Tomorrow I go home for the first time since July 2012.
Preparing to return to ‘normal life’ is a peculiar process. This morning I was standing on the upper deck, staring out at Africa with a cup of coffee, thinking about the people, noises and day-to-day experiences that were once foreign. Sometime in the last year they have all come to feel familiar. My normal is Africa.
Normal is walking through the port and seeing a monkey. Normal is greeting people in French. Normal is colorful. Normal is living in a hospital. Normal is knowing at least one person with malaria at any given time. Normal is never showing my knees in public. Normal is laughing at the things lost in translation. Normal is political unrest and curfew and security precautions. Normal is knowing the baby I’m holding is not wearing a diaper. Normal is francs, not dollars. It’s wearing my ID card; it’s hearing hospital pages. It’s kilometers, Celsius and water restrictions.
Normal is calling the Operating Room the ‘Theatre’ and referring to college as ‘University.’ Normal is dry season (unless Normal is rainy season.) Normal is knowing which parts of town are off-limits. Normal is saying football meaning soccer. Normal is women singing. Normal is listening to medical people talk about really nasty medical stuff over meals and not being grossed out anymore. Normal is mangos for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The friends I have made and the daily familiarities I will lose make Part I of this adventure difficult to bring to an end. I am enormously lucky to have had my eyes opened to what life is like outside of being me. As I prepare to return to the United States (at least for a few weeks) I go with a new set of eyes, and I don’t doubt that everything is going to look a little different from here on out, in the best way possible.
Which brings me to the one story about Africa that I may have under-told. If you’ve been reading since the beginning you may remember the heartache of Mercy Ships Screening Day and the joy of Memouna, who had a facial tumor removed. Or perhaps the story of Amadou, who couldn’t be helped. You may recall Thierno’s risky surgery or Alassane and Alseny’s bowed legs. Or there was Fode, a patient who was blind and deaf but had his sight restored. I especially loved the story of Binta – who hitch-hiked more than 1000 kilometers to get to the hospital. Hasanatu, Delamou, Bintu, Alya, Mariama, Jaka, Hllungalwana and Vuyani: I am grateful I was able to record their journeys.
But there is one person not on that list who has been helped in more ways than she can write: because when you set out to help others, it is inevitable that the person whom you will help the most is yourself. Working in Africa has opened my eyes in more ways than I ever could have expected; I have come to understand things that I will never forget.
In my time here I have found a powerful source of encouragement from this blog. Merci for your support, interest and friendship. I look forward to sharing many more stories here in the next few months that I simply haven’t had time to post (read: patience to upload via our slow internet) until now. I hope you will continue reading as Mercy Ships heads to Congo-Brazzaville for our next outreach. Because no matter if I am in Africa or Austin, I think I have begun a life-long journey. Come monkeys or mangos, there are many more Normals ahead.
I’ll be seeing you soon, United States :)