There was a moment in the long car ride home last night when conversation with my parents got around to tragic things that happened to people we know so peripherally that it wasn’t important enough to share internationally but now that I’m home I may as well know. “This person’s aunt died” and “The mom of the boy you might remember from little league is in the early stages of dementia” and “That little girl from church who’s at least 8 years younger than you is taller than you.” Most of the ride was cool, but this conversation made me a little tense.
To draw an embarrassing literary parallel, it reminded me a little of the scene from Dan Brown’s latest, “The Lost Symbol”, in which Robert Langdon is drowned in a vat of amniotic fluid. Brown claims it’s a form of torture in the sense that when you come out of your natal relapse, reality is nearly too much to bear.
The Peace Corps provides geographic isolation, and with that comes a certain amount of emotional detachment. There’s also a relief in returning home after the Peace Corps where it feels like something difficult has finished and I felt a small sense of invincibility. And then reality punched me in the face.
It wasn’t just that conversation, of course. Living in the developing world, one occasionally idealizes America, and returning home can definitely bring one back to Earth. America is cold and dry and busy and expensive and not quite the haven of efficiency and convenience I remember.
When Phil and I sat down in the waiting area at the shipping agent yesterday as the lady behind the desk took care of Scout’s paperwork, Phil and I reveled in the fact that we’d just been assured that this seemingly bureaucratic process that might take forever in Samoa would be taken care of in 10 minutes.
The process took 2.5 hours. Taumafai atili pea, America.
The other analog that comes to mind is one Jim used to lay on us after youth ministry retreats in high school: After the Transfiguration, Jesus looks at Peter, James, and John and essentially says, “You can’t tell anyone about this because no one’s really gonna understand.” It’s kinda like Jesus’ version of the “What happens in Vegas...” tagline.
But the Peace Corps experience is all about that. Even with the blog, even with modern technology and text messaging and Skype and somewhat frequent access to Facebook, no one besides the people who were there know what really happened. We can tell you stories and we can paint a damn good picture, we can show hundreds of photos and perhaps some of you actually came to visit. But even then, you can’t really know what it was like.
I was chatting with a friend from CNET on GChat this morning, and I asked her what I missed during the last two years. She gave me a 20-word response, which was surely informative, but I can’t really say I know what happened. Only the people directly involved can really know.
And that’s a lonely feeling for a returned volunteer: I’m surrounded by people who don’t know. And now it’s the people who do know who I’m texting and Skyping and looking for on Facebook.
Sorry if this is on big downer. Honestly coming home has been very exciting and joyful, and even the 4 hours that it took to get the cat through Customs wasn’t all that bad. My parents setup my bedroom, the cat has adjusted surprisingly fast (save for getting along with the dogs), and the Facebook message board has been all warm and friendly. I swear I’m not complaining. I’m just trying to paint a picture of the experience.
I’m also sorry I’ve been away for the last couple days. I’ll catch you up on the stuff you missed tomorrow.
Finally, if I gave you a business card with my phone number on it, be advised that number doesn’t work. My cellular carrier, who assured me 26 months ago that they’d keep my account on hold until my return, instead decided to cancel my account without informing me (by their admission). I don’t want to say who it is, but I will say that the name rhymes with “Kay Tee and Tee”.
I hope you’re well. Pictures will be posted tomorrow.
3 months ago