Visiting Stephanie and meeting new friends

Good Morning! I’m continuing to post and trying to catch up, and on that note here’s the next update!

I’d left my site the day before, and after settling my dad’s big Osprey backpack into a corner of the provincial house, and my little orange Quechua pack sitting on a bunk in the dorm rooms, I was on my way again. I had a mission and only a few days to make sure it happened. I was ground pounding, door to door, and office to office – traveling out to visit friends in Mansa. I headed to their offices, and homes I said my goodbyes, explaining that I was leaving.

I was visiting counterparts and friends who I had worked with, and relationships that I valued, leaving behind an E-mail address and a smile. I’m glad that I have the opportunity now to remain in contact – because with the advent of mobile technology and its mass availability, I can now be fairly certain that I will be able to remain in touch with my closer colleagues and workmates. That’s a huge consolation, because in the past, when we left – we were gone. We might be able to write a letter, but for the most part they’d never arrive. Now all of that has changed. The world and communication as we know it is changing, and we are all becoming more and more connected – it’s a beautiful thing!

As I had lunches and dinners, visited offices for quick goodbyes, and words of thanks I felt more and more free, open and ready to the next experience and riding on the wings of well wishes and heartfelt thanks and admiration. I was humbled and honored by the words of encouragement as I prepared to move on to the next adventure. I wrapped up after three days, and then hopped on transport back out to the village – I was on my way to visit my neighbor for the last time. Her site is just 20KM past mine, and there’d be a few of us going to visit – it was the beginning of the next phase of my farewell. Although it was difficult as I looked out the window at the signpost marker for my site, and down into the valley where I imagined I could pick out my own individual thatch roof six KM away, we quickly passed by, and I was ready for to see Stephanie. I was going to be surrounded by fellow volunteers and friends, for the next week, and I couldn’t have asked for more.

We were dropped off by the bus just a few hundred meters from her site, a big faded sign painted to indicate for the Jehovah’s witness where to drop supplies for church donations. We dropped our gear at her doorstep, and settled in for a few nights of good company, entertainment, conversation and enjoying the village life vicariously as guests in another PCVs village. It was promising to be an amazing experience in the company of fellow PCVs, community members, and new friends.

We headed down to the river, swam and enjoyed the beauty of the African bush, surrounded by eager and happy children, and good vibes, it was a perfect environment for relaxation. The scene of the children, my fellow volunteers, and I splashing, swimming, and playing in the water, must have made a ridiculous sight. But, the tranquility, freedom, and atmosphere were rejuvenating. That night we built a large campfire, had drinks around it, and shared stories and conversation. Under the gorgeous starry sky, we basked in the beauty of Africa.

I think that those feelings and the context are what helped me keep everything together as the events in Prescott unfolded.

I charged my phone the next morning, and when I opened my E-mail I had two messages waiting for me from home. I opened the first, and immediately after reading it searched online for updated news – 19 brave firefighters – the Granite Hills Hotshot crew had been killed in a tragic accident. They hadn’t released names, and I was overwhelmed with a sinking cruel feeling as I thought of my friends and school mates who had been on, and were on the team. I nearly collapsed, before I could compose myself. I steadied myself in a doorway, and continued hunting for more information. I felt so removed, so isolated from my friends and home community who were mourning the loss of 19 amazing people.

Over the day I steadied myself, and trying to mitigate my fear, packed up and headed back to Mansa. We were continuing right through to Samfya – and there were to be over 80 other volunteers there to celebrate the Fourth of July. A huge celebratory atmosphere, one heck of a juxtaposition for me. I sent responses to the E-mails, facebooked, and resigned myself to waiting anxiously to hear the names, as I took time alone to mourn and honor the sacrifice made by the 19, and then buried the tragic news and focused in on busy work, trying to kill time as I quietly waited to know more. As the week went on, the names were released, and I was able to send condolences to the families of friends. Still overwhelmed by the sense of distance, and helplessness. Able to commiserate only through Facebook and E-mail, unable to offer tangible comfort to my friend’s families. I know that their sacrifice will be remembered, and I know I remember them fondly and as the Heroes they were.

The week ended, and the mixture of feelings – celebrating the fourth, being surrounded by a mob of fellow volunteers, saying farewell to Luapula, and my two years of service, and the horrifying loss of 19 brave heroes. I packed up my hammock, gathered together my things, and headed back to the provincial office. Spent the night, then got on a night bus to Lusaka – my final trip as a Luapula Volunteer. It was hard – overwhelming – on so many levels. I’m still not in a place to process all of it, and I am often reminded and flooded with raw, uncontrolled emotions that are waiting to be worked through.


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