Back to Amerik

What was thought to be my last view of the States for over 2 years…

The day didn’t get any easier after leaving Mankono Ba as the sept-place driver pulled up to Sitaba, my closest Peace Corps Volunteer’s village.

I watched a tear-filled goodbye between her and her dimbayalou (family) and then her dog, Siasia.

I felt like an intruder, witnessing an intimate and deep moment of their lives that simply wasn’t mine to share in – but there I was, sharing in it.

It was hard.

We didn’t say much for a long time – what was there to say? The day was filled with confusion over where to bring us until we finally arrived at the Thiés Training Center. The last pass through The Gambia as their borders threatened to close (this is why we were taken from our sites so quickly) was filled with even more fever-check and hand-washimg stations.

Most of the Sedhíou gang (which only consisted of 6 volunteers) went to Church that evening – Church being the name of the local drinking hole, ironic, I know – and quietly sipped beer, trying a laugh or smile often with little momentum.

The following days were absolutely chaotic as 300+ volunteers filtered in and out of the small training center compound, emotions heightened.

All rules were abandoned and each day was filled with binge drinking and utter disarray, to the point I broke my nose and made other far poorer decisions - as did many other volunteers I heard.
Part of my daily walk to the Casamance River.

News was delivered Tous on Thursday that the following day, Friday, at 12 AM, Senegalese airspace was officially closed to travel – our chartered flight wasn’t scheduled to leave until the next week. Thoughts of being stuck in Thiés were flashing through my mind.

The next day we were told to get our belongings together, we were leaving in waves to the airport as soon as possible. I was on the last wave…

I can’t tell you how much I would’ve rather been sitting at Banta Batu with my closest site mate from my stagé drinking La Gazelles (the best beer option in Senegal, in my humble taste bud’s opinion)

We had a chartered flight, filled to capacity with every last Senegalese and Gambian Peace Corps Volunteer.

It was utter, drunken chaos (a theme of evacuation) as volunteers haggled their seats and swayed down the aisles. All airline regulation rules were forgotten and abandoned – it was every volunteer for themselves as people tried to sit with their favorite people and best friends one last time.

A silence fell over the plane as we took off and left the ground, thereby officially leaving our Peace Corps service and Senegalese lives behind. 
This was the day I got my official site announcement – my beaming smile is evidence of my excitement to live here for the next couple years.

Arriving back stateside was no less surreal.

Standing at customs, answering questions the officer prompted me, my head numb from all that had happened, plus a scabbed-over nose from my drunken shinanigans, I was reminded what a small world it was – and that I truly was back stateside.

The officer and I had both attended the same college and had both lived in Tifton, Georgia. Somehow we found ourselves discovering this after a minute or two of conversation, and moreover allowing the unlikely statistics to pass through our minds that we should find ourselves in the same customs line, out of 300+ other volunteers, and of all odds, in Washington DC.

Truly the most surreal part happened next as stateside Peace Corps workers stood in the airport holding signs that read “Welcome Home“.

It was as if we were soldiers coming back from war.

My first view of Senegal, ~6 months after I arrived back stateside.
My family and I used to hold very similar signs amongst many other families when my dad, and the other families soldiers, came home from deployment.

I emotionally was unable to stay and say goodbye after I picked up my bags, I just left and found myself on the shuttle bus taking us to the hotel. Tears came as I settled into my seat next to one of my friends from service. I realized a lot of people were crying still too.

So much culture shock as I flopped onto a huge comfy bed and ran a hot bath.

I would use that much water in a week in Senegal.

My host dad writing my Senegalese name in the sand as we waited one day for my bed frame to be made…

A day layover in DC turned into beer runs and small parties before we all simply went to be alone at the end of the day.

Going back to the airport to fly into Atlanta was equally wild as nearly every soul present in the deserted airport were returned Peace Corps Volunteers from all over the world, their services likewise cut short.

I was unhappy about going home but also ready to be just get there and have this part be over.

Johnny and Sarah were waiting by the luggage picked up when I arrived. Sarah told me she felt like they had just dropped me off at the airport the other day to leave…

A quick goodbye to the last Peace Corps Volunteer I would see for quite a while and then I was home with my cats.

One of the many bush paths winding through the forests of my village, Mankono Ba..

That’s it for now, folks! With all the love in my heart,


To contribute to her continued journey:

  • PayPal –
  • Venmo – @Elizabeth-Buttram-1
  • CashApp – $ElizabethButtram

Published by roaminglizard

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