you were in your bubble.
words can’t explain how happy you were. photos don’t even come close either.
pigs. puppies. parties. so much was happening in and near your village.
so many plans.
but a text message telling to consolidate interrupted all that.
so you found yourself in koutiala with ten others in a constant mode of suspense.
the koutiala group might be all smiles in photographs.
but inside everyone is thinking the same thing.
what is going on in mali? and what does it mean for us? when can we go back to village? this is all just a big joke, right? what will make peace corps decide to evacuate? where is the president? what’s going up in the north? when is the electricity going to come back? why do we have to stay together? when will the banks reopen so i can withdraw some money? why why why?
unfortunately the answers just aren’t there.
so what do you do when you’re in a two bedroom house with ten other people?
you go outside and lay under the mango trees.
or you spend hours observing overweight pigeons.
flirt, fight, eat, make love – you are now an expert on what pigeons do all day.
but your favorite thing to do while stuck in koutiala is to eat mangos.
mango pistachio tart. tuna mango salad. mango bread. chopped mangos and yogurt. you can’t get enough of malian grafted mangos.
time is spent baking.
time is spent cooking.
example: homemade meatballs.
but even with all that cooking and eating, it doesn’t change the feeling of being cooped up.
fresh air is necessary.
everyone piles into the back of a motorcycle taxi.
it’s quite the fun ride.
off the paved road, past groups of mango trees, where exactly are you going?
to the hospital.
bare walls. stark walls. empty walls.
but not for long.
it begins with some sketching.
then some painting.
lots of teamwork.
what better way to pass time than painting health related murals?
a visual aid is the perfect way of reinforcing the idea that washing your hands with soap is a good thing.
it also helps everyone take their mind away from unsettled worries.
that’s really the best strategy for staying sane when an entire country is crumbling around you.
an email titled deconsolidation.
(most) everyone has permission to go back to their village.
you are on a bus and on a bike before anyone has a chance to blink.
you are so happy to be back in your bubble. to take a shower in your roofless bathroom. to enjoy the shade of the neem tree outside your house. to say hello to everyone. to eat with your host family. to give away M&M chocolate to your favorite kids.
you sleep once again outdoors on your porch.
a perfect sleep. because you didn’t realize it would be your last.
the next morning. a text message.
“we are being reconsolidated. you have to come back to koutiala today.”
how, how, how do you tell your neighbors and host family and friends that you just got back, you have to leave, and you have no idea if you’ll be able to return?
this is no evacuation – it’s just reconsolidation – there is no word on what peace corps will decide. so you can’t say a goodbye because you very well could come back in a few days.
you can only think of one thing to say. waatimin hera be segin malila, ne be segin fana. when peace comes back to mali, i will come back too.
but your gut feeling tells you that this is the last glimpse you have of your village.
your last eight kilometer bike ride.
eight kilometers of tears.
even thought you aren’t sure, you can’t stop crying.
you never knew a bike ride – which usually makes you so happy – could be so sad.
you make it back to koutiala. and the waiting game restarts. everyone is cooped up again.
but not for long.
because the email arrives a few hours later that night. 9:06 PM exactly. the evacuation email.
now the tears really start to fall.
but you can’t cry for long. you’ve got things to do. such as packing.
the next morning, you say goodbye to your last koutiala mango.
you also say goodbye to the koutiala pigeons.
and a goodbye to the region of sikasso as you head back to bamako.
you never said goodbye to your village.
the sadness you feel is balanced out by one thing, and one thing only: the happy anticipation of seeing your two yala yala buddies whom you haven’t seen in over two months.