Adventures in nostalgia
On our last day in Ouahigouya, Markus and I invited our friends to get chicken and beer with us later that night, set out the half empty bottle of gin we planned on making gin and tonics with at the bar, and allowed ourselves to feel a tiny bit nostalgic.
At five I asked Markus if the sound I was hearing was thunder, and he said it was just the wind. At quarter to six, Markus stood outside and looked up at the dark clouds. I joined him and asked him what he thought. In uncharacteristically optimistic style, he said he thought they would pass us. At a little after six it suddenly started pouring. I shouted at Markus over the rain that I didn't want to bike through all that mud; Markus shouted back that he was leaving as soon as the rain stopped. At 6:30 the electricity turned off. At 6:31 Markus and I took out our frustrations by snapping at each other. I shined my bike light on the book I was reading, Expat, and he used his cell phone to light the book he was reading, State of Fear, the Michael Crichton book in which he argues (badly) that global warming is a myth. I shouted at Markus asking if he wanted to sit next to me to share my bike light; he shouted no.
Cranky as hell, I cursed Ouahigouya and read my book, which was a collection of essays by women living abroad. I was in such a bad mood that I relished the parts when the author struggled with culture shock, weird food, and annoying people and glared at the page during the inevitable cultural assimilation and appreciation. Why couldn't my experience have a happy ending like that? Instead I was sitting in a humid room with rain hammering on the tin roof, mentally shaking my fist at the lights and fan that refused to turn on and daydreaming about how much fun I should have been having on my last night in Ouahigouya.
If Peace Corps's supposed to be such a life changing experience, how come I haven't been able to feel sad about leaving Burkina no matter how hard I've tried? I tried to feel it when I taught my last lesson, when I handed back my last test, when I left my last school meeting. But my lesson was about dysentery and my students' last impression of their white science teacher was her repeatedly telling them not to “défequer” outside. My students totally bombed their last test, and I formed my last impression of them while contending with a bunch of pissed off fifth graders. And after the school meeting, the other teachers neglected to tell us when lunch was and ate all the chicken without us, giving us a pity plate of chicken guts when we showed up late. Nope, not sorry about not teaching anymore.
Now here in Ouahigouya, I'm saying goodbye to the town where we had our three months of pre-service training. The town where I had all my first Burkinabé meals, including fish heads on rice and goat femur soup. The town that Markus and I escaped to when we were bored with Titao to drink ice cold beers and sleep in air conditioning. And it totally sucks. Instead of chatting with my friends about our first impressions of this place, I'm eating powdered mashed potatoes—the same thing I had for lunch—and tippy tapping out my frustrations.
But if nothing else, Burkina's taught me that nothing turns out like you thought it would. I know that if my students had surprised me and Markus with a giant “We'll miss you!” card that they'd all signed, I'd be totally weirded out. And if I'd had the perfect Ouahigouya goodbye, biking down to the bar without people yelling at me from all directions, then receiving excellent service from a smiling, attentive waitress, I'd think something was up. And if something like a ridiculously badly timed thunderstorm hadn't occurred, I'd be looking over my shoulder the whole evening, watching out for someone throwing dirt at me or stealing my iPod. The cynical moral of the story is that everything in this country goes wrong all the time. And that's ok. It wouldn't be nearly as interesting if everything went right.