Please note that the opinions reflected on this blog are solely MY opinion. They do not reflect the Peace Corps or the US Government in any way.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

So, how was Africa?!

Well. Here I am. Back in the states – the US of A. I said that my last blog post would be my last but I think this one will really be my last. Up until now my posts have all been about getting ready to go to Senegal, my time in Senegal and then my feelings upon leaving Senegal. I think it’s only fair that I wrap up this whole experience with a final post regarding readjusting back to life in the States. You may not think that there is any sort of readjustment period required. I’m sure it must seem like because I am American and I know what life is like here, that I should be falling seamlessly back into things. Well unfortunately for both of us, that is not the case.

All Peace Corps volunteers and their families are given a handbook upon departure. This handbook goes over everything the volunteer can expect leading up to, during, and even after service. The final chapter about coming home brings up some of the emotions that I am currently feeling and while it might be easier for everyone I love to just take a peek at it, I’m going to include two of the key points in this post.

One of the points the handbook mentions that returning volunteers have a hard time with is the lack of interest or ability to properly communicate said interest by most people in what we have been doing for the past two years. If everyone could do me a favor and please never, ever ask me, “How was Africa?!” That’d be great. Life went on as normal here. People had challenges of their own and I understand that. However, the experience, as the handbook puts it, may have been the “most seminal experience of my life.” A vague, blanketed question asking, not even how the country I served in was, but the entire continent? That is simply insulting. Americans are so proud of their country and would most definitely be offended if someone asked them how North America was doing; therefore I simply ask that we educate ourselves a little bit on the big ole’ world that is out there. 

The second point that struck me was in regards to the intensity of the Peace Corps experience and what happens when that goes away. Contrary to most of my Facebook posts, I was not just on a two year vacation over there. Every time I left my apartment was a challenge. I was continuously speaking another language, dealing with harassment, dealing with heat, dodging rampant cars/street animals, and the ordeal was exhausting yet also exhilarating. I would go out of my house, walk to the post office and buy some vegetables at the market. Upon arrival back home, I felt like a champ. That small errand was tough and the completion felt incredibly satisfying. Here, still in my first few weeks back, my free time is devoted to similar tasks such as laundry, cleaning, grocery shopping, and cooking but the amount of ease with which all of these things are done is odd to me. The list I just rattled off would've easily taken me a week in Senegal and I would have had to devote each day to a separate chore. The convenience here and lack of difficulty completing basic duties is oddly debilitating.

Moving away from the handbook stuff now... I've been home twice and now that I am finally here for the long haul, it feels different. I’m not on vacation anymore. Life is real. I need to find a job or else I’ll go stir crazy sitting around. I need to figure out how to manage a schedule, not just one big reunion meal, with friends and family. There is also the matter of other people getting used to fitting me in their lives again. I know this isn’t a one-sided transition.

In Senegal, or I guess being physically removed anywhere, it seems like the problems are there but also aren’t really there. It is as if when you come back, everything will magically fall into place. America is the land of wonderful possibilities. I still believe this, but it’s also not all it’s cracked up to be. Difficult or confusing situations that existed before I left are still here and waiting to be dealt with.

A final note on the hard readjustments is just fitting myself into conversations again. I am having a hard time connecting with some of the topics that people deem important here. I find myself experiencing something I dealt with in Senegal which was being in a room full of people yet feeling alone. I am not hip on the latest gossip, technology, or even local issues so sometimes I’m unsure how to contribute to group conversations. I also feel that when I go off about my time in Senegal, some people just don’t care or know what to say. It goes back to simply asking me how Africa was. I get it that a lot of people don’t really know what the Peace Corps entails and I don’t blame them for feeling slightly uneasy. There have also been great conversations with relative strangers who were genuinely interested in what I had to say. I know that this is something that will come with time. I will come to realize the situations in which Senegal talk is appropriate and sought after or the other times when I need to know what the hell snapchat is all about.

After the hard stuff there are, of course, the wonderful readjustments that come with seeing the people I’ve missed so much regularly. The comfort that comes from understanding what people are saying to me, almost all the time, and being able to respond in my native language. The beauty that is Utah, I’m not kidding you. It is so incredibly, overwhelmingly, undeniably beautiful here. With the mountains, the trees, the grass, the clean streets, the fresh streams, the clean smells, etc. 

Then there’s the ease of working out and being able to go running without receiving stares and harassment. And finally, hot showers, clean clothes/bed sheets/towels, the ability to go where I want when I want, GOOD FOOD, and staying clean all day long have been lovely to get used to again.

To wrap this up, the readjustment is hard. I want people to know that and to try and be patient with me. I will do my best to be patient with people as well. As far as my next steps in life go… I’m still not quite sure. That’s probably my second least favorite question – What are you doing next? Not because it’s something slightly ignorant like the Africa question but because it sends me into a fit of panic and mutterings, “I don’t know yet, I’m job hunting, we’ll see!” I have an opportunity to teach English in France which I have accepted but I’m also applying for jobs in Utah in order to be around my family and friends. After all, if I find a good job with an organization that I care about, it’s not going to hurt me to stay put for a little bit and regain some sense of normalcy in my life.

Until the next adventure then,


1 comment:

  1. Hi Alexx,

    I hope you're doing well. My name is Eirene Wang and I just completed a nine-month Fulbright English Teaching Assistantship in Eastern Russia. I came across your interview today, which is why I'm reading your blog now. I fully relate to the shocks of coming home, which can honestly take quite a while to adjust to. I'm in Salt Lake City for about a month visiting my boyfriend, but if you have time I'd love to meet up and chat.

    Feel free to check out my own travel blog too! The link is www.eirenestravelcomics.com (I apologize in advance for the lack of comics, I got lazy and then had computer issues).