As you’ve probably heard, Peace Corps Washington is in the process of evacuating Volunteers and Trainees from Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Guinea due to the Ebola virus. My thoughts have been with these Volunteers and their communities. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be forced to leave your community, and to leave behind all your friends, knowing that if something happens, you were protected because you’re American, but your friends aren’t so lucky.
I’m not nearly in the same situation. But I am in the process of leaving my village, and leaving Benin. It’s been difficult.
First of all, there are the physical difficulties of leaving. I am unfortunately not being replaced (partly because the mayor stole my rent money, partly because Peace Corps Washington is nervous about my being so close to Nigeria, which is mostly ridiculous, but I digress).
This means nobody is moving into my house, so I have to get rid of everything. This presents a few issues, chief among them that I don’t have a latrine, so anything in my house I need to throw away but don’t want children to find and play with, I will have to burn.
I also have to distribute all my belongings without causing undue amounts of jealousy and bad feelings. This is a Herculean task, since views on ownership, gifts, friendship, and jealousy are often radically different from my American viewpoint. I know it’s impossible to give away all my stuff without causing some jealousy and bad feelings, but I would like to try to mitigate it as much as possible, since it’s unlikely there will be an American in my village again (at least for the foreseeable future).
I also have to arrange to get a large chunk of my stuff to the Peace Corps office in Cotonou. This includes my gas tanks, mattress, any Peace Corps issued books, my (broken) solar lamp, the remaining contents of my medical kit, my water filter, and anything else I want to take home with me. I’m also selling my couch and a table and chairs to a friend who is doing his third year in Cotonou, so we’ll have to fit all of this in one taxi. Which is not a problem, Beningenuity will allow the taxi driver to find a way to tie all of that down on the roof for anything that doesn’t fit inside. No, the problem is more hiring a taxi that will actually arrive relatively on time, and take me where I need to go without price-gouging me. Plus since it’s Oro season, there are fewer taxis in the area, so I’ll have less choice.
Beyond the actual packing and cleaning, there’s the emotional toll of leaving. I have to say goodbye to the people who have helped me in some of my darkest moments, and who have witnessed the accomplishments I’m most proud of. The people who taught me how to carry water on my head, and how to keep a class of 45 middle school-ers interested in English grammar. The people who have become my friends. The people who have become my family. The people who I know I won’t see in the next couple years, and may never see again.
I’m not really ready for this. I’m still in the denial phase, and probably will be up until the taxi pulls away with me in it. But I know I’ll be bawling as they take me out of here. Because as much as I complain about how hard it can be to live and work here, it’s become my home.