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So This Is Goodbye

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.


The Books I Read

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:

  1. The Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder
  2. Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee
  4. Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad
  5. Matryona’s House and Other Stories, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
  6. Blood River: A Journey to Africa’s Broken Heart, Tim Butcher
  7. The Mother Tongue, Bill Bryson
  8. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
  9. Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime: Food Security and Globalization, C. Ford Runge, Benjamin Senauer, Philip G. Pardey, Mark W. Rosegrant
  10. The River Between, Ngugi wa Thiong’o
  11. The Qur’an, translated by Tarif Khalidi
  12. Endurance:  Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage, Alfred Lansing
  13. Catch-22, Joseph Heller
  14. Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain, David Eagleman
  15. Othello, William Shakespeare
  16. My Name Is Red, Orhan Pamuk
  17. The Constant Gardener, John le Carré
  18. For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemmingway
  19. The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff
  20. The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid:  A Memoir, Bill Bryson
  21. Tropic of Cancer, Henry Miller
  22. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
  23. The Iliad, Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)
  24. The Odyssey, Homer (translated by Robert Fagles)
  25. Blink, Malcolm Gladwell
  26. The Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling
  27. This Side of Paradise, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  28. The Ingenious Gentleman, Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
  29. Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2, Annie Proulx
  30. Coming Up for Air, George Orwell
  31. Table of Contents, John McPhee
  32. The Prince’s Speech on the Future of Food, HRH the Prince of Wales
  33. The Colossus of Maroussi, Henry Miller
  34. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  35. Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist’s View of Genetically Modified Foods, Nina Federoff and Nancy Marie Brown
  36. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  37. Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut
  38. The Extra Man, Jonathan Ames
  39. Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela
  40. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  41. And on Piano…Nicky Hopkins, Julian Dawson
  42. Bossypants, Tina Fey
  43. A Collection of Essays, George Orwell
  44. A Death In Belmont, Sebastian Junger
  45. Ulysses, James Joyce
  46. Strength in What Remains, Tracy Kidder
  47. Hiroshima, John Hersey
  48. The Dragon’s Trail: The Biography of Raphael’s Masterpiece, Joanna Pitman
  49. Twenty Prose Poems, Charles Baudelaire
  50. What Is the What, Dave Eggers
  51. Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
  52. The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa, Calestous Juma
  53. Candide, Voltaire
  54. The Art of War, Sun Tzu
  55. Inventing Paradise: The Greek Journey, 1937-1947, Edmund Keeley
  56. A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul
  57. If I forget Thee, Jerusalem, William Faulkner
  58. All the President’s Men, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  59. The Grapes of Wrath, John Steinbeck
  60. The Upanishads, translated by Eknath Easwaran
  61. Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
  62. Steppenwolf, Hermann Hesse
  63. Sailing from Byzantium, Colin Wells
  64. Birds without Wings, Louis de Bernières
  65. All the Pretty Horses, Cormack McCarthy
  66. The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton
  67. The Restless Atom: The Awakening of Nuclear Physics, Alfred Romer
  68. Walden, Henry David Thoreau
  69. On the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Henry David Thoreau
  70. The Adolescent, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  71. Life & Times of Michael K, J.M. Coetzee
  72. One Flew Over the Cucoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey
  73. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, David Sedaris
  74. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  75. Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut
  76. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, Dee Brown
  77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith
  78. The Crucible, Arthur Miller
  79. Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson
  80. East of Eden, John Steinbeck
  81. King Leopold’s Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa, Adam Hochschild
  82. Tender Is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald
  83. Blood Meridian or the Evening Redness in the West, Cormack McCarthy
  84. The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
  85. The Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer
  86. The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner
  87. The Gospel of Matthew, Saint Matthew
  88. The Death of Ivan Ilych, Leo Tolstoy
  89. Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift

And that’s all she wrote.


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Jason Tsichlis

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August 2013