March 11th, 2020
Let’s be honest.
The tears started two weeks out from my leave date from site of March 12th, 2020. I would lay in bed looking at pictures of the compound family on my phone and tears would roll down my cheeks as I knew that saying goodbye to them was going to be one of the hardest things I was going to have to do. It was like this somber ball in my chest. I could feel it growing each day. Getting bigger and bigger and the closer I got to my leave date, the more it felt like it was bursting at the seams.
Two weeks before I was to leave, my replacement, Adam, a G22, came to visit Chime for a site visit. I was unable to have a site visit to Chime during my training due to political issues in the country. Now things are cruising along fine and he was able to come mid PST to visit. I felt excited to talk to someone about Chime and the life that he was soon going to live. I showed him the schools, the health center, the good breakfast place, the shops and coffee places, and most of all introduced him to the compound family and showed him his future house,my home. It felt like a sense of closure for me. To know who was going to be replacing me and seeing him get along well with the family. As we walked around Adam had a sparkle in his eyes as he kept saying “Oh my God, it’s so beautiful here”. I would just smile and nod along.
As Adam was seeing everything for the first time and becoming excited about the two year adventure he was about to embark on, I was saying goodbye. It was hard for me to imagine that I had been living in this town for two whole years. It had been a wild and remarkable experience and having Adam here helped me realize that. With his fresh eyes he helped show me just how much I had learned, all that I had been through, how special this little town of Chime really is and all that I’m leaving behind.
Then during Adam’s last afternoon at site, we were sitting outside with the boys hanging out and I had grown quiet as I watched Adam and the boys get along well. It was saddening to think that it was all over. I was happy my replacement was getting along so well, but this was goodbye for me. As I sat starting to feel overwhelmed, it was as if my older brother Albert was feeling my breaking heart. He texted me the following:
I have no idea what it must feel like. To walk away from everything you know, people you love, known places, everyday faces to embark on a journey that is everything but familiar. Tasked with enduring the highest of highs and devastating lows without, without so much of what was, without your family at an immediate grasp.
Forced to create everything all over again.
To submit to a life that radiates radically of difference than the one that was once familiar to you.
To then once more, say farewell to those bonds and relationships created to soothe the initial transition and unfamiliarity.
To fall in love with a people, a culture, and your new family all the while knowing, your heart must break once more.
It’s something I can’t imagine, I’m not sure I could endure that type of heart work.
But, I know that, you, your work will endure in all of these lives that you’ve touched.
The hearts that you invaded won’t be in vain, I know you’ve imprinted yourself in theirs and they in yours.
While I’m so excited for the mending of our hearts here upon your return. It’s bittersweet, because while ours are rejoicing, others are breaking.
I pray that you can feel us, how ready we are to embrace, eager to lock eyes once more, to enjoy the sound of your laughter and company again.
I’m praying for strength for you. I know the coming days are going to be tough, but as has always been – we are ready.
We love you.
We got you.
Love you sista bean.”
As I started to read, my eyes started to water and I left the group of boys to walk into my house and let them fall for a quick second. It was what I needed. I read it and took a deep sigh. He understood. They understand.
“Oh my God, I’m going home.”
Home felt like a distance place, almost like a dream, but I knew that as soon as I was in their arms again, everything would be alright and they were going to help guide me through the transition. “What an amazing family I get to go home to” I thought. As I wiped the tears away, I smiled. It’s going to be hard, but it is going to be okay.
We saw Adam off. I made my way back to Chime and the last week countdown was officially on.
I spent most of my last week packing up my house and giving many of my belongings away. I had no desire to take any of my belongings home. For one, most could be used by Adam. For two, the family needed it more than I did. The family could feel the strings being frayed. They came to my house more and more to just sit and spend time with me.
They started to invite me more to eat with them and to just be in each other’s company. A few kept saying “What are we going to do” while their eyes welded up with tears. Each family made sure to give me their best coffee beans to take home and share with family. I walked around Chime saying goodbye to the schools, the teachers, the little kids, the health center staff, making my rounds as my time was coming to a close.
None of it felt real. None of it seemed like I was really leaving. I started taking more pictures and videos. I felt this fear overcome me. “I don’t want to forget this experience, I don’t want to forget people’s faces” I said to myself.
So I started asking people to take pictures with me. The coffee ladies,
the bus drivers,
the compound family,
I wanted to capture it all as I was scared about it becoming a distant memory.
I looked at my two year calendar on my wall and couldn’t believe I had lived here for two years. I had done it.
Holy hell….I did it?
I really did it. This whole Peace Corps dream I had for years.
As I just stared at this calendar. It felt unreal. I was becoming ready for the next chapter of my life even though I knew that leaving Ethiopia was going to sear my heart. But all good things must come to an end…that’s the saying isn’t it?
And then…it became my last day…