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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
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