Sunday, July 17, 2011

Farewell Family

Saturday, July 16th, 2011

Saying goodbye to my family was excruciating. After the past couple of days of emotional hell coupled with my family talking about my departure, but not really seeming to care, I thought that I was going to be OK about saying goodbye. I should really know myself better than that. I was a wreck, but not as bad as I thought I would be. I wanted to sleep in to prepare for all of the goodbyes and my trip to Dakar, but I still woke up early and laid in bed staring at my empty room which looked really, really sad without all of my decorations up. Eventually my family started to get up for the day and I walked around greeting everyone and then sat in the courtyard taking everything in until my mom and Ahmed came downstairs and we watched TV together.

Katherine, Jackie, and I planned to leave site in style and together by renting a sept-place in Bambey which would pick up Katherine, then me, and finally Jackie in Pout. Katherine kept sending me text messages as she passed landmarks between her site and my house. Every time my phone would beep with a text message my entire family would look up and ask where she was. It was like the grim reaper slowly making his way to his victim. I took one last swing around the courtyard, took a quiet moment to myself in my room, and then Katherine appeared at our front door.

I had bags and bags of luggage both to take all the way back to American and to ditch in Dakar for other PCVs so as Katherine and the driver started to load the car I started my goodbyes. All of the men were easy. We shook hands and told each other that we would miss the other person. Ziabata thanked me for the baby clothes and toys that I gave baby Khady and promised he would come visit in the States. It was all very stoic. The women were a whole different story.

I said goodbye to Mami first. Since Mami spends most of her time in Dakar we aren't that close and I don't really like the mood in house when she's home so that wasn't too hard of a goodbye except that she was holding Abdou. I went to pick up Abdou and give him a kiss and he smiled at me and reached his little arms out to me like normal, which made me immediately burst out in tears since this wasn't normal. It was goodbye. I've known Abdou his entire life. Granted that's only 10 months, but he's such a cute and happy little baby and he also put a smile on my face when I was having a bad day. Next, I said goodbye to Awa. She was a little teary, but we had a quick goodbye.

Next I said goodbye to Ahmed who was freaked out that I was crying uncontrollably. Ahmed helped me so much at the beginning of my service. I always had a friend and he always filled me in on the things I couldn't quite get or the names I forgot. Ahmed is so cute and so bright. I hope that my family continues to put him in the best schools and push him to succeed or at least do his homework. Working with him on his letters, numbers, and English has been really rewarding since he's so proud of himself. Without Ahmed I would have been really lonely at the beginning of my service before I had the chance to bond with the women. When Ahmed and I walk around the neighborhood he always corrects people who call me toubab and tell them I'm an American; I hope he maintains this attitude and isn't afraid of other white people and knows the toubabs can be nice too. In parting I told him that he's really smart, that he's my best friend, and that I love him. I gave him a hug and walked away; he continued watching Saturday morning cartoons.

Jeenaba was no where to be found and that's because she was hiding in her room crying. I had to go find her. Saying goodbye to Jeenaba was heartbreaking. I probably spend more time with Jeenaba than anyone else in my family. I sit with her as she makes meals, I'll sit and hold Abdou for her while she's sweeping outside, and we can sit together in a very comfortable silence. I also help her out a lot financially whether or not I should. Even though baby daddy is a good dad, he doesn't help out monetarily and Jeenaba is constantly in debt to my mom and Khady. Yesterday I gave her some money and told her to hide it from my mom and use it for Abdou. I hope she does. I also gave her my email address with instructions that if she or Abdou really needs anything to get in touch with me. I don't know if she can do that on her own, but hopefully she can find someone to help her. It was so, so, so sad saying goodbye to Jeenaba. She's been so kind to me when people aren't all that nice to her and we really bonded. I hope that everything turns out OK for her and that's she's able to leave the family house and make it on her own with her husband and Abdou. Jeenaba couldn't pull herself together to walk me out to the car so she stood on the second floor balcony and waved.

Khady and my mom walked me to our front gate and out to the car. Khady was quietly wiping away her tears, but my mom was sobbing. My mom's reaction really surprised me since we've had the recent rent problems which really upset me. I understand and respect that my mom runs a huge and complicated household and she makes sure that everyone has what they need and that takes money. It's a difficult dynamic because everyone claims I'm family, but in the end it all comes down to money. Seeing my mom react to my departure so strongly was really nice and reaffirmed what I already knew; that my family really does love me and that we've grown really close over the past two years. I gave Khady and my mom huge hugs, thanked them from the bottom of my heart and got into the car. My mom stood at the gate crying and waving until we turned a corner.

What I've just described cannot do justice to what actually happened. Moving to a foreign country and really adapting yourself to it's culture, it's rules, and living a host country national family is indescribable. You really become family with these people even if "family" may have a slightly different definition than what I thought or be more complicated that I thought. The Gaye family welcomed me into their home and into their lives. We had our problems, but I love them dearly and can't thank them enough for everything. When I said goodbye to my real family two years ago it was really sad, but that sadness was mixed with terror for what was to come. My goodbyes today were just sad. Pure emotion, sad. Two years ago I knew that I would come home and my family would be waiting for me. I don't know if I will ever see my Senegalese family again and I know that it will never be the same since I will lose my Wolof language skills to disuse and become Americanized once again. This was truly an amazing experience.

Back in the car, I had a good cry and pulled myself together so that Katherine could throw three giant bags of trash along the side of the road on our way to pick up Jackie. With Jackie in the car and all of the Senegalese goodbyes behind us we plugged my iPod into some speakers to listen to the Star Spangle Banner as I popped a bottle of champagne out the window as we drove out of Pout. Our last trip into Dakar was filled with two bottles of champagne and half a bottle of Warang to dull the pain. We reminisced about the good times and stared at each other in disbelief that we did it. I can't believe we did it.

Once in Dakar it was off to the races once again. We grabbed some lunch and then Katherine and I repacked our bags before we all showered and headed out to another PCVs apartment. A boy in our stage, Jack, who's extending for a third year just moved into an apartment in Dakar and invited us over for cocktails. We supplied fantastic appetizers and he supplied the cocktails. It was exactly the type of evening I wanted. After being really emotional for three days, it was nice to sit and sip a delicious beverage with a close group of friends and just talk. There were no distractions, no one bothering us, we just enjoyed each other's company and talked about the past two years. We ended the night back at the regional house because Ben had a flight out tonight. It is so weird saying goodbye.

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