I have now been a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer for just over 3 years, I wrote the blog post below just 7 weeks after returning, but after re-reading it, most of it still holds true. So I am finishing out this blog (officially) by finally posting those post-Peace Corps thoughts here.
“I have been in America for 7 weeks now. This is what I have dubbed the crux of readjustment. Getting back to some semblance of “normalcy” in this life AFTER Peace Corps.
For three years I fully identified with my work, “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer” was such a common thing to say to everyone that I feel now as if part of my identity has been stripped away. So, this is life after the Peace Corps.
It has been 7 hurried weeks, full of adjustments, cultural faux pas, a re-introduction to technology (did you know you can deposit a check on your phone?!), organizing, and figuring out how to reclaim part of who I was here in Washington before leaving and yet still clinging to who I was in Fiji.
I explained this phenomenon previously on this blog, but here it is again… I feel like two people inhabiting one body and attempting to reconcile the these distinct phases of life and relationships into one “identity”. Want that explained a little more thoroughly? I thought so. Essentially, no one in Fiji knew anything about me before May 19, 2011. I didn’t exist in anyone’s life, not fellow volunteers, not staff, not the Fijians that so graciously fed, clothed and taught me. Before May 19th I was nothing to them. After May 19th, 2011 I became part of that family and network of volunteers, staff, Fijians, and became a diminishing impact on everyone I knew, loved and called friend who resided in the States. As my 3 years in Fiji progressed that divide became more and more apparent. Not out of malice, just a slow drift apart. No one will ever experience Natokalau the way I did. No one can. Not even fellow Fiji Volunteers. Fiji Volunteers understand one another, we understand communal issues, we joke about things we do wrong, compare tallies of marriage proposals, talk about how we got “Fiji’d” and yet amongst all those similarities, no one will ever know your experience the way you did. No one. This is what makes the whole thing seem like it didn’t happen at times, and also what can fuel some RPCV’s to tell their story.
While I was gone, friends got married, engaged, started long relationships, had babies, got their Master’s degrees, moved, obtained full time permanent employment, etc. I was absent for that. I feel like I let a lot of relationships slip between my fingers because of distance. It’s hard to come back to an entirely different world than you left when it is supposed to be this place of comfort and familiarity.
America is not comfortable. America is not familiar. I still feel like a stranger in my own country sometimes.
So backing away from my existential crisis for a while, I will fill you in on what has developed in the last 7 weeks.
I am living on an incredibly gracious friend’s couch. I was just approved for low-income housing so hopefully I will be moving into a studio of my own in the near future. I bought a used car that I adore. After buying said car, I taught myself to drive again which was a white-knuckle experience (I only drove on the “wrong” side of the road once…). I applied for health insurance and received tax credits to offset some of the costs. I bought some cold-weather clothes. I have had to get used to cold weather again (47 degrees? Really? That’s like a 40 degree change from what the weather was like in Fiji). I have a job! It’s a temporary position but it’s full time and outside which is wonderful. I’m still applying for full-time, permanent employment. I have my Grandma’s old iPhone because she upgraded and graciously gave me her old one. I am learning how to use said iPhone. I am planning a mushroom hunting camping trip next weekend. I have plans to see a concert. I am still amazed that I can have hot water whenever I want, that internet and phone plans aren’t pay-as-you-use, I have definitely been getting good use from my friends’ oven!
I miss Natokalau.
PS. I’m still amazed I can deposit a check on my phone :)