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Life of an RPCV, Post #1, (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer)

It is the end of Day thirteen and every day since my feet touched American soil I have been saying, I have to write about this.. I have to write. Thoughts cycling through my head, and I am just now, sitting down, to write it out.

Volunteers told me it was going to be hard. I knew it would be.What I didn’t know was how much life was going to throw at me all at once. Trust me when I say, this has been a rough thirteen days. I have had low moments. I have cried almost every day, at least once. One day, I cried on a walk, in public at some store, in the car.. and then tonight, it all came full circle.

I was sitting with my legs crossed during a yoga class, my third since being back, and the teacher was talking about living and being in a state of love. Embodying love. Letting love pulse out our fingertips in some of the poses. Making sure that we know self love before we send it out to others and allowing ourselves to be beings of grace. That we must remember all the good things if we are down and let them take over instead of the opposite. She said all of this is such an amazingly beautiful way and much more fluid than how I am managing to spew it right now. But it resonated.

The idea of love. The idea of choosing to seek the positive, every day. To go easy on ourselves. To take every little singular thing, hold on to it, and put it in our mind’s bucket.. remembering it when you need it.

I smiled so big throughout the yoga class. I felt so connected to the earth.. To my mat.. To the other yogis. We did this pose where our hands were on each other’s backs, and each other’s hearts. If you can imagine that, a bunch of people standing side by side, hand on each other’s backs where your heart is.. and we kicked back into a lunge, then up and back as if we were flying. It was such a grounding experience.. strangers.. feeding off each other’s energy and strength, and embodying love.

My senses have been on overdrive and I think I have started to notice and appreciate the most random things. Driving at night, windows down, music up, and appreciating the cool air, the fact that I have a voice to sing, and that at certain points along the drive, a burst of honeysuckle hits my nose.. it is one of the sweetest smells.. I held on to simple joys in Zambia, and I find myself doing the same thing here.

Tonight, during the yoga class, I did an inversion I have never done before. The teacher laughed and said how I will be one of those people that gets such a high by performing inversions. I have an fear of inverting my body. But tonighttonight I did it. Not a full blown hand stand, but half way. And it felt SO good.

I could type out all the times I tweaked out over these two weeks and why, and say how anxious I have been for almost two weeks straight, and tell you that the mere thought of the place I called home for two years brought instant tears, countless times.. I could tell you how I forgot how to work a vacuum at work, or how long the showers I have been taking are, and how I refuse to feel guilty for the love of running hot water, how many times people have called me brave, or humbled me with their words, how I rambled for fifteen minutes to a group of seeming strangers about my service, and how they didn’t think my jokes were that funny, and how it feels as though the universe knows my heart and is sending people into my life, from all corners, to support me, and how the word serendipitous has taken on my reality.

I have thrown myself into life again, and because of this, immersion is faster than if I stayed idle. Diving in doesn’t allow processing and I recognize I need time to process. In some ways, it feels as though I am a foreigner now, in my own country. At times, it is mind boggling to me how I existed before, and how much I am trying now, but still feel as though I am failing.

I am different. I am stronger. It shows. Even with the tears and the stress and the way my chest tightens, I am still stronger. My perspective has changed. It has taken me thirteen days to feel this way. Because days one to ten weren’t completely awful, and had high moments, but there were more lows than highs. The tide has turned.

I think many people write about the going and the leaving and what that feels like. Not many write about the fallout when you come back.

About how life looks different after spending two years abroad. Especially in a country where volunteers pride themselves on going without, and how being a volunteer in Zambia is one of the last places in the world where it is like the last frontier, because you live without running water and electricity. You learn to adapt to an environment and culture very different from the one you spent a likely twenty some years living in. It happens quickly. Your day routine becomes one of hauling water and cooking over charcoal or a wood fire and planning your days as they come. You stay busy by meeting people and biking everywhere and telling time by the sun. You appreciate the small breakthroughs as big ones because it’s the only way to tell yourself it’s all worth it. And at the end, you miss it all. All the hard times. All the good times. You miss every second and wish you could get it all back. You see that it was never about the world, but the people along the way, and the relationships you forged in a place so foreign at first, but one that became home.

And then you find yourself back where you started. At least, that’s how it worked out for me. It is frightening and disorienting and the unknown is many things. It is beautiful and it is a privilege. Some people end up with jobs right after service and some don’t. I am one of the don’ts. Not for lack of trying, just lack of things panning out how I thought they would.

And that’s the beauty.. that is where the grace is. To see this as an opportunity instead of a failure. A positive step instead of a back step. To greet the unknown with open arms instead of pushing it away like it was a stranger. Because there was a time not too long ago that I was that stranger, in a new place, and I needed that love and open greeting to make it. I have to treat the unknown with the same kindness.

My life is happening right now. I may be back at home, but it is still moving. I can either fight all the change or embrace it. I can sit here and type this out, but even that is a daily struggle.

This is my fight speech. Have you heard that song with the lyrics, “this is my fight song” ? It gets me amped every time it comes on the radio.

No one is going to fight my battles but me. There are ways to make immersion easier, maybe, but like with most things, who wants easy? As RPCVs, I think we chose service because it was challenging and new and made us grow. So when we come home, well, I’d rather throw myself into this life again, hurl my body like a fly to poop, then sit idle and wait for myself to feel better.

I laughed so hard when someone said ‘fly to poop’ today. I couldn’t help but think of how PCVs (Peace Corps Volunteers) are known for talking about such things, such as our bowel movements. I felt more at home.. so thank you to whoever used that phrase.

No one ever said this was going to be easy. But no one could prepare me for how hard it is. Being uprooted from an experience that feels like it was a whole lifetime, and being dropped back into your former lifetime.. well.. I’m taking it day by day.

Laughing at myself helps. Patience helps.
I’ll tell you what doesn’t help. Tinder. And thinking I am in any place to date again. Or big department stores. Or grocery isles. Or choices. Even what to eat can cause instant anxiety.. any kind of decision and choice.. and yet, I do all of this. I am going to choose this idea of embodying love and grace and recognizing that the lifetime I have lived was one that I will cherish for the rest of this lifetime I am in, and it will never be far from my heart or my mind, but I do need to step forward and continue walking, until I reach whatever beautiful mess that is next for me.