One never knows what reactions, thoughts or feelings are simmering just below the surface, ready to burst forth.
Since storing my Commercial Fishing gear and boats for the winter, I have recently caught myself staring off into space, not really focused on anything. I love West Africa, Mali included. But I am past the over the top tourist trip excitement, know what I mean?
So happy to go back, so lucky to be there, yet so aware of the struggles too. Not cynical, but a realist of what life in Africa demands of my body, mind, and soul. It’s no joke to live and serve where we do.
The fishing Captain is transforming back into “The Invisible Humanitarian.” Some seem to talk of that invisible humanitarian guy as if he is something special, to do what he does. I kind of gag at it. What a joke. I am the same old lousy me in both places. A life seasoned man waiting for the experts to come and give this work, this region a try, so that he can go somewhere else and begin a new work again.
I am nothing special, I am just there, is all.
My wife and I were in Edmonton, Alberta for ten days. We spent an encouraging week with some key supporters of Man Of Peace Development’s work. I needed that buffer between fishing and Mali more than I realized. They were incredibly encouraging toward us. I did not fully understand how much we needed that encouragement at this time. It was timely. They covered the whole trip too. Pinch me! We also were able to re-connect with some dear friends whom we served with in Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) many moons ago. They understand…………
We told hours and hours of stories over the week. We have grown accustomed to people wanting the thirty second Africa speech, and then looking for an exit shortly after that time expires.
This paragraph expresses this reality well.
“I lived in Africa almost half a lifetime ago. I was very young when I went, not just in years, and I returned home feeling prematurely aged. For months after coming back, like the ancient mariner with his gray beard and glittering eyes, I cornered anyone half willing to listen and try to describe what I had seen and done and been over there. I would tell the story……and the sympathetic nods would last about 5 min. before my quarry’s eyes shifted toward the exit……the experience proved as incommunicable as the need to explain was urgent. Family and friends waited for me to resume normal life, but I seemed unable to complete the trip back. Part of me remains stuck in Africa,….. I missed the intensity, the surprise, the sense that life was real and hard and lovely……”
( The Village Of Waiting. George Packer. Farrar, Strauss, & Giroux, 2001, pg 317-318)
However, these Edmontonians opened a flood gate, seemingly, wanting to wade into the surging African waters.
Were these people prepared for what they heard? Did they realize the flood they were going to release?
Who knows, but I doubt it. But, we told our story anyway.
In story after story we weaved together our adventures and experiences, our hopes and dreams. We even tossed in a story or two from our Ivory Coast years – now that is an ancient dam that has yet to be breached.
I hope that each person was able to close their eyes and imagine themselves immersed in this life and service overseas.
Some stories brought laughs and giggles. Some stories brought joy or sadness. Other stories brought moments of speechless silence, tears of joy, or tears of sadness, and even unexplained tears.
We left our hearts on the table in Edmonton. All we hold dear was exposed.
It was a book delivered in oral form.
Few ask, even fewer sit down to listen. But they did listen, patiently. Certainly, some probably thought we are certified batty by the end.
Telling your life story is risky, because once heard, people form opinions, positive or negative, and that can affect your relationships and even project funding. However, I’m at that stage in life where it’s hard to care about peoples “impressions” anymore. I no longer feel like I have to prove myself to people anymore. I’ve done it, been doing it, and I am still doing it. Pioneering new work where there is none, is the job of a very few. It is what I love best.
For several weeks now the Canadian me has been slowly shutting down, pulling back from the people around me as I prepare my mind for re-entry “over there”. The Africa stories of last term have been processed as best as I can do. Now I’m ready to absorb every new image, to hear every new conversation, to smell every odor, to shake every hand, and to soak in every sight. My mind and heart will be overloaded in the end, as it always is.
I am prepared to let Africa wash over me. I return as a dry sponge waiting to live, learn, and absorb the waters of life.
Hello Africa! I love you. Glad to be back home. You are as “home” as I ever seem to get in this life.
I hope we do you some good.