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The one month countdown is in 3 days, and the time to set sail and float away from Benin is days away. Emotions fluctuate and I manage some days really well. Other days feel like a failure when I avoid all feelings and hide in my room.
In April, I thought I would need something to help me remember all the little moments, all the milestones and experiences I’ve had in Benin. As the last days in Benin pass, I wonder how I’d ever possibly forget any of this. Yet, it was in April, that I decided to start collecting memories and photos that I wanted memorialized in a photo book. It has been the month of May that has seen me taking mental pictures and stopping for a few extra moments to soak it all up.
Check out the rest of the series:
Moving Home: 4 (Cultural) Keepsakes to Treasure (You’re here now!)
Making Time to Look Back
The sail is going to be a perfect time to sit, reflect and look back on the experience I’ve had with Mercy Ships over the past 3 years, and especially the past year in Benin. Mercy Ships gave us a wonderful photo book as a memento, but we wanted something more personalized. My dad had a few books made my Blurb in the past, so I decided to check them out.
Ruben and I made a 6X6 inch hardcover book with our favorite photos from this journey. Our photos start in the Canary Islands in 2014, and end in Benin. We discovered we have a TON of photos. Ruben’s GoPRO archives were packed, and that wasn’t counting the hundreds of photos that Mercy Ships takes and allows us to use.
It was very hard to decide, and I’m ready to make book #2! For our first book we chose photos that outlined our journey as a couple and all the adventures we shared. Photos of new countries and experiences like Cape Town, Togo, Las Palmas and Madagascar are all documented. We included the natural beauty that left us stunned in wonder. We included the fast-paced streets of Cotonou that I don’t want to forget.
“This is where…”
As my time counts down on the Africa Mercy, I find myself pensive and emotional about more than usual. So many seemingly normal places trigger memories in me that are so beautiful! I walk down the gangway and think of special patients I’ve gone looking for. I sit in the International Lounge and think of community bonding that took place. I stand on top of the bridge and I remember all the different countries Ruben and I have sailed into as we watched from the highest point on the ship.
These memories are precious, but you can’t photograph them. Even if we tried, I think we’d find photos of those locations to be meaningless. The bridge, the International Lounge, and the gangway are pretty boring on their own. It’s the memories that breathe life into those spaces.
Lauren Lanker (she wrote Thinking Outside the Gift Box) suggests an exercise inspired by something she did in theatre. She says this is a “physical act of paying homage to our past–sharpening our collective memory.” In the theatre exercise, the actors would go from room to room, allowing each space to trigger memories. As stories formed in the minds of the actors, they would explain, “This is the place where…” and continue with the memory and why it was significant.
This exercise allows you to walk through all the rooms and hallways that hold those memories, cementing them in your mind. This can be done on your own in a journal. Or it can be done ahead of time and recorded in a scrapbook as a gift for a loved one. For me, I’d love to do this with Ruben as a way to remember the many moments of life lived out on board this ship.
After a few months at home, will I be able to remember what the Malagasy language sounds like? Will I be able to recall “How are you?” and “Goodbye” in the local language of Cotonou I used all the time?
When I was looking for photos to include in my Blurb photo book, I came across this video from 2014. And it brought me back!! It’s so nice to hear that language again!
As this year has come to a close, I’ve snapped little video clips of language, of streets I drive by frequently, of things that will be hard to remember in a the coming months!
This is my favorite souvenir that I’m taking with me! I have dresses and skirts made by the hands of a lovely local tailor. I bought yards of the fabric in the markets, hopped onto moto taxis to get to the dirt side road where my tailor lived and worked. This fabric screams West Africa. The colors are bold, and you’ll find prints of the most outlandish objects. Each item has a story attached. Just in case I needed another reason to bring more home with me!