The first question from the poll I would like to respond to in these subsequent blogs are the questions regarding readjustment, things I miss, things I’m excited for upon returning to the US. To clarify, these answers will discuss my final return to the states in August, 2014, not my month long home leave that starts in about 2 weeks.
What do I miss most from the states that I took for granted while living there:
Space. The last place I lived in Bellingham was a duplex with 2 roommates in a pretty small space. They were awesome people and I loved living there. Here in Fiji, I have my own house so it’s not the physical space of living quarters I’m talking about here, but space in general. Open spaces. The ability to get away. I loved that about Washington, the ability to get in a car and go camping, mushroom hunting, fishing, or just to a new place. What I miss are the opportunities to explore larger spaces, the ability to travel around relatively inexpensively.
Opportunities. I didn’t realize how much I took for granted things like our farmers market, concerts in the parks, workshops, excursions, short classes and trainings. There were so many opportunities to better yourself! Now that I live on this very small island, I realize how much I appreciate things like yoga classes, farmers markets, multiple dining options, thrift stores, camping trips, fishing seasons, berry seasons, just to name a few… those opportunities don’t exist out here. Granted they have been replaced by other types of opportunities I am equally grateful for, this point just serves to remind me that when I go back, there are so many ways to get involved!
The lack of obscure medical issues. I mean you get a cold, or the flu… no biggie. Here its a myriad of fungal infections, systemic issues, gastrointestinal distress etc.
Libraries/Academia. There is a small library on the island out here and I started a library in the room attached to my house but it’s nothing compared to WWU’s library, Bellingham Public Library, second hand book shops. I miss being able to go to lectures, speeches, presentations and learning about things I didn’t know much about before. I really look forward to being able to attend these in the future. I think education is a life-long endeavor and I can’t wait to learn more when I get back.
Food. No surprises here… I miss being able to get just about anything I want at any time of the year. I miss being able to walk from my house down to the Co-op for a cup of soup or a glass jar of Twinbrook Farms chocolate milk! I miss being able to pick berries nearby because I feel like making a huckleberry/raspberry pie. I miss being able to go out to a meal! I miss cheese. Chocolate. Coffee. Wine. Good beer. Peaches, apricots, plumbs, grapefruits, spinach, pomegranates, chanterelles, salmon, morels, corn on the cob. I miss refrigeration. I miss being able to cook and actually keep the leftovers without fear of apocalyptic swarms of tropical bugs and critters coming after it in the night. I also know that when I go home for good, I will miss being able to go down the road, catch a fish, and cook it up for dinner. Ill miss fresh guavas, mangoes, passionfruits, papaya, pineapples, cacao, bananas, liga ni marama, and the adorable kids’ faces who bring these treats to my door. I’ll miss being able to hack a coconut off the tree and drink amazing coconut water! (For all of you into the new coconut water phase… I assure you… it doesn’t even compare to drinking a fresh coconut). I’ll miss the feasts for funerals and weddings and the all night (literally all night) preparations the women do. I’ll miss taking part in killing the pig and preparing it for the next days feast. I’ll miss the 5am pig liver “dinner” we all share as an energizer for the next 6 hours preparing for the funeral feast.
What am I excited about when I go back to the US:
I am actually really excited to get a job. I know it may sound a little crazy but I absolutely love what I studied at Western Washington University, I had amazing professors, lab instructors, and friends who were a wealth of knowledge and information. I owe a lot of my inspiration and passion to some of those individuals who guided my path. I am signed up to a few of my professors Job emails and every time I see an opportunity that fits with what I enjoy, I have to quell the excitement that rises in my stomach thinking about where I could live, what I could be doing, who I could be friends with. I think a lot about an apartment or room in a shared house. How I could decorate it, how it would be mine and not something the whole village uses. I’m excited to finally be able to take part in family and friends’ weddings, meeting their babies, basically being involved in their lives in a more personal way. I can’t wait for the fall in Washington (berries, salmon and mushrooms… anyone? Anyone?) . I’m really excited to celebrate the holiday’s in America. 2014 will be the first holiday season spent in America since 2010. I love the feel of the holidays, being able to spend time with family and friends, gift giving, baking, and cold weather. I still absolutely hate the fact that Christmas in Fiji is a sweat-filled, nap fest. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas when there is the ever impending fear of a cyclone, or just potentially sweating to death. I’m really excited to own more than one pair of shoes. To be able to go to thrift shops with good quality clothing. To go on camping trips with friends.
What I fear most about my return to the US:
I fear cultural alienation. I know that I’m an American, born and raised, but that can’t discredit the fact that when I return in August 2014 I will have been living in Fiji for 39 months. To put that in perspective, I only lived in Washington for 44 months. I fear the longing I know I will feel for Fiji. I fear being “that person” who can only talk about the past three years of my life here in Fiji because I won’t have any cultural references in the US and be out of touch with life there… I fear that I will regret ever leaving this country at all. It’s like I have two lives, one in America and one in Fiji, and whatever country I chose I will always have a deep regret for leaving the other. In Fiji, it’s like my life in America never existed. Nobody here knew the person I was in America and vice versa, in America, nobody will know the person I was in Fiji. They will know it via the pictures and blog posts… but nobody was here. In this village. Living this life for 3 years, and that is a scary thought.
Things back in the US I will have to relearn upon my return:
This will be interesting. Technology for sure… I have no idea how to use the Mac products that have seemingly taken over the world. I don’t understand “Instagram”, “Twitter”, “LinkedIn” or the use of Hashtags, which will forever remain pound signs to me.
Driving. As PCVs we aren’t allowed to operate motor vehicles for safety and insurance liability reasons. In Fiji the driver of the car/truck sits on the right hand side of the car and we drive on the left side of the road. Not like any of that really makes an impact on me because we have one gravel and pothole filled road around the island so traffic is not an issue… I want to live and find a job in Washington, Alaska, or Maine and all of those places have pretty abundant snowfall. When I lived in Washington before I just took the bus or walked when it was winter but I’m pretty sure when I get back I’m going to have to learn how to drive to my job in that kind of weather.
Bills. I don’t have bills in Fiji. When my 4.5 kg gas canister for cooking runs out, I just detach it and haul it into town to exchange it. When my electricity shuts off I take my little card to the grocery store and put another $5 on it, enter the numbers in the meter box at the back of my house and call it good. I don’t pay for a lot of services here like water, I just take what comes even though a lot of the time that means catching rainwater off my roof. I have to relearn how to create a budget and make sure all my bills are paid on time.
Social skills. A lot of PCVs become friends in country because we were put through the same training programme, we relate to each other on a lot of levels based on the work we do and experiences we have, we also freely admit that a lot of us probably wouldn’t have met/become friends in America. We are weird. I think it’s perfectly acceptable to talk about poop, sickness, village witchcraft, the insane rise in price of goods over the past year, the proper way to decapitate a chicken, and randomly bust out in a Fijian song or halfway into a conversation switch to Fijinglish to get the point across properly. I think it may be a strain on friendships or family members to deal with that for an extended period of time. I think it will also be a shock to be able to hear and understand everything that people are saying. In Fiji, I have to focus and really listen to the conversation at hand in order to be involved in it. There is no such thing as passive listening in a group here. I think it may be a bit of information overload when I can go to a bar, dinner, class, work etc. and be able to easily understand what is being said.
In looking forward to my return, what do I dread about starting my new life there:
I dread the fact that I have absolutely no idea where I will end up. I would like to say that I am the amazingly overqualified person who deserves any job, but that just isn’t the case. There are so many incredible people in America who have been looking for work for a long time and I fear the limbo period of readjustment. I obviously dread the ever impending notice of my student loan debts. That, coupled with my lack of money necessitates a hasty re-entry into the work force. I don’t know where I will live. I don’t have a car. I have barely enough money to cover a first/last months rent and security deposit so will likely be abusing any friends who offer their couches. I dread the first winter, I love the fall and winter, but after living in the tropics for 3+ years that would be a hard adjustment on anyone.
I dread the reverse culture shock. When I came to Fiji I knew everything would be different. It’s part of what you sign up for. I signed up for change, for uncertainty, for language problems, for food issues, for medical issues. I knew that would be the case. Returning to America, I still foolishly think it will be exactly the way I left it. It’s just not the case, friends have moved to different states, people have real jobs, they have gotten married, they are having babies.
I also dread the feeling of alienation. Fijian villages are such tight knit communities that the adjustment to living on my own (or even with roommates) will probably still be difficult. In the village I can walk into anyone’s house, for any reason and its perfectly acceptable. I’m pretty sure if I tried that in America I would have the cops called on me.
All in all I will really miss Fiji, and I have no doubts the transition will be difficult in different ways. I will miss the culture, I will miss feeling like a big fish in a little pond, knowing everyone in town and pretty much on the island. I am really looking forward to the next chapter of my life, whatever that may bring!