Tuesday, October 18, 2011


As some of you may know, a few weeks ago my Dad fell seriously ill with what we now know was a severe viral infection - he is now recovering at home, albeit slowly. The doctors have been unable to identify the virus so far, despite countless tests and scans. His hospital stay lasted a full two weeks after his visit to the emergency room, and we are much happier that he is on the mend than we are concerned that the virus is still unnamed. According to the many doctors who have looked at him, apparently random attacks by unidentifiable viruses are more frequent than we had imagined.

It's a strange feeling to be suddenly nine days away from my departure for Philadelphia, and about twelve away from my arrival in Mali. A month ago we never could have imagined such a turn of events that would shake our family. My Dad will have to adjust to a whole new lifestyle which does not involve working so many hours a day and will involve taking more care of his health to manage his diabetes, which was diagnosed on our arrival at the hospital. I will have to adjust to leaving for an extended period of time with my father still in the early stages of recovery from a devastating illness, whereas he was in top condition just a few weeks ago. It is certainly a relief to know that, at least for the moment, there should not be any lingering health problems, aside from a long recovery period for him to regain his strength.

I was reminded, through sharing my experience with and leaning on others, how we are surrounded by such health problems whether we are aware of it or not. The father of one friend who is also leaving the country soon is battling cancer. I have another friend whose father passed away in June after a lengthy battle with a disease. These, I had forgotten, are life-shaping experiences. I consider myself fortunate that the circumstances for my father are not so dire.

My attachment to my family has been growing stronger in the past months. I have spent time with my grandmother listening to and recording as best I could her stories and I worked to transfer onto CD ancient audiocasettes of my grandfather telling stories about his life. My Mother tells me that when I was younger we would listen to these memoirs as I went to sleep at night, which I do not directly recall - at that age I was too young to appreciate their full value, and no doubt drifted swiftly to sleep. However, something stuck, since when I first started listening to the tapes his voice sounded so familiar, so I can surmise that at least his speech and Canadian accent made a strong impression on me. I am aware that I have so much to learn about the different generations of my family, and that this information is limited to the stories of those who are still alive and the records that were kept by those who have passed on. I am also aware that there is much I still have to learn about the lives of my own parents even.

Now that my Father his home and I finally have some space to think and reflect on all that has happened in the past month, it's clear that I am only at the beginning of understanding what this experience means. Seeing one of my 60 year-old parents regress physically and mentally to a state close to that of my ninety year-old grandparents is shocking to say the least. In the more precarious stages, grappling with the possibility of this being a life-threatening illness have fundamentally changed how I think about and value my family in ways that I will be only starting to understand as I arrive in Mali. It's hard not to feel a small sense of abandoning those closest to me at the time they need my support the most. As impossible as it sounds, I am resolved to commit myself to seeing through this change in my family and fully engaging with the transformative nature of it as I transition into Peace Corps. How, exactly, will I do that? I think by making a more conscious effort to be in meaningful contact with my family as often as is reasonable within the constraints of Peace Corps training (which, to be honest, is one of the worst environments imaginable for this).

One last thought for now - many people have helped me and my family to get through this experience thus far, and they all deserve a tremendous amount of appreciation. Friends, family and loved ones have all been so supportive. I hope that I will always be there for you as you have been for me. Thank you.