Sunday, September 16, 2012


Most goodbye's are temporary.

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.

Radically 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
to do.

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.

I left.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Janna: I have been moved by your posts and enlightened and more....May God bless you and keep you in all you do as you leave Tchad...and take on the rest of the world.
    Blessings to you, "Aunt" Joelle