Friends gone, friends gained

After a troubling day, I was hit with emotions that I needed to express to someone. I blackened up a blank Word document and when I transferred it to my email I stopped at the ‘To’ box.

In a life before this present one, I had a go-to person for this kind of thing. But as I’ve jumped continents our relationship has changed. I’ve reached out with letters and email to maintain this connection but only received silence. We no longer have the type of friendship for send confusing thoughts knowing the other would understand. There is nothing anymore but Facebook friendship and a Twitter follow.

The other day I woke up to an email from a woman whose name I needed a minute to search for. She was the receptionist at my eye doctor. She’s read my newspaper columns and blogs and wanted to reach out. Her sincerity and interest was the kind of gesture that makes you forget terrible people exist.

Friendship casualties and shifts are part of Peace Corps. Just in six months, my circle of friends tightened up after Niger, leaving out acquaintances that are hard to keep up without an occasional run in. All volunteers express some hurt from the friendships that weaken over the ocean, so I expected there to be some loss.

What I couldn’t predict is which relationships would fade. People I once considered permanent in my life have not only not reached out to me but also haven’t returned correspondence. No happy birthday messages, a quick hello or even a Facebook like. We all live digital lives so that isn’t an excuse.

It hurts. I swear that if they can’t be part of my African life they will not be part of my returned life. Maybe they think of me, maybe they have moved on. The pain of these lost friendships haunts me at times and I wondered what I did wrong.

Yet, what I forget is the friendships that have strengthened over these years. My party planning committee, who made it their mission to throw me not just one but two parties. The friend I made in my short time in Idaho. My with three very young children. A close friend’s sister with whom I attended music festivals. The person I’ve never met who has become one of my closest confidants through a year of only emails and letters. The other friends, the ones who were always a big part of my life, sending letters, messages, packages and whatever they can to still show their support. The incredible people that I am so lucky to serve with in Lesotho and the ones I served with in Niger. And the people who read this blog – former coworkers, friends from college and other various stages of my life, RPCVs, family and friends of PCVs, PCVS – who read this blog with respect and understanding of my emotion. These people are my net. They keep me going. I need them more than they’ll ever understand.

I do understand that it is hard to keep up with the one in Africa and people get busy. For many of my friends, I am not bothered by it but there are a few who I honestly expected more of. I need to let them go, though, and remember those who actively participate in this life.

Whether it is my best friend who happily puts up with Africa’s terrible phone connection or the friend who replies to every letter or the one who sends the occasional email update or the person who reads my blog religiously or the person I met three times who finds it necessary to email me or my family who gives me unending support no matter what others say. Those people who mean the most, the ones I have to focus on rather than those who are now gone. That is life. Friendships change, they come and go, especially in your 20s but even more so when you are going through major life changes. To be the best person I can, I need to put those here now at the center of my thoughts and heart.

To those of you who have written letters, sent packages, called, emailed, Facebooked, read this blog, you are the rea


8 thoughts on “Friends gone, friends gained

  1. Oh lady, just you wait until you get back! The whole cycle will repeat again. People will reemerge and others that were there might go away. But, at least you seem to have a pretty good circle of friends/family already. That will only get stronger. And, I’m sure you will continue to partake in a lot of third goal activities.

    • Thanks for all of the support, Jessica. I know it is gonna be strange when I get home. I can’t even imagine it right now. Oh, well, have another year before I have to 🙂 Hope you are well!

  2. Hello Heather! My name is Missy Slaathaug and I teach adult education at The Right Turn in Pierre. I read and really enjoy your articles in the Journal and I just discovered your blog. I recently decided to try launching a smalll project with my GED learners by asking them to read and respond to some of your posts. This would be good for them in so many ways – it would broaden their worlds and ask them to consider life outside South Dakota, it would require that they engage in something they read and it will also simply give them practice reading and writing. I will require that they introduce themselves at the beginning of each post so that you know what is going on. If you have time to reply, we would love it. Keep up the good work!

    • Hi, Missy,

      Thanks for reading and complimenting on my blogs and columns. I really enjoy the comments from your students and their perspectives on whatever topic I wrote about. I like engaging with them and hope they continue to read the blog and ask questions. Sharing my experiences with people at home is very rewarding and fun for me. If there is anything else I can do – sent postcards, create a video, answer questions by email – please let me know. My email is I would love to help your students anyway I can. Thanks for reading and wanting to communicate!

      • Heater, my learners are so psyched that you are replying! It really makes their day. Attendance is rather spotty in this GED program, so I have not always seen the same people and thus haven’t told everyone to check for responses – but they have all loved reading your posts and writing to an actual person in Africa. You whole experience is SO far out of their realm; it’s really fun to be orchestrating this and stretching them. Thanks for your offer to do even more – let’s get through December and I will then take you up on your offer of some more direct communication. Videos and sending questions by email both sound intriguing. OK – all for now. And thanks again for responding. 🙂

      • Missy, I am so happy that your learners are getting something from this blog and enjoy the my replys. But I would love to talk more after the holidays. Hope you have a wonderful Christmas!

  3. That made me cry a little. But it pleases me that it made your day a little better. It IS funny the people who are in your thoughts. (I’m embarrassed to admit that I probably think about you more often than a lot of my family members – HA! Things like “wonder what Heather had for breakfast- was her shower hot- how much privacy does she really have- are those bed bugs gone????) My Christmas wish is to get you a care package put together. Start building up the suspense!!
    Eye doctor lady, (Ginger- Max’s Mom)

    • Ginger, again, you are too nice to me! I don’t eat hardly anything exciting and the showers are few and far between. But it means so much to me that you care so much. I will have to schedule an eye appointment when I return next year!

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