When Pigs Fly

Up until my last morning in Solenzo I still felt like I’d never leave the place. Each week seemed to crawl by like it was half asleep and dreaming, and though I cherished my time with the people I had spent the last two years with, my mind was ready for the next step. Strangely enough, my behavior came full circle. Just like my first few weeks in Solenzo when I didn’t know what to do with myself, I started walking in and out of my house in short intervals, forgetting whatever task I had set for myself, half-heartedly checking my phone for texts and then starting the whole process over.

            Not that there wasn’t anything to do. In fact, despite all of my useless bobbing in and out of my house I was remarkably productive. The week before I left we were finally able to realize one of the projects I have wanted to start since I came to Solenzo: having someone come and train the girls on how to make bags and purses out of the traditional fabric they weave. Watching the charismatic and very talented Madame Epema teach the girls a new skill and then watching the girls run with it reminded me why I joined Peace Corps. On top of that, Sister Mary and I made hibiscus flower soap for the first time, the Peace Corps visited twice, I finally helped to set up the drip irrigation system that has been collecting dust for the past year and a half, and I taught the girls how to make origami fish. I learned that another volunteer was replacing me, and I had the opportunity to show her around Solenzo and introduce her to my friends and projects. Sister Mary and I went to Bobo together to see about selling the Center’s soap and fabrics there. I turned 25. Maybe, ironically, it was all of this fast paced activity in the last month that made it seem like my day of departure would never come.

            But of course, it did. I bumped up against it awkwardly like a canoe that suddenly touches land unexpectedly. And all of a sudden I felt rushed. Americans put a tremendous amount of weight on goodbyes; we drag them out so that they can sometimes last for days. Burkinabe are not nearly as sentimental. The Tuesday before I left there was a small “surprise” goodbye ceremony during which the girls read out little notes of thanks they had collected for me. The nuns had killed one of our useless, bellicose sheep for the occasion, one less spindly-legged food-stealing beast to get into fights with my dogs. As far as I’m concerned, one less sheep is the greatest gift I’ve ever given the Center. Afterwards the girls and I danced to the sound of djembe, me wildly trying to imitate them as they performed dances they have known since childhood. My earnest attempts produced a lot of good-hearted laughter.  

            I had sectioned off my house, each pile designated for a certain person in the village. To my neighbors, a large bag of clothes and two hand powered flashlights. To my teenage friend who wants to be a doctor, a solar lamp and a calculator so he can study at night. To Rita, perfume. To my ‘grandmother,’ a messenger bag and well-worn pair of shoes. I felt like I was bequeathing the contents of my own will. But somehow I still had too much stuff to carry. This wasn’t helped by all the gifts I received: a set of clay cooking pots, 2 pagne, a kilo of peanuts that was supposed to survive my six week long post Peace Corps trip and make it home to my family. By the end of my rounds of goodbyes I felt weighted with emotion and trinkets.

Some of the goodbyes seemed practically perfunctory. This confused me until I thought about it a little harder. What does a three-minute hug and crying a little really get you? Will it change the way you feel about the person or the length of time that you’ll be apart? Will it alter your experience of the relationship or make it any more or less meaningful? In Burkina Faso, life goes on no matter what happens, if a relative dies, if the rains don’t come, if a friend leaves. You take a deep breath and you keep making tô. Why should I expect anything about that philosophy to change for me?

Despite my thorough understand of this idea, I still wanted to have a good last memory with my girls. To their utter confusion and slight annoyance, the day before my departure I had them pasting strips of paper covered in a mixture of perfectly good flower and water onto balloons I had taped in the shape of a pig. I was reminded repeatedly of the futility of the exercise until, the following night, I appeared with the paper machet pig under my arm and announced that it was filled with candy. I explained the rules of the piñata as I suspended my flying pig to a low hanging branch. I fixed a blindfold to the first intrepid swinger and spun her around three times. When the piñata hit the ground the frenzy made me step back in surprise and abject joy. Afterwards the girls came up to me to show me their handfuls of candy, uttering benedictions to me from smiling mouths filled with tamarind flavored treats. I’m glad that’s how I get to remember them.