Thursday, July 14, 2011

And So They Begin, The Goodbyes

Wednesday, July 13th, 2011

Katherine, Mme. Ly, and me at our last time at Mme. Ly's stand in Thies.
Photo Credit: Jackie

Leaving Senegal correctly has been something I’ve been thinking about a lot. I want to say goodbye properly and thank everyone who needs thanking. A couple of days ago an idea popped into my head and then seeing Christine yesterday finalized it. I had to go to Tivaouane to see my PST host family. When I told my friends yesterday they thought I was crazy and even this morning I was on the fence, but the seed was planted and I knew that I would feel like a terrible person if I didn’t go, so I went. It absolutely poured this morning so I let myself sleep in a little bit and left for the garage as soon as the deluge ended. I used my sweet Obama golf sized umbrella to shield me from the rain.

At the garage I started kicking myself for letting the thought of going to Tivaouane get into my head. Tamar’s text messages let me know that she thought I had lost my mind. I ate breakfast waiting for the car to fill up with passengers and then bought a ton of cookies and other fun things out of the car window as gifts for my family. The monsoon like rain we got this morning made the scene exactly that of PST. It was hot as hell, muggy, unbearable. And I was headed to Tivaouane, very fitting.
Tivaouane greeted me as if nothing had changed. The streets were mud with a faint scent of urine, people instantaneously started to harass me, and I felt the feeling of dread I felt every time going back to site during PST. Christine deserves the Congressional Medal of Honor for finishing up her two years in Tivaouane. There’s absolutely no way I could have done it. It’s a long walk from the garage to my family’s house in the center of town so I had a lot of time to reminisce while I side stepped mud, motos, and mean children.

My family was definitely surprised to see me. Only the girls were home. My mom was overjoyed. She was so happy. Binta and Kyte seemed pleased especially when I produced all of the cookies, but they did not look good. The house looked even more decrepit than when I lived there and the girls seemed to know that they are never going to leave Tivaouane. They seemed sad and didn’t look physically healthy. Binta took me to see my brother Aly, the youngest child and the host sibling I was closest to. He now works at a small boutique that sells mixed tapes. He was definitely excited to see me and we caught up for a few minutes before exchanging contact information so we can friend each other on Facebook. Aly has had to drop out of school to help support the family because my host father’s pension isn’t enough.

Talking to my mom was sad. The girls couldn’t believe that two years had passed. They couldn’t believe it in a sad way. Their lives really hadn’t changed at all and I had already finished my service. When we started to say goodbye my mom started crying so I obviously started crying. It’s sad to say goodbye and not be able to help these people who helped me so much. Who took me into their home and tried to help me learn a language and about a culture so different from mine while being infinitely patient with all of my mistakes and faux pas. On my ride back to Thiès I thought a lot about why my mom cried. She was definitely genuinely happy to see me, but she also recognizes that I’m going home and back to a place of opportunity. She’s devastated that Aly couldn’t finish school and knows that I want to return to university. Even though she doesn’t speak French and has never really left Tivaouane she knows that better things are out there wherever there is and I think she was sad for her family.
Even though what I just wrote is really depressing, I’m very happy that I went to Tivaouane. It provided the full circle/ closure that I’ve been trying to achieve. I also think that my family really appreciated it. My coming showed that I hadn’t forgotten their kindness and generosity. I left with a skirt, a dried gourd, and two little bracelets. The family Ba in Tivaouane are really, really, really nice people.

Back in Thiès I hung out with the family while waiting for lunch. This mainly involved playing with Abdou and two spoons. He is such a happy baby and some fun and unconditional love is exactly what I needed. Ahmed and I also continued to take pictures.

This afternoon I went to see Mme. Ly and Khady. I hadn’t planned on saying goodbye to them until at least tomorrow, but because of the rain they didn’t go to their outdoor booth and where therefore at home – the perfect opportunity to say goodbye. It was terrible.

Khady and Mme. Ly were sitting under a shade structure watching TV on a mat and I joined them. Mme. Ly immediately pulled me to her and put my head on her lap like a little girl. She stroked my head for two hours as the three of us talked. They had a lot more questions about the United States. More than they’d ever asked me. They wanted to know if I could go to the market and buy fruit and vegetables, in what kind of house my family lived, and most poignantly how far away my Peace Corps friends live from me. Mme. Ly had a lovely image of the Peace Corps family continuing once we got home. That everyone lived close enough that we could see each other all the time and talk about our friends in Senegal and our experiences over the past two years. She was absolutely appalled that Katherine and I will be separated by a country that is many times the width of Senegal.

Once the other family members who I don’t know as well started to come home, I started making signs of leaving. Mme. Ly wanted some last pictures which I was more than happy to take. Major shout out to Matt again because I’ve been taking the Polaroid with me everywhere I go so that the person/ people I’m saying goodbye to can have a picture of us – instantly. The entire Ly family was pretty pumped about the instant camera and we got some really nice shots for them as well as some on my camera.

Cuddling and having my head rubbed for such a long time had lulled me into a calm state, but as soon as the time came to say goodbye I started to lose it. I couldn’t help it. Mme. Ly and Khady have made my service. They were so open to working with me, being my friends, and they opened their home to me. They’ve come so far and I know that they want to go so much further. Mme. Ly and Khady would be amazing people in any culture, in any country. Their drive, determination, and willingness to put themselves out there is almost non-existent in Senegal. They are really special people.

By the time we had given each other left handed handshakes (this signifies an improper goodbye and that the traveler must return again) everyone was in tears. Khady had to turn around and run into the house. I had to put sunglasses on, but children still ran by myself side asking why the toubab was crying. I hope that I was able to express how much Khady and Mme. Ly mean to me and how much they’ve helped me and how much they mean to me. They made my service a success and I will remember them and their kindness forever.


  1. Alyssa,

    I hate to see how you are doing, since I am tearing up just reading the post.


  2. Overwhelming.........................

    I love you