The Last Ride (page 3)
The Last Ride
page 1

page 2

  

It was the moment to leave. I could barely touch any of them or say anything. Hugging seemed too dramatic and if I had done that, I would have broken the cultural code of restrained, repressed emotion — something I had promised myself I would not do in public. Instead I shook Mame’s hand and looked at her beautiful Diola face for an instant until we both looked down. I touched each child’s face, kissed Ndeye on the head and turned to leave the room. Mame stayed inside with all of the children except Elise, who I was carrying, and Ousmane walked with me to the truck. I met Mame’s sister at the door and shook her hand. She surprised me with a sob and her abrupt retreat back into the room. Finally at the entrance of the compound I quickly shoved Elise back to her father before she had the chance to cling to me as she often did when I left her. I thanked Ousmane and shook his extended left hand — the hand used to wish someone well on a journey and a gesture promising that we would see each other again someday.
     As I drove slowly out of the village, I looked, for the last time, at the ancient mahogany trees that lined both sides of the tar road, the sandy fields that were being prepared for the growing season, the electric power lines there were still not connected and the sparse, sublime horizon that had been stripped of almost all green. On the way out, I picked up a villager who wanted a ride to Kaolack, the regional capital where I had packing and writing my close-of-service report to finish. Once past the village limit, I couldn’t hold back any longer. My passenger looked embarrassedly away from my unstoppable flow of tears, and the only I words I spoke for 35km were to ask him to put on his seat belt.

Afterword:


Ousmane Thiam with Mbaye and Elise in 2001
Ousmane Thiam and his family continue to live in the Muslim village of Keur Madiabel, and they remain in frequent contact with the author. Ndeye Astou, the eldest daughter, did not pass her entrance exams last year in order to continue education beyond 6th grade, but Ousmane is encouraging her to try again. The author helps to financially support the education of Elise Thiam, who is now four years old and attending her second year of pre-school in another village.
     Immediately after the destructive events of September 11th, the Thiam’s tried for three days to get through the phone lines to the United States. Mame said they “could not sleep or eat until they spoke with [me] to ensure [my] safety and well being.” Recently, the family telephoned the author to express their condolences on the one-year anniversary of September 11th. Ousmane said that they are praying for her, and for America.
   Elise Annunziata lived in Keur Madiabel for two years working with students and teachers in eight surrounding villages to develop Environmental Education curricula. She extended a third year in Senegal as a Volunteer Leader in Kaolack and also worked as a Peace Corps trainer for the first Environmental Education program in Guinea (Conakry). Now living in Arlington, Virginia, Elise has a Master of Arts in Environmental and Natural Resources from The George Washington University and currently works for the Sierra Club in Arlington.
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