Everything has a time; and the time has come for me to leave Mali. It has been three years of an amazing roller coaster that has brought me adventure, new friends, and a wealth of experience that I will never forget. My life in Mali has changed me – for better and for worse. I am who I am because of my experiences in this beautiful place.
I fell in love with your people – the warmth, the solidarity, the resourcefulness, the tolerance. I was greeted with open arms by village chiefs, women’s groups, friends, and family. I re-defined what family can mean. We have the family we are born into and the family we choose to do life together with. I watched as strangers became my 2nd, 3rd, and 4th aunts, uncles, cousins, sisters, brothers, and parents. I knew where I could go to fall safely and reflect. I undoubtedly was a success because of the families that we created despite the lines of biology adopted me as one of their own.
I have grown and changed as a person. Irrevocably, I am different now than I was then. I have more understanding of myself, I value relationships and the natural tides of friendship, and I have struggled with my own inner demons. I have seen parts of myself that need to change – the not so pretty side of life that can be cynical, judgmental, and impatient. Turning over the stones of my own self discovery has been formative and meaningful in a way that I had never expected. So I take with me the parts I need to work on in stride with the beautiful parts; I aim to hold both in balance.
The truth is, living in Mali wasn’t easy for me. I pushed myself to new professional heights. I redefined what friendship means to me in a transient landscape of many hellos and often goodbyes. I learned about what and who I value in a way I could have never hoped for. But I also caught glimpses of the structural injustices that are holding so many people back from economic or personal autonomy. I saw and tasted the bitterness of gender inequality, racism/prejudice, and economic disparity. Even in the darkest moments though, I saw the beauty of togetherness “Nous sommes ensemble” (We are together) becoming a motto to seeing the challenges through.
I am walking away from Mali (for now), changed. I am not who I used to be and I am not fully who I will become. I am changed, different, and dare I say it, better. I don’t know what my next steps are. There are options, and hope, and new adventures that wait. For now, I am going home to process the last three years a bit. I am going to spend time with my biological family, and invest in the activities that bring life and healing as I determine what to do next. I know the journey is not over, and I know that some day my path will cross Mali again. I am so deeply grateful for my friends, family, and colleagues who made the last three years possible. I couldn’t have done it without you. I know now, that even though we are far, we will always stand together.
Nous Sommes Ensemble!