saying goodbye

I believe that a proper “goodbye” is important. It is important because it provides closure. It does not mean that the person or place will be forgotten. It does not reduce the memory. It does not remove longing. It does not mean that you will never see that person again. Rather it honors that person, that place—the relationship. It means that those times were worthy of saying goodbye to as we feel no need to say goodbye to the unimportant things in life—they simply slip into our past.

Today is the age of quick travel from one place to another, seemingly reducing the need to say goodbye. In 24 hours of travel I can make it from West Africa to the Midwest, US of A. We have internet and phones. When I am in the bush I can use a satellite connection to phone or email as needed. It is an age in which I can travel to a country thousands of miles away six times for my doctorate research. No slow ships or trains making that too timely, no state laws or cultural norms preventing me, as a woman, from pursuing graduate degrees. All of this worked together so that over six trips, four of which were summers based in one village, I could fall in love with a land and a people. Not just a people, but certain people.

Today we give business cards and trade email addresses like they are sports cards. You are checking my blog, which instantly allows friends—old and new, and even, possibly, people unknown to me, to check up on my life and travels. This has taken away the old fashioned goodbye. Now we say, “See you later.”

Over the past week I said, “Goodbye,” to a country and people that I love. I said goodbye because these things that seem to make my world so small do not translate to life in the bush. I can hand out piles of business cards, but that does not enable long distance communication. Internet has come to the town where we go to market weekly. Unfortunately, many of the people that I love most do not even make it in to market but a couple times a year. Forget the hurdle of physically manipulating a computer and the internet or finding the money to use such resources—they are hardly ever in town. It would be beautiful to return to the village again in the future, the village where children great white people by yelling, “Pameeeeeela.” It would be beautiful, but it would not be the same.

The twins would be too large to throw into the air as their lungs filled with laughter. Little Felecite would no longer be able to get piggy-back rides (almost too big for that now), and she would be able to out run me. Big Felicite would no longer grab a bucket to join me for my nightly shower. Pascal would no longer run to great me as I walked past his house. New mud houses might have been built, old ones fallen apart. Trees, even the large Baobabs, might have fallen due to old age or insect influxes. Time changes both the land and the people.

Maybe some things would be the same. I could still sit in Martine’s kitchen filling my clothes with the aromas of burning wood. She would still laugh when I suggest such odd combinations as peanut sauce with rice for dinner. Fortune would still be working to get one step further, to educate his children. I would still hear Andre’s deep, booming voice before I could see him. Remi would still take me to see his expansive farms. The women would still use large mortars and pestles to pound yams, and stones to grind peanuts. Morning would still be greeting time. The red dirt road would still be red and the jagged hills magnificent. These are things I imagine and hope would be the same if I were to return in 5 or 10 or 15 years.

But I don’t know if I will go back in 5 or 10 or 15 years. Even if I do, it will be different. Regardless, my relationships in Benin are such that they warranted a proper goodbye—no “see you later.” So I said goodbye. A good, hard goodbye. I cried. It has been good.

One Reply to “saying goodbye”

  1. Well spoken. Saying a well purposed goodbye gives honor and value to the people and places you are leaving and affords them a cherished place in your memories. How many people really savor an experience and then release it with grace and dignity? It is not an easy thing.

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