It is the last day of my first trip to Phoenix, Arizona to visit Joe, Ashley and Mia Rose Wollersheim. I sit in the airport with a heavy, happy heart as I wait for my flight to Seattle, Washington - to visit two other dear friends - to board. I look around the waiting area of my gate and see occupied business travelers with laptops and older couples with cowboy hats leaving and going to see their own loved ones. Airports always make me reminisce.
I remember meeting Joe and Ashley in July, 2008 during our 2-day pre-service training with the Peace Corps. We sat at large, cloth covered tables in a generic conference room full of foldable wall dividers at a Holiday Inn in downtown Philadelphia and were given 'getting to know you' worksheets as one of our icebreakers. I knew after meeting the Wollersheims that Joe was an excitable person with limited reservations and I could also tell that Ashley was a little more reserved than her gregarious husband and had a sweet look about her. What I did not know from that first meeting and what I could not tell from a getting-to-know-you worksheet was that this couple would become two of my best friends in the Peace Corps and more than that, simply two of my best-friends.
The villages where Ashley, Joe and I spent our first two years in the Peace Corps were about 5 hours apart on a good public transport day. Different in traditions but similar in their unfamiliarity we, like all volunteers do, spent a lot of time musing about our sites, Mali, West Africa, development work and the Peace Corps – among other things, of course. We would see one another every other month or so and in between those times we also went on some pretty epic adventures throughout Mali and in some neighboring countries. We climbed, along with our treasure of a friend Cassie, the highest point in Mali – Mount Hombori – and traveled in a taxi throughout Guinea, including hiking in the Fouta Djallon, and down through Sierra Leone to Freetown where we lounged on the beach and rubbed elbows with some dubious characters on the remote Banana Island.
When Joe and Ashley left Mali I knew we would stay in touch but also wondered how our friendship would evolve as they moved on with their lives in America and as I moved on with my new life in Bamako. While I was transitioning to a volunteer position with more responsibility in Mali's capital for my third-year with the Peace Corps – Joe and Ashley were transitioning to even larger life changes – a baby, buying a new home, new jobs. What would it be like when we all hung out again? Would it be the same? Would we still dream about traveling to different places together and within the same breath make goofball jokes as Ashley made popcorn?
I got my first chance to see Joe and Ashley only six months after they left Mali. In January 2011 I went out to Las Vegas with my family to celebrate my Dad's 60th birthday. Even though Joe and Ashley had just closed on a house in Phoenix days before our trip and Ashley was about 7 months pregnant and growing seemingly by the hour, they still drove the 6 hours to Las Vegas to see me and my family (and hit the black jack tables and slots!). Like all my adventures with the Wollersheims, this one was unforgettable, too.
|I knew you 7 months in the belly and 7 months out!|
My second opportunity to see the Wollersheims came just a week and a ½ ago. Home for four months from Mali before I start graduate school - you could say I have some free time. I decided to come out to the West Coast – somewhere I hadn't visited since I was 12 years old and traveled with my Dad and family from Vancouver, Canada down to Tijuana, Mexico (in the days before trading drugs and trafficking people became popular – we spent most of our money in Tijuana on chicklets and trampoline jumping).
|A community Christmas party|
After ten days with Joe, Ashley and their baby girl Mia, I know I need not have worried about what it would be like to pick up on the relationship that we built over the course of two years in Mali. Because while I could not have known when I met Joe and Ashley how much they would mean to me later - I know now how much they do.
See more pictures from my trip here!