My friend Lindsey and I had ordered an after lunch and before dinner snack at American-favorite restaurant near the petite marché in Niamey. It would be a while before my chocolate milkshake and cheese fries were served so I volunteered to run outside to buy phone credit for both of us.
A constant rain was soaking anything that would let it; still vendors lined the streets looking for cliental. In most busy places, finding a phone credit vendor is about as easy as finding a mosquito whom would like to feast on your tasty flesh, but this particular day, I had to search a bit. I wondered through carts packed as high as gravity would allow with power sources, toys, knives, small kitchen items, and other randomly practical items that I would require a quick trip to Walmart or Target in the States. I tried to not to catch the eyes of those selling potatoes, tomatoes, spinach, bananas and other vegetables and fruits as I searched for my phone man. I’ve always hated saying “No, I am not interested in buying whatever your selling even though you need my dollar more than I need a few tomatoes which I am sure would make a great sauce” but it’s more difficult in another language. So, I keep my eyes peeled for the cards and the puddles my feet were trying to avoid.
Eventually, I find him and he finds me, both equally excited for the union. I politely ask for 1000 CFA phone credit ($2 US) and then another for Lindsay. He hands them to me, more than likely wondering why I didn’t just by a 2000 CFA card, but I take my cards as if they are gold and cross the street back to my friend and, hopefully, my food.
As, I weave through six taxis fighting for one piece of the road while jumping over puddles and ignoring the “Anasara!” shouts, I am struck with realization that this is my life.
This is my life now.
This notion comes at other times, and more often the longer I’ve been here. I feel it when I’m walking home from class as the sun is setting and the sounds of kids going home after a soccer match is louder than the animals, or my thoughts. It comes at night when the sky is full of more stars than I imagined it could hold. When I am bathing with a bucket or filling the bucket up with water brought to our house by a donkey. Again when I’m purchasing something using an unfamiliar language and currency.
This is my life now.
But it outright smacks me on the head when I am allowed glimpses of home.
Our connection to Internet is rare and usually spent looking at blank pages or ones with a yellow triangle and black exclamation mark, saying “Address Not Found.” When I am to gain enough connectivity for Gmail and Facebook (usually, that’s all I can get. On a good day, this blog and maybe, maybe, Twitter) I am able to see a bit of the world without me.
As it turns out, it doesn’t revolve around me.
Slowly, I am slipping away from my friend’s day-to-day lives and my absence seems to be noticed less and less. That’s life, I know, and I chose this path, but it’s still a painful process to observe.
Some things, I discovered, don’t change. What bothered me about my previous life is still there, the only difference is that I am not.
In my previous life, I worked 60+ weeks and lived off coffee and sticks of cheese from gas stations. Remembering to pay the rent was never nearly as important as the 15 emails that seemed to need my attention at all hours of the night, and I sent 4 a.m. emails on more than one occasion. I was broke from working two jobs, only one of which paid and it required a 50-mile commute. Most days, I was stressed, angry and one small setback away from a break down.
To diffuse the world, I would dream of another life. This life would require a long plane ride to get to and it wouldn’t resemble anything that I knew then. My connections to the world would silent and everyone would just have to wonder what happened to Heather. It would be my chance to get even with the world, and become one of its participating members.
That second, more endearing life, is now mine. Buried in the desert of West Africa, I live off nature’s basic essentials and have limited connections to home. This life is unfamiliar, extremely unfamiliar, than my last one.
But it’s my life and, even on my most frustrating days, I’m still me. I’m still the girl with big dreams and a heaping of inherited optimism, except when it concerns herself and her abilities. This new life is the one that is going to save me, the one that’s going to help me be a better version of myself.
Maybe, it won’t, but it’s my new life and I have only one choice but to embrace it.