It was sort of like the cremation of Anakin Skywalker in Return of the Jedi. (Ok, insert nerd accusations here.) Mixed feelings of closure, sadness, life lived, and a hint of relief.
Standing next to a raging fire Daboe and I talked of unrelated topics, the planting of squash in The Gambia and the harvesting of pumpkin in America. We stood in front of the last two years of my life burning happily, a pile consisting of letters, cards, study notes, personal scribbles, newspaper articles, magazine cut outs and more. As orange flame swayed in the wind and turned pages to white ash, Daboe poked and turned the pile with a long cassava shoot. With each effort pages hiding from flame would reveal themselves, a letter from an ex-coworker talking about travels in Thailand printed in courier font, a box diagram depicting Mandinka prepositions, a greeting card from a friend in deep transition hopeful and decorated with art from StoryPeople.
These were fragments, snapshots of my life over the past two years all dissolving into dust. Closure, sadness, life lived, and relief indeed.
As I prepare to come home, one of the last things I will do is celebrate my 24th birthday. When I reflect on my adult life this scenario repeats itself, not by design but by coincidence. The last time I had a birthday stateside was when I turned 20 and I was preparing to go abroad for the first time in 12 years as a student in Vienna. When I compare the person then to the person now it is hard to believe so much has passed. Upon turning 24 I will have become in love with a time and place in Europe, an avid cyclist, reconnected with the land of my mother, a college graduate, accepted into a new family, and soon to be a returned Peace Corps volunteer.
On Sunday I will leave The Gambia and cease to be a PCV.