A journey ends

Leaving my village after two years was more beautiful, more painful, and more powerful than I could have ever imagined. I don’t even know how to begin to explain the love and friendship I was shown over the past few days as I said my goodbyes. The days (and nights) were filled with endless visits, thoughtful gifts, silent tears and nonexistent sleep. 

Leaving my village, where crying is considered shameful and negative emotions are suppressed until they find their way out in distorted ways, was a battle of emotional endurance. “Fo rat n loog n bas tondo,” they’d say, day after day. You want to go away and leave us. “Bi fo boos kiuugu n paase.” Just ask for one more month. “Ra kum dat! Fo sen n kum, mam pa na n puus fo!” Don’t cry! If you cry I’m not going to say goodbye to you!

Well, I cried. And they said goodbye to me. Most of them at least. There was one that was just too hard. My old lady friend, my Burkinabé grandmother, who in the past two years has lost her sight and most of her mobility, but never her sense of humor. With her, I just couldn’t do it. Not without breaking down at least, and that would have been considered worse. But we had breakfast together, ate boiled sweet potatoes with our hands, and shared a laugh or two as always. And when I went back to my courtyard to finish packing, we both knew I wouldn’t be coming back again.

But let me rewind a bit. Two days before my departure, the health clinic staff and I invited the whole village to a party outside the health clinic to celebrate all we’ve accomplished over the last two years. We ate rice and drank zoom koom, a local millet-based drink, and we reflected on the two years we spent together. Women that I worked with in neighboring villages walked several kilometers to come and celebrate and say goodbye. And I was showered with love and praise and gifts. The elders of my village went first, handing me a live chicken dangling by its feet. Each of my women’s groups went next, each giving me a different type of traditional woven fabric, along with the group of women from my own courtyard as well. One group even got their gift wrapped in the city, its sparkly paper exclaiming “IT’S A BOY!”  I got a locally made ring from my friend the pharmacist, and another beautifully wrapped present from my co-workers at the health clinic. And the peanuts! I can’t forget about the many overflowing basins of peanuts. The gifts, it seemed, were never ending.

In the two days following the party, I hardly stopped moving to sit or to eat or to think. It was all packing, goodbyes, gifts, visitors, laughter, tears and benedictions. Peace Corps has decided not to send another volunteer to my village this year, and so I had to move every last thing out of my house. And giving it all away was a process in and of itself. The night before I left, I sat under the stars with a revolving flow of women, kids, friends and coworkers, chatting and drinking tea as I finished emptying my house. I finally fell asleep under the brilliant canopy of stars at about 2 a.m., and then woke up at 4:45 with the first call of prayer. When all was ready to go, the kids in my courtyard took my bags and bike ahead as I followed on foot with a procession of women behind me, accompanying me on the first steps of the next part of my life journey. As we left our main courtyard I spotted my pugnyanga, my old woman, sitting as usual against her neem tree, and I just couldn’t hold it in anymore.

“Stop crying Breejeetie!” my friend Matoma yelled, shaking her fist in my face. “Stop crying! We’re not going to walk with you if you cry!” I heard her voice trail off behind me, having stopped walking. But as anyone who’s ever cried before knows, it’s not so easy to stop the flow of tears once they’ve started. Finally they caught up to me.

“Stop crying Breejeetie!” She said again, this time a little weaker. Out of the corner of my eye I saw her wiping her own eyes with her headscarf. Together, we kept walking.

When it was time for the women to head back, they each came forward and shook my hand – this time, and only this time, with their left hand. The left hand here is only used for dirty things, never to shake hands or even hand something to someone. But if you do greet someone with your left hand, the person must eventually come back to make it right. That morning, I was given more left hands than I can count.

Four women, along with my good friend Madi, accompanied me all the way to the bus station in town. Two of them rode their bikes with me, each carrying a piece of luggage, and the rest followed in what we call a taxi moto – basically a motorbike with a cart attached – with the heavier bags. We arrived to find the bus station teeming with passengers, so we had to wait about an hour and a half before we could catch a bus. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Just before I boarded the bus, two of my best friends – 13-year-old Mahawa and Yimeo – pulled up on their bikes for a final goodbye – the best surprise all morning. Everyone together helped me load my bags and bike under the bus, then gave me their left hands and wished me a safe and healthy journey.

But even then, I didn’t journey alone. Two of my favorite neem cream ladies, Ramata and Kalizeta, insisted on accompanying me all the way to the capitol. So they each paid the equivalent of $10 (neem cream sells for approximately 20 cents) for two-way tickets to the city, just to see me off. When we arrived in the capitol, they put me and my bags in a taxi, shook my left hand, told me not to cry, and went to wait in line for another bus to take them three hour journey back north, hoping to make it before dark.

So here I am now, settled in Ouagadougou, about to begin working on the inexhaustible list of paperwork and errands and reporting that make up the close-of-service process. It’s a whole different world here, but it’s one that will get me that much closer to re-entering the world of home. The two years I spent in my village in the hot, dusty north of Burkina Faso were the most challenging, most beautiful, most frustrating, and most rewarding of my life. And I couldn’t imagine a better way to end them. I’m ready to go.

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21 Responses to A journey ends

  1. Galen says:

    So I read it late tonight and went to bed with a few tears in my eyes. I can’t imagine all the emotions. I know that you know what a great difference you have made in their lives and in turn they in yours. It is a journey that although your time has ended there will really never end as it has shaped you as you have shapen the future of the village. Good luck with finishing the paper work I know to well with the government and good luck in your travels until you return to your family. Can’t wait to just sit and talk. Thank you for sharing all the stories it to has shaped part of my life and perspective!
    Galen

  2. jackie mcconnon says:

    Bridget,
    What a beautiful post. I am crying with tears of sadness for the village and tears of joy for you and the amazing life you have lived for the past two years. I can’t wait to see you and hear everything about your journey.
    Love you, Jackie

  3. wagarob says:

    Bissighin has been lucky to have such amazing PCVs. Congrats on a two years well spent. I imagine many will be talking proudly and happily about their Biri-zhiiiti (Mena-giti?) for for years to come.

  4. Peg Bailey says:

    Bridget, So . . . I wrote to you at the beginning of your journey to Burkina Faso . . . and here it is already the end of your two years of amazing work. I’m not sure where that time went – and regret not having written to you more often – but I feel privileged to have been included in the many who followed your life’s journey. Recalling the last conversation I had with you at the infamous “Card Club”, I know that you really didn’t imagine the experiences you’d have in Burkina Faso. I’m sure the challenges of living in a hut with no running water or electricity, sleeping under the stars with insect friends surrounding you, learning to communicate in a language that you’d never heard, biking for miles on end, and doing work that no course could have prepared you for was daunting. I’m certain you made friends with the young and old – in a more profound way than you’ve ever formed friendships. I know you learned more about yourself than you’d ever imagined. It was your positive attitude, your determination to do something significant for others, the strength of your faith, your love of humankind, and your courage that made the past two years possible. As I read this final posting written in your village, I tried to visualize your walk with the women, the celebration of friends bearing gifts, the night sky on your final evening, and the extension of left hands to you. It must have been such a beautiful experience for you! I hope you feel blessed to have been given the opportunity to live in simplicity and to truly serve others What is most rewarding is often what is most challenging . . .

    Enjoy the remaining weeks and the debriefing you’ll do with your fellow volunteers. By the time you arrive home, it will be nearing the Christmas holidays. The gift of your stories and photos will bring joy to all who are eagerly awaiting your arrival home! See you soon!

    Best,
    Peg Bailey

  5. Hannah McGraw-Dzik says:

    Dear Breedgitit,(sp?)

    I am crying. What an honor to have been part of your journey through these e-mails. I wish for you a safe return, I wish for you a strong mind that will hold all of those wonderful memories for many years to come, and I wish for you a splendid peace in the knowing what you gave to this God-created world, She must be pooping her buttons in pride of your creation.

    Peace and every good thing,

    Hannah

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  7. jackie mcconnon says:

    Bridget, Jackie just finished reading your post to me. I am just amazed at the journey you’ve been on. I don’t think I fully grasp the scope of your experience and the profound effect it’s had on you and your village family. I am very proud of you.
    Love Brian.

  8. karifoley says:

    Somehow you have the perfect words to describe a tough situation, a far too familiar situation. Can’t wait for you to come home and swap stories. Have an amazing time in Senegal. I am counting down the days until I get to see you!!!

  9. fmroby says:

    Beautiful, B.
    Of course, I am crying as I try to find the words to respond to this last chapter in your incredible journey. And of course, the words are not coming, so I will just say I am so very, very proud of you and so grateful to you for sharing your stories with all of us. We are the richer for your courage, perseverance, and passion for experiencing ways of life that differ from our own. Thank you, thank you. (And time cannot go fast enough till we are at that airport and you walk through the doors!!)
    Much love, my B.

  10. Kathy Petron says:

    Bridget-another beautifully written post. I have tears in my eyes as I write this. You have had an amazing two years. The world is richer because of you and in particular your village and other villages in Burkino Faso. This experience will forever be with you and will shape all your future journeys. It will be so wonderful to see you again.
    Kathy

  11. Kaela says:

    Yep, I’m crying too! A wonderful post Bridgey Boo. And I’m sure the emotional roller coaster won’t be stopping anytime soon. I’m so glad that you got to have meaningful goodbyes with what sounds like everyone (especially glad that Mahawa and Yimeo got there on time), even though I’m sure they were heart breaking-ly difficult. You have left such a mark in that community and I do hope that some day you’ll get to go back. I love you and am more proud of you than words can say and I can’t wait to see you, and to be sharing stories late into the night. See you in less than a week!!!

  12. Patty Gilmore says:

    Oh what a time you have had, and sorry to the ladies of Burkina, as I cried just reading the journal! I don’t know who was more lucky, you or the people of Burkina Faso. Bless you for all you have done for the people Bridgette. Safe travels.

  13. Mary hustad says:

    All I can say is amazing — your journey, your stories and especially you!! I can’t wait to see you when you return. Safe travels!!

  14. Love you Bridget you inspire me you are truly amazing, selfishly I can’t wait to see you back home!

  15. Eileen Degnan says:

    Bridget, Wow! What a departure. I couldn’t keep from crying just reading about it, so how on earth could you? You have touched their lives, as they have touched yours, in ways it will take a lifetime to fully comprehend. If you ever doubted whether your presence there made a difference or if it was worth it, you have a resounding answer. No matter what the future holds for you, you know that already you have made a profound difference for good in these people’s lives and that is their gift to you as well. This experience, their friendship and generosity to you in their ways, learning to live with no modern conveniences, having to be so self-reliant, as well as so many other things too numerous to mention, have and will shape you and your future. We are SO looking forward to seeing you at Christmas! Safe travels in Africa, and safe journey home. It will truly be a time for celebration! Love, Eileen and Mike

  16. Mary Jo Holmstrand says:

    Thank you for your heart warming post Bridget and for giving us new insights on the lives of the village folks so far removed from our way of life here. You truly have a gift of writing and expression that we can feel your experiences! You are an amazing young woman. Congratulations on a job well done and welcome home!

  17. Daniel Bowler says:

    Bridget,
    It’s been an absolute joy to “watch” your two year journey through your updates. You’ve done a great job and have much to be proud of. It is tough leaving a place that you’ve helped to transform, but know that your work and your persona will not be forgotten.

    A big “left-handed” farewell from Burkina Faso and a big welcome home. I look forward to seeing you and hearing about your experiences. A job well done.

  18. Randoll Sosa-Rocafort says:

    I’m so proud of you. =)

  19. Devin Burke says:

    Congratulations on making it through! That’s such a huge accomplishment, and I can’t imagine what it’s like to have had all the experiences you did, which I’m sure will stay with you forever. Be in touch when you’re back in MN, I live in Minneapolis now!

  20. Theresa McConnon says:

    What a wld journey you have been on Bridget for the last two years! You can tell from the response from the people you met long the way that you had an impact on them! It might be on in their daily lives, their village, their income, their future, etc. or just meeting a new frend from a far away place. You have touched their hearts and they have touched yours!!! It would be so hard not to cry when you departed as it is very sad to know that the life you have lived for the past 2 years had ended and you may not ever see some of these people again….but they will remain in your memories forever and in your heart. I wish you the best as you transition back to the US and we are so excited to see you after all this time! I can still see your smiling face as we said goodbye to you at the airport the day you left……..you are a changed person becasue of the experiences you had living in Birkina Faso…..your life will be so muh richer because of it! I can’t wait to see what your life brings you next! We love you and are very proud of all that you have accomplished while you were there! See you soon !!!! Love, Aunt Theresa xxooxxoo

  21. Alec Lichtenberg says:

    Welcome Home Bridget!

    You are a great treasure to the world wherever you are. Apparently everyone in the village you lived in knew it.

    This coninent is very grateful to have you back and I look forward very much to sharing stories in person whenever that window opens.

    Safe Journey!

    With a smile,
    Alec

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