Airports are ports of old and new lives – them two reach the departure hall but only one is carrying his luggage. Ports of big feelings filled with empty promises; I will see you again, but when. Four months could mean anything; read “never” somewhere between the lines or wear a blindfold.
I had a little bit of tears in my eyes when I saw my mom’s silky shirt disappear into the crowd this Thursday. But I almost forgot about my own parents finishing their visit as I witnessed all the little, discreetly heartbreaking dramas staged with baggage carts acted by amateurs.
Your roads are separated, the roads of you and that person, that once met as nobodies. All of them once meant nothing to you, so why is that hollow-stomached lump-throated feeling suddenly so impossible to articulate?
Not suddenly. You let it happen, gradually. Why do we allow ourselves to build such affections with people, knowing that whatever happens we will once be separated anyway? Oh that question.
Almost as soon as I moved to my village, Ngueniene, I began to imagine the day I would leave. I pictured it as a hot but cloudy day with a reservation for thunderstorms in the air. I saw myself as some kind of a self-explanatory heroine leaving a crowd of fans sad and hollow; carrying a heavy backpack and a suitcase herself but not shedding a drop of sweat or tears. I would throw my bags in the back of a minibus then tighten my ponytail once more and sit down to begin another adventure, maybe missing my family but successfully suffocating the sorrow in bouncing soap-bubble images of the future lying right around the corner.
Then, that one night in November, my sister left. It was then that my crystal ball shattered. Shattered and re-formed itself with a foggy surface that now shows nothing too clearly.
My mom casually threw it at me, the fact that my four-year-old little sister, my best and – as I felt at that time – only friend, was to return to Touba, another city some four hours away from here. To go back to Touba. Finding the expression odd I asked when she would come back here. “In April,” my mom replied. I slowly counted it was possible that I would never see her again. It was a tough exercise for my abs to stop me from laughing hysterically; that’s how absurd the idea sounded.
Many of the kids in my family have been adopted by my mom, so it kind of made sense for this four-year-old girl to have another home somewhere else with her biological parents. Made sense and yet made no sense. How could she have another home, another ‘back’ to go to?
So often had they said things that never happened – I was told nearly every day since August that my hair would be braided suba, tomorrow, but it never happened – that I was capable of expecting this too to be buried under a million subas. Disbelief swell in me and swallowed me when I saw the two packed bags and my little sister in her tiny, new shoes. A few hugs, them disappearing through the front gate and me dropping on a wooden stool next to the freezer.
Everything was upside-down, inside-out. I didn’t understand. I was a visitor and therefore inherently supposed to leave everyone in the end of my visit, her included. She was not supposed to leave me.
Through the earthquakey feeling in my lower lip and the miniature waterfalls invading my cheeks, I blamed myself. Blamed myself for being stupid enough to like someone so much, to rely on someone’s presence in my life to be stable. Blamed myself for crying over a four-year-old girl whom I had known for two and a half months.
But above all else, I blamed myself for having trusted that everything here would remain the same throughout my stay. For having thought as if this family had been staged for me to experience – as if there was a guarantee in Global Citizen Year’s rules with host families that everything would have to be exactly the same from my arrival to my departure; that no sad moments were allowed to ever disturb my perfectly set-up learning process.
Three notes: 1) This is life. Nothing’s stable. Just because I’m here for a defined period of time doesn’t mean that everyone’s lives pause for that time. From now on I won’t try to predict the future based on non-existing rules. 2) A four-year-old best friend is no less a best friend than a 19-year-old best friend. And 3) The relationships I build with people here in Ngueniene are not relationships I build with people in a random village in a random Western African country, they are relationships I build with people. Just people. And as those I should appreciate them.
So now I go outside and call little Anta on my mom’s phone. I say “nam moon naa la” and she says “maala raw.” I miss you too. And maybe this dialogue will be all. But it’s something, it’s us, it’s okay. And I appreciate it. Our friendship doesn’t have to take a definite, stable form in order to be. Many things will change around before I leave my home in April. Who knows what moves next in this lively, unpredictable puzzle of life? I definitely don’t.
(The photo is of either a sunset or a sunrise; taken from the plane when landing in Senegal.)