Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year!

Fini – My Last Post

I’ve been extremely busy since I arrived home in the good ole U.S.A., six months now.   Huh?

I have been wanting to post an update, my very last post, with an ending that is all neatly tied up to answer any lingering questions people might still have.   I offer a final statement or explanation for all those people who asked, “Why?”   or “What was it like?  What did you learn?”  I would like some closure, whatever that means and…FINI for all those other people who could not care less about why or what it was like and do not wonder at all, what I learned.  As a good friend told me, “You’re not in Togo anymore, it’s time to move on.”  Thanks friend.

Coming home was a lot harder than I thought it would be.  It’s nothing I’ve been able to articulate well.  I wanted to act “normal.”  Breeze back into life in the United States with grace and without any drama.  I would be aware that there were huge waves of change happening all around me.  I often reminded myself to go with the flow.   I think a few people that rode those waves with me got real tired, real fast, and ended up thinking it was all just too damn much trouble, and then a few who I didn’t completely alienate with my far off stares or delayed responses decided to wait until I landed again.  I was reassured by them, that I would be ok.  Thanks to all those who waited!    Ohhhhh If I knew then, what I know now.

Beyond happy to be home, to see my friends and family.  I just wanted to sit and be quiet and be with them.  I didn’t want to talk much.  I wanted to listen, to observe, to find a comfortable place to just be for a little while.  I felt much like a robot.  “Just tell me where to go, and what to do…please.”    I really did develop a new found love and appreciation for America.   It felt good to be back, but so many huge adjustments.  In Africa I practically lived outside for two years.  When I got back it was really hard for me to be in small, confined spaces.  I would have anxiety attacks.   It was also very difficult for me to just stay put in one place.  When I first got home I just kept feeling like there was something I should be doing.   My life had been very uncomplicated for those two years.  Shouldn’t I be filling my pails of water? Or fixing my bike,  or going to my weekly meetings?   I wanted to feel productive, but had nothing to produce.

 I noticed abundance everywhere.  It wasn’t something that bothered me, but I noticed it and tried to put it in perspective.  Shiny cars.  It seemed everyone in America had a shiny, clean, new car.  I watched them whiz by with amazement, saying… “ohhhh that’s a pretty car.”  The roads and streets were like a dream.  Clean, everything was orderly.  The grocery stores and department stores felt surreal.  In grocery stores I would literally run my hand along the rail in the produce section as I walked the aisle, and I would feel sad.  All this beautiful food.  People in my village starving.  How do I equalize these crazy juxtapositions in my mind.  The best description I could come up with was I felt untethered.   Lost.  Scared.  That’s all I felt for weeks and weeks.  But I tried to be “normal.”

 I recognize now that I was indeed going through the stages of grief when I got home.  A friend pointed it out to me.  It helped to put a name to the things I was feeling.  "Look how much you have lost in such a short amount of time," she said.  "You cannot astrally project through this, you have to go through the stages, to get to the other side."  Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance.   I even still have a way to go.  I repeated to friends and relatives…”No I’m not different, I have NOT changed; I just haven’t readjusted yet.”  I really think that’s true.  I don’t believe that I fundamentally changed because of my Peace Corps experience.  I do see, for me, there is a process I went through; a bridge from there to here.  A bridge filled with pitfalls.   It felt familiar to me, to be on this bridge.  The uncertainty, the loneliness, the feeling of loss, the sadness, the cultural differences, hopeful expectations and fear that you will never get your life back.  These feelings flooded my mind, all in one fell swoop.  Why are these feelings familiar?  Because they are the same feelings I had when I arrived in Togo.   What made those feelings tolerable when I got to Togo was that I knew I would be returning to the people and places I love.  Re-entry was different.  It is highly unlikely that I will ever see my Togo friends again.  And that has made my transition harder.  Because I really grew to love them.  I grieved that I would never, ever see Mahsoblee, or Aloughba, or Honou again.   I grieved that I would not see the beautiful children of L'ecole No. 5 or hear them chant my name as I arrived at the school.  I grieved I would no longer hear my neighbor singing in her courtyard as she washed her clothes.   I grieved and missed my Sunday walk to church; my favorite time of the week. I grieved that I would never again see the neighborhood kids,  Regina, Gabriel, Leah, Fidel; all my little friends.   In addition I had to grieve losing my house for good, and a few dear friends I seemed to have lost along the way.  Friends who wondered where the Terry they once knew went.  Friends who had their own very real struggles and were working to survive in their own day to day living right here in America. 

And then….I wondered.  I wondered if the programs we built in Togo were sustainable.  I wondered if I had made a difference.

Little by little I rejoined this magnificent world of opportunity and optmism I now live in.  Little by little I have accepted my losses and focused on my new life.

I do have news. Good news!  Sister Modesta has emailed me two times.  She works at the hospital in Kouve.  She tells me that Mahsoblee has been to the hospital for her checkups and is doing well.  She thanks me for my support and offers God’s blessing.  Knowing that I have a pretty solid line of communication to Mahsoblee’s health eased my mind greatly. For the first few months I was so on edge, for many reasons, but I think what made me the most restless was not knowing if my plans to continue to help Mahsoblee would work. It did work, and it does work.

Father Apolo, the Catholic Priest in Tchekpo emails me at least once a month.  He sends his greetings and gives me little updates on Mahsoblee.  I took Mahsoblee and her gramma to meet him before I left.  He agreed to be part of the process that will keep her well.   Mahsoblee and her gramma go to him once a month and get money from him for the bush taxi and moto to get to the hospital.  It also gives him the opportunity to encourage both of them spiritually and emotionally. 

I did manage to set up a nice little chain of caretakers for Mahsoblee.  For those of you who helped  and followed her story; she is doing well.  In addition to Sister Modesto and Father Apolo, I also have been in contact with Honou Koffi and David.  They all have visited with Mahsoblee and her gramma.

When I left Tchekpo, during that final week; many friends and acquaintances came by my house to say goodbye and wish me well.  I sold most of my things, but there were a few nice things I gave away to favorite people.  They were grateful for the gift and they would ask me if there was anything they could do for me in return.   I asked them to please help take care of Mahsoblee.  Please stop in and visit with her gramma and make sure she has enough vegetables and eggs to eat.  Remind her to drink lots of water and to sleep under her mosquito net.  Hug her.  They all promised me they would  take care of her and not to worry.  So I picture that happening.   I picture the whole village watching over her.  I believe Mahsoblee will have people looking out for her for many years to come.   Mahsoblee’s sweet, sweet nature and her strong self confidence inspires people to want to help her.

For more about Mahsoblee -

What I miss
I miss Mahsoblee.  I think of her all the time.  I just plain miss her, miss that smile and the cute little look she always had on her face.  I miss her putting her hands on her hips in mock defiance, but most of all I miss her giggle.  I can conjure it up in my mind, and it will seem so real that it makes me smile. 

I think of my life in Africa every day.   My thoughts inevitably turn to…was I really there??  It’s hard to bring it all into focus.  I often find myself somewhere, a super huge grocery store, a museum, a beautiful park; and wonder what someone in my village would think of all of this.

I miss my friends a lot.   I miss the moto’s.  I even miss the heat.   I miss the beating drums and the roosters in the early morning.  Now I wake to the Chicago L rumbling by.  What a contrast.  Was I really there?  I miss the kids the most.  Just as I thought I would.  I integrate nicely into my new urban environment.  I am one of a million blurry faces to the pedestrians who pass me by.  Invisible.   No ones eyes light up when they see me coming, and no one shouts my name, or runs towards me with open arms. 

Jack and Cooper....nuff said

Oh wait!!!
Except for Dorothy and Alex and Jack and Cooper.  My three year old granddaughter Dorothy  smiles this coy, mischevious little smile and likes to play jokes on me every morning.  A few times when I went away for a couple days, upon return, she would say, “Oh Grammy, I missed you SO much!”  We have Girls Night 
The Irrepressible Alex!
Delightful Dorothy
whenever the rare occasion presents itself and her daddies go out for a movie or dinner.  GIRLS NIGHT!!!  Get out the nail polish; pump up the music, pop the corn!!!  GIRLS NIGHT!!!  Dorothy is on that bridge with me, and so are Alex and Jack and Cooper.  The other night I showed Dorothy some of my African videos of the children in my village. She was completely captivated.  I’m so happy to be home. 

I don’t think I’ll ever have what we describe as “closure.”  My friends from Tchekpo are on my mind every day.   Every day.  Good thoughts.  Imagining the weather, imagining what they are probably doing at a specific time of day; wondering if they miss me. Thinking of Aloughba’s smile or Honous laugh.  Hoping they are all well; wishing I could speak to them, laugh with them, and connect.

My Colleagues
I have made little mention of my Peace Corps Colleagues throughout my posts.  From time to time I’ve talked about their programs and their dedication and how damned impressed I am with them. All of them, but especially the twenty-four I arrived with, lived and laughed with.  It was a big surprise and a huge blessing to be surrounded by this group.  I had my favorites….and you know who you are (smile) but I loved each and every one of them. Bright, brilliant stars.  I miss their fun and energy and uniqueness.  It was always quite fun hanging out with them.  On a few occasions since I’ve been home I’ve been able spend a day or evening with two or three from my group.  I wondered what that would be like, meeting up with them here in America, such a different environment. Would it feel the same?  Would it be awkward? It was wonderful, and for a little while during those visits I didn't feel lost.

What I learned
I learned, maybe what a lot of people already know.  We are all alike.  We all have the same hopes and dreams.  I’m convinced that the people of my village are happier, more content than we are here.  I told one or two of them that and they scoffed at me.  We are more comfortable, for sure, but they are more content.   We work so hard at being happy, and they just are.  Over-simplified?  Probably.

It was the most wonderful experience.  I cherish it.  My most sincere thanks to all of you.  You can’t imagine how connected I felt to home.  I experienced so many acts of kindness from my family and friends while I was in Togo.  Too many to mention, but I would be remiss to not spotlight honorable mentions:

Thank you:
Andrea/Mirinda, Emily/Mike, Eric/E.J. – for absolutely everything.  You are all amazing! I am one proud mama.

Jody, Mike and Hannah – for your generous donation to L’ecole No.5 and the children of Tchekpo

Nancy – for raising funds for Mahsoblee

Stephen and JoAnn – for my cache of Starbucks coffee

Kittie – for singlehandedly keeping me fed with her monthly care packages; and informed with her handwritten frequent letters.

Pam – for her consistent encouragement

Tom – for his love and affection