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Leaving Bamako Behind

I’m going to start with a sequential order of events then try to sort out my feelings. It’s been hard for me to sit down and write this post but it is something I want to get down before I forget everything.

The week before Thanksgiving there was a terrorist attack at a hotel in Bamako. The hotel is near our house there and the attack not only changed the dynamic in the neighborhood but the entire security profile in Mali.

On December 1, the State Department put an authorized departure order in place, which is a sort of voluntary evacuation for nonessential employees and family members of all State employees in Bamako. But if you leave the country for any other reason during that time, you are not allowed back in until the order lifts.

Mike and I decided we would stay in Bamako until school let out for the Christmas holiday, then, after a family vacation, Muffin and I would return to the U.S. while Mike returned to his job in Bamako.

We had a wonderful safari vacation in Kenya. Mike and I were happy that Muffin’s last memories of Africa were fun adventures with animals, not being stressed out over bad guys in Mali.

On New Year’s Eve, we separated in Nairobi airport. Muffin and I landed in Boston the next day; Mike landed in Bamako.

The authorized departure is ongoing but even when it ends, Muffin and I will not be returning to Bamako. We’ll be staying in the U.S. until Mike’s assignment ends later this year.

It’s hard. We arrived to shocking winter cold with just a couple of suitcases and had to figure out some logistics, like winter clothes for Muffin, right away. There are loads of good things, however. We have a house, and a car, and lots of support from family and friends. Muffin is back in the same class she was in before we left for Mali, which helped her transition. The dust allergies we’d been suffering from in Bamako cleared up within a couple day of leaving there, so our physical health improved greatly. We no longer have the stress of living in the security situation in Mali.

But it’s still hard. We left with so little time to really process it. We were so sick and stressed out in the last couple of weeks in Bamako that it became difficult to say proper good-byes to all our friends, especially with all the stress of Christmas parties and other seasonal social obligations. I broke down toward the end and couldn’t really leave the house. I was so sick I couldn’t hold a conversation without coughing uncontrollably, which made me anxious and self-conscious. Muffin was visibly worried about bad guys all the time and we felt horrible about our decision to move the whole family to Mali in the first place.

We arrived to a house we’d bought but never lived in. I’ve slowly been bringing it together, but there are still days where I just sit and stare instead of put shelving together and measure closet space. I always have culture shock when I return to the U.S. but it seems doubly difficult this time. Some days all I can do is the minimum to get Muffin to school and provide decent meals. I’m running as often as I can, which is something. It’s been almost impossible to write, though. The seven hundred words or so of this post are the most I’ve written in weeks.

Friends and family members would ask me about what it was really like in Bamako during and after the attack. Eventually I caught on to a sort of glazed-over, yet slightly horrified, look in their eyes. I'd forget that I'd lived with the Bamako story for so long that it wasn't shocking to me anymore, it had become the status quo. But events like that and living in conditions like that aren't normal for most people in the U.S.

Last week I felt like I started to wake up from a fog. I feel healthier, mentally and physically. Muffin and I miss Mike but we all know this was the best decision for our family and we'll be together again soon.

So that's where we are now. We're in this weird limbo. We're waiting for Mike to come home safely. We're guilty about being healthy and eating good food. Most of our belongings are in Bamako and we can't get it back until Mike's assignment is up. I'm already tired of the U.S. and want to go back to Africa. I'm trying to get by with what I've got.

Comments

Beth said…
Welcome back. I can't even imagine your day to day life in Bamako. Glad you are feeling a bit better mentally and physically!!
Stephanie said…
Thanks, Beth!
Danielle said…
So this is totally the appropriate time to ask when will your next book be coming out ;) I can't imagine the limbo feeling, you guys must feel like you are living underwater. Hang in there. Winter is such a terrible time to come back to the States.
Stephanie said…
I've been working on a few ideas, Danielle! I'd actually been working on something set in Bamako, and was in need of a conflict, which I now feel a little weird about. I've turned to something set in Rhode Island, since I can do so much research while I'm here. :)
Anonymous said…
Sorry for the struggle and transitions.We transition in abd out of Mali every year for 5 yrs now. Getting back to the West is a tough adjustment. It is ok to just sit and process, the house can wait. You all are more important than a house set up. Time is ok. Just arrived down to Bamako and we head out soon too. But are back in the fall.
The stress is real for you... Wishing you all safe, happy, and quick adjustmens back to home. You can do this.. and ypu did do this. So hats off to you all for the choices your have made.
Anonymous said…
Sorry for the struggle and transitions.We transition in abd out of Mali every year for 5 yrs now. Getting back to the West is a tough adjustment. It is ok to just sit and process, the house can wait. You all are more important than a house set up. Time is ok. Just arrived down to Bamako and we head out soon too. But are back in the fall.
The stress is real for you... Wishing you all safe, happy, and quick adjustmens back to home. You can do this.. and ypu did do this. So hats off to you all for the choices your have made.

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