Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Benin there, done that

After two years of pain, sweat, tears, elation, smiles, and no regret, I've finished.

I packed up most of my house after selling most of my furniture. I gave away most of my clothing to Abib, lord knows he deserves it. I had a going away party with my friends, both Beninese and American. I ate my favorite meals. I drank my favorite tchouk and sodabi. I reminisced about the things i love, like wagashi, little kids dancing in the streets, too many holidays/having a lot of down time, and etc, etc, etc. It's hard to capture in words the incredible experiences I've had in the past two years. And, I also thought about all the things that drove me to the brink insanity, such as lack of respect for time tables and appointments, being screamed at in the streets because of my skin color, having people talk about me in front of me in a language they think i don't understand, pooping a millions times a day, and the horrible hangovers that La Beninoise will give you. I've honestly had every single emotion i've ever had during my service. And, some i had never had before.

On my last few night in Benin I had great company. My friends allowed me to digress at every step to recount a story, be it of some guy walking up to me in the streets and asking me about money that was obviously from Korea (It said Bank of Korea on it) and having him refute me every time i said so saying it was Chinois, to the time i got licked by a monkey, to the time Kali got hit by a moto in village because she never looked as she crossed the street, to the time a dog tried to fight a dust devil, to the time i danced with the farmer ladies at this King's festival. Ashley, Jared, Suzi, Dave, and Sarah all did their best to console/encourage me in this nostalgic time. I'm eternally grateful.

I feel as though I did so many things and nothing at all. Everyday i tried something new. Everyday i learned something new. And, everyday i failed at something new. I fell down a lot, literally. Though, not as much as Karina. I stepped in a lot of poo, both literally and figuratively. And i've laughed so hard i've cried and farted at the same time. My service has changed me in a way that i think calms me a bit. Inspires me to live a life with purpose. And, to always go out and try to find a way to give back at gain at the same time. I know that i'm a different person. That's obvious. I've lost a bunch of weight. But, it's the profound and humbling effect that giving myself up to something larger than me that will surely be a constant presence in my life.

Can I talk about specifics? Not yet. Can I imagine what my life would be like if I hadn't joined the Peace Corps? Yes. I see it all around me. Am i glad i served? Absolutely.

The hardest part of leaving Peace Corps, and Kerou for that matter, is leaving the life behind I spent two years creating. The first year of my service I was trying to figure out/learn how to live as a Peace Corps volunteer in Benin. I came in as a bright-eyed Washingtonian who thought he might affect the lives of four or five people. I knew how to catch the subway, hail a taxi, set up a webinar, and coordinate national media events. Now, I'm leaving Benin knowing how to work with and speak to the Bariba, teach English, teach people how to build a windmill-powered water pump, coordinate a girls camp to teach about life planning, and to kill, cook, and eat a variety of bizarre animals. And I'm positive that i've affected more than five lives. I know this because I've taught new skills to people, I've encouraged people to continue their educations, I've encouraged fathers to pay for their daughters' educations, I've helped women take control of their finances, and I've taught new computer skills to eager learners who are ready to go out and put those skills to use. Sometimes you can sense the change and inspiration you've instilled in people. You can see it in their eyes.

People ask me now that I've returned if i would do it again. Heavens, no. I did it once already. It was easily the hardest thing I've ever done. But, would I take it all back if I could? Never. Not one tiny second. (Well, maybe the time I fell into the open sewer and ripped my shorts and the entire main intersection in Pehunco was privy to my man parts. I guess I'd take that back. Though, it's an amazing story. Ask me about it sometime.)

I want to thank all my friends and family for their unwavering support through this entire journey. I want to thanks those who sent me packages. A little contact with home was exactly what i needed through those tough times. I couldn't be luckier. I have the best family and friends a guy could ever ask for.

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