Africa

Saying Goodbye

By Beth

December 17, 2009

On my last full day in São Tomé, the sun is blazing. My boyfriend, Kilson, and I spend the day at the beach, swimming off Ned’s dock, taking pictures, dancing in the street to neighbors’ loud music, sipping beers at a cafe strung with Christmas lights. From Ned’s dock, sopping wet and in our bathing suits, we watch TAAG- Angola’s airline- touch down on the runway close to Ned’s house. Kilson’s sister’s boyfriend is on that plane and we take my motorcycle and rush to the airport, as do a couple hundred other São Tomeans.

And as I watch the crowd at the airport in the setting sun, I can’t help but think about the fact that the next time I see the sun again, I will be in the very same airport, with my suitcase, leaving. Kilson is very good at detaching and putting on a smile so I don’t know if he is thinking the same thing, but he must be. A knot forms in my stomach. On one hand, I have got to go back to the States because I have the best chance there of finding someone to finance more computers for the São João school. On the other hand, I can’t bear to leave Kilson behind.

I have wondered if Kilson and my relationship is mostly enchanted by the new surroundings and the paradise-like atmosphere. That may have been how it began. But I also think I am just simply enchanted by Kilson, and the man that he is. So many times our lives in São Tomé have been a hindrance to our relationship rather than a help. We never have a place to go that is our own, for example. But we have survived it all and with flying colors, and now leaving a boyfriend behind is one of the hardest things to do.

My friend AJ tells me of friends of his that left behind relationships upon finishing the Peace Corps. When you’re countries and countries away and not sure when you will be back, it’s impossible to ask the other person to wait for you, no matter how much you want them to. Kilson and I only dated for maybe six weeks but he very quickly became my best friend on the island. Yet during the last two weeks, our relationship was very trying. We got into countless arguments. In addition to the fact that I was leaving, his sister was coming home for Christmas- the first time he would see her in nine years. I was hustling to get the computer program at São João minimally stable, writing guidebooks, meeting with teachers, writing grant proposals.Often we would start play-fighting…but then it would end up as a real fight. Both of us were about at the end of our ropes…stressed out of our minds.

But our last day together is perfect. We have both reached a level of peace with the fact that I am leaving. There is nothing we can do to stop it. And in this recognition the stress drips off and let ourselves enjoy each other. We fall in love all over again. We are done fighting with each other; for each other. We surrender our stubborn selves to the inevitable.

If Abercrombie São Tomé existed, it would be us in this picture.

The next morning on the plane to Portugal I rub Kilson’s necklace that he gave me. It is a grain of rice that he got in Cuba with his name painted onto it. For four of the six hours of flight I write in my journal about him. I am not ready to get him go. When I arrive at my cousin João’s house in the little town of Val Florido in Portugal, a stopping point on my journey home, João’s wife, Elsa, offers me their phone. They say if I need to call my dad or anyone else, to feel free.  I call my dad but then I call Kilson. I hear his voice light up on the other end. “I’m so glad you called,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about you all day.”

Beth Santos
Founder and CEO of Wanderful, creator of the Women in Travel Summit, enthusiastic lover of ice cream, picnics and art.

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