It’s always been my great intention to combine all of my blog posts, newspaper columns, journal entries, letters and memories from Lesotho into a suitable, potentially inspiring, book. It would be easy and therapeutic, I assured myself, and the words would flow happily out into something concise and moving.
Um, yeah, it doesn’t work that way.
Writing this book has been harder and more emotionally draining than I ever anticipated, mostly because I did not expect my transition to be difficult in the ways that it is, sort of like my service was. That part of my life feels so over and I am still having a hard time accepting that. At many junctures, it feels like a breakup. I cry, listen to sad music, mask my feelings with food and drink. I beg the those happy memories to stop popping up and reminding me it’s all gone but they do so anyway.
I know that these feelings are entirely natural and not uncommon. Many RPCVs, when they find out that I am only six months COSed, will often and chuckle and say, “So, how is your transition?” I meet their chuckle and usually remark, “I am a mess.” And they nod their head because they’ve been there, too.
Yet, as I try to get out my story, I am forced to dive back into those memories, both happy and sad. It’s hard to not to analyze and objectify them under the pretense of this new life. What did I do well? What did I do poorly? What could I’ve done differently?
One early morning before work, I was trying to retrace the first few days in my village. I wrote about forcing myself out of the house to meet the villagers but always wanting to run home and sleep. As I wrote, I realized that I was berating myself for not doing more from the start, for not fulling embracing the village and the culture. I seemed so up in my own head and that set a tone for my entire service for which I was not proud of. I was ashamed that I wasn’t a better volunteer, that it took time for me to accept that Lesotho was not only my life but my gift.
Months later, actually just now, I understand why I did not rush into the village with pomp and circumstance and why I needed to slowly ease into it. New chapters are not always easy, at least for me, I need to dunk my toe first before my waist and before my head, which is OK because that is who I am.
As I made the move to Chicago this week, I thought back to something a fellow Niger volunteer once said. During Tabaski, a holiday that is celebrated some time after the end of Ramadan in Niger, our villages erupt into celebration and it’s customary for friends and neighbors to visit each other and bring plates of food. Some volunteers slid right into immersion and followed around host families through the parade of visits. My friend, though, wasn’t very comfortable with that, so instead she sat outside her house and greeted each person who came by. It was her way of celebrating but doing so in her terms. She knew what was comfortable to her and she stuck to that, something I had admired.
In Lesotho, I did put myself out there, visiting houses and introducing myself, but I also took time to rest and let the experience slowly sink in. Jumping in headfirst is not how I often do things and it would be wrong of me to expect me to do that in a very monumental and unfamiliar situation.
Now, here I am in a new city with a new life before me. So far I love Chicago but I know that it will take some getting used to. It’s a much, much bigger place than DC and I know very few people here. I anticipate my alone time to be greater than it was when I was in Lesotho or DC. A part of me feels like I need to do it all right away. I need to go to every event that seems even slightly interesting, I need to go to meet up groups and try to make friends, I need to find clubs and activities where I can socialize, I need to set up my adult life right this minute.
That’s a lot to do in five days. Making friends and accepting a new life does not happen instantly, no matter how right that path is, and I need to take care of myself in the process. It’s OK if I want to skip a festival for some writing and reading time or if I am not ready to attend weekly meet up groups. It’s OK to ease into my new life because that’s what suitable for me.
Yes, I know that I will need to take chances, create opportunities, and be vulnerable, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take an afternoon to step back and look at all that’s happened. My life changed drastically this week and it’s OK if it is hard and and confusing. It’s supposed to be.
I am excited for my new life, but I also need to remember it won’t feel like my new life for several months. I need to give it time, take care of myself, and be present. That’s all I really can do.