When you go to West Africa

You may find yourself in a small village market far away from any evidence of the twenty-first century. You might take photographs of women more beautiful than any you have ever seen, women who have never before seen a photograph of themselves. You will bless your digital camera again and again, because you will witness the disbelief and hilarity of women who find an image of themselves for the first time. They may grab you, grab their friends, laugh uproariously, direct you to the next person to photograph.

You may find yourself feeling completely, purely happy.

You will be invited into every village with hospitality that exceeds all limits. Your hosts will look for something for all the people from your carload to sit on- in the shade you will simply sit, and, not understanding the language, you will listen to the customary blessings with a smile on your face, because everyone understands the rhythm of speech, and everyone understands kindness.

You will see many, many, many children. You will exclaim over tiny babies on the backs of women, you will make toddlers cry with your strangeness, you will make the older kids laugh and shriek when you show them photos of themselves. They will yell out names as you flip through photos, and find other children for you to photograph. They will lift up the small ones so that you can reach them.

You may find yourself drinking gin in the morning, the tiniest sips of something you would never in your life drink at home, because you can't drink the water and your hosts must offer you something. You wouldn't dream of saying no. It tastes horrible and wonderful, because you are being honored. You will, however, draw the line at more than a few sips.

You may meet the kindest people you have ever met. You may realize all over again that possessions mean nothing, and that true joy is found in love and brotherhood. You may feel honored beyond what you deserve, again and again. You may share food with people who bring you their best, who bring you the rabbit because rabbit is the best meat they could find. You may close your eyes more than once, rather than looking at what you are eating. You may wonder more than once, what exactly you are eating.

You may have the best traveling companions ever; women who don't blink when asked to use a hole in the ground as La Toilette. Together you will laugh and laugh and laugh, almost more than you have laughed ever in a five day period. Because these people who are hosting you sure do believe in laughter.

You may arrive home and be incredibly sick, running to the bathroom more times than you can possibly count. You would go back to Burkina Faso again if you could, sixteen times if you could, even if you had to be sick like this every time.

You may arrive home and wonder who those kids are, and then realize with a shock that they are yours! And that though ten days is not a long time, you have traveled light years away, and coming back is like coming from a long, long distance. You will hug them and cuddle for hours. You will look around at your incredible wealth and feel undeserving. You will never be the same.