As I sat outside, after dinner in the quiet of a simple evening, I thought about what I wanted to write. The old man of the compound - the head by virtue of his being the only man past his school years, and one of my favorite Gambians - sat down next to me, talking about how the cool part of the year has already passed, and the heat is back. I agreed, not that it's actually hot yet, but it's what one does about the heat here. He told me about his trip home today - he'd been visiting relatives in Kiang, where someone had died. He got on a vehicle at 3:30 this morning to get to the paved road there, which is paved in name only, and spent about seven and a half hours getting the sixty or seventy kilometers to Soma, before crossing the river and getting back. Mostly I just thought how glad I am that it wasn't me.
When I leave this place, which sometimes doesn't seem to be coming soon enough, I know I will miss the simplicity. The absurdity, the hassle and the frustration will fade, but I can almost feel already the longing that I'll one day have for the simplicity of this life. Ah, well, hopefully complexity and not having time to just sit in stillness, hopefully the trade off is worth it.
Coming back from all of my adventures, all of the excitement has been a challenge. Since Ramadan I don't know how many times I've posted, but it's fewer than I'd like, and fewer than I hope to put up this month. I've loved the madness - bouncing around, having my parents visit and see my life, seeing this country from the perspective of a white person with enough money to solve some of the annoyances (which, of course, caused all new annoyances), and watching the entire caper come off brilliantly, words will never describe how great it was.
And then, I had what felt like a single day and night before disappearing again - off to a place that wasn't Africa for the first time since coming here. And not just any place, but JFK airport. Many times I thought about how it would feel to arrive in the US again - it just felt like JFK. Same comfortless industrial carpet with the same chewing gum ground into it, same airplane fatigue and ugh feeling about baggage claim. I enjoy being in foreign airports where I have to decipher how they work. JFK is almost comforting in its lack of enjoyability. There must be irony there.
America... two weeks I think. A blur without snow, but a tank full of family and friends and beer and chex mix and all the good wonderfulness of home. Like a crazy drug high, and then I'm suddenly leaving. The trip back here was amazing - drive to Buffalo, go out to dinner with Jon and Liz and Polly and Kenny and my mom and Toby and four Dutch women who showed up to visit him. Then get up early, go to the airport with Mom, fly to NYC and hang out with my sister for a few hours. In a random neighborhood in Queens that she read about somewhere. Fun. Then fly to Chicago, and on to Paris, arriving in the morning. Call Perrine, arrange to meet her, run into some security situation that prevented me from going to the train terminal, figure out my way around that - I really need to learn French, I realize along about then - have lunch with Perrine, get excellent directions to her parents' house along with ideas for how to spend the rest of the day. Follow her plan almost to the letter, really enjoy myself, and wind up the day having dinner with the Jegous, happy and in love with the serendipity of life. Get up in the morning, fly to Frankfurt, and then to Banjul - where the badness happens and I forget my iPod on the plane. Only realize this the next morning. I have a clear picture in my head of the pillow I glanced at, thinking I should check under it, and not for some reason. Bye bye, iPod, I appreciated you many many times. Hopefully somebody else does now.
Since then, I had a four day trip to the Chimpanzee Rehabilitation project in Baboon Island to fill in as host - a great treat to be invited and a fun few days of hanging out with guests there. And then my brother came to visit. The hits just keep on coming. It was a complete blast, he rolled with every little African thing, we ran around like we seem to always do, without much of a plan or a clue, and it was ridiculous fun. He got my little host sister to teach him Mandinka, fetched water and swept for me, got all excited about eating rice (for at least the first six or seven times in a row), and generally was wonderfully positive and just easy to have here. Then we biked around for nine days, got up to Basse and back - along the south bank including another visit to Baboon Island and a rough day riding through the heat and remnants of that road. God it was fun. And Toby learned enough Mandinka to get through greetings and get his name out at the appropriate time, which everyone thought was pretty rad.
It's been an amazing time. My family, I knew I missed them, but it's only now that I realize how much, and why. They are a lot of fun, thoughtful, flexible and ready to have adventures. I am very lucky, especially to have had two visits and all of this fun. And now that I'm back on my own, I get to figure it out again. How to be here, feel okay, have a rudder and a tiller and a chance to stay upright. At the moment, that's enough - not going to worry about the rest of it, the future or being alone or whatever. Because, in all honesty, everyone knows I'll not be here in five months. And it colors everything. The thought keeps bouncing into my brain - why stay? Just to finish it? Is life not more valuable than that - biding my time for five months? I love it here at times, it has been a fantastic adventure, but all of the sudden, I realize that I'm going back soon, and this will end. It will end in a fashion different from other endings - long and drawn out and inevitable. I've left other things, moved on, but never has something been so certain so far out. If I just sit in my house and put forth no effort for the next five months, I'll leave here just the same as anything else I do. And that is, in a way, more disheartening than all of the other heartbreaks about The Gambia.
So: big joys, running around fun for nearly three months, and now it's over and of course I'm looking around with a little less than complete enthusiasm. My strategy: do three things everyday. Make a short list, get it done, and let the rest take care of itself. I know there are so many things from this life that I'll miss, and hope that I realize how to get as much of that as I can while I'm still here. My sentences are falling apart, that's my cue to exit.