Ten. There are just ten more links on the yellow paper chain hanging by my window. Ten days from right this moment, I’ll be driving in North Carolina. I see Magnolia trees, unsweetened peach mango iced tea, baseball games and a bed in my very near future!
I finally broke the news to Mohammad the Fruit Stand Man yesterday, on the way home from my run. I confessed that next week I’m leaving, and I won’t be coming back this time. His chocolate eyes widened as he uttered a dismayed, “Ah, BON? Oh, cheri!”
Then he asked me to dinner.
Persistent until the bitter end, that one. His consolation shall be that though I refuse to marry him regardless of the number of animals that he offers to slaughter on my behalf, [thoughtful man that he is] he has endeared himself to me in a way that no other fruit stand man has. Mangos and pineapples have always engaged my affections more easily than dead mammals, anyways.
Two years ago, “getting ready” to move to Africa entailed buying an impossible number of Hello Kitty bandaids and carefully packing my practical stilettos, polka-dotted rainboots and cowgirl boots [clearly all necessary footwear for life in a third world African country]. I stock piled veritable vats of blue Crest Mouthwash and deep-moisturizing hair conditioner. I read stacks of books about Islam, bought enough Tylenol cold syrup, hand sanitizer and mosquito repellant to fill up no less than three kiddie pools, and allowed a travel nurse to pump me full of every recommended drug known to man. Undaunted, I scoured endless aisles of medications at Target and tossed bottles and boxes of pills meant to treat every disease that I might possibly contract during my African hiatus. I even faithfully started taking my malaria medication the required three weeks before I hopped on a plane.
I had no idea how unprepared I was. Not a thing in this world could have readied me for life in Senegal.
And now, two years later, I find myself sorting through dusty boxes-finding partially-burned pumpkin spiced candles and an embarrassing number of those Hello Kitty bandaids. One-by-one, half-empty bottles of shampoo and lotion are being carefully zipped into plastic bags and tucked away into my oversized blue duffel. Target t-shirts are tossed into the “give” pile, and my holey running shoes are headed towards the trash. As I sort through the remnants of my past two years, I find myself at a loss as I try to understand what it will mean to leave this place that I have loved and hated. To walk away from the sweet Muslim women that I will never see again.
Tomorrow, Miriam, Fatou and some other friends are throwing Christy, Michelle and I a Bon Voyage party. We’ll be cooking Yassa Dienne [fish, onions and rice] at Fatou’s house all day long. On Wednesday, we’re throwing ourselves a goodbye party-and it will be the last time I see all of the precious girls I’ve been working with for two years. The last time I get to tell them why I picked up and moved to Africa-the last time that I explain who Jesus is, and why they desperately need Him. Wednesday marks my last day of work in Senegal-after that, my team is taking a week to pack and clean and close out life in Dakar.
Not that I have the foggiest idea how to do that.
In the face of walking away from Muslim friends that don’t know Jesus, I am unspeakably grateful that Jesus doesn’t need me to change hearts. Heart change is entirely a work of the Holy Spirit-and not something that I conjure up on my own. And in the midst of heart-wrenching goodbyes, I choose to cling to the truth that God loves those women more than I do. His irrational love for Miriam, Fatou, Khadi, Amy, Aida, Sophie, Awa and the rest of my friends was measured at the cross. His power to save and redeem them was measured at the resurrection. Second Corinthians 5:7 says “We live by faith-not by sight.” What I see right now is a group of Muslim women that are too afraid or too hardened to follow Jesus-but by faith, I believe that God can still redeem even the hardest heart in the group.
Even if I never get to see it.
I write for a myriad of reasons-and as of late, I write to make sense of my life. Thank you for letting me process.