On my recent hiatus from Peace Corps I found myself saying two things over and over: "I haven't had ... in so long" and "this reminds me of ... in Senegal." So I had been craving developed world amenities but simultaneously missed the developing world. That dichotomy had me flustered but grateful my time in Senegal is not easily categorized and detached from my conscience. I was a little surprised by it so I'll elaborate on why exactly.
I loved the ability of people to obey simple rules like road signs and littering regs. But I missed the lawlessness and openness that dispelles "trespassing" from the Wolof vocabulary. I loved the quiet hum of crickets and lack of obnoxious motos but it was hard for me to fall asleep. I loved blending in but why was no one greeting me? Everything around me was so beautiful but when did selfie sticks become as quintessentially tourist as the oversized coach busses blocking the very view they try to capture? Needless to say I had to balance my touristic cynicism with an enthusiasm for drinking on the sidewalk. Though theres one thing I'm not conflicted about: I didn't miss cheb u gën.
Other than my internal crises, my time in Italy was rejuvenating. I did feel like I was hiding a secret from everyone all around me but I was given a bizarre comfort imagining the way Senegalese Ex-pats must feel when they first arrive. I played catch-up with my parents and we reconciled our life accounts as best we could.
In God's own timing, my grandma Jean Austin Johnson died the week before we met up. I think she knew death would find her while I was in the corps. The tears she shed the summer before I left were the kind of unspoken jewels the give goodbye it's most terminal meaning. But nothing could have prepared me for how it felt to be here while that happened. My words could not do her memorial justice here so it will suffice to say that I pray to be with her again. I was glad to be around my Pops so we could discuss and find peace in the end of her long life.
After our bumbling rental car navigations of Tuscany I left the parents in Florence at 6am to grab one last Italian espresso and a flight to London. Still fighting the giggles inflicted since my walk onto the plane in Dakar, I took London like I've never been able to before; unplanned and alone. I stayed at a YHA hostel in central London and finally felt surrounded by a gastronomy scene qualified to cook Mexican food. So I partook. If the vacation wasn't worthwhile before then, the deal had certainly been sealed.
After a day of enjoying the parks, foreign languages, and double decker busses, I took a train up to Wales. I knew I was getting close when I started to observe a higher ratio of sheep to people. Landing in Abergavaney brought me into the care of Forrest Hogg, the son of Gavin and Vina Hogg. Occasionally I meet people in my travels who I can't fathom. Can't explain. People who I feel like I've known for longer than the moments we've spent together. The Hogg family epitomizes one of these occasions. I'm not sure if I was just drunk from beholding the bucolic scenes unfolding from the small windows of their broken down hatchback or if I had really just taken a train ride into my dreams. Either way the only worry I had was keeping my excitement from bubbling out into manifestations of handstands and beaming awkward smiles. I hope I was successful.
I spent a few weeks working on the Penpont organic farm, meeting all their wonderful friends, and learning what efforts operate(d) their sprawling estate, past and present. Weekends consisted of pub trips, antique markets, a visit to friend Sam in Cardiff, small music festivals, and biking/hiking/running up mountains. This is my element. And it was nice to know I'm capable of working 30+ hours a week and happy to wake every morning with that ahead of me. Eating fresh and organic also had a rejuvenating power I could not have expected. I felt myself regaining strength every day. The three days of rain we recieved also reminded me of how simple pleasantries add up to giant reliefs.
After one last London spending spree facilitated by Ryan Perkins, I returned to Senegal via barren Mauratania for the final stretch of this Peace Corps Marathon. And just like the final stretch in any race I'm exhausted but running fast with the energy of knowing it's almost over. This isn't to say I'm counting down the days, but in these last 100 I want to bring a new energy to everything I do. I want to see the things I would regret not seeing. I want to say the things I've always wanted to but never had the vocabulary or energy. I want to absorb and be absorbed in every interaction. I don't want to just look back on this as the longest race of my life but rather my most beautiful adventure yet. For all my running friends; this is my last 100 meters, the last 100 days.
A pictorial summary of Tuscany
A view from full time organic farmer Pete's apartment, Penpont, Wales
The Red Lion of Wales
The staircase we built from a fallen tree. Last work day at Penpont.