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.
1 year ago
Our CD read the following passage from Heart of Darkness at our COS. A bit over the top, but it definitely came to mind when I finally made it home. Hope the readjustment goes OK. It's hard.
"They trespassed upon my thoughts. They were intruders whose knowledge of life was to me an irritating pretense, because I felt so sure they could not possibly know the things I knew. Their bearing, which was simply the bearing of commonplace individuals going about their business in the assurance of perfect safety, was offensive to me like the outrageous flauntings of folly in the face of a danger it is unable to comprehend."
sole. it gets better. atleast i hope it does. still going thru withdrawal myself. :-/
Welcome Home Matt! :)
Another transition but you will get there and soon, your two worlds will meld together as one. Time does wonders. Thanks for writing your blog. It has enriched my life as I'm positive your experience has yours. I still have lots of catching up to do but it is always fun to come here!! :)
There'll never be another group like 81.
You guys have been most memorable and your story widely told.
I saw Blakey at the airport once, Dan and Supy on the ferry from Savaii, Koa at the local supermarket in Saleimoa and had a glass of water at your diggs with my little girl. I marvelled at how humble your set up seemingly was and yet how far you reached world wide.
Thank you for being so generous with your Samoan stories. It's been a real pleasure reading your every word.
I had marveled with Sara and Cale several times of the quality and consistency of your blog entries. I wondered how in the world you fit it in every day, since it was obvious most of them required thought and time. She said you had made it one of your chief ways to accomplish the Peace Corps main directives. I would say you have accomplished that in spades!
I saw you at the customs office LA airport and I said I read your blog. Thanks so much for your service to Samoa. You will make friendships for life, a priest from Chanel was traveling the world 2 or 3 years ago visiting all the peacecorps and volunteers during his sabbatical leave. The students he taught at Chanel have become friends to him for life. Kevin Mears is his name, and he is remember fondly to this day, you will be too. Thanks for your service.
Hi. Well, um, I always read the first couple of paragraphs of someone's blog and your's got me a little bit. Especially about not being able to explain to people.
I've been to India and Papua New Guinea on mission trips, and it feels like everytime I come back, people ask if I had a good trip. Which is ridiculous. It was a life changing experience I can't put into words. They smile and say, "glad you ahd fun." I can't show them enough pictures or tell them enough stories to help them comprehend.
Feel a bit like Frodo coming back to the Shire.
So, thanks, for understanding me, even though you didn't know you did.
i still like reading your blog, even though are you not in samoa. as a selfish blog reader, will you continue to write about your transition period?
I want to hear about Scout's transition
I am in away from Samoa and have been for nearly 40 years. Your blog allowed me the glimpses of my childhood there. I will continue to pop in to see how your transition period is doing, or not.
Ia manuia lou taimi ma lou aiga palagi. Ma manatua uma matou, lou aiga i luga o le upetafaailelagi.
Since Matt has not posted in awhile, it leaves room for speculation on what could be happening. Is Scout adjusting? Has Matt succumbed to deep depression at having to live at home again and lapsed into booze and women to take the edge off? Or, has he taken the opposite route, and joined a cloistered monastary? Will we ever know the answers to these and other burning questions?
So glad to see your back. Hope the cat continues to adjust well. (still cant believe that you took cat back with you...wow) I remember when i moved back to samoa after YEARs away.Ouch. Things werent really the way i had remembered them, idealized them, fondly treasured them in my mind! Keep posting. Therapeutic. We've just moved to NZ, coping with huge adjustments so I know a bit what its like. Love your writing.
I am a Samoan student at Univ of Hawaii at Hilo, studied abroad on Semester at Sea last fall....and you've explained perfectly how I feel about being back and reverse culture shock... *sigh* how are you doing now??
:) what a beautifully written post.
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