If you have ever looked forward to a traveling vacation and been watching the calendar as the date approaches (SO slowly you could die), you know that transitional feeling…from where you are deeply immersed in your ‘regular’ life and vacation seems like a fantasy, to where you start to realize that you are really, really going to be getting on a plane, to where the inevitability of it all is undeniable.
Well, I’m well into that second phase of my departure from Ouaga and ISO. I’ve gone through the deniable stage where I know I’m leaving, but it all seems so unreal and nebulous. I’ve gone through that process where I’ve slowly (oh, so slowly and painfully…I mean, why am I doing this?) packed up my house into boxes, gotten rid of clutter, sold my car and all my non-essential belongings, and watched a truck drive off with it all. And now I’m in that stage where I’m living out of two suitcases in the empty shell of a building, waiting for the last week to click down to where I am on my way to the airport. Where every parting is that legendary ‘sweet sorrow’ where I don’t know if I’ll see that person again. Ever.
Leaving Burkina. And I have a lot of mixed emotions about it.
On one hand, i”m glad to be going. I opted not to renew my contract back in December with eyes open. This is a very hot, dry, isolating place to be. I rely on air conditioning to make my life bearable, so I spend 10 hours a day in my air conditioned office, then about 7:00 at night I come home to my air conditioned house. This means I have spent little time meeting my neighbors finding things to do socially, and feeling very lonely and isolated. In all honestly, this last year was the most brutal time I have ever had dealing with loneliness and isolation and the associated depression, so when the time came to renew for another year, it wasn’t a hard call to decide to go. And then there are the power cuts. And the water cuts. And the roads. And the language barrier that inhibits easy conversation. And the floods and droughts and coups and bureaucracy and inability to go fishing or camping or even on a good road trip. Yeah, it was an easy call.
On the other hand, there is a process of adjusting to Burkina that people talk about that involves coming to acceptance with the shortcomings and seeing the wonderment, and now that it has happened I have deep regrets about leaving this place. Everybody talks about the heat, the dust, the isolation, the loneliness of being here at first. But once that shell starts to crack, it really gets nice…and that’s what has started happening in the past 2-3 months for me. I’ve started to develop a social circle of really interesting, fine, like-minded people….the kind of folks you feel really comfortable with, who you feel like you’ve known forever and who value you (and you value them) for the similarities you have in your worldview. Just today, as a treat for the great guys who work for me, I decided to order pizza for lunch. I called a local restaurant, and a voice answered. I instantly recognized it as my friend Amine, who is half-owner I said “Hey, Amine…it’s Myron. I want to order three pizzas for the guys for lunch. Make up three different ones I’d like, and have them delivered to the school.” That was it…it was an order like someone who had lived in a small town for their whole life would be able to put in. Amine made up three pizzas that were exactly how I liked, the driver brought them to where I work without needing any directions, the guards let the driver in (as they know who he is) and he knew the way to my office without needing directions. That kind of ‘home town familiarity’ doesn’t come easily to a global nomad like me, but its all over this town now. And after only two years.
There are plenty more stories like this. I stopped by a friend’s house just now to drop off some foodstuffs I had that I could not take with me, and the guard said she was not home. He and I conversed (in French, which I still think is so cool) and I told him to tell her that the stuff was from me. I didn’t give a name or anything, but he said “OK, Mr Myron. Have a safe journey.” He knew who I was, he knew I was leaving, he knew it was permanent, and he wished me well. What more could an ex-pat want to feel ‘at home’ in a foreign country than to know that the community of guards are looking out for you.
The same with the workers at school. They have all found time to find me, one-on-one, to say farewell and thank me. I always take the time to converse with them, to treat them with honesty and fairness, and as a result, they know who I am.
I guess people who work in International Schools fall into two categories, as far as ‘home’ goes. There are those who have roots somewhere….they own a house in Minnesota where they go for every vacation, or they stay with their parents ever summer in Colorado, or have a community in Seattle who welcome them back every year. Then there are those like me who feel like their international travels are an excuse to look for a place to settle down, buy a house, develop a community, put down roots. In many ways, I feel like Ouaga has a great many of the elements that I am looking for: authentically kind and generous people, a simple and uncomplicated lifestyle, safe, natural, affordable, with a community of worldly people who ‘get it’, and who are welcoming and non-judgemental. When I hold up that idealistic view of a ‘Great Place to Settle Down for the Long Run’, this place ticks a lot of boxes.
So I depart in a week, a bit torn. Between the time I was asked to renew my contract and now, I have found my feet here and made friends and felt welcomed in a great many ways. It makes me immensely sad to be leaving…I feel like I’m only mid-conversation and there is so much more to see and do.
On the other hand, my feelings were not wrong: it really IS hot and dry and isolating, and I know that departure gives a type of rose-colored glasses to everything. And the die is cast…my replacement is hired, I have a new job, the wheels have turned and there is no benefit to holding on to regrets.
So my official stance is this: I did well here. I did a great job as Tech Director, I passed that ‘social test’ of being welcomed and accepted, I created a very fine place to live, I surrounded myself with things of moral and intellectual value, and people are sad to see me go, just as I am sad to be leaving them.
And in this world of being a Global Nomad….that is the definition of success. So au revoir, Burkina Faso…..and thank you. I’ll miss you.