In the last 24 hours I’ve been running around saying goodbyes, giving and collecting last minute gifts, and packing away my Gabonese life in two suitcases. I feel good about what I’ve accomplished here, and I’m slightly amazed at how well I timed things. Since I finished the curriculum, I’ve also written a proposal for a peer education program at the hospital. I sent that off today and I’m hoping that the next public health fellow can take it and run.
This weekend my friends and roommates planned a surprise bonfire for me on the beach (now that it’s the dry season the water has gone down enough to have an actual beach). No one has ever done anything like that for me. Everyone worked all day Saturday hauling wood to the beach and preparing food, while I unknowingly was in the hammock reading a novel. On the way to dinner my roommates suggested checking out the stars first, and as we stumbled in the dark down to the beach, I came upon a roaring fire and all my friends’ smiling faces. It was lovely.
A lot of people have been asking me how I’m feeling about leaving, and it’s a mixed bag really. There are people here that I am truly sad to leave. I will miss walking around the grounds and hearing people call my name just to say hello. I will miss the uniqueness of this place. Some sort of international Cheers. I will miss the delicious things the Gabonese manage to create out of flour, butter, and bananas. I will miss French.
But there are also things that I just can’t tolerate anymore. Things that I thought I would eventually be able to brush off, but have actually wound up being very difficult to ignore.
I have thankfully been raised to possess what I believe is a healthy level of self-respect. I think when it comes down to it respect and justice are the highest values I hold. If I am treating someone fairly and respectfully, I expect the same from him/her. And that just isn’t always the case around here. I don’t like that when in the market I walk around with a death stare and never make eye contact with men because if I do it will be interpreted as an invitation. I’m over trying to accomplish silly tasks like changing money and having to tell the accountant ten times that no he cannot have my phone number. I’m so annoyed with men telling me they want to marry me (obviously a euphemism) and having to say I’m married just to make them go away. I’m sick of not being able to assert myself. I’m sick of not being taken seriously. At first in these scenarios I would smile and politely refuse, but now I find myself rolling my eyes (my mother’s personal favorite) and raising my voice. But that doesn’t change a thing. Not even that commands respect. They laugh when I get frustrated.
If I work abroad when I’m older, I wonder if and how this will change. It seems like age and marital status are the two biggest factors. Will it be easier then? Will I feel more comfortable? I can’t know.
I do know that this has been incredibly valuable. Given the little oversight and support, it was a somewhat ridiculously ambitious first attempt at public health practice. But, I did manage to apply what I know and hopefully put things in place for the next fellow. And I know what I do and do not want out of my career. My personal gains here have been extraordinary, and I hope that I can say the same about this place.
Thanks for following my story! Signing off from Gabon.