Here it is, folks: the last post.
Over the past two years, when in doubt of where to start, I’ve made a list…
Voici, a pictoblog of some random things I’ll miss about being a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin (along with the realization that I really should have taken more and better photos these past two years...)
- Food! No doubt in my mind I’ll have some hardcore cravings for Beninese cuisine! The freshest, most delicious mangos and pineapples of all time, and an unhealthy respect for fried foods. Bon appetite!
The fruits of our labor - Eating akassa and Moringa sauce after a nutrition seminar with my preschool friends!
- Zemidjans – Scary when you fall off, but the convenience of a motorcycle taxi is unbeatable. I rarely need to know where I’m going, just the name or the intersection of the cousin of somebody’s distant relative, and I’m there!
Which leads me to my next point…
- Safety I feel – Despite the obvious unsafe factors of transportation in West Africa (including lack of traffic laws, unreliable vehicles, and shots of moonshine for breakfast), I have never felt safer in the place I live.
- Tailor made clothing – Carrie Bradshaw dress from Sex and the City? Vogue-inspired overalls? JCrew boat pants? My couturier is boss when it comes to copying western style dress.
- Rainstorms the way they happen here – When it rains it pours! Good thing it’s limited to one season, though I do love to save on my trips to the water pump!
- My morning run over the valley – Gorgeous scenery, greetings from the neighbors, and the token cute kids to run with (chase) me. Nothing beats a toddler’s “Bonshwaaa!”
- Taxi snaxi – No need for a drive through! I know all the stops for the best soy crackers, millet yogurt, and avocado sandwiches.
- English – it helps you make friends wherever you go, sure, but I like my language for more selfish reasons… Being able to speak my native tongue and no one knows what I’m talking about – highly useful for taxi rides and serious conversations, especially!
- Seeing an everyday Beninese guy donning my Alma Mater (I have 10 days to take a picture of this always enjoyable sight!)
- Stars, sunsets, sky – The African sky is cliché for a reason… Minimal light pollution in village has given me a new respect for the night sky (and for a full moon!). And the time of dusk when everything settles to golden orange is among the most peaceful signs of another day come and gone.
- Massive beer for a dollar – Granted, it tastes like a frat party smells, but I’d never turn down a cold drink in this weather. At the end of a rough day, it certainly does the job.
While true, that was all a little too kitschy for me to go out on, so I’ll give you the real run down on the confusing feelings of my last month:
At the end of these 797 days in Benin, I will have filled nearly 1,000 pages in my journals, the result of my daily scribble routine that helps me start each morning over a cup of coffee / tea / oral rehydration solution… I’ve read back over many of them and felt embarrassed and ashamed, then mature and accomplished… And yet, I don’t think I will ever do justice to Benin in a blog post, in a Facebook album, or in an anecdote, and I’m left feeling as though I have nothing profound to summarize from it all.
You may stop reading if I’ve just majorly let you down, but I know too many of you have been too supportive and too impressed with my past two years for me to leave you hanging like that, so I’ll try to give you something…
Some of you have been fortunate enough to see this place for yourself, in all its paradoxes of suffering and smiles, hopefulness and desperation, and greed and generosity. To you especially, I ask for your patience with me as I readjust and reacquaint myself with the culture I come from.
I believe the last two years have essentially been that – a grand paradox of emotions stemming from continued growth or insecurity, alongside my achievements and failures. In the past 27 months, I do believe I’ve cried more and felt smaller than ever in my infancy, and if I were capable of giving to Benin a fraction of what it has given to me through this experience, I would feel far more satisfied and far less humbled by this experience.
I recently got to meet the bright-eyed, fresh-faced (read: not yet sun-damaged), minimally-French speaking (read: French is hard) volunteer who is going to replace me when I move out of village at the end of this month. In our preparations for her two years of continued Peace Corps service to the village of Todé, it dawned on me that I really do know more than I did two years ago... I quickly tempered my pride however, with the realization that I’ll reenter a world that I’ll again know very little about. Phone apps, grown-up clothes, and career-moves suddenly scare me more than a plate of mystery meat, a crowd of linguistic confusion, or a bucket of wormy well water at the end of a humid day…
So I’ll learn how to grocery shop with price tags again, how to use my inside voice, and how to replace a broom with a vacuum, but I hope the hardest parts stick with me. I will of course remember those pleasant memories listed above, but I hope I remember how difficult life is in other places, especially in this time when war, illness, and environmental deterioration are rampant not only in our media, but in others’ homes. I hope I remember how little we actually need to satisfy ourselves and furthermore, find happiness. I hope I remember the value of time genuinely spent being ‘present,’ and I hope I remember how fast two years can be gone before I know it, and what it feels like to wish I’d done something better or differently.
These are high and selfish hopes for the end of all of this, and there is of course more to add, but I think I’ve entered sappy territory again…
Friends and family, please know I am full of gratitude for your love and support of the last two years. Coming home will have its own challenges for a time, so I’m afraid I have to ask for your continued help:
- Please slap me around when I become too pious, because I don’t know shit that the rest of you kind-hearted people couldn't figure out.
- Please don’t hate on my blonde hair, or premature wrinkles, or need to wear several layers as I re-acclimatize to a temperate climate.
- And please make sure I don’t go outside when I need to use the bathroom.
One month from today, I will again set foot on American soil, and I can’t wait to see you soon.
All my love,