It’s been over a month since I rang the bell at the Peace Corps office and officially closed my Peace Corps service. Due to the fact that I was not immediately leaving Madagascar, but rather traveling to the south of Madagascar before leaving the country, I didn’t feel any different once I transitioned from a Peace Corps Volunteer to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. I wasn’t emotional either, as I was excited about my upcoming travel plans and thrilled to finally be done with all the paperwork and meetings that are part of COS week.
Of course leaving Tanambe had been hard, but at the same time, I was so busy in the weeks and months leading up to my departure and tried to block out thinking about my departure and good byes too much, as I didn’t want to get too emotional. My friend, Denis organized a good bye party for me about a week before I left Tanambe. Although there were issues with the electricity and music, it was sweet and it was nice to see my students and community members. After the party, however, many people were confused as I didn’t leave Tanambe for another week. Similarly, I took photos with some of my favorite vendors in Tanambe before my departure and told them that I would be leaving in a few days. Then, the following day, when these vendors saw me again, they asked me why I hadn’t left yet.
The day before my departure from Tanambe, I gathered all my neighborhood kids together to say good bye and to share the hundreds of photos that I had taken of them over the two years with them. During my time in Tanambe, I spent much time with these kids, playing games, dancing, reading books, doing art, taking photos, and so much more. On this particular day, I sat all the kids down, which was a huge task in itself and explained to them that I would be leaving Tanambe the following morning. Many of the kids already knew that I was leaving because they attended my English Course or I had already told them, but I wanted to make sure that they all understood.
I shared some of my favorite photos of the kids with them on my laptop, which turned into quite a circus as there were so many kids trying to see the screen. I made a CD of all the photos so that the kids and their parents could print copies of the photos if they want. In addition, I gave all the kids photos of myself that I had taken off my house walls. Some of the photos had been taken in Madagascar, while others were from pre-Peace Corps. As if there wasn’t enough craziness from giving out the photos, then I gave the kids candy. Things turned insane, as one could expect, and as I had run out of candy and photos, I had to leave before I was trampled by the children. The kids followed me home and I had to quickly close the gate behind me and lock them out, although that definitely did not stop them from banging on the gate and calling out my name.
During my last few days in Tanambe, I had many visitors who stopped by to give me gifts and hugs. I left Tanambe with a huge collection of woven baskets and boxes, among other locally made crafts. In addition, I left with more packed bags than I would be able to take on the plane with me to Uganda. I had already given away most of my belongings, including my furniture, as I was not being replaced by a new PCV. However, packing was a huge challenge for me and I knew that I would have to repack and give away more of my belongings before I left the country as I would only be allowed to check in one bag on my flight to Uganda.
My final night in Tanambe was a stressful but memorable one. My house was pretty empty at this point, as I had to catch a taxi-brousse to Tana at 5am the following morning. I had dinner at Denis’ house with his family as well as Lilie’s family. It was a nice dinner with the people who meant the most to me in Madagascar. Denis and some of his karate students walked me home and helped me finish cleaning my house. I had been working on an English-Malagasy book with Denis and due to constant electricity cuts during my final week in Tanambe, working on the book and printing it had been challenging. We picked up the photocopies earlier that evening but due to the fact that they were out of order and there were multiple copies of the book that we had to organize, we spread out over my entire kitchen floor to arrange and assemble the book. We were racing against the clock as the electricity had been going off every night at 10pm, so we knew that we had a limited amount of time before it would go off. Luckily that evening the electricity stayed on a little longer than usual and we were able to finish putting the book together.
After a few hours of rest, I woke up to finish packing everything and to make sure that everything was in order before walking to the taxi-brousse station with the help of Denis, some of his karate students, one of my neighbors, and one of the young girls who lived near my house. While leaving my house and taking the remained of my belongings, an argument ensued with my landlord’s family as they claimed that the mattress that we were taking (which I was giving to a friend in Tanambe) was theirs. Although my landlord’s family had let me use their bed frame, I had purchased the mattress. I had given my landlord’s family many gifts as they were constantly coming into my room while I was packing and asking me for things and I had already promised the mattress to someone else. As I explained over and over that the mattress was mine and I had bought it in Ambatondrazaka, they kept insisting that it was theirs. Eventually, I just told my friends who were helping to carry my belongings that we had to go and we were taking the mattress as it belonged to me. It was a sad way to leave the family that I had spent two years living with.
Although the issue with my landlord was sad, it was so sweet to have a group of friends come to the taxi-brousse station in Tanambe at 4:30am to see me off. And as if that wasn’t enough, a few days before I flew out of Madagascar, Denis and Wendy came to Tana to see me off at the airport. It was so great to see these two guys who were such an influential part of my life in Madagascar again before leaving the country.
While my Peace Corps journey may be over, I will always hold on to the great memories that I have of life in Madagascar. For now I will keep in touch via phone and post, but I hope that one day I can return to Tanambe to visit my beloved community.