30 September 2007


I heard something recently that made me suspect that people might think, from reading this blog, that Southern Sudan is driving me out of Africa, that this place is the reason I am moving back to the US for a while. The opposite is true. Southern Sudan entices me to stay in Africa. It tempts me every day.

It is true that if I were staying for a while, I would insist on some quality of life improvements, namely access to a kitchen and a seat on the pit latrine, but every day, I struggle with the decision to leave this continent for a time. I don’t want to leave. I love being here. (Notice all the caveats: for a while, for a time. I can’t stay away.)

(Jet fuel and traffic lines
Pulling up to the Delta signs
Distant shape of my hometown
Black stain where the wheels touch down

I pick up the morning news
Pass the man who’s never shined my shoes
Through security into the train
That will take me to the aeroplane)

I made the decision to move back to the US before I arrived in Southern Sudan – in fact, before I left the US this time around. The truth is that I’m tired of leaving. I have reached the point where I don’t actually even bother to picture the next place. In August, I sat in the Nairobi airport waiting for my Juba flight, just blank. Not expectant. Not excited. Blank.

I pack and get on a plane, assuming that it will be fine. That’s good, I suppose, to be independent and well-traveled, but I’m tired. I’m tired of saying goodbye. I’m tired of making some semblance of a home out of new places. I’m tired of not having a home. I feel like I’ve just been staying in different places – three or so a year since 2004 – without ever really feeling settled. I haven’t felt at home since I left Rwanda over three years ago.

(Count the miles on the highway
The sum of all my days
There’s a postcard, there’s a call
There’s a picture for your bedroom wall

But do you ever wonder through and through
Who’s that person standing next to you?
And after all the nights apart
Is there a home for a traveling heart?)

I think it is telling that, when my computer lost all the iTunes playlists, one of only two that I immediately made was titled “leaving.” It contains some songs that keep me alive in airport departure lounges. Songs like Caedmon’s Call’s “Faith My Eyes” and Nicole Nordeman’s “Brave.” Songs like Indigo Girls’ “Leaving,” which is the song interspersed in this post.

It would be easy for me to dive deep into the humanitarian worker world, living in a different place every few years – because every place sounds so fascinating to me – but I don’t like what all the leavings have done to me. I don’t like what they could do to me. I don’t want to go just for the sake of going.

(But if I weren’t leaving you
I don’t know what I would do
But the more I go, the less I know
Will the fire still burn on my return
Keep the path lit on the only road I know?
Honey, all I know to do is go)

Although I had decided before leaving the US that I would move to Reasonably Big City in the Western Half of the US in December, I heard back from a job possibility soon after I arrived in Southern Sudan. I had an interview for it (this was the very important satellite phone call that I was waiting for in the rain, for careful readers, should any exist). It was a newly graduated international lawyer’s dream job. Really, it was. It was in a country that shares a border with this one, a country I have long wanted to visit. It would have given me frequent rest and relaxation breaks, during which I could have traveled throughout East and Southern Africa.

I interviewed. When I got an email asking me to move on to the final selection stage, I panicked. If anyone had asked me three months ago what I wanted to do, what my perfect job would have been, I would have described this one. I thought about giving up the perfect job, about giving up the travel, about giving up the continent, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it.

Then I thought about walking through security in the airport in Michigan when I was leaving for Southern Sudan, and about how I went into the bathroom and when I came out, I looked back out at the waiting area, and my parents, who I had told not to stay, not to come up to the glass window and try to talk through it, because it’s all too hard, were just then turning around to walk out of the airport. They had been watching, in case I turned back, the whole time I was in the bathroom.

(Cup of coffee and my bags are packed
Same vow not to look back
Familiar emptiness inside
As the distance is growing wide

And though I vowed to memorize
The last look in your loving eyes
It’s here dusk and there dawn
Oh, it’s like a curtain getting slowly drawn)

I realized that I had to make a choice about who I wanted to be. For the first time in my life, I actually had two distinct paths before me: continents, careers, homes. I had to choose who I wanted to be: someone who goes, or someone who stays.

(But if I weren’t leaving you
I don’t know what I would do
But the more I go, the less I know
Will the fire still burn on my return
Keep the path lit on the only road I know?
Honey, all I know to do is go)

I chose to be someone who stays.

I will be back in Africa. No question. But I have decided against this post-conflict work, this work that in itself very nearly precludes stability, long-term friendships, family.

For now, I will go back to the US and learn to use this degree, preferably in court. This is something that I have always wanted to do and it is not something that can wait. I could not do this in a few years – no one wants to hire you to work as an in-court sort of lawyer when you are years out of law school and have never practiced.

I will work as a lawyer, and someday, I will live in Africa again. But I will be in development work, not humanitarian work. I will be back when I can stay in one place and make a home there.

“Leaving” (this Indigo Girls song) has been my life’s theme for several years. It is only recently that I realized that I don’t want it to be – and that I have a choice.

So every day I am tempted by Southern Sudan. I’m tempted to stay. But I need a home, and I can’t find it here, not now.

1 comment:

Rhemy said...

I am sure that whatever decisions you make will be the right one. You are in transition so don't feel bad for yourself. Do what your heart tells you and act on what you feel the most strongly about. At least you can now add to your resume your work and visit to Souther Sudan. Best wishes and we shall continue to keep in touch.