Life in America is moving too fast, and I know I'll hate it until the universe decides to adapt to my desires. I'd still find things to complain about, I'm sure. I have been back in America for one year and half of another one. That just does not seem real most days. It's hard to accept. Suriname gets a little further away with every day that passes, and that makes my heart ache.
I miss it. I miss the things I knew I would miss, and I miss the things I swore I would never miss. I miss people yelling my name, that name that wasn't always my name, but the name that will always be my name to them: Lobi Mai. I miss the attention that comes with a lack of privacy. I miss washing my clothes and dishes in the river. I miss Parbo and fellowship with my Peace Corps family. I miss the routine I adopted. I miss my neighbor returning after a day's work and singing. I could always hear Polo before I could see him. I miss my runs through the jungle. I miss tiny arms around my waist and tiny hands presenting mangoes at my doorway. I miss the days when my only job was to hang out with people and love them. It's so hard to comprehend that part of my life being over. Some days it almost feels like I dreamed it. But then I have these scars on my knees from that one time I fell walking to the river to wash my clothes. I have a picture of the two most precious faces I have ever seen and loved beside my bed and above my desk at work. If I want to, I can say things out loud to most people and have them not understand. I have a machete propped against my window. These things remind me that it wasn't a dream.
What a wonderful thing that has happened to my life. What a beautiful, marvelous life it is!
One day back in the spring, when I was still unemployed and living with my high school roommates, I really wanted to take a nap outside. This was so easy once upon a time and I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. After deciding the place the porch swing occupies was my best bet at a location for my hammock, I wrestled the porch swing to the ground. I knew it was probably too narrow for my hammock, but I had to try. Of course it was too narrow. And then I had to put the damn porch swing back up. I walked inside, threw my hammock on the floor, and slammed the door. My mom looked at me like I was insane and asked what in the world was wrong. I couldn't hold back tears as I yelled, "I just want to take a freakin' nap outside in my damn hammock, and I can't." Not my proudest moment, but also not my worst.
I don't look at a big tree or someone's front porch without thinking it'd be a great place for my hammock. And a nap.
Speaking of naps, naps have been a part of my life for the last decade and now they aren't. It's one of the hardest things about being employed and I don't care how sad that sounds.
Struggling with English as a first language is a real thing. I'm still waiting to be as smart as I was before my Peace Corps service. I never will be.
Job searching has got to be the most soul-crushing thing, and I believe it was made harder after Peace Corps service. So many people told me for 2 years what great things I was doing. And how much I was learning. And how much it was going to broaden my skill-set and make me so qualified for so many things. Some days, when I was searching for a job, I was so bitter because I knew all those things were true. Being completely narcissistic, I'd tell myself (in my second language) that I probably didn't want that job anyway. And that the person doing the hiring was probably super lame. They'd probably never even been to the jungle and most definitely don't know what a latrine is or how to properly use a machete. Also, how many times could they have possibly been to an ambassador's house? Hell, they probably don't even know an ambassador.
I can be such a jerk and I hate it.
Being employed now, I have a whole new list of things to complain about. I'm a constant work in progress and I'm thankful every day for grace and redemption.
One day, back in September, I sat on my porch eating popcorn and drinking a beer. My butt was in one chair and my feet were in another. A tree frog was stuck to my window. I could hear conversations happening along my street. A couple of folks walked by and we exchanged greetings. There are about 30 people in my life who know exactly why that scene brings such joy to my heart. And makes me cry.
I have seen 11 Peace Corps friends in America, and it's a big deal every single time. It will never be casual. Here's why: These are people that did not know I existed before we met in Suriname or before we boarded a plane together. I had no idea they were in this world either. But now, now we know each other. And not only do we know each other, we know more about this really hard, really special thing we all did than any other group of people will. Ever. Even parents and friends who came to visit us will never understand our lives in Suriname completely. We learned together. We complained together. We rejoiced and struggled and laughed together. These people are my family because the universe said so. We'll be connected forever. And just like the scars on my knees and my machete by my window, seeing these misfits in America validates it all.
Elliott and Jessica and I shared beers and played video games at a bar in Chicago. Malo Mai and Lobi Mai took at picture at the Bean. Shelley and I ate Mexican food in Atlanta and talked about boys. Jamie came to visit and she showed up at my door in her own car, not a boat. I went to Boston and Julie and I rode public transportation together for the first time in this county. We spoke Saramaccan in Chinatown. I surprised Christina and I saw Jessica wearing pants for the first time. Ryan came home to Gulfport with Lindsay and baby Colby and we ate BBQ.
It occurred to me the other day that receiving compliments is so nice. I missed that in Peace Corps. I was sweaty and my hair was dirty for the better part of two years. Some days my outfit consisted of a sports bra and a couple of yards of fabric wrapped around my waist. I just did not look nice a lot of the time. And my villagers idea of a compliment was to tell me how big my ass was. A year and a half later, I love getting dressed and looking nice. And I like when people notice.
While I was in Suriname, my mom would always comment on my smile in my pictures. She said it wasn't a smile I could fake. She said she could see joy and love in my face. Maybe you're really not fully dressed without a smile, and maybe some days it's the only real thing people notice.
I like smelling clean and when people tell me I look nice, but if you think for one second that I wouldn't trade hot water and clean hair for the tan Suriname gave me, you're dead wrong.
18 things I know, struggle with, and just are after 18 months in America:
The smell of rain makes me long for a nap in Malobi.
I miss the amount of time I had. Days seemed to go on forever. This was super hard then, but I miss my routine. Greetings were mandatory. People always had time for each other.
I shaved my legs a lot more when I lived in the jungle. That may seem backwards, but it's true.
Every time I smell car fumes I think of Paramaribo. Or a wagi to Atjoni. Or being on Saramaccan Straat early in the morning. That terrible smell is so comforting to me.
I am still trying to satisfy my craving for guacamole. I don't know if this is directly related to my Peace Corps service, or just the fact that I have a pulse.
Starting a new chapter in life without my friends and family throwing me a party was nice, but I miss the attention.
I struggle with whether or not my current job and place in the world is making as much of an impact as the last one. Am I as important in Gulfport as I was in Malobi? Is Gulfport going to change my life as much as Malobi? Probably not. But maybe it should.
I have yet to calmly look at a spider without thinking of my very long journey to that very moment.
People don't dance enough in America. We need a revolution.
I still step into a hot shower with thanksgiving.
Some days, Ma abi peisa, and life would be easier if everyone just knew what that means.
I live super close to train tracks. The sound is so loud and so comforting to me and I miss it when I don't hear it. It's like my bats and sometimes rats in Malobi, except a little farther away and less gross, I guess.
I ran a marathon and learned again that most things worth doing aren't the easiest. I also learned again that I am tough and if I put my mind to something, I'm going to do it dammit.
Choices and options can be so overwhelming, but they are one of my favorite things about America.
I see mangoes in the grocery store, but have yet to buy one. The last mango I had was in Suriname and it was given to me by a precious child. Anything less than that and I don't want the mango.
I don't have a dishwasher. I don't mind it, but I prefer washing dishes in a river to washing them in a sink.
Being at home and homesick for home is a very real and very hard place to be.
And finally, I struggle to tell my story. I struggle to condense it down to what folks actually care to hear. It's hard. I'm not just telling a story about some stuff I did for a couple of years. I'm telling Suriname's story. I'm telling Beta's story and Polo's story. I'm telling Saramacca's story. This place and these people will be with me forever. It's hard to convey that as a response to, "Oh, Peace Corps, how was that?"
If this isn't your first time reading this blog, thanks. And if you've humored me and listened to my stories over beer, thank you so much. If I've ever just broken out in tears or laughter around you, and you knew it was Peace Corps related and you pretended to care, I owe you a beer. If any of these is true for you, you have validated this really hard, really special thing I did. I cannot express through words what that means to me.
Life called for me to live in Suriname for two years. I answered that call, and because of that, Suriname will live in me forever.
I am so thankful for the long way home because I wouldn't know how to get there otherwise.
Here's to the next 18 months in America. Or maybe not in America. Cheers!