My things of two years passed are smooshed into the front room of my comfortable house. All linens are stripped from the bed, books stacked in boxes, and my belongings strategically packed into two bags and two trunks. Items are organized to be donated to other PCVs who requested them or the famous 'PC free pile' at the transit house. The 'stuff' that's coming with me were pushed against the far wall; the items, like worn, but still good, buckets and clothing, were placed on the other side of the room. Those items were to be left for my family. Early in the morning, I gave explicit instructions to my host mothers (3) and host uncle that they are to divide the items accordingly only once I've left the village. I did not give them much because I did not have that much to give, nor did I want them to expect anything from the next PCV who would be coming there next year. If there's anything I've learned these past two years, giving hand outs does not solve problems.
The PC driver, who's also a close friend, arrived 15 minutes earlier than he originally told me. He ordered the young, teenage boys to help him carry my belongings out to the truck. As we were loading items into the truck, Paabi, the 4 year old who I've watched 'grow-up' for the past 2 years, stood behind the open doors of the truck, with his mouth wide-open. His expression doesn't really strike me as odd as he's had this expression on his face for the entire two years I've been living in the compound. It's the epitome of Paabi---either his mouth is wide-open or he's dancing (with or without music).
However, as I looked down at him, merely trying to determine if he really knew what was going on (in that I was leaving...permanently), I realized that Paabi decided to give me a send off I wouldn't forget. Paabi, who's infamous for parading around the compound before bath time in the buff, decided to not put on any pants that morning. There he stood, with no pants, t-shirt on backwards, and face unwashed, staring blankly at my stuff disappearing into the back of the truck. I looked down at him and started laughing...
In Mandinka, I said---
'Paabi...Where are your pants?'
'Paabi...where are your pants? Your wife (me) is returning home today, and you can't even put on your pants?'
Blank stare...near muttering of words as indicated by lips moving. However, no sound emerges...
'Paabi...I'm leaving in a few minutes, and if you want to join me (jokingly...we always joked I would take him back to America), you really need to wear your pants. You won't be able to enter the plane because you're not civilized.'
Blank stare, slightly bigger eyes, drool begins to fall from the corners of his mouth...at this point, Paabi's mother, Fana, yells at him to go and put his pants on. She, too, then tells him he's uncivilized. He hears her, but doesn't move and remains expressionless. She finally gets up from where she's sitting and drags him, with his mouth still wide-open, into the house.
A few minutes later, the truck is all packed, the doors are shut, and my host uncle gathers the family around the sitting area outside. Some neighbors (my friends and counterparts) are arrived to see me off. We sat my host uncle offered me prayers of thanks and for safe travels. I cried briefly, but not hysterically. My one host mother quietly cried, and a few others wiped their eyes, while mouthing to me 'Don't cry.' We said 'Amen'. And I shook hands, ran in my host mother's house to give goodbye kisses to Mero and Buba, two kids that were still sleeping, and hopped into the truck. As I hopped up into the passenger seat, Paabi stood by the passenger side door, in pants, with the blank stare still upon his face. His wife was really going.
I didn't take any pictures of my goodbye that morning as I wanted it to remain as a memory in my mind. I'd like to think that Paabi kept his mouth wide-open that morning as his way of absorbing or even capturing the last few moments of this 'stranger' in his compound. Perhaps his mouth was like the shutter of a camera, with the exposure setting left open just a little too long to capture all that he could, while he was able...
I miss you, Paabi...my dancing, no pants, little man.