So, after 27 months, here I am. “Hantini” as the Fulas say. “Abanta” in the words of the Mandinkas. My time here is finished. Peace Corps The Gambia.
What was it all about? Did I accomplish much? Am I proud of what I’ve done? Would I recommend such a trip? Is The Gambia better off for me having been here? Am I?
The answer to all these questions is a resounding “Yes.” It’s been a tough and rewarding service. I’ve had an amazing adventure that I’ll never forget. I’ve made some incredible friends and I’ve fallen in love. I have a much better understanding of who I am, what I want from life, and what it means to be an American. I’ve traveled to Senegal, Guinea, and Sierra Leone. I now know how to hand-wash my own clothes (beat them against a rock), how to cope with amoebic dysentery (Ciprofloxacin), and how to eat sheep intestine from a communal food-bowl (spit it into your hand and throw it away when no one is looking). I’ve learned how to work with African bees, how to blend into a crowd of black people at an immigration checkpoint, and how to say Saalaamaaleekum.
I’d never heard of The Gambia before I was invited here to serve. I thought maybe I’d get to go to Tanzania or Madagascar when I initially spoke to the recruiter about volunteering in Africa. I’d never read Alex Haley’s Roots, never imagined I’d eat monkey meat, never heard of the illustrious President His Excellency Sheik Professor Doctor Yaya A. J. J. Jammeh and his plan to decapitate any homosexual found here.
I’ve struggled with the best way to end this with you, to describe the experience, to sum it up. I want to be able to relate to you-- through some exotic Wolof proverb perhaps—what this has been like. I wish I had some words of wisdom, the moral of the story. Wouldn’t it be great if I could tell you something that you didn’t already know?
We’ve all been here before: The end of one period of our lives and the beginning of the next. The bittersweet, the dichotomy, the complexity. (I’m afraid. I’m sad. I’m excited. I’m hesitant. I’m nervous. I’m unsatisfied. I’m exhausted. I’m proud. I’m larger than life. I’m ready. I’m pensive. I’m lonely. I’m hopeful. I’m hungry.) Part of us wants to stay safely where we are while another pulls us onward to the next adventure. These things are never easy. And we never really know what to say.
I’d like to say “Thank you.” Thanks to everyone who has made this possible. Thanks to The Gambia for hosting me: It has been an experience that I will never, ever forget. Thanks to the Gambians for everything they endure: Unfortunately, someone has to be some of the poorest people on Planet Earth. The Gambians are doing the best they can, they are trying to do it gracefully, and they maintain an incredible spirit in spite of their hardship. I wish them the absolute best and I hope that they can continue to improve themselves. Thank you to my host families. The Jallows in Kundong, the Mannehs in Chewel, and the Barrows in Gunjur. You kept me safe, you fed me delicious food, and you blessed me every night before I went to sleep. Thank you to Peace Corps: This is a huge operation and you have so much to do. President Kennedy had a remarkable vision. You are doing an incredible job at making that dream a reality. Thank you to all the ex-pats and ngo’s that I’ve worked with. You are making this world a better place for all of us. Thank you to that wild cat, that green vervet monkey, those chickens and guinea fowl and sheep and cows and fish. You gave your lives so that I could be sort-of not hungry. I’ve never witnessed the deaths of so many creatures. Thank you to all the Volunteers who I am so honored to consider my friends. We’ve gone through this together. You should be proud of yourselves. I’m very lucky to know you, especially those with whom I swore-in. We made it. Great job. I consider you my family and I hope to see you all again some day soon. Thank you to my family for supporting me through this. Mom and Dad, you came here and lived this life with me for a while. It required strength, it demonstrated courage, and it expressed love. I’ve never been so proud as when you told me how proud I’d made you. Thanks to the bees. Your honey is the sweetest. Thank you Tammy. It’s been great getting to know you here and I can’t wait to continue this adventure together. And thank you finally to all of you. Thanks for following my story. Abarka bakke. Jarama booy. Jere jef.