Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired so long as we can see far enough.” While his seminal transcendentalist views on the interrelated properties of man, nature, beauty, and discipline were born in the temperate woods of New England—far from where I’m putting pen to paper—his truths can resonate. My entire service can be viewed as a perpetual eye on the horizon. The turn of every calendar page brought me closer to success—closer to the profound reward of being able to see my family, my friends, my home.
I’m confused, though. This is my home—a home, at least. I’ve been living in Burkina Faso for over two years now, a willing captive roaming the corridors of the labyrinth of West African development. This “Land of Upright People,” of lost luck and found ingenuity has nurtured and challenged me just as any home possibly could. Consequently, that eye I kept trained on the horizon energized me when I was tired and comforted me when I was ill at ease.
Far enough: to see far enough is not to see perpetually. To see only what is necessary or available is a far cry from clairvoyance. In my 789 days in Burkina, I was forced to rely on reason to guide me in my horizon dreams. As a new volunteer, looking twenty months into the future for comfort could only bring sadness and frustration, so to know where my horizon actually was became invaluable. Yes, it might have been on my stateside return, but it also lied in the success of a project in my village. It could lie anywhere: in the approaching market day or in the fantastic expectation of the kids in my host family running to my bike as I returned after a long absence.
And so it is with a great deal of disquiet that I leave this place that Providence seems to have missed. I am ready to go—ready for reunions and reminders of the world I left behind. I am ready for the creature comforts I so easily lived without. However, I can’t leave here without the weight of unnecessary guilt. Like an albatross around my neck, leaving my village in the middle of a lackluster rainy season forces me to feel like something of a deserter. I have had to remind myself that I have every right to leave when my time is up, but perhaps I was never one to do it entirely willingly. The morning I left my village, I felt as though I was ripping off a piece of myself. The people to whom I was saying goodbye had wholly and unfailingly filled the roles of family, friends, and home for two years. The finality of such a goodbye belied the fact that there is no word in the English language to accurately describe what their unswerving hospitality, generosity, and trust meant to me. And there is no word to describe what these people will continue to mean to me for the rest of my life.
Thus, in my dearth of words to describe how I feel about my second home, I must adopt Emerson’s: “The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon.” Without goals large and small, horizons near and far, I would have been hopelessly lost and unable to truly appreciate the unconditional warmth and love with which I thrived. It’s time now, though: as of this morning I have officially closed my service and now upon me is the ultimate horizon that for over two years I have steadily and dutifully approached—
I am going home.
As a result, this is my last blog post. I want to take this time to thank everyone who read what I had to say since June, 2011. Although I did not write very often, it was always gratifying to know that someone out there was appreciating what I had to say about what I was experiencing. I will be flying out of Ouagadouou tonight, will spend the weekend in Athens and will return to Boston on the afternoon of Monday, August 12.
If you have not seen my pictures, take a look at them here. I will finish uploading all of them on Monday when I get home.
Once again, thank you to everyone who read, kept in contact, sent care packages, and thought of me during my time in Burkina Faso. Your support (vocal or not) helped to remind me that although I found a new home in the dust of the Sahel, I did not lose the one I already had.
Ala ka hɛɛrɛ k’aw ɲɛ.
When I began training over two years ago, I started to keep a list of the books I was reading. I thought it would be interesting to look back on what I had read after I had finished my service. Now that my service is winding down and I’m in my last week in Burkina, I have decided to share this list. It can be said that I spent the bulk of my service reading books that I had always wanted to read and books that I was told I should read. As a result, there is enormous diversity to what I put in front of my eyes: from Steinbeck’s East of Eden to Hoff’s The Tao of Pooh, from Fey’s Bossypants to Joyce’s Ulysses.
I was initially reluctant to share this list because I did not want to imply that I spent my time idle and solitary. However, I eventually decided it might be fun to put up the full list, for no reason other than the general public might be interested in what exactly I was reading in the evenings when there was no electricity or internet to occupy me.
And so, without further ado, here are the books I read—in the order that I read them:
And that’s all she wrote.