Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Hello To A New Home

17 December – Koussouka, 8:02pm

Today we woke up and I hustled to pack. We ended up waiting well past our scheduled leave time of 7am, so I had breakfast downstairs, chatted, and started saying goodbye to people as they were leaving. I was surprisingly unemotional – it didn't feel dramatic or sad or much of anything. Even saying goodbye in a rush to Stephen while packing was less emotional than I expected – I know I'll see him again and we'll keep in touch so there's no big reason to worry. Even while our driver was loading our car I was still ok. But when everything was packed and it was time to get in, to leave the safety of the hotel and the familiar faces, I started to panic a little. Holy shit, this is happening - I'm about to go to my site and be done with training and have to actually figure out what I'm going to do for the next two years.

We piled in and drove first to the big Sonapost so we could get more money out of our post accounts. We entered the building and the change from two days ago was impressive. There was tea and coffee available as you entered the door, and the place was almost empty. We hopped back in the car and started driving out of Ouaga. I was tired but was in the middle of the front seat without a headrest, so I talked with the driver while Alicia slept on my shoulder. We made a few quick stops, and I listened to some music and told myself that I will not run after the car when it leaves me.

We were getting closer to Emily's site, and somehow it looked just like we were driving into Tucson. It's surrounded by small “mountains” but the land where we were was flat and populated by small-leaved desert trees among the dried yellow grasses. We eventually found our way to her house – the one with the screened windows, of course. We were greeted by her major and some of her CoGes members, who helped us carry things into the house. It has a living/cooking area and two bedrooms, along with a really nice shower in her courtyard that offers a view of the mountains and a latrine just outside her wall. The hangar is new and offers a nice shady spot to rest, and she can turn a fairly large part of her yard into a garden if she wants to. The driver changes her lock and hands her the keys, and he says a little speech to the men assembled. Alicia and I hug Emily goodbye, and we're all tearing up but we get our tears under control very quickly. I hand over Ollie, her puppy, as we leave, and I can't see her as we pull away from her house.

Then we headed to my village! I'm nervous and I'm scared that I'm going to cry, but I'm also excited to see my house and I'm hoping that it's as nice as Emily's seemed to be. We ask directions a couple of times, and finally see my house, a tall single story house with a high courtyard wall and a red metal gate. My major greeted us – she's young, maybe in her late 20s or early 30s. She opened the door and I walked into my kitchen/living room. There are two tables/counters for cooking, each with a shelf or two, plus a high small stand for my water filter, a huge bookshelf, two smaller side tables, two chairs (one cane, one apparently missing it's bottom and back), 4 plastic chairs, 4 mats, 3 calabashes for food strung from the ceiling, and a mirror. I go through the doorway to my bedroom, ducking a little to avoid hitting my head, and see a full/queen sized mattress balanced on it's side, a narrow tall shelving unit, a large water storage container, and a set of hooks on the wall by the door. I'm a little nervous, looking for the promised canteens full of cooking stuff, but behind the bed I discover 4 large metal lockers.

Outside is just as wonderful – my courtyard isn't as large as Emily's, but it's still quite sizable and the hangar has been fixed. The latrine is quite large and has a level surface (trust me, it makes a difference), and to my surprise and delight the shower has a shower caddy constructed out of hollow metal tubing and hung over the wall. Sweet! The courtyard is dirt, so I can possibly plant a garden, and the area right outside my door is poured cement. Alicia and I get the keys from Sylvie (my major) and start going through the canteens. It's like Christmas! Anything I could have possibly wanted and then some is here – sheets that somehow still smell freshly washed, tons of pots with lids, pillows, the stove, tea mugs, books, papers, buckets – it's amazing and I'm so grateful that the last Volunteer chose to leave all these things that will absolutely make my moving in much easier.

We had to wait for my gas tank to arrive – it was a little more complicated than just filling up the old one since the company here has changed and the old tank needs to go with my driver back to Ouaga. The tone is decidedly different from being at Emily's – we're relaxed, taking some time, chatting, looking through the things in the house. When the time comes for them to leave I think about the advice Sunyata gave me and plant my feet firmly, picturing myself sending the smallest of roots into the hard ground beneath my feet, beginning the process of anchoring myself here to my new home. I feel a leap in my throat as Alicia and the driver climb in, but smile and wave as they pull away. I don't cry, I don't run after the car. I'm scared, but I'm also excited to get inside and start digging through those trunks!

My CoGes president filled my bidon (a 20L plastic container) so I have some water to put in my filter and to clean with. I thank him, and turn to my major who tells me to take the rest of the day to repose, that tomorrow we'll start meeting people. Sounds good to me - I immediately get to work wiping down all of the furniture and sweeping out the rooms. Surprisingly things aren't as dirty as I'd expected for the house being empty for nearly a year, and there are hardly any bugs or spiders. I think I'm going to like it here. I unload boxes, move furniture, and thank Lauren every time I find yet another thing that she didn't have to leave but will absolutely make my time here better, like an iPod speaker, sharpies, a camping pad, some of her papers, drink mixes, and an impressive stash of spices, many of which I've never used before and some of which I've never even heard of. I spend the rest of the day cleaning, arranging, rearranging. I'm ridiculously proud of my home, and wish more than once that someone was here to see it. I'm glad that Lauren seemed to cook for herself, since no one comes over to ask me to eat with them and I don't go searching for someone to eat with even though I really don't have any staple foods to eat, just oatmeal, care-package granola bars, and soup. Even most of my tea I would prefer with milk and sugar, so I have chamomile with honey instead.

I set up my bed in the same corner Lauren did, the nails helpfully already in place to string up my mosquito net. There's no bed frame but I kind of like the mattress on the floor. I kept the narrow shelves for clothing in the corner at the foot of the bed, next to one of the trunks for random things that didn't go anywhere else. The big green trunk next to my bed has the pad for the cot, some extra pillows and my tent with the two camping pads. The laundry basket is next to that, and the wash basin with the crack has become my toiletry holder next to the door. In the main room I put the stove in the corner next to the hanging calabashes, and perpendicular to it along the other wall is the second countertop. Next to the stove is a big goblet (a plastic cup) with all the cooking utensils she left (a bunch of knives, spatulas, ladles, strainers, etc – thank you!) and a second goblet holds silverwear. A small woven basket has the lighters and matches, and the shelf below is for spices I think I will use the most. There are nails on the sides for hanging a small cutting board, a measuring cup and spoons, a tami for sifting flour, and pot holders.

The second counter has my tea and coffee on the first shelf, with my frying pan and the pot I suspect I will use the most often, and a jug for dipping water out of the water storage next to it. The second shelf holds some of my food – cereal, lentils, peanut butter, jelly, honey, nutella, and oil, along with two egg crate pieces Lauren left. Under my water filter on the two shelves are my drink mixes and my med kit. In the opposite corner, across from my door to the bedroom I've set up the sling chair (I found the sling part in one of the trunks) next to a small side table and the bookshelf. The bottom shelf is all books, of course, and makes me terribly happy. Above that are PC books and papers, the third shelf is plates, bowls, mugs, and snacks, and the top shelf is the overflow of spices and all of the other food I've purchased but won't use all the time like canned lentils and chickpeas, care-package macaroni and cheese, a value pack of VQR, olive oil and balsamic vinegar, and soup packets. I spread out one mat under my chair and table, and the rest are next to the bookcase in the corner. The plastic chairs are sitting on the other side and I think that's just where they're going to stay. I put the wicker chair and the other small table outside, and had my tea out there this morning. Life is good.

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