As I near the end of my times as a Peace Corps Volunteer here in Mali, I find myself wanting to pinpoint specifics. What have I learned in these 20+ months? What will I take back with me to the United States? What are the things I hope to never, ever again take for granted? And what am I really going to miss about this place? I decided it would be best to focus first on those things I will think about, once home, that will bring a smile to my face and those pieces I’m likely to yearn for. I only have a few months left in Moribila so I want to spend this time appreciating those things I may never get to experience again:
10. Orange Toothless Smiles ~ Old men and old women alike are often encountered in a giggly, gregarious state due to cola nut consumption! Cola nuts are hard, bitter nuts that have an effect similar to that of catnip (from what I’ve been told). The cola nuts turn what’s left of their teeth bright orange. I will most certainly miss the interaction with folks in this state :)
9. Waking up with the sun to the sounds of village life ~ I go to bed each evening between 9 & 10pm. To wake up with the sun around 6:30 is refreshing and something I’m not sure I have ever done sans alarm clock in the States. The rhythmic sound of the pounding of the day’s millet is not a bad way to rise either.
8. Mangoes, Degue, and Didegue ~ Honestly the only 3 foods I will miss from Mali. Degue is a sweet sour milk drink with millet balls mixed in (sounds terrible but its oh so wonderful). Didegue is a past made for special days like the beginning and end of fast in the time of Ramadan. It is made from millet, honey, sugar, peanuts, and sour milk, mmmm! These are 3 things I know would never be recreated or taste the same outside Malian borders. Sad.
7. People shouting my name from the far corners of town ~ I’ve lived 2 years as a celebrity. Mere sight of me induces children to run my way, shake my hand, and greet with the flawed but sweet ‘Caba? Fanta, Caba bien?!’ I get to sit at the Mayor’s table for special events and am told how pretty I am every day! These aspects of celebrity aren’t bad, aren’t bad at all.
6. Trail running in the Moribila ‘back-country’ roads ~ My one time of the day that is ‘just me’ time alone on the trails getting ready for the day ahead. I cherish this time and know its going to be challenging to find an activity anywhere near as peaceful back in the States!
5. Laying in my hammock reading or listening to the radio ~ I know I will never again have the chance to read as often as I do here in such a reader-friendly environment, nor will I get to sit beneath the stars and listen to BBC for hours each night. This second year has been busier (thankfully) so I really appreciate those times I get to read a really good book (or even a so-so one that reveals something new to me). I know I will forever see reading in a different light because of this experience.
4. Laughs with the women ~ Most of the time I have no clue why they are laughing. I’m sure sometimes it’s at me (okay maybe with me) and other times even if I could understand the words, I wouldn’t ‘get it’! But I laugh too, especially when I ‘get it’. Because seeing these incredible women who work so hard and have such a serious life let loose a little and enjoy each other is something to cherish.
3. Children’s inability to still hips and feet in the presence of a beat ~ No matter the time of day, the amount of people standing around, or if they are fully clothed; a beat starts and the children start dancing and I LOVE it. How could you not?! It puts an immediate smile on my face, and theirs :)
2. Fanta Goita II ~ This really is a catch all for all the wonderfully sweet children in my host family and nearby concessions, but Miss Fanta takes the cake since she is my Namesake in Mali and therefore my charge is to take care of her and love her more than the rest! Which is no problem since I certainly do, so so much. Giving or showing affection for another person in Mali is not something that is culturally acceptable. These kiddos have been my only source for hugs for months of my service and I really, truly do not know what I would have done without them, their questions, their smiles, their giggles when I tickle them, and their affection. These babes will likely be what I miss most from Mali on a daily basis.
1. Relationships Built ~ I fear that the relationships I have built here are ones that could have fostered no other way in no other place and that once I leave this place they will be something I always try to retain and regain and yet its certain to not be the same. My family in Mali will be hard to stay close with as communication challenges will abound. My relationships with my fellow PCVs will be so so hard to leave even though I know we will see each other again Stateside. I know that the closeness we share here will be something that no one else will be able to understand. These people have been my only source of support on some days and have certainly helped me through some of my toughest times in Peace Corps, and therefore life. I have been blown away by the support I have received from friends and family at home while I have been here, so I can only hope I will be blessed to have friends here that stay friends when I return home so we can continue to support each other through the many remaining chapters in our lives. Mali PCVs, Moribila Folks – THANK YOU! I’m going to put as much energy in appreciating you all in these last 4 months as possible :)