As my time here comes to a close, you are not making things easy for me. Normally, after a year you’d think I’d be craving sushi or a burrito so badly, I would hop on the next plane as soon as I finish. However, there is something in the way that has become loud and clear, as I have watched you from afar this last year: your soil is infiltrated with monsters. Real life monsters. Even worse than the ones that you thought used to hide under your bed when you were a child. These monsters are walking amongst you, disguised as governors, professors, cashiers, waitresses, pastors, the girl sitting next to you on the bus, and even the man driving it. I never thought monsters were real, but this is the only possible reasoning for what I’ve been watching. The racism that’s manifested on campuses, the xenophobia that has manifested through an international crisis, the racism that’s walked into churches to kill people, the racism that has been bogging down police forces for a century, the xenophobes that have shared that picture suggesting we blow up an entire religion. The ignorant comments that have moved me and others to complete shame and fear of our nation. These monsters hate for no reason. They sit on couches, Fox News illuminating (and darkening) the room, and absorb the nonsense that is misinformation. They high five their friends when their state has declared themselves unfriendly and unwelcoming to traumatized victims of war. I’m sure they follow Donald Trump on Twitter. Maybe they even share his tweets. They then, jump on their computers to write horrible things about innocent people who are victims of their circumstance. These people probably even see news stories about my current home, and then suggest we blow this place up. These people have grown up thinking THEY are superior, over every life that does not look like theirs.
How does one protect themselves from these monsters: I wish I could say there is a special repellent you can wear that keeps them 100ft away at all times, but unfortunately, science hasn’t discovered the opposing agent of ignorance yet. If these monsters infiltrate your space, we must show them how to LOVE our fellow brothers and sisters. There is only one explanation to the ignorance and utter hatefulness that I can think of, and that’s a lack of love. They have closed their hearts to empathy and certainly haven’t dusted off their Bible, Koran, or Torah in awhile. We need to remind them, to SHOW them, why love conquers all. Immigration is a topic all too real here. Recently, I sat down with a young man who took a rickety boat to Spain in hopes to find work. And I can tell you, many of you would do the same thing if it meant providing for your family. Risking your life to make your families lives better…and these monsters call this act selfish. These monsters can leave you feeling hopeless for mankind, however, I remind you, there ARE good people out there. Don’t lose hope because of them. Let’s show them how it’s done…
Here I am, again. Lying in my bed…in America. I am trying hard to find the words, but I feel like I’m dreaming. I feel numb. Reflecting on why I am here is not easy. Reading my last blog post makes this even harder. Normally, I am a glass half-full girl, who sees the good over evil any day. Today, I am not sure what I am. I certainly see beauty in the small things, but at the same time I see terror in every crevice of the world. Two weeks ago, 2 jihadists invaded a hotel in Bamako, taking 170 people hostage, and taking the lives of over 20 people. Including an American…a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in Senegal…who developed a love for West Africa and was now working with an NGO in Mali.
After the attack, the Ambassador decided to cancel the Peace Corps group who was set to arrive in June. We had a meeting asking us to keep this confidential, and telling us we would return to our villages as normal. The day after, Thanksgiving, we were informed that Peace Corps has decided to suspend the mission in Mali, and that we would have a few days to return to our villages, pack our bags, and say goodbye to our families.
Having been through this once before, I did not take a single day for granted. I spent time with my friends and family. I had more patience with my kids. I woke up early to exist in the peaceful space that would no longer be mine. I held babies more often. I admired my trees more, thinking about how far they’ve come, and how far they will go. This time, I had more time. There were moments when I shut down. During the meeting with my health center chief, chief of village, and my host dad, I could barely get out words in between the tears. When I told my best friend I was leaving, I had to exit the room. The night I told my father, we went immediately to inform his best friend, who happens to be the father of one of my best friends. Later that night, I told my crew. “We are already nostalgic for you.” Telling my kids, my first friend, the health center…my people…none of it was easy. This departure said a lot about the security of their country. People were scared. When I was leaving Guinea, confusion swept the village. However, leaving Bougoula, everyone understood. Sure, they reassured me that Sikasso is safe. And I KNOW that it is. But the capital is hot right now, they would tell me. Unfortunately, especially for westerners.
So here I am. I flip on the news and see how terrorism has swept my own nation. Planned Parenthood being attacked. Schools being threatened. Holiday parties being attacked. Policemen rapping girls. Mosques being set on fire. Muslim women being attacked. And I was pulled away from my family in Mali to rejoin a nation where there is more blood and hatred in the news than happiness. When I returned from Guinea, I felt called to put a halt to the craziness that was the “Ebola fears.” Now, I feel a deeper call…one that, especially now after the ignorance of the powerful, is relevant in our country. I feel called to be an ally to our Muslim brothers and sisters. I feel called to educate those who have only been given a dark, negative, and frankly wrong perspective of this religion. Yes, it is the acts of extreme radical Muslims who have halted my service in Mali. However, I refuse to let the act of few define the greater. Join me in that.
Those last few days in my village, the sadness was thick, but there was something else in the air that I had always longed for: my crew wanted to learn anything and everything about Moringa. They took my baby trees, my seeds, even harvested my leaves to make powder with. Leaving brought about an urgency to learn what I knew about my trees…they were sad about me leaving, and excited about Moringa. THIS is how I always imagined leaving a place. With a confidence that the work I had done had hooked someone. And here we were, two nights before departure…at 10pm, excitingly and urgently harvesting my leaves.
I have yet to fully process it all. It will take a lot of patience and love, but I hope to share my story with whoever is interested. My service is defined by my accomplishments, and by the love that is shared between me and my family and friends. It is NOT defined by this evacuation. I will see my family and friends (and trees) soon enough, and until then, will represent them wherever I go through the lessons and love that they gave me. Thank you, Mali. May God give you peace.
Allah ka here caya.