11 December 2007

For the few days leading up to my site visit, my host mama couldn't speak to me without breaking into tears, so she would just sit and stare at me for extended periods with heart-wrenchingly despondent eyes and offer up an occasional "Igziabher yawkal" (God knows). Now, it seems she doesn't trust herself to STOP speaking. All through breakfast, she kept up a constant stream of mothering chatter about my impending departure: Here is the form I had to fill out for the Peace Corps. 'How is Christen?' Christen is a very, very, very good child. Christen is my child. There is no problem. I love her very, very, very much. 'Would you like to host another Peace Corps volunteer in the future?' I don't know. I only want Christen. You can take away the host stipend money if you want, but only let Christen stay in Welisso for her two years. Christen, you will have to leave us soon. But you will call us at the house, and we will write letters. Rebkah will give you our address. Will you have a post office box in Debremarkos? Maybe one day you will come back and visit us in Welisso. This is your house. You will come here for days when you need to rest. You can stay for a whole week, and you can rest here, and I will cook for you, and there will be no problem. And when your friends come to visit, you must bring them here, and they will meet your Ethiopian family and see that things are beautiful here with us. And you will bring your mother and father and sister and grandparents, and they will all stay here in the house, and you will have two families, an American family and an Ethiopian family. You are habesha [Ethiopian ethnicity] now. And I know that Debremarkos doesn't have much water, so you can bring your clothes here in a bag, and we will wash them. And I will make you shuro and berbere and tea cumim and dabo kolo to take with you to eat, and whenever you need anything in Debremarkos, you can call me and tell me, and I will send you whatever you need…

I eventually excused myself. I gathered my things and walked to language class. I entered the classroom (40 minutes late now), sat down, and broke down into the tears I had been fighting back throughout breakfast. My family is so incredibly good to me, giving out of their limited means and far above and beyond their Peace Corps dictated obligations. I entered their home as a stranger, and they have loved me like their own family. I cannot even begin to express how special they are to me, how much I have learned from them, and how much the unconditional and seemingly limitless love they have shown me during my ten weeks with them has impacted my life. And what absolutely breaks my heart about leaving is not so much the thought of how much I will miss them, though that certainly weighs heavily upon my mind. But I've moved around all my life, I've left more people behind than I can possible count…perhaps sadly, I have gotten used to this drill. No, what really breaks my heart about leaving is knowing what a positive thing I've shared here with this family, realizing how much they love me, and seeing all too clearly how much I am hurting them in going away. I am starting to get sick and tired of leaving people.

Lately, too, I can't shake this nagging feeling that the best thing I will accomplish in my two years here, the most meaningful and lasting change, the most untaintedly good work, has already been done here, with this family, in relating with them and sharing life with them. At this point, I just can't imagine anything else I encounter, experience, or do during my service to be as profoundly beautiful as the relationship we've built together over these ten weeks of training. On the one hand, what a testament this feeling is to the value of my time here and the good that has already come from this incredible journey. On the other hand, it is at the very least a peculiar way to be entering into two years of Peace Corps service, thinking it possible that the best has already come and gone.

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