In 78 days I will leave Lesotho and end my tumultuous stint as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Fourteen days later, on December 18, I will arrive at Pierre Regional Airport and reunite with my family after 26 long months.
The return is near.
A friend at home recently compared the end of my Peace Corps service to graduating college, and that is actually quite accurate. The question, “What are you going to do next?” hits my ears with a deep cringe and I scurry up a decent answer. The truth is, I have plan, but it is not much of one. Like at the end of university, the possibilities are great. I could go anywhere, do anything and, unlike when I graduated, I have a decent résumé that reassures me I’ll land on my feet.
This is what I know so far:
The end begins December 1, when I leave my village and say the final goodbyes. My throat catches when I think about this moment and I don’t get far into the visual because I am not ready to face it yet. I will be in Maseru completing the required close-of-service paperwork, interviews and medical evaluations. On Wednesday morning of that week, before heading to South Africa, a hole punched into my Peace Corps Volunteer card will be the physical representation of the ‘Returned’ addition to my title.
No longer volunteers, my friends Katie, Nick and Aparna and I will embark on one last adventure together in Madagascar. The COS trip is something I’ve long looked forward to, even when I first applied to Peace Corps. I’ve always imagined a months-long journey through different continents; however, my COS comes at an awkward time so my grand trip is condensed into 10 days on an island country. But, it will be incredible. I have no doubt that I will return to Africa, allowing me to explore the central and east parts and hopefully a return to trip to the west, but getting to Madagascar will never be easier than now. I originally planned to go to Victoria Falls, but when the possibility of this trip came up I mainly said yes because of the people involved and the realization that this may be the last time we all travel together as haggard, dusty wandering youth. I adore these three down-to-earth, goofy individuals and couldn’t have picked better travel partners.
On the 16th, we’ll fly back to Joburg to catch flights to the United States. When Nick bought his return tickets, I thought maybe he and Katie, who purchased hers a few days prior, had coincidentally booked the same flight. Sure, enough, they did and then they switched seats to sit together. I thought about this a few days later and I realized that I, who bought my ticket first of the group, was on the same flight. Yup, sure am. Thanks to my mom, I changed seats and the three of us will be in one row (I imagine us crying and holding hands) as we land on U.S. soil for the first time in two years.
They’ll both get off in Chicago and I’ll continue to Minneapolis, where I have to stay overnight because of Great Lakes Airline’s schedule. At first, I wasn’t that happy about the overnight but then I realized it will be pretty great to shower and sleep a bit before I see my family. I thought about staying with friends versus a hotel room, but I’ll have been traveling for nearly 48 hours, meaning I will be wrecked and no fun. It will be some nice alone time before going home.
The next day, I’ll catch a flight to Pierre – via Huron, which makes me laugh – and then finally be home.
The plan, from there, gets a bit looser. I haven’t been home for Christmas since 2009, so I plan to indulge in every holiday delight. Movies, trees at the Capitol, carolers, long church services, festive goodies, drives around town to look at Christmas lights, 2,000-calorie hot chocolate drinks – everything. After that, the next big event will be the arrival of Baby Mangan (my brother and sister-in-law, who were married four days before I left Lesotho, are expecting early January).
Broke and carless, I don’t have a lot of plans to leave Pierre but there is The Collegian reunion at O’Hares in Brookings that makes me giggle when I think of being with some of my best friends and fried food. I would like to get to Sioux Falls at some point, if only to visit my favorite restaurants and boutiques that continually pop up in my dreams.
I do have goals: run through LaFramboise, de-Africa my skin and hair, go on a shopping trip with my mother. My father thinks I should apply for jobs, but I tell him getting caught up on “How I Met Your Mother” is more of a priority.
OK, at some point I will job search. Initially, I thought about going back to school, but decided that now is not the right time for me and I would rather be in the workforce. I am not in a rush. I haven’t seen my family in two years, I need time to readjust. Sure, I will occasionally see jobs that interest me but I feel that it is too early to apply. The right job will be there when it is time; that’s the pact I made with God.
Where will I go? Anywhere. I would like to be in an urban area that is close enough to mountains so I can continue ultra training but the right job matters the most now. My dad has limited my job search to the 30-some U.S. cities that house MLB teams, so we’ll see if I can cooperate. However, I’ll probably just lose his glove again.
It’s hard not to think about home and plan out little details (I have a mental list of all the groceries I want to buy) but this time in Lesotho is precious. I have a partial plan and, really, that’s all I need right now. The rest will work itself out.