Today marks 1 month since I came back from Burkina Faso. Today is also the second day of classes. I’m back at Indiana University to finish out my last two semesters for my two degrees. I first thought that it was going to be great to have something to come back to, going right back into a routine, for my transition from Peace Corps. I don’t know if I think that anymore.
This morning, I entered the library and sat at the same table that I sat at almost everyday, three years ago. The table was the same, but my friends weren’t going to be joining me. They’ve since then graduated. I’d hear the nearest door creak open and I would look up expecting Kegan, Eric, or maybe Carolyn to come through the door. No one came to join me. I sat there alone and felt even more alone.
Now, I have met some new people. Both new students and second year students. Eventually we’ll build new bonds but it is hard to imagine that I could ever replace the friends I had my first year. I was very lucky to meet some amazing people. And maybe I shouldn’t think of it as “replacing” them. Thats not possible. I will, however, have a new and different group of friends. A broadened peer group.
Then there is Angela. This library reminds me of Angela, my ex-girlfriend. It all ended while I was in Burkina Faso and came down on me harder than I ever expected. That relationship has been over for more than a year and a half but I’m not quite sure I got the closure I deserved. The truth. I keep seeing glimpses of Angela. These too will fade and I will, now, be able to finally close that chapter of my life.
Reality sets in. I’ve been moving since I landed a month ago. I’ve kept busy and this has helped. Or this has delayed a wave of reverse culture shock that I’m going to have to process once things slow and a routine forms.
I too am a stranger here myself. I, a 26 year old white American male, currently feel more at home in a remote West African village than back in the US, in graduate classroom or out drinking with friends. I can’t lead with that though. I can’t outwardly show all that I am feeling. If I do that I’m not going to have any friends! Who wants to be friends with the sad guy who is living in the past. I need to reconcile the past in order to move forward.
“I just got back from the Peace Corps.”
“Oh, that’s cool! How was it?” – everyone that I meet
There is no way I can answer that. In essence, I’m being asked to summarize two years of life changing events. Furthermore, a life full of details that can only be understood if you lived in a Burkina village. In my village. With my friends. So, what do I say? “It was fun,” I reply with a smile. Fun? I hate this response but I can’t think of anything else. It is the first thing that comes out. An awkward knee jerk reaction. “Fun” more than cheapens the past two years. Fun is what I had last weekend. I’ve experienced a paradigm shift that has forever changed how I see and interact with the world. My service left a mark. An invisible mark.
Hopefully, as time goes on I will become better at expressing and sharing my time abroad. I have a story that is mine and mine alone.
“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.” – Sue Monk Kidd