One Last Adventure with Dave

In this blog, I’ve mentioned Dave in passing. Like in life, he deserves so much more.

For the past year, Dave and I have been the only foreigners in Bonga.

Bonga is a rough and gritty town. Absolutely beautiful to look at, but also difficult to navigate. The people and the politics can get the best of you. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, we often feel trapped, unable to escape a life we are trying to make sense of. We find relief in our vices and passions – teaching, TV, writing, working out. Through all of the good times and bad, we bonded together. He knows me as well as anyone else, and I will always think of him when I look back on Peace Corps.

On Sunday, Dave Ames will have finished his Peace Corps service. He will fly back to Texas after spending two years in the Rainforest.

We had one last adventure together. We went up to Chiri to have a goodbye party. The American doctors who run the hospital share my love of Dave, so it was emotional. Sunday Morning, 24 hours before Dave left Bonga for good, we decided to go on one last hike. We were joined/led by Andrew the hospital director. We were in search of a mystery waterfall, one that could be seen from the road, but not in its full glory.

We ended up finding a trail that lead to a home. Here, a family lived as their ancestors lived for thousands of years before them. One circular hut, made from grass and sticks. The kids greeted us, naked, playing in front of the house. Greeted is a strong word. They stared at us like they had seen a ghost.

The wife spoke neither the local language, nor Amharic. She woke her husband up from a nap. We walked through a thick forest with our new guide

“Fafuate Mayet Infeligalen” we stated. (We want to see the waterfall)

“Tiliku?” He replied

Yeah. We wanted to see the big one.

After traveling through a forested trail, hacking our way through the vegetation with a machete, we arrived at a swamp. With each step, Our shoes sunk deeper into the marsh. I’m guessing we were one of only a handful of people that had seen this area. The area was covered in thick vegetation, with palm trees, long vines and tall grass everywhere. Our guide explained that a cow disappeared one day in this swamp. Just vanished. I was positive an Anaconda was going to eat me. Yeah, they only live in South America– but I wouldn’t have bet against it.

Then we arrived at a small mountain stream. The waterfall is this way, the guide said, pointing upstream. We had reached the point of no return. That point when your socks are already wet so nothing matters anymore.

30 minutes later, I was standing waist deep in water, my camera tied around my neck so I wouldn’t lose it. My knee was busted, I was sure I was covered in Leeches (I wasn’t) and I was trying to pull myself up by a vine onto the rocks.

But it was a cool trek – something no other foreigner has ever done. We were trailblazers. I thought about how cool I was. But then I thought – Dave is doing this. He’s in his 50’s and he’s kicking my ass. That’s him – 30 yards in front of me, motioning to me where to find solid rocks.

The waterfall was fantastic.  Our Journey – Dave and mine, had come full circle.

One of my first days in Bonga we went on a similar adventure. Trying to find the hot springs – we ventured into the jungle. We never found it, and got stuck in the heart of the Kafa rainforest at night – in a thunder storm. We were stranded about 10 miles from any town and 30 miles from Bonga. Soaked, we were about to beg for a place to stay in a hut, until we were saved by a late random bus, passing through the area.

A year later we made it to an even more isolated destination.  Victory.

With the waterfall in the background

Dave left a week ago and Bonga isn’t the same anymore. Dave is no longer here, and his absence is tangible. He could normally be seen, walking up and down town. The Military gait, honed through years of service. If he’s going somewhere, he’s going there fast. He’s wearing the same shirt, the blue school backpack. Dave is an old soul, a wise warrior. But also a kid.

In Peace Corps we have three goals. To summarize, the first one is to provide technical work and support. The second and third ones are to engage in cultural exchange.

Peace Corps Volunteers: Don’t worry about goal one. Dave has us all covered.

Working was Dave’s passion. It is his vice. In his two years in Bonga, Dave fixed every electrical appliance in town. Twice. He fixed radios and TVs. Likely, he fixed over 400 computers all throughout the region. People would drive hours to see Dave or take him back to their village. Dave never, not once, turned someone down. He barely slept, and likely put in 14 hours of work everyday.

These were computers that were new in the late 90’s. Some of the models were older than my Family’s first computer. We’re talking about DOS operating systems, Oregon Trail, Windows 97. Computers with less storage than my iPod shuffle.

He’s a genius.

We had some great times. We had some tough times. Jon (whose bank is in Bonga, thus he is often here) is like my brother. Dave is our dad. And we needed one here, someone to give us wisdom, army jokes, awesomely bad pun’s, and a little bit of tough love. We’ll miss him a lot

I’m writing this for Dave I suppose – -(HI DAVE – MISS YOU!) – Because he deserves some recognition. But also it is part of my story. He is someone who lives to work, loves to live, and lives to give. People like that are hard to come by.

I wrote Dave a letter and included one of my favorite quotes. I hate to use it again, but it perfectly describes our my respect and newfound loneliness.

Just after Andy escapes from prison in The Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman “Red” states,

“I have to remind myself that some birds aren’t meant to be caged, their feathers are just too bright. And when they fly away, the part of you that knows it was a sin to lock them up does rejoice, but still, the place you live in is that much more drab and empty that they’re gone…

I guess I just miss my friend.”

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5 comments on “One Last Adventure with Dave

  1. Mom says:

    I know Dave misses you, too, Michael. I am sad for you, but so grateful that Dave was in Bonga for your first year in the Peace Corps. Now it is your turn to be a Dave for the new PCVs in Bonga. You’ll be great at helping them out, I know. Tell Dave we hope we get to see him in the States one day soon.

  2. Mary Lou says:

    Great Blog. I really enjoyed your story about Dave. I wish him well and thank him for his kindness he showed both you and Jon. What a wonderful person he is. I hope I can meet him someday too. I’m also glad that Jon has you for a friend and fellow PCV. You guys will continue on and do good things. I know it.

  3. Carly says:

    Jeez you are talented. I forgot about the world I was in and got wrapped up in yours. Dave will be missed, for sure. Maybe it’s time for you to be someones Dave 😉

  4. Martha Grano says:

    Michael,
    Will you be expecting a new Peace Corps volunteer to fill in for Dave? Someone you will mentor as the ‘Old Guy’?
    And, how is your new year shaping up?
    Aunt Martha

  5. Nikki says:

    Mike, this, like many things this month, made me cry. I can’t believe he’s already onto the next adventure. I miss him too.

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