Where to begin?
Where to begin?
I’ve wondered a million times how to start a story from the middle, and I feel no closer to an answer than when I started. It’s a puzzling place for a storyteller to be. So much has happened, and, yet, still not enough.
My story began here three years ago. It was with such excitement that I posted my first entry explaining the adventure that I saw lying ahead of me. I was so proud to have decided to leave my job, my life, family and friends, to instead make my home on the dusty Sahel. Mali, I told myself, would be where I truly learned to live.
And live I did.
It’s almost uncanny how accurately I described how I expected my life to be. “My village will likely be around a thousand people, and I will be assigned a counterpart who will assist me in my integration as well as my implementation of various projects as a volunteer. I will likely live in a mud house, with a couple rooms, a propane-powered stove, a pit latrine, and a pump well located within walking distance from which to collect water,” I wrote. And so it was. Though you knew that already.
I intended to share with you all of the pieces of my story, so you could follow along at home. I tried to wrap up my thoughts in short vignettes to shed light on my experiences and also expand people’s perceptions of life half a world away. Initially my task was not that hard. Everywhere I looked I saw remarkable things worth sharing. Every moment felt special as I adjusted to a world so different from the one to which I was accustomed. First through training, then when I got to my site, I wanted to explain every hue, every interaction, every thought.
However, the longer I stayed, and the more I adjusted, the harder it was to explain anything. The more I learned, the less I could decipher which aspects of my fascinating new life were worth relaying to all those following along at home. Every sentence I scribbled in my weathered and worn cahier possessed a back story that was too tiring to get into. And there I go again. Cahier. The French word for notebook. Perhaps I should have added footnotes? But then what is a vignette if it only makes sense thanks to a littering of superscript addendums smirking after every sentence?
But now I’ve returned to you. Feebly explaining my absence, and humbly trying again to describe the indescribable. I have so much to catch you up on; the only question is where to begin?
Do I start from where I previously left off, with Selini? With what was supposed to be my next posting about getting a kitten from Jim’s village? One who turned out to be crazy, and adorable, and ultimately eaten by village boys? What about the second kitten I got twenty minutes after I told Seydou I wanted a new one, the one so small it fit in my pocket, bent tail, underdeveloped mew, worms and all? Do I better explain Seydou, the man who started out as my village-appointed overseer, but turned into my most trusted Malian friend? Do I try and fill in all the missing pieces I left out the first time around?
Or do I start from where my Mali story was put on hold? The morning I learned of the coup? The day I left village, or left San, or left Mali? Or Ghana? Or when I arrived in America? Where do these things start and stop?
Or do I give up on the past and only inform you that somewhere in the space and time after Selini, I have both left and decided to return to Mali? I could say that the harmattan winds are beckoning me, but the truth is that I’d made up my mind that I was returning before I even left village. A temporary hiatus was clearly much easier to face than an actual ending. And while it took almost two years to save up for it, I’m following through with a promise I didn’t ever think twice about making at the time. I suppose you could call me stubborn. Determined. Most likely, just crazy. Either way, I quit my job, repackaged all my things into storage, and bought a one way ticket to a dusty, sun-scorched afterthought of a village. How long will I stay? What will I do there? Why am I going back? These are all good questions. If you’re looking for answers, though, I suppose you’ll just have to stick around a bit longer to see this story to its end.← Selini Let Me Set the Scene →