I remember hot, dry days with dust on my shoes, listening to BBC and pretending I was still relevant on the other side of the world. The rude reminder that was a cobra in my compound.
I remember breaking the rules and hopping on the back of the principal’s moto, touching him, a rule broken in and of itself, hoping not to be caught and sent home by the Peace Corps, rushing to see my sweet Mohammad. My neighbor’s baby who chanted, “Aissatou, I love you.” His only words. He had “piquee un crise” whatever the hell that meant. More than a year in, I had stopped carrying a dictionary with me. I understood that something was wrong.
I remember the hospital in Pita. Beds. Rows of beds filled with limp people. Not a fucking mosquito net in sight. No medicine. No machines beeping. A couple of clowns in white coats. Did they even go to school or did they buy the coats at the Dead American market? Did they spend the weekends cutting clitorises off of little girls and sewing them shut? All sewn up until their wedding day when the husband would cut them open for a marital roll on the straw mats?
I remember dropping five thousand francs on the ground when the father refused to take my money – and the conversation with his wife, who thanked me for the generous five hundred francs I had given the family.
I remember being at a baptism chatting with my coworkers, who had to remind me that I was a woman and thus expected to stand with their wives.
I remember my shame at having encouraged the girls not to take abuse from men and then hearing them chastised and beaten. They stood up. They valued themselves. They carried hope in a country where that was not their right.
I Remember 1997, Peace Corps, Guinea.
I remember the scent of the papaya tree, students coming to take the books I wouldn’t return home with, my sisters wailing in customary grief. A confession of love from Mohammad’s father. And the taxi come to take me home.