EDITOR’S NOTE: Marie Ebacher has had a busy week. On Thursday the Assumption College senior accepted the George A. Doyle Merit Award for Excellence in Economics or Global Studies; then she was back in rehearsals as the puppeteer inside Audrey II, the man-eating plant that’s the star of The Little Shop of Horrors. But Marie, a Global Students and French double-major with a minor in Peace and Conflict Studies, is used to being busy – and somehow she manages to keep an eye on the bigger picture. In her Doyle acceptance speech, she took time to remind the audience that it was International Children’s Peace Day; meanwhile, she’s giving part of her Doyle award to African Community Education in Worcester, which she credits for nudging her further down the road that, two years ago, led her to study abroad in Senegal – a place she wishes to return to if she receives a Fulbright, for which she is a finalist.
Naturally, given her role in Little Shop, she hopes to study street puppetry in Senegal. Amid all this, she was kind enough to reward my request for a piece about re-entry – the transition from the mountain top to life back home. Her piece is below.
Curled up next to the campfire, I was silent. I had never experienced a silence like this. My eyes were not fixated on the flames or the embers. I had seen too much fire the last six months.
What I couldn’t take me eyes off of was the aluminum coke can. The squealing sounds reverberated in my ears, as if a megaphone was pressed up to the side of my head. I watched as the flames choked out invisible toxic gases and the can suffered a slow death. Fireworks were lighting up the sky in the distance but my gaze remained unbroken.
I left the Fourth of July party and went to bed without telling my friends. Cocooned in my sleeping bag, I wept. The old me would have said It’s just one can, Marie. But this new me lashed out and felt disgusted that I call this country home.
I felt like screaming at the person who threw that can into the fire, “Do you know that in Senegal there is no trash day? No public dumps? No recycling? Of course you don’t, you ignorant fool! If you did you would have thought twice before you had some fun by throwing that can into the fire. In Senegal they have no other option but to burn their trash. They burn it all until the streets fill with flames.”
Upon returning to the United States from Senegal, many things had changed. For the past six months I had grown accustomed to showering out of a bucket, spending hours washing all my clothes by hand, reducing my waste to almost nothing. I was bombarded with daily images of poverty and learned what it was like to live on the bare minimums. Life was tough, but it was beautiful. I never smiled or laughed so much. To this day, my time living in a rural village in Senegal was what I would consider the best time of my life.
Eventually I overcame this post-traumatic stress that caused me so much anxiety and anger during the months following my return home. But its effects still linger. I find myself getting twitchy when my brother runs the water in the sink and feel uncontrollable guilt over any purchases that would not be considered necessities for survival. I have learned to appreciate my home again, but it is not the same type of appreciation I felt before and I do not think it ever will be.
Part of my heart has remained in Africa. When I begin to stray from what Senegal taught me, about the true joie de vivre, I feel a tug in my chest. It is my reminder to not forget where I come from or where I have been. It tells me to turn my anger into something productive and to love when I feel hate.
But do not fear. This loss of a piece of one’s heart is nothing permanent. It is like the tale of the Grinch. In the place of the missing puzzle piece, a heart will grow three sizes bigger.