Thursday, August 6, 2009

A Final Sunset

Years have passed into months, months into weeks, weeks into days, and now I am counting the hours left in Chargel. Reflecting over my time here in Chargel isn't easy, as so much has happened during my stay here it's difficult to take it all in.

I suppose I could define my time here by the work I've focused on: The women's garden that still has an uncertain future. The skills center, where I have spent so much time promoting new projects and further education opportunities. The "current events club," where I got to answer some of the most random and obscure Pulaar. Helping with sporting events at the school. Celebrating a successful bee-keeping workshop. Promoting new agriculture techniques, fuel reduction strategies, and sanitation ideas. Helping put up new houses and roofs. Promoting chicken, duck and rabbit production organizations. Helping write the "Articles of Confederation" fora Gambia-wide peanut co-op. Or traveling throughout my region of Gambia, promoting and judging tree nurseries.

I feel good knowing that my time here leaves with the community of Chargel, and indeed the surrounding area, an enhanced potential for continued education, improved nutrition, reforestation, strategies for better health, income generation, and a new degree of self-empowerment.

But the work I've done really doesn't do justice to defining my time here, as that inevitably comes down to the interactions I've had, the friendships I've enjoyed, and the relationships that have been built.

The people of Chargel have never ceased to amaze me with their immense hospitality, their level of understanding, and the way they continue to appreciate and respect this young "toubab" living among them. I will forever be in debt to my host family, Ceesay Kunda, for the generosity and care they have shown over these past two years. None of the "work" I've done can pay back such an experience as this has been.

I can never forget: The day I rode a horse cart three hours (one way) with my friends to go pick mangoes near the river. Waking up in the middle of the night to the sounds of a baby crying as it endered the world. Mourning the loss of a friend. Teaching the kids how to throw a frisbee and blow bubbles. Getting taught how to play football. (soccer) Getting caught and drenched in a rainstorm while out int he middle of the fields weeding. Being a part of the process of helping my friends find a wife. Sitting and chatting with the older men under shade trees during the heat of the day. Enjoying the local hospitality of Gambians when my bike leads me down the wrong road and I can't reach home before dark. Spending the afternoons shelling peanuts with Baladi. Or playing cards with Batch, Modi, Samba and all the guys. Learning to pound coos and cook local foods with Nyana and Fatou. Learning Arabic from Lawo. And lying under the full moon with a most gorgeous sky of stars, drilling Saikou with question after question about life in Gambia, while listening to drumming and singing from just a few compounds away.

Suffice it to say, my time here has certainly been nothing short of amazing.

But just as any season changes, my time here is coming to a close. The anxiety is intense, not wanting to say good-bye to Chargel, yet excited to see family and friends in the States. Not ready to end this chapter of my life, yet more than ready to touch down in Jordan, where an entirely new experience, full of new opportunities and friendships awaits.

While I wish I could be leaving under different circumstances, if there is one lesson my time here has reinforced, it's that life is quite unpredictable. And while we might not have much control over what happens, we do have control over how we react to it, and what we gain in the process.

I can't thank you all enough for the support and encouragement you have offered me here. Your letters, emails, calls and packages have been greatly enjoyed, and your prayers felt. My time here hasn't been easy, but it has been good.

So, as the sun sets on my experience here one last time, I can't help but realize that my years in Gambia have truly made me a different person. As the line in "Wicked" says, "I have been changed for good." And I'm excited to see you all soon; to catch up on what has been going on in your lives.

All the best, and see you soon!

As the ending of my time in Gambia is truly just another beginning, please follow along with me as I soon venture out to Jordan, where I will serve with Peace Corps as a "Youth Development" volunteer beginning October 22, 2009. What all does that entail? Find out at:
"The Life and Times of a PCV...Again..."