October 2012; Getting Gone

A volunteer's last week in Peace Corps is painfully hectic. Amidst the rush that accompanies a swearing-in ceremony, between the countless logistical meetings for posting new volunteers, under the press of so many unfamiliar faces: run the sorrowed veterans of service completed, vying for the signatures of the staff disappeared. Close of Service is an ugly game. Where emotions meet bureaucracy there is only frustration. Yet somehow in the chaos it works and after all the departments have been appeased and the paperwork has been filed, a volunteer is allowed to ring-out.

The ring-out is a Peace Corps Zambia tradition. Volunteers and staff are assembled at the entrance to head quarters and given over to say their peace. A steel baton passes from colleague to colleague and finally comes to those departing for a final word. The ceremony culminates in the ringing of an old wheel rim by each respective volunteer. My experience was surreal and I do not remember what I said when my time came. The closure was palpable, however, and made more so when one of our number read a poem to complete the service. As Bosco read, we all felt a sense of finality and my conscious knew that this was over.

B and I took our leave the following day and returned to Choma for an evening. After collecting our things and saying early morning goodbyes to our volunteer family, we continued on to Livingstone. We opted to hitch-hike, seeing as this would be our last foreseeable opportunity to do so in Africa, and were rewarded with fantastic luck. Picked up by a business man making a visit to a farm about 40 kilometers from our destination, our host decided to take us all the way. After introducing ourselves and falling into a captivating conversation we ended up en route to a cultural festival a few kilometers Livingstone. Our new friend loved hearing about the Peace Corps and had even spent some time in college in America but had no interest in leaving Zambia. "In America you need money, no family, no friends, just money. In Zambia you must have family, money does not matter, but you must have family." He didn't seem to mind the detour he was giving himself by taking us to see a piece Zambian culture, he wanted us to be there. The festival he took us to see thus became a sort of farewell to the country and the family we had come to know. Seeing all of the chiefs gaze upon masked Mkishi dancers held a certain happy sorrow. He dropped us off at our lodge with a hug and told us that we would return to Zambia, once we were married and had a large family of our own.

Our last few days in-country were spent at a backpackers lodge in Zambia's tourist capital. We enjoyed the pool, had high tea at the Royal Livingstone, and visited the world's largest waterfall one last time. Victoria Falls in dry season was a different wonder. Since my last visit, in July, the falls had shrunk and the last bit of rain was working its way through the Zambezi watershed. It was even possible to walk along the top of the water fall in relative safety so long as one avoided marauding baboons or the occasional hippopotamus. Our friends, Rob and Rasa, showed us a pool they had found at the lip of the falls where one could escape the fierce October heat. We left for the airport the next day with heavy hearts and a few stones from that pool upon Victoria Falls, taking a piece of this land with us unto the next.

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