After two years of living in Makiya Village as a United States Peace Corps Volunteer, it was time to leave.
It couldn’t last forever, and even though I was given the option of staying for a third year, I decided that two years — more than 700 days — was enough. I had done my share.
I started preparing for my village exit a week before I was to hit the road by going through all of my things and deciding what to keep and what to lose. It was at this time that all sorts of strange and never-before-seen people started showing up.
The only village photo we ever took. I tried for 6 months to get this photo taken, but it wasn't until my goodbye meal that everyone was around long enough to take it.
Like a dearly departed family member’s sudden death sparks distant cousins to climb out of the woodwork, I started having people I had never seen show up at my hut’s door asking for a “remembrance” — a little something for them to remember me by.
They kept saying how much I meant to them, acting like for the past two years we were the best of friends. I gave them nothing, and instead asked, “How many other Americans have lived in this village? None — you’ll remember me; I’m sure of it.”
Most of my things went to my nearest neighbors, the people I did know well and had helped me the most. My ax was the only item I had trouble parting with. I considered lugging it around with me to keep as a souvenir, but decided to give it to someone in the village that may get actual use out of it.
Mrs. Fubisha and some of the other women from the village preparing my goodbye meal in the village.
In the end, I left the village with a duffel bag and perhaps half the items worth keeping. Two years and all I had worth keeping were some old, raggedy clothes; a couple of journals full of my poor handwriting and semi-insightful thoughts; and about 50 newly acquired best friends within the last week.
I naively thought my actual leaving the village wouldn’t be difficult. I thought I would say my goodbyes, have a final meal with everyone and early in the morning I would catch the first bus that drove by. I was wrong.
This is a picture of me enjoying one of my last meals in the village: grilled goat, nshima, sweet potato leaves, and lepu.
It’s a strange feeling to leave a place that for two years was nearly everything to me. I slept there. I worked there. But I also laughed there. I even occasionally cried there. To be honest, there wasn’t really anything else in my life but my Peace Corps Service and even that revolved almost completely around this one village: Makiya.
And for nearly two years of my villagers’ lives, I was a main component of their daily gossip. It was hard to explain to them, as I was leaving, what they meant to me and that I was proud to have stayed there and honored that they so openly took me in, as most of them don’t speak English.
Not a day goes by when I don’t think about Makiya Village and all of the people who live there. I can honestly say that I miss it. I loved my time in Makiya and was even given that chance to stay a third year.
The final choice as to whether I stay or leave wasn’t made until four days before I was going to leave. I wrestled with the idea for weeks of staying one more year, but ultimately decided it was time to go and try something else.
Many of my village's kids are in this photo. After two years I can only name about half of them, but they were an entertaining bunch - even if I didn't know their names.
I came in not knowing what to expect during the two years of my Peace Corps service and I left feeling a sense of satisfaction knowing that I learned some things along the way — like eating exclusively with my hands, where to find the best mangoes and even eradicating rats without chemicals.
More importantly, I learned the importance of community and actually knowing your neighbor, not just where your neighbor lives: knowing about their family, their struggles and joys, their beliefs.
Years down the road I’m sure I’ll look back on my time as a volunteer not in the context of the projects that I worked on, but rather on the people I worked on those projects with.
As for my projects, there were a couple of solid successes but far more failures, But I was 100 percent successful at creating some great relationships and memories.
I took this picture at 5 AM on my last morning in the village. For all of Africa's issues, which we so often see in the news, the sunsets and sunrises are second to nothing I've ever seen before.
I couldn’t be more thankful to the villagers of Makiya for that opportunity.