09 January 2009

Going back

They say that when you come back from Africa, you enter a bizarrely perpetual dissociative state: your time in Africa was real—as real as the red earth that inexorably worked its way beneath your fingernails—but somehow, in North America, it's relegated to that portion of your psyche usually reserved for recurring dreams. The part of your psyche that engenders nostalgia, that remembers only snippets. The part of your psyche that makes you relate what you've seen with such jarringly juxtaposed sentences as, "So I was standing. On a dock. Jutting out into the Atlantic. Somewhere in West Africa. And half my friends thought I was in Costa Rica. And he was having a seizure, but his wife thought he was demon-possessed." It's the part of your psyche that remembers Amachin and Alimou and Michael (who, thanks to the quiet tenacity of a woman named Michele, has just returned from Ghana, disease-free), but silently downplays the weevils and the seasickness, the two-minute showers and the quickly-rotting bananas swimming in their liquefied remains.

That part of your psyche, though, beckons you, and, despite your greatest Odyssean efforts, no amount of rope can strap you tight enough to the mast of your passing vessel for you to withstand it.

So, I'm going back. Which means that, after seven months of pure silence, you—unless you hastily unsubscribe now—get to be regaled with stories cobbled together from not altogether related experiences, overly-stretched metaphors (Look! One already! A certain dead Greek poet is viscerally angry right now...), excessively long and parenthetical sentences, and ruminations on the often competing roles of medicine, volunteerism, NGOs, bottom lines, faith, and culture.

This is all because, for the six weeks between 15 February and 30 March, I've been given the spectacular chance to go back on board the Africa Mercy for another round, this time in Benin (the map is on the right of the blog's homepage). I land just after the ship docks in Cotonou, and get to be there for the opening of the hospital, for screening day, and for the first five weeks of surgery.

Wish me luck!


AliRae said...

I'll wish you luck, but I'll do it with more than a touch of sadness, since I won't get to be there when you are. I hate the thought of missing that whole beginning of the outreach feeling.

Ah well. At least I'll have Guinea.

And, in an unrelated story, a little boy I met in Zambia once very seriously let me know that "when you're in Africa, you get dirt on your shoes, and it never comes off, no matter how hard you scrub." So, I'm thinking that red earth under your fingernails is something like that, no?

Anonymous said...

Mark, man, I envy you right now... I wish I could go back this year. I am so excited for you that you will be there opening day - and I'll definitely be keeping you in prayers! That will be such a very long, hard day.... I can't imagine. Thanks for going back and serving 6 weeks! God will use you in amazing ways. I look forward to your upcoming blogs!


Ryley Olivier said...

Whoo hoo! This sums it up (though I permanently live "in Africa". Abientot a'Cotonou.