Most people have read my previous post about Raising the Parting Glass and how hard I find it to be saying goodbye all the time. But I have to admit that I didn’t think that the implications of saying goodbye were as widely felt by Malians and International folks alike. The truth is no one likes saying goodbye. It’s hard for everyone. I just had never thought about how the wider community would be impacted. I know that when my colleagues leave, our local staff feel sadness and that sense of loss. But yesterday I saw how people who come and go also have an effect on the wider community as well.
I have a vegetable lady – her name is Héléne. She has a small vegetable stand near to my house and sets up shop every day from about 4:30pm- 11pm. She’s the go-to Loblaws or Sobeys (Walgreens? for my american friends and Carrefour? for my European friends) equivalent, when you run out of veggies and just have to have salad for supper or made a whole recipe and realized you’re out of garlic and onions. She has been nothing but kind to me, and is always quick to throw in a “gift” every now and again to show appreciation for customer loyalty. There is not the same sense of market forces here in Mali, and so prices are pretty standardized from one vendor to another. You return to one specific person because you have a relationship with that vendor, not necessarily because you save more or get different varieties.
The other day though, I went to buy some salad and other supplies for the week and Héléne was deep in conversation with someone. I waited patiently as they held hands, the way you would if you lost someone, and they finished their conversation. Héléne proceeded to greet me as she wiped tears from her eyes, and the man walked hurriedly away. I asked her what was going on and what was making her so upset? She explained that the man she was speaking with has been in Bamako for four years and has been a kind and loyal customer since he first arrived. The time has come now though, that he has decided to leave Mali and go back to Europe.
The fact is, that when we come to a new country to work, we create a life in that place. We grow to have relationships not only with our colleagues but also with people in the world around us. The contract to contract life adds levels of excitement for those who are moving on, but it can be hard for those people who are left behind – whether they be host country nationals or international workers. We form bonds and it’s not easy to say goodbye. I guess the solace is that bonds are formed and are hard to break, even through the distance and the years.