Oofta. I titled this blog, “Where the Soul Is” Building a Home in The Gambia. I didn’t ever really think about what I would do with this blog when that home was built, and my time was finished in said home. I have toiled over what I should write. So, I am going to just write, ok?
Did I ever really build a home in The Gambia? Physically, you betcha. I painted, personalized, and lived in my little grass roof hut erry single day. I found refuge in its cool shade. I cohabited with a rat that I couldn’t seem to get myself to kill. But, what about my heart? Did I ever really feel at home? I have asked myself this a lot. Was I ever comfortable, happy, joyful to come “home”. Well, I am going to say…no. In my physical home in village, I slowly became miserable due to people who refused to let me integrate. People that belittled me daily. Made me cry only to mock me after they broke me. Stole from me. Left me shivering for months during rainy season as my roof allowed monsoons to flood my space. “Forgot” to feed me. I cannot trick myself into believing that, that was my home.
I was distraught at this realization.
This was not how it was supposed to be! I was supposed to love my host family, practically be Gambian to them, share many special moments, have a big going away party at the end!
Disclaimer, I lived with 45 people, so I do want to recognize that there were family members that I did get close to and loved deeply, babies that I doted on every single day, and really special moments shared.
The whole thing is complicated, though. When things start going wrong, month after month, and the people that you consider family don’t advocate for you or protect you…it’s hard. The whole thing was hard. The whole thing broke my heart.
So, I have been every emotion in the book as of lately. Sad, devastated, afraid, distrusting, mad, furious, helpless, frustrated, depressed, hopeless, alive, excited, disappointed, relieved. It’s almost comical how my emotions changed day by day. Comical or terrifying..maybe ask some of my friends about that one…
I struggled a lot with anger. This is the first time that I have really felt anger the way I did. “How could they treat me so poorly?” “I gave up so much to do this, and no one even cares!” “Why did he do this to me?!” “Why is everyone using me?” “WHY WILL NO ONE HELP ME?” I was pissed off. Sometimes when I look back at how Peace Corps The Gambia handled the situation, I am still pissed off. But, I am working on not being that way, because those feelings don’t help anything in the long run. Not for my soul that is. Anger is permissible. It is an emotion that has it’s place, but in my anger, I absolutely said things that I didn’t want to, tore people down, allowed myself to be downright rude. I don’t like being that person.
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”
I stayed in my village for so long, though. How could I not have a “home”? Well, I quickly realized this. My home was not a home. My home was a people. I found my home and my happiness in my Gambian friends that loved me and appreciated me every day. Isatou, my counterpart and adopted grandma; my home was in her welcoming hugs every time I saw her. My home was the school. The handshakes and grins that welcomed me every day. My home was Roots Tribe Yoga. The group of girls that stole my heart and gave me a reason to feel alive! My home was the boys that were excited about gender equality, and so proudly aided their female peers. My home was every mother that trusted me to hold her baby, the women who openly talked to me about family planning, the women who asked me to hold their hand as they received injections that would create a healthier life for their family.
My home was the Peace Corps Community. Some volunteers prefer to “stay away from other PCVs”…I will never understand that. My site mates and friends across the Gambia have brought me so much joy. This goes for the people that I came into country with, the ones that were older than me and so willing to help and support me, the ones that came after me and went from my little “trainees” to my friends, the one who has stolen my heart. I have made the best of friends because of Peace Corps. Those people were my home.
I did build a home. That home was built by relationships. It occurred to me that, shouldn’t that always be the case? What is a hut? A house? An apartment? A tent? A city? A state? A country? Those physical things are not our homes. The life and relationships that we have there make up a home. The home I built in The Gambia was so incredibly amazing! I only hope that those people, those groups, my village, my teachers…I only hope that they know how much I love them.
Now, I am back in my original home with my mom and sister. I think that I have hugged my baby sister over 100 times already. I love my childhood home, but boy do I love the people in it more.
In the end, my service ended earlier than expected, I had to pack in a tizzy, I was not allowed to ever move back into my village, I wasn’t able to say goodbye to everyone I wanted to, and, because of circumstances that were out of my control, I was given the option to leave, still receiving all of my benefits. After a lot of prayer, thought, pros and cons lists, unfortunate circumstances and tears, I decided that it made sense to go.
So yeah. If you are curious and would like to have a full story or if you have any questions about my experience or about my opinions on Peace Corps, I am so happy to chat via fb, email, whatever. All I really can say is that I am in a place where I regret nothing. I am so very proud of what I was able to accomplish. I am so blessed to have made such incredible relationships. I have learned and grown so much. Peace Corps was my childhood dream and I DID IT! If I were to go back in time, before all of this, before pressing that “willing to go anywhere I am needed” button, you can bet that I would do this all over again. I am an RPCV, was able to live in a village for just under 24 months, learned an unwritten language…gosh…I was able to experience so much.
My journey didn’t end or even pan out most of the time like that picturesque version of the “Peace Corps experience”. If you are even considering doing this, remember, if your service is not perfect, is not glowing, is really fricking hard, THAT IS OK! That is the experience. It’s yours, and your personal experience will shape you. This is life, man! I won some and I lost some, but looking back, I think I won a lot more in the grand scheme of things.
Before you ask, I am not 100% sure about what is next. I was supposed to have a tad more time to figure that all out, but that is OK. I am going to enjoy some time with my family, now. Find out where I fit in again. If I thought West Africa was an adventure, this next one is about to be one for the books, as well.
This blog may change a little bit in the next few days, weeks, and months, but if you want to stick around for my next chapter, please do. I’m so exited.