Months before my last days in Founzan I was getting excited at the opportunity to write about leaving. I’d probably come up with some kind of beautiful, articulate way to express the drastic contrast of emotions I’d be experiencing—those conflicting feelings you get when you’re simultaneously going to see old friends and family again and say goodbye to all your new ones. And then the last days came and it was too much to write. During my final days in Burkina, one of my closest friends wrote a rap for me in English about how much he’d miss me; my community counterpart took public transport from Founzan to Ouaga and back in one day (~4 hours and no legroom both ways) just to buy me a beer; the first Burkinabè friend I made in country, a guy named Guy, gave me a traditional Bwaba blanket that belonged to his father who passed away when Guy was in high school.
People ask if I’ll ever go back to Burkina. I think anyone who’s read these entries or listened to me talk about my experiences in person know the answer already, but I welcome the question because it sets me up for an articulate response: I tell them that knowing I’ll go back was the only way I could allow myself to leave. How could I possibly make these connections and live in that community for two years to leave and never come back? Similarly, the Burkinabè response to my departure is to demand why I’m “going home and leaving them there”. In the same way, I tell them that isn’t possible. Africa isn’t a place I feel like I can leave–it’s a part of me–and I’ll be going back to it for the rest of my life.
After a relatively underwhelming close of service ceremony in Ouaga (as in, relative to a traditional Bwaba blanket from a best friend, a small Peace Corps Burkina pin from my boss doesn’t seem so cool), some friends and I jumped ship for Togo, Ghana, and Côte d’Ivoire, a little post-PC West Africa vacation. It was remarkable how nice the roads and geography got in the minutes after we crossed the Southeastern border to Togo, and hard to imagine that a culture could be so similar to Burkina’s and also have a beach. We did our best not to get jealous of the Volunteer who lived on the cliffs near Dapaong that looked out for miles over the valley’s villages and lakes, or the fact that in Ghana they sell fresh oysters on a stick for like $0.20 and there are beach resorts all along the coast with hilarious Rastas selling percussion instruments and patterned parachute pants. The drive through Southeastern Côte d’Ivoire was through beautiful banana and palm tree groves over rolling hills, and Abidjan was like an enormous, developed Ouagadougou, with malls and sushi restaurants and freeways that sprawled out for miles and miles. I missed Burkina.
The day after I returned home in September, the Burkina Catholic Delegation for the Family (a group of eight USA first timers that I agreed to help show around the Mid-Atlantic) arrived in Philadelphia for the Catholic World Meeting of Families Conference. It was a really special way to transition back to life in North America: after two years of being welcomed, taken care of, and led around Burkina, I got to turn around and return the favor. And I had a lot of help too–from meals and lodging offered up by generous host families in State College and Philadelphia, to the good people of NYC who didn’t completely flip out at us when we would literally stop in the middle of the sidewalk to take pictures next to large, potted plants–thanks so much to everyone involved in making the trip possible.
In their almost three week stay, the group got to attend a huge Catholic conference in Philly, see the Pope in person, and visit State College, NYC, and DC, but I think my favorite memory with them was at the Philly Pretzel Factory in Jefferson Station the morning of the first conference day. After trying to explain what a pretzel is (“salty piece of bread”, I think I said) to the uninterested group, I bought myself one in the subway to eat on the walk to the conference. Upon seeing the weird processed knot of dough, a couple Burkinabè in the group changed their minds and had me get in line with them to translate their orders. Once we were through the line and had our Philly Pretzel Factory pretzels, some others in the group noticed and showed interest in that greasy pretzel-wrapped hotdog thing and I had to get back in line with them to translate their orders. Meanwhile, the first few patrons of our group have all received winning Philly Pretzel Factory lotto tickets with their orders that grant them free pretzels and dips and buy-one-get-one greasy pretzel hotdog offers so they all want to get back in line as well to claim their winnings. The nine of us turn into a perpetual pretzel consumption machine: order pretzel, scratch lotto ticket, redeem prize, repeat, and we spend 30 minutes on the bench by the Philly Pretzel Factory eating pretzels and sharing dips and winning prizes.
The Philly Pretzel Factory in Jefferson Station exists solely to save time. It’s fast food, the pretzels are disgusting, and their whole mission statement is that if you hand them a small amount of money they’ll hand you a pretzel and you can leave the subway to do more important things. Time is money, fast pretzels save time, etc. In Burkina however, time is time and money is scarce, so when you find cheap pretzels and a lotto ticket promotional offer that gives out free stuff with every order you slow down and enjoy the pretzels.
And now I’m unemployed and live with my parents. Let’s not dwell on that though, let’s talk about how before I left Founzan I wanted to leave little gifts for the neighbors and friends I made over the years, so I carried around my digital camera and took pictures of myself with some of my favorite people in town. I want to close things up here by sharing that.
I’ve loved writing on here. Thanks to everyone for reading and encouraging me to do so, and to my mom for always linking to me on her Facebook page and spamming our extended family with mass emails about me. I couldn’t have done it without you.
Burkina Faso RPCV, 2013 – 2015