In just a couple of days I will be leaving Galmi for a period. Nothing is wrong, it has just been decided that it is in the best interest of the new department if I go back to the US for a shortened ‘home assignment’ (as SIM calls it) sooner than originally planned and then come back and plow ahead with the new project. At that time B. will begin working with me full-time and we will be able to devote more hours to his learning process.
So, I have begun to say my goodbyes.
In the Nigerien cultures, saying goodbye is just as important as saying hello. You see, the goodbyes teach us a lot . . . they teach us to cherish the moments we have together . . . they teach us the importance of finishing strong and completely . . . they teach us the depth of our appreciation of one another.
In my everyday life, I KNOW I appreciate my R. and my Tsoho, Kanena, and others. But I don’t think I had FELT my appreciation for these African friends the way I have as I prepare to say goodbye. I am beginning to recognize how important they have become in my journey. And even though it will only be a few months, I will miss them.
But, as I am saying my goodbye's (or rather, my see-ya-later's), I am starting to realize the significant distance I have traveled since February 2011. I came in as a stranger, but I am leaving as a daughter, a sister and a friend. And I am humbled by that thought.
Most days I feel more like an outsider than a contributing member of Galmi-ville. Often I feel like I am trying, in vain, to build meaningful and lasting relationships. But in those times I am usually surprised by someone. A small act of friendship; a glimmer of hope that I'm not just That-Girl-That-Came-From-the-States-to-Help-People-Walk.
But already this morning have been blessed in such simple, but profound ways by four special Nigeriens.
The other day I posted some pictures of R. and her family. OT-M and I had been going to her house twice a week to do therapy. But then we got a little busy and asked Granny if they could come to us on Mondays, and we would go to them on Fridays.
This morning, Granny stopped by the office, but OT-M and B. were bedside with another patient. So Granny pushed R. in her special chair to my house (where I've been busy packing and cleaning). Once we established where OT-M and B. would be waiting, I said my whole See-Ya-Later to Granny.
She began to thank me and bless me over and over again. She expressed her gratitude and that of the whole family for my willingness to work with R. She asked that I continue to pray for R. while I'm gone . . . that she will be able to stand on her own upon my return.
I promised I would pray.
When Granny was finished with me, I squatted to R.'s eye-level.
She turned to look at me. 'Sai wata rana' ('I'll see you later, but not for an extended period of time') I said to her as I smiled.
R. reached out for my hand. I gave it to her.
She lifted my hand to her lips and held it there. Slowly she slid it to her cheek. She closed her eyes, keeping my hand pressed to her soft face. She looked up at me, then let go.
I do not have the words to express how deeply such a small gesture has struck me. I am humbled at the thought of the appreciation this sweet child. This precious one who cannot speak with words has expressed her thankfulness and affection with such a tender touch!
And I am deeply moved.