Our Close of Service conference has come and gone. Heaps of bureaucratic paperwork and exercises about proper closer and that twinge in my throat as someone distant and significant hugs me goodbye forever.
In addition to preparing us, Peace Corps was also thanking us. One night they piled our remaining 48 volunteers (originally 61) and took us to a game park at sunset. We were greeted with picnic tables of mimosas and then ushered onto three large vehicles for our twilight game drive. After a six elephants, three kudu, tiny warthog babies and a journey of giraffe we came across a clearing in the bush. It was dark by then and someone had set a bonfire.
At the bush “braii” (bbq) we got to enjoy traditional Tswana fare (butternut, chicken, papa, cold slaw) mixed with rare American delicacies like garlic bread and hard, red, seedless watermelon (Botswana’s watermelons are typically soft, pink and besieged by seeds, so we were particularly impressed with this desert and filled our plates with giant juicy slices)
In addition to the braii there were several other decadent meals and the Counterpart Dinner where the dessert bar was almost as long as the dinner buffet. Three volunteers gave speeches in fluent Setswana and five Batswana health professionals thanked us and a representative from the United States Embassy gave a poignant speech that left us feeling appreciated, heroic and nostalgic. We wore dresses and ties and took millions of photos hugging our counterparts.
By the end of the weekend everyone’s stomachs ached after the dramatic shift from village fare to the American-style feasts. On the last morning I carried this ache under a heap of papers and a gnawing sense that I didn’t have the words to say good-bye. And sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we said “Oh, I’m sure I’ll see you again” or “You’ll be in Gabs before you go, right? Call me.” Sometimes we avoided eye contact. Sometimes we squeezed hands and said nothing.
Brad hugged me and said “we did it” into my hair. And that was enough.
Back in the village I spread the stack of papers across my couch and tables and start drafting a “to do” list. I have 8 weeks and one US visitor remaining plus three reports, a week of medical appointments and 22 documents to complete. The list makes me feel more organized but I still find myself lying awake in bed and thinking of people’s faces and counting weekends.
In the last weeks before leaving America I dreampt over and over that I’d lost my shoes. Different scenes but in every one I was frantically searching for my boots. Someone assured me it was just transitional stress and a fear that I wasn’t prepared.
My dreams have become more vivid again. Especially since the conference.
In the one that returns I am standing in our school hallway and the electricity is out. I’m fumbling for the key to my office and it is pouring outside. The building is empty and when I look down the hallway I see a locked door with a small window. Beyond the window are hundreds of my students and they are pressed against the glass and calling for me. The rain is beating so loudly and I look at them and then the floor, and then back to them. They continue banging and calling to me. Over and over. And I stand in that long, dark hallway with a broken key and a locked door. And I am frozen.