Getting out of Niger . . . away from the dust and the heat, out of the fishbowl . . . seems to always come with mixed emotions.
Feeling stress physically leave me body . . . it’s kind of like a slow leak, a little bit at a time until I notice that I’m breathing differently, almost normal, but not quite.
Overwhelmed with gratitude for every blade of grass or evergreen needle . . . capturing each lapping wave in my mind’s eye to save for later.
Cherishing single-customer taxis and fixed prices at the market . . . savoring fresh cheese and enormous strawberries and everlasting cucumbers.
And then there’s Ikea.
I know it’s silly. But Ikea is a bit of a constant . . . each one is unique, but whether it’s ketchup on the table in the café or oil & vinegar, Ikea is Ikea. And there is some sort of comfort in knowing that it is constant.
I’ve been out of Niger for a medical conference in order to get the rest of the continuing-education credits that I need to keep my OT registration current . . . I will fly back to Africa this afternoon, but Ikea is next to the airport (genius, really!).
Needing to bring back some gifts for B. & his wife and some others, I decided some tupperware containers would be a bit more appreciated (and practical) than a snow globe. So here I am, benefiting from free wi-fi waiting with dozens of other customers in the Ikea café (unfortunately, it's too early for swedish meatballs).
Walking in, the wave of comfort washed over me . . . no matter that I can’t read either of the two languages posted around the store, this is a place I know. It was in Ikea that I learned how to say ‘cupboard’ and ‘drawer’ and ‘lamp’ in French. If I wanted to avoid a massive traffic jam on the Jersey Turnpike, I’d stop at Ikea for a (cheap) cup of coffee and wander as I waited out the traffic outside of NYC. And the first bookshelves I owned as a 'grown up' were purchased from Ikea in south Philly.
Wandering through I can plop down on a squishy sofa for a moment . . . one last veg before returning to hard furniture that spends its life collecting dust and sweat.
One last wander . . . and that’s when it hits me. Despite the new normal that Niger has become, every time I leave for a bit and then get ready to go back, I find myself saying ‘goodbye’ all over again . . . goodbye to familiar . . . goodbye to structure . . . goodbye to anonymity . . . goodbye to convenience . . . goodbye to normal.
I know it sounds bizarre and I’m sure some of you are sitting there thinking ‘GIVE ME A BREAK! Come on, Deb., buck up and get over it already!!’ And on one hand, I’m thinking the same thing! Besides, Niger isn’t really that bad! When I’m there, I enjoy it (most days) . . . but there is something deep inside that creeps back up to the surface each time I’m out . . . it’s a remembrance of feeling ‘normal’ followed by a grief that the sense is gone.
It’s a taste of what it was like when could blend into the mob and disappear in the sea of nameless faces, followed by the reality that even in the crowded market I’m called to by name or a random child yells out ‘Hey! White-Girl!’. It’s difficult to live in a constant state of ‘observed’.
This morning, Ikea was a tangible flash-back to the life I had five years ago when I left the UnitedStates . . . and no matter how much I love what I’m doing now, there’s a twinge of homesickness for the normalcy that I gave up when my passport was stamped at the departure gate in Philadelphia back in 2009.