jeudi 26 juillet 2012

Goodbye Banyo

Well yesterday moring was it, I officially left Banyo. Said goodbye to all my friends, my cat, my postmate, my house and Banyo. And of course my last trip out had to be memorable, so it took us a good 12 hours to get to Bafoussam with most of the passengers covered in mud from pushing/pulling.

I am really going to miss Banyo. I couldn't have asked to live in a better town and I hope that I will have the chance to come back one day.

dimanche 15 juillet 2012

The Stages of Readjustment

What is the returned Volunteer to do ? It helps, of course, to know that readjustment is coming ; you may still be thrown by the experience, but you’ll get up quicker. It can also help to know how it evolves. For most Volunteers, readjustment unfolds in three distinct stages.

The first stage is a period of great excitement and joy, when you’re thrilled to see everyone and they’re thrilled to see you. Typically, you spend this period traveling around visiting relatives and friends, being welcomed enthusiastically wherever you go. For the moment you are a kind of hero, and because you don’t stay too long in any one place, no one tires of your tales.

This period is followed, a month or so later, by the second stage. This is when people really do have to get on with their lives and, no offense, but shouldn’t you be doing the same? This is the stage the average returned Volunteer isn’t ready for. During this period, you will run up huge phone bills calling other RPCVs, spend many waking hours hating and refusing to adjust to America and scheming madly to get back overseas. You will actively resist adjustment, fearful that it will somehow cheapen and diminish all that has happened to you. An RPCV from Costa Rica observes:

I’m afraid I may be becoming readjusted. Readjusted would take me back to what i was before. I think of it as being back in the mainstream grind. I want life to be slower paced. It helps me remember what I lived like overseas. I don’t think I’ll ever totally readjust. I hope I don’t.

In the third stage, you beging to make your peace with being at home. You find work or go back to school or continue with your retirement activities. You meet interest, decent people, who oddly enough, were never in the Peace Corps. You identify as much with the present and the future as with the past. You’re even starting to become a bit more objective – about America and about your overseas country. You see that carving out a new life for yourself back home doesn’t have to mean that the Peace Corps never happened. 

vendredi 13 juillet 2012

A Face in the Crowd

Another frustrating dimension of adjustment is the sudden return to anonymity. While Volunteers often complain about living in a fishbowl overseas, they nevertheless enjoy being the center of attention and interest. It makes them feel special, even important. Speaking the local language, for example, makes celebrities – even heroes – out of Volunteers, as does, say, being the first American to teach at the King Hassan II elementary school or to ride the local bus from Song Kwah to Phu Banh. Now, suddenly, no one looks up when you enter a room or squeals with delight when you start speaking in Kiswahili. No one is impressed that you speak English, and your every move has more of less the same novelty value as everyone else’s every move. You aren’t special anymore – and you miss it. “[Overseas I had] a feeling of empowerment, having a lot of influence,” a Volunteer form Swaziland remembers. “Coming back, it was weird to fall back into the role of just another Joe.”

In his book An Area of Darkness, V.S. Naipaul, who was born and raised in Trinidad of Indian parents, remembers the first time he visit India, after living in countries where he had always stood out because of his appearance. The feeling he describes will sound familiar to many returned Volunteers:

[Now] I was one of the crowd. In Trinidad to be an Indian was to be distinctive; in Egypt it was more so. Now in Bombay I entered a shop or a restaurant and awaited a special quality of response. And there was nothing. It was like being denied a part of my reality. I was faceless. I might sink without a trace into the Indian crowd…Recognition of my difference was necessary to me. I felt the need to impose myself, and didn’t know how.

It'll go from situations like this where I'm pretty easy to pick out ... 

To situations like this where it takes some time to even pick one out

jeudi 12 juillet 2012

How Nice

"Your self-esteem isn’t helped when no one seems especially interested in what you’ve been doing for the last two years. You have just gone through what may be the seminal experience of your life – an experience which has transformed your view of the world and of your own country – and yet your family and friends somehow aren’t bowled over. You have so much to explain, but alas, their capacity to absorb is not nearly matched by your need to recapitulate; they’re filled up before you’re even half empty. Martha Gellhorn writes in Travels With Myself and Another:

Upon your return, no one willingly listens to our travelers’ tales. “How was the trip?” they say. “Marvelous,” we say. “In Tbilsi, I saw…” Eyes glaze. AS soon as politeness permits or before, conversation is switched back to local news, such as gossip, the current political outrage, who’s read what, last night’s telly;

“When someone asks you about your experience,” a Volunteer from Cameroon observes, “give them five minutes and then shut up.”"

jeudi 5 juillet 2012

The Notion of Home

“The trouble with coming home is that you don’t expect it to be difficult at least not in the way you expected Mali, or Turkmenistan or Guatemala to be difficult. These were exotic ‘foreign’ places, after all, and the whole point about foreign is that it’s bound to take some adjustment.

But home is the antithesis of foreign, it’s the other extreme. Among other things, it represents the known, the familiar, the place where you know how to act. Surely no one needs to prepare you for diarrhea-proof ice cream, air-conditioned theaters, and the luxury of speaking English wherever you go. In short, whatever applies to foreign by definition does not apply to home.

This is all true except that in most sense of the word – including all those just mentioned above- the place you call home is now, in fact, a foreign country.

The problem, then has to do with this word ‘home’ and what it really means. In The Art of Coming Home, Craig Storti writes:

In the sense that home is the place where you were born and raised, where people speak your native language and behave more or less the way you do – what we might call your home land and your home culture- then it is indeed home that awaits you as you step off the jumbo jet. If you should happen to think of home only in this limited sense and expect nothing more of it,then the place you return to will not disappoint you.
But this is not what most people mean by home – which is where all the trouble starts. Most people use the word in a more profound sense, referring to a set of feelings and routines as much as to a particular place. In this formulation, home is the place where you are known and  trusted and where you know and trust others; where you are accepted, understood, indulged, and forgiven; a place of rituals and routine interactions; of entirely predictable events and people and very few surprises; the place where you belong and feel safe and secure and where you can accordingly trust your instincts, relax, and be yourself. It is, in short, the place where  you feel ‘at home.’
This is a much broader definition, of course, though much closer to what most people expect and require of home. Needless to say it is also a much higher standard by which to measure the place you have returned to – a standard, in fact, that any such place cannot possibly meet. As we will see, this very realization, that home is really not home, is at the core of the experience of reentry.

….. Of course, neither the place where you left off nor the person who went overseas exists anymore. Transitions, even when they’re expected, can be troublesome. When they’re not expected, they can be genuinely debilitating.”

mardi 3 juillet 2012

Chapter Seven: Coming Home

During my move to my new house, I discovered all sorts of stuff I never really realized I had. One such item was a booklet about the adjustments volunteers may have to make during their service. I vaguely remember having received the booklet in my invitation packet months before I even left America. It wasn’t one that really stood out or that I particularly even read that much. However this time, when I opened it up and began reading (and began with chapter seven as that’s the stage I’m at in my service) I couldn’t believe how much the content applied to me. Not to be cheesey, but it was like finding a friend who completely understood all the thoughts going on in my head. So in my last month here, rather than splashing personal random thoughts in an attempt to express everything going on, I am going to just share the entries of this last chapter (with possibly a few comments of my own in between in blue) as I feel they come about as close as possible to capturing all the thoughts going on right now. So let’s begin reading…. (this first part is short, just the intro)*

“As frustrating and challenging as it is to be a Peace Corps Volunteer, many Volunteers will tell you it’s even harder to be a former Peace Corps Volunteer. It can be as hard to leave the Peace Corps, it seems, as it is to be in it (or harder I think…). As one returned Volunteer from South America wrote, ‘My problem is I’m 23 years old and I’ve already had the experience of a lifetime’” 

*A few minor adjustments is the title of the booklet I am pulling passages from for the next month. 

lundi 4 juin 2012

2 years done, 2 months left

Today officially marks 2 years of being in Cameroon. This time 2010, I was first arriving in Yaounde with my ‘stage’ (group), excited for everything that was to come, probably much like the newest group of volunteers or trainees who have just arrived this past Friday. Congrats to everyone else who has also reached this moment.

Today also marks my last bit of time left here. In exactly 2 months I’ll be arriving back in America. Friends have already been saying that the date is so close and ask if I’m excited, if I’ve started packing, if they can have dibs on things, etc. But when I look at my calendar, I think 2 months is still a long time and I have only barely begun packing (and really what I sorted through so far is just as a result of moving houses). I still have many things to do and look forward to here before I go back and I am planning to enjoy every moment left.