In the home stretch: the final weeks

Oh man, sometimes this trip’s… a trip. Looking back, I can’t believe now the places I’ve been. The friends I’ve made, and then left.

It’s never been easy. Some places were easier than others, but there was no single point where I could actually understand everything about the culture, or was included in all the conversations (in either French or a local language). Yet still, I’ve made some very lasting connections. And it feels now like it’s all gone by so fast.

In some places, I left behind people whose hearts were breaking to see me go, and in others it was me with the broken heart. That gut-wrenching sickness to the stomach, tears pouring down my face, feeling like there’s no possible reason why I should have to leave this person, or these people, and head back out again into the unknown, just to do it all over again. But then I keep going, because that’s what this is all about. In some weird, twisted way, I’m asking for it.







So here I am, I’ve just made another series of goodbyes leaving Bamako; had another sobbing, hysterical departure (my Nigerian friend in my Ebola post can attest to that). And found myself again, in the next city, this time Bobo-Dioulasso, feeling deflated and unable to muster the energy to be excited about it. Disinterested in making friends (even though Martin, a Burkinabé I met my last time through here was thrilled to pass me by on the street; I’ve not returned his calls).

But the thing that’s really getting me right now is the fact that I’ll be home in two weeks.

And I only have a few days left in west Africa before I make a slight stopover in Morocco again.

I don’t even know what to think about that. It’s unbelievable.

At one time it feels like I’ve been gone ages, but at the same time, like I’ve only just left. A very similar feeling I was having in this post, 2 months ago, when preparing to leave Ghana.

I’m caught in this mix of excitement for home, and disappointment that it’s all over. I know there are so many things I love about this place, but I’ve definitely come to realize the many things I take for granted at home. In my other post, I discussed a couple of things I would miss, such as my bed, but I’ve now had the time in my anticipation to compile a much more thoughtful and comprehensive catalogue of the things I will and will not miss.

For example, I’m really looking forward to walking on sidewalks made of stable concrete, and sturdy paths that don’t turn into bright red mud pits every other day in the rainy season (ie. now). I look forward to walking with my head up, unafraid of slipping in the mud, tripping over any number of unpredictable things in the way, or falling into the gutter. But I will miss the brilliant colour of this iron-rich soil. I’ll miss the chaos, because it feels more alive. It doesn’t feel like we’re all just cogs in the machinery.

On the subject of rainy season and the condition of roads: while I will not enjoy our cold, rainy Vancouver winter, I will appreciate that we can still go about our daily lives, despite the rain. Because here, everything stops. When the rain comes, you find shelter and wait it out. If not, you will receive more staring than usual, many offers to take cover, and cars stopping to offer you a ride (very nice and all, but more attention than I prefer to receive); all because the idea of walking in the rain is so absurd. Like I said, the roads disintegrate, and little rivers crop up, ready to whisk you away. And really, who wants to get that wet? When it rains here, it rains, so you’re going to be soaked to the bone within seconds. And nobody is going to carry around a jacket or umbrella all day just in case. And that’s also why I haven’t worn anything but sandals in months; they’re easy to clean when they get covered in mud (a daily occurrence) and dry quickly. So as disheartening as the constant drizzle is, at least it’s predictable and manageable. Though the coolness after a downpour here is amazing. And I will miss wearing these flipflops.

Roadside market in Burkina after the rains

I’m looking forward to cleanliness. No offensive smells. No heaps of burning garbage lining the streets (because we collect and haul all our waste to some far-off place to do that, like civilized people?). I can go into a home or a hotel room and look at the mattress, the sheets, the walls, unafraid of what I’ll discover. There’s a standard we have, and I appreciate it. But I’ll miss the extended-family-lifestyle, where everyone is packed into the same compound, like sardines. Where they yell and laugh and cry together. And honestly, what’s the difference between clean and dirty? No one gets sick from having dirty walls.

Another clean thing I look forward to is supermarkets… but not their prices. Not the fact that I cannot bargain. And I will so completely miss all of the culture that comes along with the street vendors, who sell anything and everything you could possibly need in your daily life. Why enter a store when water and snacks will just float by you, perched on someone’s head? And why go to a restaurant, when tables line the streets selling a whole host of cheap foods with varying degrees of appeal. But why wander the streets and the market; why bounce from boutique to boutique (or person to person) looking for what you want, never sure if you’re going to find it? Because there’s a consistency at home. You know what you can expect from Safeway, and all the Safeways, and all the other chains, but also the little stores, too. You’ve been there once, so generally you know what you can expect. And certainly I will not miss the hassling I receive when I walk in the market. Yes, lady, I see your tomatoes. If I wanted tomatoes, I would stop and buy some. And yes, mister, I know that “looking is free!”. If I was interested in whatever things you’re selling, I’d come and take a look. But because you’ve just harassed me about it, and possibly followed me for the last 30 steps, I’m going to into this nice, quiet man’s stall instead. And when you’re still outside when I’m done, I’m still not coming with you.

I’m beyond excited to cook. Delicious, beautiful, vegan food, which my stomach will not protest at. In a fully-equipped kitchen, with ceramic dishes and glasses instead of plastic cups. With an oven. Though cooking on coals is really fantastic. It’s like the perfect amount of heat; nobody ever burns anything. You just have to swing by to fan the coals every once in a while. But it’s not a very practical idea for our interior kitchens. And I’ll miss the simplicity of the cooking; I’m going to try and bring some of that back with me, but I know how I am, and that I feel compelled to try all these complicated recipes, which take forever, and oftentimes just aren’t that much more satisfying to eat; it’s only to know that it took me two hours.

A simple, yet delicious meal of beans and attieke (a descendent of some type of couscous, I believe)

I have no idea what these are called. Little fried pancakey type things. But awesome to watch the ladies make them!

I’m excited for no bugs. Or at least, less of them, and more harmless. I’ll pass my days without fear of being eaten alive by mosquitoes. I will get up in the morning, and won’t apply repellent. I’ll go to sleep at night, and won’t apply more repellent, or sleep under a net. Because even when we have mosquitoes at home, they somehow respect the policy that they belong outdoors only. As well, you can sit on the grass without fear of being bitten by something. Here, you just don’t do that. There’s no lounging in a park or by the river. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of lounging, but it’s all supported by benches and chairs, with highly debatable levels of comfort.

Related to that, I’m excited for games. Games that make you think. Games that are complex, wordy, strategic. But I’ll miss the culture of game-playing as a street-side thing to do. While you make tea (a long, drawn out, yet pleasant process, with delicious results which I will also miss), you play, and while you play, you smack talk. It’s almost half the game, the banter. You build up a simple card game with so much ego and bragging rights, that you can’t help but get into it, and feel invested into the outcome.

I look forward to many other recreational activities as well. Playing the guitar (when I find a new one), riding a bike (also in the market for that too!), rocking climbing, driving a car, and practicing yoga with a teacher. Or at least getting back with myyogaonline because I’ll have a speedy and reliable internet connection! Lately my mind has been wandering far too much; I keep forgetting to bring myself back. So it will be wonderful to have some guidance, not to mention some inspiration. AND I will have a regular sized mat, plus carpet (at home) for so much extra comfort; this travel mat has been amazing, but I’m so ready for some support under my poor little joints! These concrete floors are too hard on me.

I’m not looking forward to the price of transportation, of cell phones plans, of meals out, of coffee (though it will be wonderful to return to not only the world of percolation, and not simply rehydration, aka Nescafé, but also to a climate where I don’t sweat profusely each time I drink a hot beverage). I’m going to my wonderful friend’s wedding in November in Mexico, and am going to spend more there in one week than I normally do here in 10 (note to Nelle: it’s okay, I promise! Just an adjustment! 😊)

Finally, I’m excited to have a change in wardrobe. My poor jeans have just had it. All my skirts have holes (except for the new one alana brought me in May!). And everything’s a size or two too big now; there’s something about the hand washing or drying in the sun, or something, that stretches everything out. Speaking of hand washing, I will enjoy the ease of just tossing things into a machine, but will actually miss the meditative qualities of doing laundry by hand.

I feel lost here everyday, but I’m going to feel lost too once I get home.

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