Leaving was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I have been constructing, writing, deleting, and rewriting blog posts in my mind since left my village, through that process, I learned there are some things I wanted to share, other’s I didn’t. I’ve found some time to sit down and get some thoughts collected. But my brain wanders, so read it and take with you what you will.
I’ve noticed that few ‘returned’ volunteers post blogs. I wonder why, I wonder if it’s because it is all so fresh, raw and it, at least for me, sometimes hurts to think or talk about those I’ve left behind. Or because we really don’t understand anymore; we went to our countries with questions, only to discover more questions and to have fewer answers. The possibilities are limitless.I’ve now been back in America for almost 5 months. And while my life here had become somewhat permanent, I feel like another countdown has just started to the next time I take a flight to live in another country; although I don't know what the countdown says. Time passes much faster here, for one ‘resettling’ takes a lot of time, energy and emotion, and two, there is so much here to distract a person so that you realize you’ve been looking at your smart phone for 20 minutes to 2 hours and have done nothing. The speed of the day is so much faster, with a car and paved roads, I can check off a ‘to do’ list in a few hours that would have taken weeks or more in The Gambia. But it is not all that gleaming gold beam of light on the hill, and I knew that because I had come ‘home’ for 2 weeks during my service, but the mind place tricks on us when we’re laying on our thatched beds in our mud huts day dreaming about mocha lattes.
I’ve had so many people tell me, “wow, you must be so glad you’re home! Africa is such a dangerous place. Your mother must have been so worried.” Most days if I'm not feeling snarky, I take a deep breath, and explain that ‘yes, I am glad to see my ‘american family’ again, and sure it’s nice to take a hot shower, but Africa, my Africa, wasn’t a dangerous place, they were peaceful, friendly and the most welcoming people, laughing and shrugging off the big and little things. And most importantly I would give anything to be there for another day!’ (Most people would have stopped listening to me after the first part of that sentence.) Of course, while I was in Gambia, shrugging off the big things like having no food or money for several meals was a HUGE problem and it drove me crazy that they made light of it. But looking back, I realize why they did it. They saw the simple fact, that there was no food, and while they tried to solve the problem, where there were few solutions, they didn’t create this monumental verbal issue out of it because that would have made the problem and the stress all that much worse. And as to whether my mom was worried, you’ll have to ask her.
Africa dangerous…yeah the roads are can be pretty bad, and accidents happen, as they do everywhere. But in my short 5 months back, I’ve experience more victimization and ‘dangerous’ situations than I did in over two years there. The only theft I experience there was when my wallet was sitting in the open cup holder of my backpack and someone sitting next to me on a gelle took my wallet, took the money out of it, and then RETURNED my wallet with my IDs (PC and Government) to my backpack. I lost some money, but they were kind enough to realize that the IDs weren’t worth anything to them and put them back. I recently moved to San Francisco and on my 4th day at a new job, I rode my road bike to work. Locked the bike on a bike rack outside (10 feet from the door) and by the time I left the building 9 hours later, it was gone. Someone had come over, cut the lock, and jumped over a cement barrier. If my bike had been stolen in my village, I would have 1.asked who had it and gone and gotten it back 2. Gone to the Alkahlo(village leader) and demanded that if my bike wasn’t back in a certain amount of time that I was going to call PC and have them remove me from my village and no PC volunteer would ever live in their village again, and their village would be shamed, disgraced (and any other word I could think of). And chances are that I would have gotten my bike back. In San Francisco, that same tactic wouldn’t work, anyone I said that too would probably think I was a drug induced homeless person mumbling about stolen bikes.
I got back and realized that the readjustment allowance wasn’t going to go far and the number of mocha lattes were very limited. Plus, I was so overwhelmed by the amount of choices that decisions were very hard for me. There was a moment in a bagel shop about 2 weeks after being back, middle of NYC, 14 different types of bagels, 28 different types of cream cheese, a line of 35 people, and the AC was on so high that my 100 degree African legs were turning blue. I wanted to cry, I turned the ‘blinders’ on and made it through my order…barely. Even last weekend, I had to leave a shopping center because it was just all so overwhelming. And frankly, I’m ok with that, I would rather have it be a bit overwhelming and retain as much as Africa has given me, than to feel completely comfortable with such a ‘developed’ world.
I miss my ‘African’ family so much my heart physically aches. I have their photos everywhere but sometimes it hurts to look at them. I’ve called them a few times, and to hear Nymandi’s laughter, Isatou asking “Omar(Justin) le?” Baboo laughing and protecting me by saying the rains are so great and then my older brother telling me that no the rains are slow… for even a few minutes is so incredible. Earlier I had put home into quotations. Home has been redefined for me. It’s not so much of a physical place as I feel like I have a home in the heart of whoever loves me. And I’m so lucky to be loved and love so many people all over the world. When my mind drifts off into another place, it always lands with them.
I believe that Peace Corps forever changes the volunteer. I will never be the person I was before my service. I look back and some days, I don’t recognize the person I was two years ago, I don’t really remember her. Through the readjustment, I’ve learned that I need to be kind and patient to the person I was, the people that knew her, allow them to teach me again who she was and gently allow them to meet the new me. It’s a merging of identities and it’s not easy. But it’s rewarding, and few people have the chance to have the self-study that volunteers get, so it should be embraced challenges and all. And yet, I don't want to be that person I was, I'm much happier with the me I am now, how do I not let her slip away?
Life is hard in The Gambia; life is hard in America too, it’s hard in different ways. Most often, however, in America there are more available solutions to the difficulties, that’s why it seem ‘easier’.