “$1,400”
Judging the shoes and judging the mall, seeing tiny frail bodies pressed into the soles, little languid wrists tumbling out.
Stop! Drama queen!
Walking past Versace, Michael Kors, sparkling dresses and shiny silver and maroon suits, who would buy that I said,
Versace is more Miami, he said, Italian elegance.
Just landed and tired and am I dreaming, walking through one of the most opulent malls of America.
Skeletons peering out from behind suits, swaying and dancing, little sharp bumps under folds of rich emerald fabric.
I smell pretzals, and pretzals smell good, I don’t want any. I’m not actually here.
Into a Nike store, rows of neon green, construction orange, gray lined with bright pink, giant photos of perfectly perspiring models staring down at me in black and white grim and frozen in time.
Can I help you find anything, he said
He had a headband around his forehead, I wonder, have you ever been in 120 heat?
She is walking out of Bloomingdale’s before us. Twisted black bra strap, black designer sunglasses, lips rich and red, tiny pinstriped shorts with a high waste line, high gold heels, slim white top, am I in the circus?
Am I in the circus, or am I the circus?
Feet swollen from the airplane, top of right food angry and red, spreading pink from a quarter sized infected bug bit, pus and grey and red and it’s just another bug bite and that’s disgusting, he said.
I won’t tell you about all the fungus and spreading purple rashes and hundreds of bites and a 2 months heat rash stinging my back and how that’s just another day.
Come with us to the mall,
Do I need to change? Well, yes.
Why did I ask? I shouldn’t have asked. I don’t need to do anything.
Took off my Tchad jersey and blue hospital scrubs, wearing a tight black shirt and pants, looking skinnier, not skinny enough, is this okay? Or this? Why do I need to ask anyone what is okay to wear to one of the fanciest mall in America?
Green scarf and African bag, nice touch he said, except it’s not an accessory, it was the only thing left of me.
Putting on makeup, briefly liking the girl staring back, yet makeup wasn’t the panacea I dreamed it would be. I thought I would be more beautiful. I want to take it off.
Crocs on my feet and going to the mall.
This is my car. I don’t know about cars. It was black and sleek and shiny. You could change the music from the steering wheel. Tan leather seats and rain slapping the windshield.
I hate the rain, he said
The city, the city, so glad I am not driving, going down the hill, the lights turn green and it’s a trippy strip of color shining back and pouncing into our eyes as we speed through slick black streets.
Searching for something in common. He is nice, I like him. No, I didn’t know Kim Kardashian was divorced. Or ever married for that matter.
I felt safe in Tchad, I said.
Safer than the city.
Feeling a black despair creep in with the rain, my pants are too tight and I don’t see any cows.
Swiping my credit card at CVS, yum, zing, altoids, I want those too, 7 dollars.
A fighting match between a tall fat woman and her slouchy husband man, ordering him out of the store, I don’t know if he goes.
Wait, did I buy it, let me help you, he said. Is it debit or credit. Oh, um, smile, sorry I just back from Africa. No, really.
She is older and has grey dreadlocks. Why do I feel racist saying “Africa?”
Did you like it?
Yes, sure, yes.
Push credit, I forgot there were so many steps. The receipt is like magic.
Sorry, I said, in my tight black shirt, I’m kind of like a kid right now. Following him wherever he went, past the perfumes and the shoes and the mall was so clean and so much space and smelled like roses at a funeral.
Are you having a good time? [anxiously]
Yes! I’m fine, I’m just looking at everything….
Why am I such a cliché?
Why did I think, that I am above culture shock, somehow stronger than that.
I’m thinking in cliché, stop seeing the children, stop! but there are children in every dress, they are tiny and in the next few hours they are going to die and I wonder the hard plastic mannequin knows that reaching wrinkled hands are wrapped around her waist, that she is wearing more than Abercrombie.
Checking prices of a purse of his friend. How much did she pay for it?
Well, that depends. The question was met seriously. Suade and leather, or all three pieces are leather, and it depends. Also, it has increased in value. Last year it was $1900, now it’s $2400.
Is that something that she gets asked a lot?
Atlanta is the LA for black people he said. We push past people. Heels clicking. The mall is dead now. Dead? You should see these girls on a Saturday. Decked out, beautiful, and he lists in what but he lost me.
Why would you pay $5,000 for a wig?
I want to knock it from your head. But you are beautiful. Like I wish I was.
I come home, I slurp up vegetable soup from a serving spoon, the carrots are perfect and crunchy and I’m consuming large amounts of squash and zucchini do I like those now? Seriously, this soup is amazing.
Going to bed, I can’t sleep on silk sheets, pushing them off me, where is my tapestry, its static from being fresh and washed and I pull it over me, hairy legs peeking out and catching on the sheets beneath me and music, I need music,
Dylan? No, he will make me so sad. Clapton, no, there isn’t enough soul in mine for Clapton…. Nickelback…..if everyone cared and nobody cried, if everyone loved and nobody died, fan blowing gently and contacts out and before the song is over I am sleeping
Waking up this morning and the shower is hot. Its searing and steaming and feels so good between my shoulder blades. The soap is luxury, probably from Victoria secret, designer shampoo, and it’s silky on my skin and then I go for the soap bar just in case.
Yesterday, I got pushed into the shower. You smell rank, she said. Shower so I can enjoy you. Does everyone smell like that in Africa? Feeling like I have to explain, it’s just that I’ve been traveling for 48 hours,
Did you shave your armpits, the question when I got out. I thank her graciously. And shaving my armpits was nice.
My hair isn’t coarse anymore. I want my Dr. Bronner’s. Did you know you can brush your teeth with that too?
The dirt under my fingernails is gone. I want it back.
Pushing my pillow off the bed – you’re going to have to wash that, it still smells like Africa. It’s not a bad smell….it’s just, I’m just letting you know….
Black coffee this morning, flowing brown pants and low green Bob marley shirt, its big and comfy and has been with me 5 years, I cut the collar out long ago and loved it ever since. Okay, this is me. No makeup. I’m surprised. I don’t want it this morning
Okay. That’s better.
Humid drizzly Atlanta morning. The house across the gated suburb has a giant TV on the wall. I can see through the cast iron porch slats, and they are watching TV at 7 am.
I want Montana.
I want my future Yurt.
I want my people. I don’t know where they or if they exist, but I want them. The people that think dirt is clean and have lots of mosquito bites too.
You have to be yourself, I told myself. It doesn’t matter who is around you, you have to be yourself. Don’t change your clothes for anything or anyone.
And don’t judge.
I DO judge you. Not you, my friend who so kindly picked up and threw her arms around me and carried my heavy bags and bought organic vegetables and ordered me into her wonderful shower and let me use her shampoos and cosmetics.
I DO judge you. Not you, my new friend, my friend’s roommate, boy in all black with the funky black hat and the black BMW that likes the thrift store too, friend that let me follow like an odd ugly duckling, trailing through the mall. Not you, the one that asked about the specifics of bucket showering, and typical houses, and listened when I told about compounds. We finally found a CD we both loved and you let me burn it and that was so kind. You are kind.
No, not you.
So, if I don’t judge you, who do I judge? I guess I judge the faceless. I judge the ones I haven’t met. I judge the diamonds on your shoes. I judge the existence of a mall. I judge anyone that would pay that price for anything.
But then, I’m judging most people. I don’t want to be judged either.
I don’t know how to stop judging.
But, how can you pay that? How can you ostracize and exclude someone from your social circle that doesn’t pay that. Is that why you pay? For friends? Or were you that little girl, always on the outside looking in, and now, now that you made it, it’s important to you, so important. Is that why you pay?
Why are appearances so important? It’s not your fault, it’s not, we are all a product of our environment and exposures and in this regard I have been lucky in this life. But, how can you pay that?
But how I am supposed to tell you what a skeleton feels like. Or the hunted eyes of a starving woman. Or what it’s like to walk by a woman pounding millet, and she leans on her wooden pounding stick, and she is wearing purple and tired and sweaty with strong shaped arms and she just looks at you, and you just look back and you don’t wave and you don’t say hi, because the divide is too great. This will never be your life and she will never have yours. And to have those eyes, that look, that chasm, always with you.
But should I tell you about that? Should I become a mad street corner preacher, a moralizer no one wants to be around, should I be a dark rain dissolving your rainbow of happiness? No! of course not. That’s not fair. To anyone.
Is it my responsibility to teach what I’ve learned, to convey it?
Maybe not. No. Give others grace. That’s all you want, after all.
Wow, yes, I am the cliché.
I miss French. I’m listening to French music right now.
I don’t know.
But I will wear what I want.
I stood on my sticker covered trunk outside the airport looking for Buggy. I was barefoot and very tall standing on it and my backpack was beside me and I was listening to CCR without headphones because in Tchad everyone walks around with their music blasting and I had messed up braids and a brown shirt and sweeping black pants with a thousand holes and I stood on my trunk in the wind and looked out over the cars and everyone was looking at me and I DIDN’T CARE. I was me.
And now, since I have no home, I am all I have. So, I cannot abandon myself. Never. Never. And if I don’t abandon myself, perhaps I won’t abandon them either. The ones I promised to never forget.
I need to stop seeing sharp little racks of ribs stuffed into every opulent item.
But, then again, the more frightening thing would be to have the sharpness lose its edge.
And I guess it’s not your fault either, but I hate you, you spikey ugly high heeled red shoes – did you hear the skull pop and the squish of the brains sliding out in the hole you made in the eye socket as you stepped down?
Did you even know you were walking on bodies?
Sunday, September 16, 2012
My Comunity Health Worker told me about his brother whose arm was badly burned and contracted at the elbow. One day he got tired of working in the fields with one arm. He hung his arm from the branch of a tall tree, stood on a chair, and then kicked it away. His weight ripped the flesh down the middle of his arm, the skin and muscle hung in dripping shreds, and then Voila! he could bend his arm again.
That's what I just did to my heart.
I have rarely cried like this, and certainly not on airplanes.
Tchad is behind me, the miles are stretching wider and wider between me and everyone I love.
I'm sobbing into an airplane pillow with a scratchy lime green paper case and probably ruining the mascara I wore just in case I met the rugged man on my dreams in seat 13B.
Instead this time I'm smudgy eyed splotchy cheeked - not much of an improvement on my last yellow tinged departure.
I feel like my soul fell to the bottom of my feet and then if fell further, down into the bowels of the airplane - and then a little grinning imp opened a cargo door with a wink to my heart and pitched it out - letting it splash into the flooded Tchadian rice fields, sending it parachuting home before it's too late.
Where is home?
I don't have one anymore.
Home is Teskrio and Bikaou and my little brick end room plastered with pictures from yet another life, an MSF map, a French quote and calender chalked on the wall by the previous tenants, and Rosie the Riveter strong and red and screaming we can do it from the wall.
Home is barefoot in the morning, and Hester sagging and stretching my mosquito net by trying to lay on top of it just so she can be close me me.
Home is the grime and the blue and the stark silhouettes of children outlined on the walls of the pediatric ward. Home is the rows of crying little people, home is the torn mosquito nets and bright rows of fabric protecting each quinine drip from the sun. Home is my stethoscope pressed against sharp ribs and tiny chests. Home is holding tiny precious persons in my arms and willing them to live.
Home is outside the ward - on the sole wooden chair, tightening turnequittes around hands and arms and feet - squinting with the light of the headlamp, searching, sticking, finding, trying.
Home is trying, always trying.
Home is having something to try for.
Home is a place outside of yourself.
Home is a purpose, a dream, an idea that grounds and surrounds you.
Home is a reason to get up in the morning, A reason to have your dreams whisked from your mumbling head by 5 am sweeping, a reason to endure rats and roaches and pit latrines and mud huts and scorpions and heat rashes and liver malfunction and broken bones and 3 bouts of malaria and giardia and parasites and 120 heat and death and suffering and constant demands on your soul, your spirit, your pocket, your body, your mind, your sanity.
Home is when all of that which once was madness becomes everyday, becomes normal, becomes part of life, ceases to be new and foreign, intimidating and daunting, disgusting and unfathomable. Home is when you realize you aren't suffering. When you smile and skip with the wild joy that you are still happy and, daringly, comfortable.
Home is when you embrace that reality, plant a little soul garden there, and sit down on the earth in a patch of wild daises, and see beauty while pulling thorns from your feet and burrs from the bottoms of your trousers.
Home is glorious skies, bright and clear and crystal blue with puffing creme clouds and layers and layers of blood-orange fade to cotton candy sunset cake.
Home is 5 months of hot season spent under the stars, home is the wishes - the tiny murmured wisps of hope that curve a rainbow into the arc of each shooting star. Home is every morning rolling awake to a misty morning dawn, sunshine falling down in chunks and beaming dancing dust minstrels into gritty eyes and grudgingly wriggling toes.
Home is sitting next to a bucket of slightly green mangoes old knife with no handle - biting and tearing and pulling and pealing and squishing your way through piles of mangoes, sucking the tangy strings of orange from the ivory seed, listening to Eric Clapton and blowing flies off your lips.
Home is tea in the "pub" and freshly fried gatos and Affe, affe - exchanging my 3 Arabic words with the gold toothed shop keeper, sitting on the rough benches after a hard night's work - listening to squeaking crickets and heated perspectives.
Home is the walk to work every day - a perfect winding 15 minute walk, holding my breath past long-horned cows meandering in front of me, Florence and her brothers and sister always running out to greet me, my adorable little neighbor boy with his wide wondrous face-splitting smile. Always running beside me to grab my hand, squealing "Lapia - toe!" (Lapia - Nangere greeting like, hello, and "toe"? well, he wanted a photo!). It's watching the millet grow under your eyes, seeing a difference every morning, the path going from dry and dusty brown to frosted greens, to lush and wild, to tilled mounds of millet shoots, to strong and towering green stalks heavy with their dark red and white clusters, to the trampled crisscross of harvest, the stalks lying rhubarb and scattered under the munching mouths of cows.
Home is Bronwyn's house - eating fiery red spiced curry and learning the secret of fabulous rice, curled up in facing chairs, hands warms around mammoth cups of frothing steaming coffee, being able to say anything, anything at all, and wanting to. Home is a friendship where you can be exactly who you are - and kick your shoes off - and not have to pretend - and still be loved.
Home is the sky. always different. always wild. always breathtaking.
Home is the rain, the lazy and furious pounding of rain on a Friday morning, letting the sheets of sound fall over you, pulling tapestries tighter and knowing that as long as the thatched roofs are drenched in greys, that you have no where to be, nothing to worry about, and you can let yourself fall.
Home is the other volunteers, vespers at Olen and Danae's, Lyol's sunshine smile, baby Zane saying "up, up." Home is getting lost on the moto with Carlie, reading a certain book series with Athens, and teaching those long Thursdays in the village with Marci and interviewing women with Naomi. Home is the thread that holds us all together, the small strand of idealism and courage combined with grit, tears, and dogged determination that means at the end of the day we are family.
Home is Tchad.
Home was Tchad.
Right now home is Seat 13B. Home is a conversation (in French!! - GREAT French, may I add!) with a Tchadian businessman that imports cell phones and laptops, listening to sad French Music and intermittently watching tears fall out of my eyes and slink in rounded circles over my cheeks.
Home is frazzled braids and flowing black pants peppered with holes and a ragged brown shirt and blue crocs tucked under my striped bag and off of my feet.
Home is limbo.
Home is in the sky.
Home is right here, right now, writing these words, stale airplane air and the low babble of languages.
Home is loving something and someone and somewhere enough for your heart to break into jagged and streaming strips of pulsing red when you tear yourself away.
Home is where the heart is -
but my heart is in Bere,
dripping and swirling over the rice fields,
trying to catch my soul that zagged free fall and rainbow from the bottom of the airplane,
trying to reconcile the great divide.
Maybe they'll take the next flight - pop up beside me one day sarcastic and grinning - and we'll have coffee and watch clouds and realize that the sky is still the same vast seeing sigh and that we might still be home after all.
Like when you stay your stuffed farewells after Thanksgiving pie and
coffee, knowing you'll be back together at Christmas time. Or when you
go to college - packing your life into the trunk of your call and
sympathetically rolling your eyes at your sobbing parents. Or when you
part ways with a roomate, or you change cities, or states, or colleges,
or jobs. In most goodbye's, you can say "I'll see you later," you can
say, "we'll keep in touch." You can talk about going on a cruise to get
away the next year or meeting at a spa or traveling France together.
You can agree to meet again and marry in the case of 50 year old single
hood. You laugh about how you and your best friend will grow long
silver dreadlocks together and drink tea in wooden rocking chairs on a
Montana front porch.
Most goodbye's are open ended.
They are a semicolon.
They are not the final page of the final chapter of the final book of
your story with that person.
This goodbye is different.
This goodbye is a continent. This goodbye is half way across the
world. In this goodbye, I will be getting on my flight in a matter of
hours with no return ticket. In this goodbye, it would require a
tremendous amount of time and resources to come back.
In this goodbye - all my Tchadian friends have to do is drop their
phone, lose their SIM card, switch villages, and they are lost to me
forever. My Tchadian friends and family don't have email. They don't
have computers. They don't have skype and facebook. They don't have
the money to call or text me. To them, I have disapperared. Back where
I came from. Back into a place where everyone is rich and own wonderful
material items. Back to a place where no one gets sick and life isn't
hard. Back to a place where they won't be remembered. To them, I have
moved to a different planet. To them, I am not coming back. Because no
one ever does.
The night I left was dark and stormy and rainy. Lightening was cracking
through the sky when I went to say goodbye to Florence and her family.
I woke the kids up one by one and hugged them. I hugged Florence and
she wouldn't let go. She started to sob and we hugged each other
fiercely. The rain was splashing our faces or maybe it was tears. My
father left on a night like this, she said.
and I told her I wouldn't forget her. I couldn't. That if she wouldn't
marry, I would send her to school, to university even if she continued
to pass. Everyone in my life leaves me, she said.
And I won't forget her. And i have written down all my promises to
her. But will I see her again? Only if I spend thousands and thousands
of dollars. Only if I get a visa. Only if I fly back to Tchad. Only
if I take the jolting bus ride south to Bere. Only if I search for her
through the village. Only if I do something I have no immediate plans
Change is frequent here, and it is abrupt. Life is not guaranteed.
Malaria could strike my friends, my brothers and sister, Florence's
family, Teskrio and Bikoue, other Tchadian friends, the nurses. People
could move to another village. They could work for the government and
be posted elsewhere. There home's could get flooded. Their economic
status could suddenly shift due to a death or a wedding. There are too
many ways they can fall through the cracks.
This goodbye is different. I hugged these individuals who I love with
all my heart - who opened their homes and lives and souls to me
unselfishly for a year. Who loved me even though they knew I would
leave. Who educated me and laughed with me and spent time taking care
of me - who did it anyway. Even though I was just another figure in the
long procession of expats that arrive one day and vanish another. They
opened their hearts to me anyway.
And I can give them no guarantee that I'm not just like all the others.
I can give them no guarantee that I will keep my promises. I can give
them no guarantee that they won't be forgotten. I can give them no
guarantee that I can help them from the US. I can say nothing as I say
my broken, gut-wrenching goodbye's that will convey to them how much
they meant to me. I can say nothing to prove that I'm different. That
they are different, that they mattered.
So, I will show them. I will keep my promises. I will not forget
them. I will not lock them away in a year-long time capsule - they will
not be reduced to a good story, or an illustrative point, or a poverty
statistic, or a transient friend. I will strive with all that is in me,
and all my intention, and every fiber of who I want to be to make them
Yet, it is still final. I cannot promise I can see them again. In a
place where life is cheap, the political landscape can rapidly shift,
and where survival is all-consuming - I cannot leave with the knowledge
that one day, our paths will cross. If our paths do cross, its because
I would have to hunt them down. to deliberately throw my path over
theirs, to follow their tracks until I could walk another mile with them.
I have never experienced such rending finality.
My sister was crying so hard she wouldn't look at me. She was circling
in strange little half moons, her back to me, when I caught her face she
closed her eyes and doubled up from silent sobbing.
And then Hester, my puppy. Bouncing and happy and skinny and wagging -
jumping and tripping herself up in her enthusiasm to flip onto her back
so I could scratch it. Tangling herself through my feet and hurtling
herself sidewise to always keep belly up in front of me. I told her I
love her. And when I left - she knew. The last thing I saw when I
looked back at my compund was Hester. Standing stock still in the
doorway, a small white sillhouette between the rough wooden doorposts.
Watching me until the moto turned and millet stalks blocked her view.
I will never see her again.
I didn't want to be an emotional tourist. I didn't want to be
transient. I didn't want to dash in and dash out. I didn't want to be
just one more person that left.
But I'm leaving.
Because I can.
Because I have a choice. Because I have a chance. Because I have an
American passport. Because I got lucky in this life. Because I don't
have to stay.
This goodbye is different.
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Back left to right: Jhaco, Elizer, Marceline
Seated left to right: Solange holding Arnou, Bikaou, me holding Kazi
Front row: random neighbor kids, Mervae, Exose
Hester (puppy) laying out in front!
Love love love love you all!
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Rien: sentences on the lack of words
I can't put goodbye into words.
I just can't.
I want to be able to analyze it - to spit out neat packages of summary and reflection.
I should be telling you what "lessons I've learned," or "what this experience has taught me."
I should be telling you what the view is from the mountain top.
I should be telling you what conclusions I have drawn. Or how my life has been forever changed.
I should be telling you that "even though these poor people have nothing - they are smiling," and how "now I have a true appreciation of what I have."
I should be telling you all the things I have accomplished.
I should be telling you how it feels to rise up and overcome challenges - what it feels like from the other side.
I should be telling you about all the things I am looking forward to upon my return.
But honestly, I can't tell you any of those things. I just can't.
This is Africa.
Nothing is simple.
Nothing is easy.
Nothing can be stuffed into preconceived formulas or boxes of expectations.
Even the simplest emotion has layered shades of meaning.
It is impossible to wrap up something like this with a bow and a smile.
I just can't.
Here: the darker side of triumph
Here - you learn the unexpected about yourself.
Here - you can tell your fellow volunteer what a bad person you feel like - how you never realized that you weren't a good person until you came here - and they will nod and know exactly what you mean.
Here - everything you did is haunted by everything you didn't do.
Here - every choice is rife with its impossibility.
Here - the lines between right and wrong became blurred and smudged while at other times emerging edged and stark.
Here - you can break a person or a culture without even realizing it.
Here - you will feel more foolish and selfish than you ever have before.
Here - you will battle a dark part of yourself you didn't even know existed.
Here - the things you see, experience, and do mold you deeply on a level that can barely be articulated.
Here - Africa cuts deep
Fear: the admission of many wan and silly things
I am afraid of the future.
I am afraid of the unknown.
I am afraid that I will make bad choices.
I am afraid that I will gravitate towards the part of me that was broken here - not to the part that is firm and wiser and stronger.
I am afraid I will be lonely.
I am afraid I will not be able to relay my experiences in such a way that does not betray, cheapen, or demean myself or those involved in them.
I am afraid I will moralize.
I am afraid I will shut off.
I am afraid the balance will slip away from me.
I am afraid I won't be dedicated enough to write my book and keep my promises.
I am afraid the experiences that burn like fire will cool and lose their heat.
I am afraid I will crumble in the rain.
I am afraid to start all over again.
I am afraid to stand in front of a row of cardboard boxes and realize that the only thing left of my life is a collection of books, dangle earrings, a nursing degree, and a head and heart full of memories.
I am afraid that in my absence I have lost relationships.
I am afraid that I have changed so deeply here that I will have a hard time integrating myself into American culture while not losing myself and soul.
I am afraid I will succumb to materialism and consumerism with barely a backward glance.
I am afraid I will become more of a cliche than I already am.
I am afraid of sitting on the back porch of the life I walked away from.
I am afraid of the picket fence that blocks me out.
I am afraid to leave the continent I abandoned love for.
I am afraid of the grim fact that the person I almost spent my life with is now a stranger.
I am afraid of seeing the person that slipped so effortlessly into the shoes I abandoned so I could be barefoot.
I am afraid I don't fully belong in any context.
I am afraid of getting lost
I am afraid of icy roads.
I am afraid.
But I am also committed to walking through the fear. To facing it. To stepping towards it, into it, through it. To letting it surround me.
I am committed to the realization that if I am not afraid of fear, then I go go anywhere.
I can do anything.
I can overcome anything.
I can walk through darkness.
I can be alone.
I can leave.
I can go.
I can love.
I can travel.
I can speak my truth.
I can face reality.
I can keep dreaming.
I can start again.
I can say goodbye.
If I am not afraid of fear - then even though I face the world with nothing - I have nothing to hold me back.
I am not afraid of fear.
I am not afraid of fear.
I am not afraid of fear.
I will say it until it become true.
I am not afraid of fear.
I am not afraid of fear.
I am not afraid of fear.
I will stumble towards the lake of fear until i realize it is merely a mirage.
I will run into its inferno until I realize it is only a flickering flame.
I will walk into its darkness and realize my eyes have adjusted.
I will jump into its ocean and realize my toes are barely scraping a trickling creek.
I will open my arms and square my shoulder to loneliness and realize there is strength and solace there.
I am not afraid of fear.
and because I not afraid of fear - I have nothing to hold me back.
because I am not afraid of fear - I am free.
Only in Tchad do you find a dead fly pressed like flowers in the pages of your journal. A journal that is almost finished just like my journey here is.
I don't know what to say. Spitting cliches and neat tie ons and wrap ups out of my teeth would just betray the experience.
I don't have a long list of all the things I learned. Or all the ways I changed. I 'm sure I've changed. I know I have. But its been so gradual I still feel like me.
And I guess that's how you should feel when you come out of the hurricane. That even though you were transported and transplanted and your surroundings and material possessions were adjusted, destroyed, or sent flying - even though - you still feel a small grounded place at the bottom of your soul.
A small rock, a boulder, a pebble even: that undefinable stillness that speaks to you on the level that thoughts and words fail. That says even if the rest of the world (and to a large extent you yourself) think you are crazy - even if - you are exactly where you need to be, going exactly where you need to go.
And that's how I knew I needed to come to Tchad. There were strong forces, the the bonds of love, smoldering at me to stay, holding out their arms of oak and telling me i had a place of rest in them forever. And I almost went into them. Almost. And when they all said, why Tchad? I gave them my spiel of course. But the real answer was, beneath all the reasons, heartbreak, leaving, and longing, that I just knew. And that small pebble of inner knowing grounded me against the madness and gave me the courage to step away from comfort.
It pushed me to exist in this brown and beautiful plot of scorched earth on the edge of the Sahel. And that same pebble has grown through these hard and wonderful months until it has become a jagged rock. How much of a rock i couldn't tell you, but enough of an anchor to tell me I must again go. That I must say goodbye gracefully, resting on the baseline of relationships, friendships, and work put in already. Its telling me I cannot stay. Its telling me to go North.
I have that knowing again, the one whose reasons I can't articulate and who's unspoken arguments are not rational. I am being pulled to Alaska. I am entranced and terrified. But something else is growing - a tiny slim shoot of a wildflower, a sprig of hope peaking curious and spring morning from under the shade of my rock. A wild blooming hope I can't contain. And so, I know.
Journal Entry: Sept. 2011, pre-departure
Taking everything familiar - books and colors and car and job. taking the love of my life. and then taking a suitcase and packing it with air. with ideas. and leaving.
every woman needs her journey - every woman needs that one time where they struck out, jumped off, dived in, danced free. I truly believe that.
And now, after more than a decade of dreaming, of talking big. of scattering my ideas from my mouth like popcorn - after a decade of comfortable rhetoric, here I am - about to leave.
to leave the words behind
to leave the the love behind
to leave the potatoes and chocolate and creamy comfort foods
to leave google and parents and friends
here I am.
me and the big wide barbarous world.
And I'm so scared.
This is faith.
I never understood it become.
the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.
Believing that the hoped for, the unseen, will morph into a concrete reality.
This crossroads is giant. it's evil and mean and muddy and fuzzy and complicated.
I have a lot to prove to myself.
I'm chasing the feeling of overcoming. Of climbing that mountain, scaling that mental roadblock, throwing talents i didn't know i had at a problem.
I'm chasing the feeling of rising above, of doing things I thought I couldn't do, that feeling of growing stronger.
I feel scared and fragile, like a whisper could blow me over.
i have to go.
and for better or worse, I'm going.
Sadness: on what you meant to me
I cried tonight, saying goodbye to Bikaou. She is leaving tomorrow morning for Cameroon, where she will take the entrance examination for her Masters in Gynecology. Teskrio is already there, studying. He thought he would be coming back in time to see me off, but with the flooding and the difficulty and price of the journey, he has stayed there. They will take their exams on the 15th. I am so proud of both of them. They want to get their Master's degrees in Nursing - and that is no small thing here in Tchad.
I love them so much. Indescribably so.
Tonight I lied on the mats in the main room of Bikaou's chambers, the head lamp was hanging on the wall, glowing off the flowing maroon curtains, and i was talking with her as she folded the piles of clothes the children had heaped up on top of the motor bike.
The little girls were fanning me with flimsy paper fans and Arnou was playing with her phone and responding in Keira when I talked to him in French. When I got here, he didn't speak at all. Now, he understands French. We still have our special high 5 - several high fives, then we bump our fist together, and then our pointer fingers touch briefly. It took him so many months to warm up to me. Now, when I'm not here, he will stand in front of my door and say, "Janna?"
And I just started crying. I couldn't decide if they were tears of regret or not. I don't have a lot of regrets, but I do feel bad for not spending as much time with the kids as I should have. When I spent 3 months working evenings I barely saw anyone - I was sleeping when they got up and went to school and they were sleeping when I came home. Now, I have been spending evenings at home. We have been watching Disney and their favorite by far is Robin Hood. They can all hum the intro perfectly.
Now, we all sit looking at the stars and slapping away mosquitoes - me telling all the girls not to marry until they finish University and making the boys promise that they will learn to wash dishes and never hit their wives. Last night, we borrowed the neighbor's radio and we danced for almost 2 hours. We were breathless and barefoot and everyone was deliriously happy. Music is one of the best part of life here. Any time a Tchadian hears music, he cannot help it, he dances. It is lovely.
And the kids tell me, "now, we know you love us - because you spend time with us and show us movies." And I tell them, no, I loved you the whole time. I just lost that relationship we all had when I was never home. And this last month has been so busy - I have been going hard from morning until night - always having something to do, always going to bed leaving something undone. I wish they would understand that i loved them the whole time.
And tonight I told Bikaou how much I loved her. And how grateful I am for her. How she was an amazing mother and became even more than that, a true friend. When-ever I would come home pissed off about something from the hospital - she would listen to me, and give advice, and always supported me and had my back no matter what. Her and Teskrio taught me French. They took amazing care of me when I was sick - pounding rice into flour and making me bouillie (rice gruel with rice flour, peanut butter, sugar - about the only thing I wanted when I had malaria.) They held the hair out of my face when i vomited all over the courtyard (this happened more than once), put up with my crazy horse and love for starving dogs. She always scoured the market for anything said I wanted to eat. They always told me the truth and advised me how to behave in the culture. They were my friends, my confidants, my counselors, and my teachers. We traded medical knowledge and languages and celebrated our mutual love of Bob Dylan - singing Blowing in the Wind at 7 am across a steaming bowl of rice and black eyed peas.
Every morning Teskrio would shake my hand and smile his dazzling smile and ask me how I slept. In Tchad, he said, every good father talks to each of their children in the morning - he has to see them before he goes to work - to make sure they don't have malaria, that they aren't getting sick. That's why he would wake me up to see if I was okay. Here, good fathers do that.
We would walk to work together and if I needed a ride anywhere he would always go out of his way to take me. Or when I would rattle off in my bad French, angry over something, and he would shake his head and smile is big smile, and say, "kai, Janna, Janna."
Boule is the Tchadian staple food that most outsiders find the most difficult to stomach on a continual basis. They have it almost every meal with a sauce that varies. Well, I went through a phase where I actually like the stuff. They would make a bean sauce, with crushed black eyed peas, garlic, onion, and tomato: it was delicious with Boule. You eat boule with your fingers and they would always laugh at me because they thought I didn't scoop up enough at a time. They would think I didn't like it. And I would say, no, no, "Bikaou, J'aime la boule!!" And for some reason Teskrio thought that was the funniest thing he ever heard. So pretty much from there on out, every time we talked, even at the hospital, he would grin and shake his head and say slowly, "Bikaou, J'aime la boule!"
I just cannot emphasize enough how much they meant to me. I told all this to Bikaou tonight. And I told her - it is because I lived with you, in your family, that I had the wonderful experience here in the village that I had. And its true. They made all the difference in my experience. I still maintain that I had a better family than anyone else - and that I got so incredibly lucky.
Living with Bikaou and Teskrio was the best thing that happened to me here in Tchad.
I almost didn't. When I arrived at the airport a year ago - Olen asked which one of us liked children. I immediately said that I did because I wanted to be with a big family. I wanted to get lost in chaos and bustle and be completely immersed. Never mind that I don't actually like children that much. I mean, I do, but not to the extent that I would go around saying I love children. And that was the best thing I ever said. If I had kept my mouth shut a fraction of a second longer, I would have lived with a very small family and shared space and moments with another volunteer.
And it was amazing living with nurses - living with people that understood the work and frustrations at the hospital. That had the same coworkers and would stick up for me and explain to me why things were the way they were. I was also able to teach them more about American nursing and challenge them to do things differently. Sometimes when I would get upset at some obtuse man or another, I would mutter under my breathe that they wouldn't be able to work in America, so there.... very juvenile I know, but I would not say that about them. With the right training they could work in an American Hospital. They are both dedicated to their patients, go above and beyond every day, and have an amazing work ethic and wealth of knowledge.
I am just overwhelmed with gratitude and love for them. I can't believe that the last time I see Bikaou for a long time is going to be tomorrow morning. And that is it. Our paths will diverge. I am just sad. I tried to tell her tonight how much she meant to me - I tell her all the time anyway - but even though my French is insufficient she understood what I was trying to say and told me not to cry. This goodbye is not forever, she said. We will see each other again. The time to leave has come. We will not forget you. We will miss you. We are sad too.
I love this woman so much. She probably did more than anyone to get me through the hard times, and was a rock, and oasis of sanity, a voice of reason as we sat outside wrapped up against the mosquitoes just talking about everything.
I told her that her family is my family now. Her home has become my home. And they are. It has.
I am so sad.
so so so sad.
Bikaou, I love you. I will not forget you. And I will demonstrate that. You are not just a year I spent away. You are not just someone I call a friend in name only. You are so much more than that. You are not part of my experience. You have transcended that. You are a relationship I want to maintain for the rest of my life. I love you. I believe in you. You are smart and beautiful and are going to pass your test. One day, I will bring you to America to visit. One day, we will get manicures and pedicures and I'll get you a massage. You work harder than anyone I know, and if anyone deserves to be taken care of - its you.
I swear [fiercely] - I will NOT forget you.
That's what I told her - tonight - when we lied on the mattress talking as the children fell asleep in mid-sentence.
And I know she knew. All the things I was saying - and all the things I wasn't. She knew.
But even though I said it all - even though I have a strong friendship to rest my departure on - even though -
I still feel odd and sad like every emotion I have was torn in two and then folded and torn in two again.
So much for my earlier jargon about graceful goodbyes.
They are just sad.
Meditations: on redemption and the skeleton jig
I came here looking for it.
Personally, spiritually, societally.
The word itself is heartrending - breaking with hope and longing.
I came to hell looking for heaven.
I came here wanting Africa to save me.
Its dark casting healed my fractures
only to split along a different line
only to give me a different kind of limp
Its flames burned the meat off my bones,
they are charred
but their marrow is richer
I don't ever want the flesh to grow back.
I want my soul to do the skeleton jig
for as long as the bones are dancing
I have my salvation.
When: final day
Ethiopian Air – Sept. 16