Broken Doors, Broken Heart
January 22, 2003
THE DOORS OF YOUR HOUSE WERE BROKEN IN BY THE POLICE FORCE.
It read, in French, "AS YOU ASKED, THE NEWS IS ALWAYS THE SAME. RIGHT NOW IS THE SEARCH AND REMOVAL OF HOMES AND MOSQUES IN GAOUSSOUKRO. THE DOORS OF YOUR HOUSE WERE BROKEN IN BY THE POLICE FORCE. WE ARE SCARED AND SECURITY IS NOT GUARANTEED. SALUT AND UNTIL NEXT TIME."
To me, it read, THE DOORS OF YOUR HOUSE WERE BROKEN IN...
Its capital letters signified its impact and its lack of grammatical precision revealed the ignorance of its writer. Just learning to use a computer and email in rural West Africa during a civil war is in and of itself an admirable accomplishment. But the words he sent were as shattering as a death note. My house was my heart I left behind in the village. Its doors being broken was my heart being broken. The invasion and violation I took personally; what exactly was going on in "my village"? Left untouched and maintained despite my demise, my house was a symbol of hope for the village of Gaoussoukro. After every Peace Corps volunteer left their village, they kept the house vacant and in decent condition, assuming a new volunteer would come to replace the former. And usually one did come. Since October, they have assured me that the house has remained untouched for my intended return.
After receiving this brief yet formidable email, I had a hard time concentrating on anything and everything made me sad. The slow songs on the radio as I drove to class, the topic of relative wealth in my writing course, wooden doors on houses I passed - you name it and I was launched into an emotional upheaval. The helplessness is the hardest part; not knowing what or how I can help my family and friends thousands of miles away.
Do they know how often I think of them and my honest longing to help? Do they know how much I appreciated their warmth and hospitality during my 16 months in their homes and lives? Do they understand how grateful I was to be bestowed the gift of live chickens, even though I would turn around and give them to my neighbor? Do they know how much I hated the coffee they prepared in the mornings because there was more sugar than water? Do they know how beautiful they are? The ceremonial scars that decorate their faces, the vividly colored cloths they drape over their muscular bodies, and their bright white smiles they extend during good times and bad are testament to the beauty that creates their foundation and I believe it will prevail during these difficult times. Do they know?
"The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them." -Albert Einstein