I’ve known this for a long time.
I knew it sitting in the Niamey Airport at 5 a.m., battling bacteria and fog of nerves.
I knew it when it was uttered for the first time out loud in a Moroccan hotel conference room.
I knew it on the crowded train ride to the Casablanca Airport.
I knew it on the flight across the Atlantic.
But for some reason, the reality that I am never going back to Niger hit me on the flight from Chicago to Sioux Falls, the last leg of my month-long travels. It hit me that this is the end while listening to “Sabali” by Amadou and Mariam, a song that was often commenced my morning runs in Dantchiao, and sitting rows behind the South Dakota State University (my alma mater) Women’s Basketball team — a crazy mix of that life and this one. Tears filled me eyes like they did one early July morning on a Denver-bound plane eight months. Those tears were sad, but had ounces of excitement for what was ahead. I suppose these do too.
This strike of emotion, I tell myself, is like a final sigh of the last month. Truth is, like other heartbreaks, I am not done crying about leave Niger but I’ve accepted it. C’est la vie. Niger isn’t something I will just get over; I can’t. I still can’t grasp its power over me and I may never be able to but I understand that, in seven months, it captured my soul for a lifetime.
My plane now floats above cotton clouds and in an hour’s time I’ll land in my home state, the one I constantly bragged about to other volunteers. I’ll be met with familiar faces and sights. It’ll feel good and strange.
A piece of my heart is buried in a small village in West Africa. It will always be my home, just like South Dakota. I may never go back but I’ll never forget.
This is my reality now, being home. Unplanned, but not unnecessary.