This post references depression and contains some inappropriate language. No getting mad at me for saying how I feel the way I feel it needs to be said.

So I’m going to my village, after all. I cried when I found out.

I asked you all to hold off on getting mail to me because the mail system was down. I lied. Peace Corps Mali was being considered for an evacuation, and I hadn’t yet moved to my village, and so I didn’t want things to get shipped to me if I wasn’t going to be there to pick them up.

Today, after a week of our lives being on hold and entertaining ourselves with endless Settlers of Catan games (and a few bottles of alcohol), we were finally given the green light to travel to site. We were also told we had only a matter of hours to pack, but that’s an entirely separate complaint.

Only days before we were scheduled to be sworn in as volunteers (we’ve been trainees up until recently), we had a meeting with the Big Wigs. In addition to terrorist activities picking up in the north (not surprising), there had also been a strike in the south (unprecedented). The strike in the south took place in the region all 28 of us are headed.

Peace Corps Mali was evacuated in 2012 due to an unexpected and poorly-planned coup d’etat. My fellow volunteers and I are the first group to re-enter the country. If we last our entire two-year commitment without being evacuated, we will be the first Peace Corps group in history to successfully re-enter a country after volunteers had been pulled due to a military coup.

As you can imagine, the general attitude is that we won’t last until August 2017. But damn, this group has spirit. My peers have showed no hesitancy in expressing their courage and commitment to our security officers, to our country director, and even to the United States Ambassador.

As a result of the recent jihadist activities (yes, jihadist), our departure to our permanent sites was delayed for about a week. Theories spread and the wheels spun as we each theorized over what the final decision was going to be.

In the guiltiest recesses of my mind, I prayed for everything to be over and for them to announce that we would be going home. Please don’t hate me for saying that. I have a partner and air conditioning and electricity and toilets waiting for me in Montgomery, Alabama. I fantasized about getting to help Andrew at this year’s Dragon Boat Festival. I dreamed about surprising Becca for her birthday.

A month ago we visited our permanent sites for a week and it was, without a doubt, the single hardest fucking week of my life. I found rock bottom when I was crumpled up on the floor, starving, bawling my eyes out. The rain was deafening on my tin roof. The overcast day did nothing for my solar panels, which caused my light to be incapable of emitting no more than a miserable flicker next to me.

Today it was announced that I was going to miss my sister’s next three birthdays, and that I was going to move in permanently to that village.

I have never been diagnosed with depression. I’ve never needed to pay a professional to tell me that my family history and my dark and violent mood swings are pretty good indicators that Allah messed up somewhere in my DNA make-up. This past week, while caught up in this sort of limbo of not knowing if I was heading to America or heading to my village, I’ve been stuck in a pretty bad funk. Go figure.

The truly incredible thing about the day’s announcement is that, had we been told that I was going to go home, I would be escaping a reality that millions face for their entire lives. Except their environmental stress is accompanied with starvation and disease. Oh, and these are the exact people I’m here to help.

I am stressed. I am depressed. I feel guilty for secretly hoping that reasons beyond my control were going to send me back to Daniel. I am incredibly proud to be a part of this group of volunteers, who are so bravely moving forward into this politically turbulent country because they believe starvation and famine and al Qaeda and the oppression of women are things worth taking a stand for, even though the only thing we are equipped with is the local language.

Settling into my new place is going to be hard, and there are going to be a million things to figure out before I stop being crumpled up on the floor in a miserable mess.

I’m not sure if I’ve discovered new found courage, or have just developed an extremely high tolerance for dealing with shit, but I’m taking a deep breath and stepping on that bus to take me south (on a date I can’t tell you because…bad guys). Admittedly, I knew there were issues here, but this isn’t what I thought I was signing up for. But we never really know though, do we? That is the odd nature of us being here; that, while these emotions are new to us, they aren’t new to the people we’re here to help.

The slap in the face I just received is that when trouble is a-brewin’, all the bad guys need to wreak havoc is for the good guys to run back to their air conditioning. Our security officer, the United States Embassy, and Washingtion, D.C. all agree that the southern region of Mali is safe for 28 unarmed Peace Corps volunteers to teach people about proper hand washing. And we trust them. And so we move forward to do our job.

All this to say, the Liz that misses America lost today, and the Liz that wants to make a difference won. And it’s scary, and growing up is painful, and I wish I could irritate my partner for just one day, and I can’t wait to start my garden here, and I plan on sending Nurse Ian lots of pictures of everything I see with my fancy new camera that is waiting for me in my mailbox in Sikasso because the mail system never went down.


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10 replies to “Delayed

  1. laniseworks

    I ni Baara from a Mali RPCV (2009-2011). I went home a little early because of the situations in brew that lead to the 2012 coup and evac. Enough about me- thank you for writing this post!
    I loved my time in Mali and hated the way events have turned in the past few years. I am inspired by you and the Warani stage! Despite your background, Peace Corps, esp PC MAli during this time, is hard! Your feelings are “normal” and you’ll keep experiencing a roller coaster of emotions, basically your whole service; you’ll feel it moreso during this time of adjustment. I respect your courage to speak on it so publicly. Keep finding ways to get it out and process your feelings, experiences, and emotions. I’m sending so much love and good juju to Mali-la. I’m rooting for you! Hang in there as long as you can (or as long as the gov’t lets you). *virtual hugs*

  2. Joseph D'Amore

    I watched you grow up at 408 over the past 18 years. You went from spirited little girl to an adventurous, young woman in what seems like a blink of an eye. 18 years is a long time. i’m ashamed to admit that until recently, I really didn’t know who you were and what you stood for. What I’ve learned since you went out to serve others is that you have a very generous heart. You are bold and brave and strong; more than I could ever hope to be. You are selfless and, yes; you are human. You feel the pain of others and want to help despite the discomfort and possible risks. Even though you are just getting started with your assignment in Mali, you have already made a positive impact on so many people – there, among your teammates and here with your family and friends. I told you before that you inspire me and I meant it. What I have yet to do is to thank you for being such a blessing in my life. Keep the faith. Stay positive. Cuss up a storm when you need to. You’re just being who you are – a bright light in the darkness. I will continue to think of you and pray for you. Keep writing. You have very important things to say. We’re listening.

    • The Chief

      Thank you dear neighbor. I needed to hear those words tonight.
      408s mom

      • Joseph D'Amore

        You and Mr. Chief have some pretty incredible kids. Whew.

  3. jen

    Girl, moving IN GENERAL causes me to curl up in a heap on the floor! You’ve had some serious crud come down the line in Mali and moving is just the tip of it. It’s totally OK to miss Daniel, electricity, indoor plumbing, and family — it means that you are human. You’re bad@$$ for even doing the Peace Corps thing in the first place so just give yourself some grace.

    • The Chief

      Thanks Jen.

  4. Rebecca Simpson

    Hi Lizy – I <3 you.

  5. Ali Feudo

    I’ve never been to Mali as a member of the Peace Corps, but I can still more or less guarantee you that what you’re feeling is completely normal for your abnormal situation. Just as you are going to experience things you’ve never imagined, you will inevitably feel emotions in ways you didn’t expect. It’s good that you’re reminding yourself why you’re there and who you’re there for, but remember to give yourself a break sometimes — yes, they live a very sad life compared to ours, but you’re out of place and they’re at home. It’s okay to be sad.
    I’m still so proud of you. Please stay safe

  6. Nancy Sassaman

    Well said. Our prayers. And alcohol does NOT help depression, no matter how good it feels at the time. We miss you. We love you. And God is in charge (come what may). In Morocco, no one so much as inserts the key in the ignition of the car, or lights the burner on the stove without saying, “Inshallah.” You have to have experienced a “developing” country to truly understand fatalism. Nevertheless, you are on the biggest adventure of your life: up, down, and boring plateaux (you are in a Francophone place), it will be real. And don’t forget, we love you.

    • The Chief

      Thanks Nancy

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