Four weeks ago, I left Niger. Today, I return to South Dakota.
In the last month, I have had equal time of depression and optimism. I cried in front of strangers and danced along glistening streets. I wanted to go back to Niger. I wanted to stay in transition. I wanted to go home.
The day the evacuation was announced, my stagmates and I ran into an older PCV while shopping for wine and ice cream. This PCV had been evacuated twice before — once from Madagascar and the other from within Niger. We asked her for advice and she told us to know what we want going into the transition conference.
“Don’t be afraid of going home,” she said.
Returning wasn’t an option. Many of us were determine to continue on with Peace Corps, but limited options changed our thinking. For me, a simple move of a fate told me that where I need to be right now is home.
I tend to associate going home with failure. It feels somewhat humiliating to return after only eight months and it took me some time to realize that this situation was out of my control. I am not going home because I failed but because it’s where I am meant to be.
When I was told that Namibia was no longer an option for me, I was given the choice to go home that night or take the money for my ticket and find my own way. At that point, I was so shattered and ready to give up that it took some internal and external encouraging to gain the effort to travel.
The last few weeks allowed me to clear my head, see new parts of the world and heal. With good friends and food, I allowed myself to feel each emotion and not settle on any plans or analysis, to just be.
My mind still wonders to my life in Niger. Without the evacuation, I would have been in Zinder today, having our team and planning projects. In a couple of days, I would go back to Dantchiao after a month absence, excited to see those familiar faces, and would begin raising money for a water pump, continue my English club and make plans for a girls camp in Zinder.
I am still terrified about life’s uncertainty and that whatever I am supposed to find now won’t present itself without a great deal of time and trouble.
But there is also something beautiful about going home. I am so fortunate to return to people who love me, including a family who is willing to support me during my search. Home offers certain comforts, and sometimes clarity, that you can’t find elsewhere. It’s a landing place when the rest of the world has shut you out.
Last night I walked through Manhatten at rush hour, memorized by the city’s lights and energy. I just said my last goodbye to Peace Corps friends and was rushing to meet South Dakota friends for dinner, a small transition that reflects the bigger transition. As I thought about the last few weeks and going home, a song I came on my iPod with a catching lyric: “It’s the end where I begin.”
This is the end but things are just beginning.
Today, I am going home and I am ready.