So now I am here, in my little tent in the bush, having had my exit interview and put the last touches on some training documents. The sky faded slowly this evening, and I have been thinking all day leaving, with a deep and heavy sadness sitting like a stone in my stomach.
I thought that I would be ready to go, that the end of this summer would not take me unawares, but now that I see that day just two horizons away, I want more days, and more days on top of those. I want to see the Steppe come alive after the long rains, and learn how to make Tuma’s fabulous crispy chicken, watch my spider grow even bigger, and figure out how to fry mandazi and stir up a pot of ugali. I want to help the staff find themselves and each other as teammates, to see if I really can develop the women’s business groups and see how many actually turn into successful entrepreneurs. And I want to see my surveys through, to be good enough at Swahili to implement them myself. But these longings are ones that I must leave behind as sweet-sounding “what-ifs.” My path forward from this summer has been set by my heart many months ago. I should, instead, sit here quietly and reflect on the weeks that have passed.
In our exit interview, Laly said that the thing she hoped I’d gotten out of this summer was the idea that on the ground, the things you learn in school don’t really work the way the book says they should. And I added that the way things work in one country (China, last summer), are not how they work in another place. Learning to recognize what fits and what doesn’t, what to throw out, and what to keep, is the key to success. She also said that she hoped I’d learned the value of place-based conservation. That only through building relationships of trust, and truly integrating with a community, can an organization really know how to help the community they are in for the long term.
When I first came to Fuqua, the then-president of the MBAA said that he hoped our experience would be transformational, not transactional. This school, he said, is not just here to give you a piece of paper. It’s here to change you.
I’ve always felt that way about my work, about my friendships and relationships, about my classes and my interactions with the vagaries of every day. I seek some difference within myself, some new insight or lesson. And in return for such gifts, have I returned the favor and transformed the people who have shared this experience with me?
And so here I am in this little tent, with all its noises that I’ve grown accustomed to. Bats chirp as they flit overhead, the walls flap gently with every breezy gust, and the crickets sing and sing and sing. Earth careens through the tail of the Perseids, and in the wee hours of night, the sky will be scraped with meteor tracks. I think about the August before I came to graduate school at Duke. I drove up into the hills near Los Altos, pulled of the road, and watched the stars fall. I went back to school because I wanted to put my skills toward a cause I believed in. When I look back on this summer (and now that I’ve had my exit interview with Laly), I can say without hesitation that I have done so. I have a long way to go before I reach my larger dreams…and don’t we all, those of us who dream ever bigger…
I’m not sure if I’ll want to write tomorrow. I’ll have a long, bumpy car ride into Arusha to jolt my brain into deep reflection. Until then, I just want to live, breathing with the night as it slips toward daytime, searching the sky for the pathways of meteor dust, and thinking about all the things I will miss.