For the month of June, we asked all our writers to use a video in their piece.

What happens when you leave a place?

Last spring, when I was preparing to leave the Diocese of Egypt, I alphabetized a binder of grant contracts. I wrote how-to documents on updating the website and producing the newsletter. I compiled all the login information for our various online accounts. I cleaned out the external hard drive and renamed dozens of word documents according to project in folders dedicated to unique donors. I created a master spreadsheet of active projects and funder information. I was determined to leave things better than I found them. I wanted my successors to have an easier time settling into their new task.

It was easy enough when that successor was an abstract. When she arrived, I spent my last week in Egypt showing her around the hard drive and orienting her to the office. After a few days, she made an off-hand comment: “you’re always complaining about this job.”

I would like to say I responded with grace. In actuality, I don’t remember what I said. I remember what I felt. You don’t understand what I’ve been dealing with. I went out of my way to make this easy for you, because I had to figure it out alone. You don’t know how hard I’ve worked, and how hard it’s been. 

I wanted to leave the Diocese better than I found it, but part of me wanted it to fall apart when I left. I wanted it to need me, as if that would validate my struggling.

What happens when you leave a place?

I follow @everydayegypt, @everydaycairo and @egyptianstreets on Instagram, and sometimes they post a photo that I recognize and I can suddenly smell the taameya shop and hear the car horns and feel the dust under my feet. I’ll wonder if that’s it, if my year there is just a photo taken by someone else on a street that looks like, but isn’t, mine.

What happens when you leave a place?

I’ll mention it now, in an off-hand way. It’s taken a long time to do that. I haven’t wanted people to ask what I was doing in Cairo, because I was never sure how to answer. Strangers think it’s “cool” that I lived there, which, whatever it means, isn’t true. It was something else entirely.

What happens when you leave a place?

I left the Diocese of Egypt and it appears to be doing just fine. I unfollowed them on Facebook; I haven’t been on the website since I did my last update a year ago. I only see EpiscoCare photos and occasional posts from my former colleagues. It looks like my successor was actually a better fit there than I was– she made friends with the staff in a way I never managed to do. A shameful part of me hates that, as if her success means that what I did there didn’t matter. As if I wasn’t needed. As if my presence didn’t mean anything.

What happens when you leave a place?

Life goes on there, and wherever you go next, and in all the other places you’ve left. None of it depends on you. But you cling to the traces the place leaves on you: the photos and artifacts and jokes and songs and scars.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

post calvin direct

Get new posts from Katie Van Zanen delivered straight to your inbox.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!