I wrote this blog at the end of last year, trying to force myself through a transition that I was not ready to make. It's been nearly a year since I left Malawi, and I still dream about it and yearn for it. But now, finally, I feel secure in my happiness once again. Why? Because I took control of it myself and made it happen. This girl in December was at the beginning stages of that, but it has only been within the last few months that I have finally built up enough strength to say goodbye. So, 7 months later, I am publishing this final piece from my journey to Malawi and back.
Note: I assumed this would be in dire need of editing after months of sitting stagnate in my lap top. But I have decided to leave it exactly the way it was when I wrote it at Christmas time.
Usually, I compose a 12-month review of my life with the passing of one year into the next. This blog serves that purpose though, with its in-depth descriptions of the last months I spent in Malawi. 2013 was an incredible year. I kicked it off with a Zambian safari, thrived in my job, experienced my first night dive off the coast of a Malawian island, traveled to Mozambique and swam with wild dolphins, rays, and whale sharks, completed a massive textbook initiative that provided new supplies for over 2000 Malawian secondary school students, flew to Asia and explored ancient Cambodian temples, SCUBA dove Thailand, and returned to America, surviving the greatest and most difficult transition of my life. I was reunited with my beautiful and silly nephews, my siblings, and my mom and dad and my dog, with American football, washing machines, and draft beer. I underwent surgery and hopped my way through November on one foot. Finally, I traversed the United States four times--once by plane, once by car, and twice via recreation vehicle. 2013 began magically, held months of anxiety and miserable goodbyes and illness, and presented extraordinary challenges and opportunities. It was painful and incredible. 2013 saw me safely across three continents, and spit me out into the United States of America.
So, unemployed and seeking the next step, I find myself mulling over the past and the future. As I attempt to adjust to the abundant changes in my native country and my own personality, I find an inner struggle with the concept of “home.” Where is my home? Is it my born and raised state of California, my 2000-mile away high school island, my college city? Is it where my mother lives, or my father? Is it one of the places I have settled into and loved and left?
Home became somewhat an obligation for me as an eager global gypsy. Always looking forward toward the next adventure, I neglected to foster a permanent community and instead turned inward and independent, choosing instead to focus on the task and location at hand. I accidentally became an “in the moment” type person, fully absorbed by my current projects and goals. What a wonderful gift! And what a hurtful trait. I have had amazing encounters and befriended intriguing and kind people. I have experienced more in my travels than most people get the opportunity to in their entire lives--but most of my life is temporary. My friends, my neighborhoods, and communities are spread across the globe, and my sense of comfort is rarely established. In the past ten years, I have resided in Alabama, Namibia, California, Spain, Louisiana, New York, Hawaii, and Malawi, have driven across the United States approximately thirty times, driven to Canada at least three times, and visited Botswana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Mexico, France (three times), Italy (twice), Belgium, Mozambique (twice), Zambia (twice), Thailand, Cambodia, and passed through Cape Verde, Ethiopia, Qatar, and Korea.
I find myself at a pivotal moment, having spent the last two years in yet another home before leaving behind the family, friends, and tiny world I carved out for myself. The United States were supposed to be home as I returned. I was supposed to find in them relief, comfort, and love. And there was the initial respite of a visit to my family, a reunion with my nephews, and many hot showers. I have found, however, that America is a terrible place to transition back to. After two years in my little village, the consumerism, materialism, waste, and the anger are shocking. The international disinterest, generational miscommunications, and virulent self-centeredness is disheartening.
I have followed an unorthodox path for so long now that I’ve been terrified to assimilate to the American life I feel I should adopt. The anxiety of this transition has been physically sickening. I am maladjusted even 4 months following my return to America, persisting in reclusiveness, social discomfort, and anxiety. I feel only like a foreign visitor--a tourist entertained by strange local customs, a traveler pausing for rest in the midst of a long lineup of destinations. Most of my friendships have faded, and I struggle to communicate with everyone I encounter. I mourn the loss of my gypsy life.
But maybe I have been looking at it all wrong. This idea of “home” has preoccupied me for so long, weighing heavily in my mind as the end of something great. The completion of my service in Malawi symbolized, to me, the end of my adventuring, the end of my freedom. It meant, on the edge of 30, that I would surrender my nomadic lifestyle and settle into a conventional life, with a real job, a car payment and a mortgage, and hopefully health insurance. These were the priorities I was trying to force myself to adopt. But these are not and have never been my focus. I can’t hide from myself the honest truth--so long as I could spend part of my time traveling, I would take daily spaghettios dinners, endless hours waiting on others at shady restaurants, a lifetime of washing dishes for minimum wage. I would sacrifice the entirety of my “retirement” and spend it bussing tables as long as I could keep my freedom in the meantime--exploring, moving, experiencing. Living.
And why shouldn’t I? I have spent ten years living out of a suitcase. There’s no point in switching to dresser drawers now.
Still, to move, one needs fuel. So, for my next adventure: graduate school. With just two years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars of debt, maybe, MAYBE I can eventually travel for work...AND get paid for it.
Maybe America will turn into home. Maybe it won’t. All I know is that I need to come to terms with the fact that the end of my Peace Corps service was not the end of my lifestyle or my personality. It was, in fact, the beginning of everything--everything that comes next, everything I ever do, everything about me. I’m grateful beyond expression for the experience I had in Malawi. I’m so very thankful for the lessons it taught me about kindness, morality, patience, communication, the power of positive thinking, generosity, independence, community, poverty, gratefulness, illness, loss, motivation, stress, isolation, hallucinatory prescription drugs, friendship, heartbreak, work ethic, personal strength, sacrifice, religion, international relations, nutrition, danger, education, government bureaucracy, history, foreign aid, Malawian culture, and a number of other topics. The people that helped and loved and taught me have a permanent place in my memory...I can still feel their hands holding mine, hear their odi!s, feel their laughter, recite their advice and their stories. Now I have to make those lessons mean something as I let go and move forward, consciously working to overcome my current challenges in the United States and accomplish the goals I have set for myself.
So, as we slip into the year 2014, I close the Peace Corps Malawi chapter of my story. 2010, 2011, 2012, and 2013 were all dedicated to applying to, getting clearance for, training with, working for, and readjusting after service with the US Peace Corps. 2014 is a new year, a new phase, and a new adventure. 2014 will lead to my next home, where ever that may be.
I think back to the words of wise, witty, amazing role model Irene: You have been a Peace Corps Volunteer. YOU CAN DO ANYTHING.