I’ve written and re-written this post so many times, which is why it’s been such a long time in coming. I was searching for the perfect way to present this bit of news, so that you all would read it and say “Oh yes, this makes sense.” My quest for the perfect words was unsuccessful, so I’m just going to go with the straightforward route: I’ve decided to stay on here for an extra year. I know the prevailing attitude of folks at home was to finish the two years and come home, so I suspect this may be difficult to understand. I’ll explain the best I can, and I hope that you’ll try to understand and support me.
I’ve been reflecting on the idea of extending for a third year for quite some time. I went back and forth and back and forth about it for months. The pro-con list was fairly even, and there were some very strong points for stopping at two years. But in the end, it turns out that I’m just not ready to give up on the idea of making a difference here. As I’ve written about at length here, the obstacles to doing the work I came to do are numerous, and it took me a very long time to get to a point where I felt like I was actually doing something, which was extremely frustrating for me. After over a year, work things finally started moving, and I realized at that point that I didn’t have enough time left to do the things I wanted to do. Even if I left now, I would leave having done something, of course, but when I judge what I’ve done against what I could have done, it just feels insignificant. In one of many discussions on the topic of the third year, I told my mom that I felt my work was unfinished and she responded by saying, “But you know it will never be finished, right?” This is true and I do know it. I also have no intention of staying in Benin forever, for the record. I’m destined for bigger things than this. But I’m also someone who has almost a compulsion for doing the best job she can with whatever she undertakes, and what I’ve done here in the year and a half I’ve been here is not the best I can do. I know that there will always be work to be done, but I also feel that there will be a moment when I’ll have done enough that I can leave and feel good about it.
But there’s another component to this decision as well, which is that I’ve realized that at this moment in my life, I’m really happy. Happiness. It might seem an odd thing to come across in an African village, thousands of miles from my friends and family, but somehow it seems to found me here. It’s not that I don’t miss home or my loved ones or iced coffee or salad or air conditioning–goodness do I miss all of that; but somehow that can exist simultaneously with loving my life here. As I was pondering all of this, I was reading Oprah magazine (of all things to make its way across the Atlantic and into my house) and it hit me with a piece of wisdom about how true happiness comes quietly through the little, unexciting things that happen every day, not in an explosion of emotion as one finds in big events or bungee jumping or the like. And that made a lot of sense to me–the joy that I feel here is that sort, the slow, quiet type that comes from many small moments added together. And it occurred to me that people spend a lot of time searching for happiness, and it doesn’t present itself at all times in one’s life, so if I’ve managed to get it into my life for a moment, maybe I shouldn’t be running to change everything immediately. I’d like to enjoy another year of waking up with the sunrise and the roosters crowing, of small children running up to me and giving me high fives, of walking everywhere and seeing friends on the way to wherever I’m going, of singing with children in classrooms, of playing with babies, of wearing bright, beautiful fabrics, of seeing the real night sky, of listening to the rain pounding my sheet metal roof, and of feeling the simplicity of life that eludes us (or at least me) in the States.
For the record, I am aware that time actually does pass while I’m doing this, and that some may think I’m wasting my time. My younger brother informs me that by the time I get back, he will have closed the gap between us, which could be seen as true. The thing is that I don’t quite see life in such a linear way–we are going down two different paths, so it would be difficult to judge which of us was ahead of the other. At any rate, that idea doesn’t bother me. It feels to me that at this moment in time, I’m doing what I should be doing, and I’m happy with it, and it doesn’t quite feel finished. I still have plenty of time to do grad school or to start working when I get back, and if I’m a year older than I otherwise would have been, I know that it was a year well spent gaining experience and also just enjoying life. Is that such a bad thing to do?
And so I announce the decision to the world. I’m still waiting on the official confirmation, but it looks pretty likely that it’s going to be approved. If it is, I get flown home for a month of vacation, which I plan to take around the holidays. But all of that will be discussed in more detail later. For now, I’m going to post this before my computer battery runs out or I decide that it needs to be worked on more, and I’m going to get dressed to go vaccinate some babies before continuing on to work on a mural on the side of the high school with some students and then finishing the day by practicing English with a group of 8th graders. I’ll try to post again soon, I know it’s been an incredibly long time. Best wishes for a lovely day to anyone who’s reading! Until next time, CMK.