Readjustment Phase Two–Where is Home?

In July I posted about discovering what home means to me – the place where you become yourself. As I feel the second phase of my readjustment kicking in, I no longer know where my home is.

I was looking forward to reconnecting with family and friends as part of my COS experience. However, everyone remembers me as the girl who left in 2011. I’m radically different from that girl. I don’t feel like I can be myself anymore because everyone is expecting me to be the old me. I’m caught in between this limbo of being my new self and faking my old self. As my best friend said “Peace Corps sent back a very zen person.” I was not that way when I left. I don’t know how to interact with old friends anymore. I don’t know how to connect. I feel like there is something missing in the middle, and that’s time. I’ve been gone for two years. I haven’t seen some people for ever longer. How do I be the same friend when I’m a different person? I struggle with every conversation to not monopolize the discussion and blabber on about Peace Corps. I’m genuinely curious about what everyone else has been up to, but most people don’t have two years worth of incredibly crazy stories to tell. How do I be myself?

Home. I’m back in America. But I’m not home. I don’t know where I consider home anymore, I can’t be myself and I don’t feel connected to any specific place. My mom’s house was cozy and nice, but it didn’t feel like home. The area and way of life seemed so alien that I could hardly connect to it. San Diego was fantastic, but it’s my best friend’s home. I was just visiting. I could be myself with her, I felt the most at ease during that week. I was so excited to return to Oklahoma. I grew up here. I have such fond memories of life in this house, but it isn’t my home anymore. It is scary how un-homelike it feels.

There were a few things that finally severed ties for me with this house. After just one hour, I knew this place was no longer my home. First, my dog didn’t recognize me. And he still doesn’t. That’s been one of the hardest aspects of coming back so far. I couldn’t wait to be reunited and dogs are supposed to have such great memories of their owners. He doesn’t even come when I call him. It’s almost as if he is scared of me. He loves everyone else though. It breaks my heart everyday to watch it.
Then, as I entered my room I felt disorientated. There was no carpet, just the concrete slab. My bed was there, but my mattress was gone. During my service I slept on a terrible mattress. It was made of “high density” foam with no springs. It was very soft and had completely molded to my body, which really means I made a giant butt imprint in it. It was so bad that I couldn’t roll over at night, I would just roll back into the butt pit. Turning it regularly didn’t help. I hated it. I couldn’t wait to get back to Oklahoma and sleep on my mattress again. The mattress I had literally been dreaming about for two years. That mattress was one of the first things I bought post college. It’s a material thing, but when you’ve been deprived of good sleep for two years, you really want a nice place to sleep. While I was tossing and turning every night, my dad decided to claim my mattress and it’s now on his bed. I probably would have said it was okay, if he ever asked me, but he didn’t. He said he’d buy me a new one, but that doesn’t solve the problem I have right now – I want to feel comfortable in my house.
This house doesn’t feel the same. My dad’s made a lot of changes, so it doesn’t look the same or feel like the house I grew up in. It isn’t friendly anymore. It isn’t inviting. I don’t feel like I’m wanted here. I don’t even feel like a guest. As I walked through the house, I found one picture of me. And there is a frame that says family and it has everyone in it, but me. No one talks to me or asks me questions. In fact, we barely say anything at all. It’s like I don’t even exist. This is now just a place I’m crashing while I search for a job. And it breaks my heart every night and every morning. I go to bed feeling lost and disconnected. I wake up wishing I was waking up to the sound of hand brooms and goats. I’d take my crappy mattress back and early morning wake up calls. Ghana was home, this is not. But I can’t go back to Ghana. So I sit here struggling with feeling like I no longer belong anywhere.

The only way I know to cope is to continue pursuing my dreams.
This too shall pass.

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The Good Old Days

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” As I sit here vacillating between excitement over going home and sadness about saying goodbye, I remember all the stories of my service. When will I have an opportunity like this again? When will I be able to experience such highs and such lows? As I heard that quote from my favorite show, the Office, tonight I shed a tear. I’m in the good old days. I’m in those memories of adventure. I want to go home, but I don’t want this to end. I don’t want to give up my dream job working on my dream project doing things that matter. I don’t want to say goodbye to my best friend. And I surely don’t want to give up this amazing healthcare. Yes, there are things I will not miss like strange tropical diseases and being covered in filth after a 100km ride in a totally unsafe vehicle. But there are things I will always look back fondly on, that I will carry with me like a badge of honor.

Here are some of my favorite memories:

Just this past week, I attended the African Cashew Alliance World Cashew Conference. Also in attendance at this event was the Chairman of the Wenchi Cashew Association. I didn’t know he was going to be there and when I found his name on the list I instantly broke into cold sweats and I felt myself close up. Suddenly, all the bad memories from my old site came flooding back and I thought I would have a panic attack. Then I saw a white truck and I thought I would just crumble into pieces. Instead of succumbing to my fears, I decided to become a secret agent and do everything possible to avoid him at all costs. I actually had fun suddenly finding hidden alcoves and learning to spin quickly on my heel and duck behind a plant when I saw him. Despite me seeing him, he never saw me. I became a master of hiding and camouflage. I went the entire week without him even recognizing me. I’m very proud of my sneakiness and ability to overcome my fears.

And over a year ago, I remember so vividly hearing the news that the President of Ghana had died. I was in Richie’s tiny village. We stood on a rock with the phone in the air trying to get service so we could verify the villager’s claims on the internet. The next day was full of such craziness that I still can’t even believe what happened. We walked through 5ft tall grass looking for the sacred hole, sacrificed for the ancestors, drank spirits in their honor, and found wild orchids. I will never forget singing Lion King songs on the way back and showing up in town to find the entire place dancing. We literally emerged from the bush and danced our way through town. Apparently, the villagers still remember me for that very reason.

I remember the Fourth of July in 2012. We didn’t have a grill for our steaks, so we improvised and purchased burglar wire. We broke a set of pliers shaping the wire into a grill that would fit over two coal pots.

I remember my initial site visit when Sam came to meet me. He talked to me about the SAP project and set me up for an amazing next two years.

I remember the first Peace Corps party I went to. While many parts are fuzzy, I still remember dancing into the wee hours of the night and returning around 4am. I remember the fence was locked and someone scaling it to unlock it, despite the fact that we didn’t have a key.

I remember the look my Tess’s face when she saw me crawling to the bathroom for the umpteenth time during the last part of my typhoid. It still cracks me up.

I remember opening the door at Richie’s house to find an entire gaggle of students who should be in class, instead they were delivering us a chameleon.

I remember sitting on the hard concrete ground looking for shooting stars with my Ghanaian family.

I remember rolling through town with my Ghanaian brother and Richie screaming Kwabena at every guy we saw.

I remember standing on my rickety table thinking “oh god this is bad news” and hearing the table crack in two. I still remember the slow and gradual fall as I grabbed for the rope hoping that 1mm of flimsy rope would save me.

I remember sitting at the table with my expats eating something delicious with their new neighbor. I turned to him and asked where he was from. I will never forget the shock on my face when he said Oklahoma.

I remember my first trip to Accra, I thought my stomach wasn’t going to make it as I bumped along the Kumasi Accra road. I didn’t care how terrible I felt, I made a beeline for the closest supermarket where I proceeded to purchase 20cd of cheese and ate it all immediately.

How could I forget the countless dance parties that started on a whim? Or the moments with Richie? Or friends who have come and gone. Or the lessons learned, mainly the hard way?

I’ve had quite the adventure and I wish it wouldn’t end. I’m in the good ole days. I’m here. And I’m going to leave soon, but until then I’m going to soak up as much good as I can.

I’m Afraid of America

I’m terrified of going back to America. I’m scared of becoming complacent. I’m scared that I might actually think about donating money to a charity. I’m scared of driving. I’m scared that I will scream at someone because they complain about something mundane. I’m scared of gaining weight. I’m scared of processed food. I’m scared of having a job that isn’t satisfying. I’m scared I won’t feel fulfilled. I’m scared of sticker shock. I’m scared of cold weather. I’m scared of having to resettle. I’m scared of money. I’m scared of politics.

For two years, I’ve lived in my comfortably harsh bubble. I’ve become accustomed to eating the same six things: banku and groundnut soup, kenkey and pepe, egg sandwiches, tuna salad, popcorn, and spaghetti. I’ve learned to enjoy the simple life of latrines, walking everywhere, and bucket baths. I don’t mind three hour long tro rides to go just 100km. I don’t even mind 8 hour trips to the capital. Air conditioning makes me cold and I’d rather sit outside in the hot sun chatting with the neighbors than watching a movie. Food tempts me too much and I know that as soon as I get home the pounds will begin to stick nicely to my squishy parts.

Honestly, I’m just scared of leaving. I never been unemployed before and searching for jobs is difficult when I know exactly what I want to do, but I either have to wait for the stars to align or fight tooth and nail. I’m scared of leaving my job. As I continue to say, despite the low points and illnesses, I’m still very happy with my service. My primary project was a dream project. I’ve learned so much from the successes and the many failures. Even yesterday, I had to say goodbye to my SAP contact, Carsten, and I fought back tears. This project has been my life for two years and Carsten’s been there conference calling me through it. I don’t want to leave this project, I simply don’t. Giving it up and handing it over to another PCV is like handing your baby up for adoption – I’ve nurtured and cared for this thing for two years, take good care of it, so be a good parent and don’t screw it up!

I’m losing everything again, just like when I left for Peace Corps.  I’ll leave a piece of me behind in Ghana, as everyone does. It’s time to start again on a new adventure, but not before I give myself time to reacclimate to American life. I’ll need time at a grocery store to not freak out over choices. I’ll need time to relearn how to drive. I’ll need time to cope with first world problems. I’ll need time to learn how to be polite again. I’ll need time to merge my Ghanaian self with my American self without hissing, yelling, or generally degrading someone’s religiosity in order to get past the greeting stage.

But most of all, I’m terrified of losing the knowledge I gained during these two years. The knowledge of how to get by on so little and how to be happy no matter what comes my way. The knowledge of how to find fulfillment.

Please America, don’t let me lose myself. 

Beginning of the end

​ Oh no, not another energizer, I thought as I dragged my chair backwards to join my fellow Peace Corps Rangers in the middle of the room. We gathered in a circle with bated breathe, what’s this morning going to bring. Grace explained the rules to us, we were going to appreciate each other by standing in the center and telling one person how much they mean to us and what impact they’ve had on our service. People choked back tears and hugged one another, divulging how someone has come to their aid. After a few of these moments the tears began to flow. I moved to the center and as I stood there, I wanted to tell Richie what a great friend he has been to me through the good times and bad. All that came out was one squeak and a half sentence before I couldn’t control the sobs.
For the past month I’d bottled up a lot of emotions. Despite all the terrible things that have happened recently, I hadn’t really had a good chance to cry. After being cooped up in a house with 20 other people for way too long, I could feel the frustration building up inside me. Coupled with the emotions from the past month, I quickly discovered that I couldn’t hold back anymore. During the sessions, I would find my eyes welling with tears just at the thought of saying goodbye. I looked around the room at the 20 other people who’ve shared this experience with me. As I glanced at each face, I remembered fondly tales from training or adventures we’ve shared. My mind has been so focused recently on the future, that I haven’t stopped to remember the impact these people have had on my life. Even though I don’t get along with everyone, each person has still taught me something about myself.

How do you say goodbye to the only people who understand what we’ve been through? The only people who understand how frustrating it can be to have people scream “white person!” at you constantly. The only people who understand what tro or taxi aggression is? The only people who will understand references to “PST” or “I’m coming.” The only people who’ve been there to comfort me during the times when I was actually scared.

As COS conference ended and I briefly returned to site, I truly realized what a special experience this has been. I’ve met people who have changed my life. I’ve worked on my dream project. I’ve tested my limits. I’ve challenged my assumptions. I’ve lived broke and poor. I’ve had to beg for food because I had no money. I’ve learned skills that simply can’t be taught. I’ve cried and I’ve screamed and I’ve pleaded, but I’ve survived.

I don’t know where I’ll end up or what I’ll be doing, but I know that Peace Corps has forever changed my life. I am not saying goodbye in 67 days. I’m not saying goodbye to my friends, partners, and way of life. I will carry it with me for the rest of my life, how could I not?

Watch out America, you are not going to recognize me.

My Progression as a Peace Corps Volunteer

A long time ago, in a village far far away, I posted about the different types of Volunteers. I used Disney characters to highlight the different roles and personas we take on. I’d like to revisit those Disney characters to show how I’ve changed during my service.

First I was like…
chip

So excited and eager to be part of the Peace Corps.
Then after a month of training, I was like…
zazu

Getting sassy from sitting in sessions all day.
After another month of training, I was like…
beast

I turned into a completely different angry animal.
As training came to a close, I was like…
peter pan

Freedom! I was so excited to go to my site.
As I started working at site, I was like…
hercules

I can do anything! This is fantastic.
At our reconnect conference, we I returned to sessions I was like…
scar

Bitter and disenfranchised, but quietly plotting new outfits.
Then it was my first All Vol, and I was like…
belle

I just wanted to dance and be pretty.
Then I got typhoid, and I was like…
dopey

Completely off my rocker and asleep for a month.
Then rainy season hit and I was like…
stich

Incredibly stir crazy and about to eat my tin roof, so it would stop pelting.
Then I went on vacation, and I was like…
cinderella

All my dreams came true!
Thanksgiving came next and I was like…

abu

Free food? Washing machine? Please, can I have more?
Then my incident happened, and I was like…

ursula

Angry, just angry.
As I struggled to find a new home, I was like…

cogsworth

Frazzled and stressed to the max.
But then I got a new home and I was like…

ariel

A whole new world to explore!
Then I fell down hanging my curtains, a day after moving in. I was like…

mean girl finding nemo

Really, not happy.
Things picked up at site and I was busy with conference planning, so I was like…

shang

Let’s get down to business!
Then shit hit the fan, and I was like…

ezema

Crazy, upset, and about to put some boxes in a box and smash it.
Then I got sick with the curse of April, and I was like…
carl

Couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs.
Then there was All Vol round two, and I was like…

evil queen

Damnit I’m going to look fabulous.
Then everything magically went away, and I was like…

lilo

Hi, I’m back and I’m happy again!
Then I got back to business and was busy, so I was like…

doc

All’s good in the world again.
Then I got to go on vacation again and see family, and it was like…

genie

Someone just granted me three wishes.
Then I got back to site and had wonderful work to do, and I’m like…

buzz

To infinity and beyond! Warp speed ahead and into COS.