Two years. TWO. I have been back in the States for two years. My little sister is older than I was when I left for Peace Corps service. It has been almost 5 years since I submitted a really lengthy application with the hope that maybe I would be invited to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It has been two years since I've seen some of the best people in my life. I don't understand the passage of time, and I have a love/hate relationship with it.
A few months before I departed Suriname, I put a countdown clock on the dashboard of my computer with the title "Home at Last". Ready to be back in America and onto the next chapter, I checked the number often and with excitement. On June 29th, 2013 the number hit zero. Life started moving faster the moment the shuttle drove us away from the Peace Corps office and towards the airport. It was 3:00 a.m. and I can still remember the excitement and sadness that filled that van. Life has not slowed down the tiniest bit. I discovered one day that the countdown clock on my computer did not delete itself as I guess I assumed it would. It counts into the negative. I can't make myself delete the thing, and today it tells me I've been away from Suriname for 730 days.
The ten days of June 19-29 will always be tough. My heart will always ache when I think of that day I hugged my family in Malobi goodbye. I woke up that day to the sound of the sweetest voices I've ever heard call my name for the last time. "Lobi Mai, i weki no? Ya go yeti?" I'll laugh and cry when I think of climbing into a boat beside my friend Julie so we could travel down the Suriname River for the last time. We were both so relieved and exhausted at the thought of what we had just completed. Some days being a Peace Corps Volunteer required all of my strength, courage, and tears. Watching my jungle home and people I love fade into the distance required no less. I'll never forget how comforted I was by Julie's smile and strength. She held it together while I cried hysterically for two of the most influential years of my life and all the people who love me back.
Last Tuesday, June 23, my friend Polo called. I can't remember the last time we talked, and he called just when I needed to hear from him. I was actually taking a nap when the sound of my phone woke me up. This is funny to maybe 30 people in my life, and would have been hilarious to Polo and everyone in my village if I had told him. Saramaccans waking me up is so classic. We talked about the village and people I know. He told me he is forgetting some of the English he learned, and I told him the same about my Saamaka Tongo. We promised to chat more and work on our language skills. Polo is the father of of my favorite kids. He said they are all doing well. He told me that Maena, his youngest daughter who was just a baby when I arrived in Malobi and cried at the sight of me for the better part of my first year in the village, asks about me all the time. He shows her a picture of me holding her, and she asks him when I will come back. She asks him when he will come get me and bring me back. I think I did a pretty good job at silently crying as he told me this. Polo told me he misses me and that some days he looks at my house and wishes I were still there. I do too. The longer I'm here, the longer I haven't been there, and the further away the people and conversations and hugs get. I hate it. I want it to stay as close as possible. 730 days and 2,700 miles is too far.
As I write these words, I'm looking at a picture of two of the most precious faces I know and my heart aches for them. It aches because those faces are in a picture and not in my arms. It's aching because they haven't been in my arms for two years. But most of all, my heart aches because I don't know when they will be again. That's the hardest part of this whole journey. It's a strange reality to miss people who are living and well, but not know if I will ever see them again. Peace Corps service is made up of relationships. Project work and development are sprinkled in, but the people and the conversations and the hugs matter the most.
Marking one year away from Malobi last summer, I had a conversation with my momma about the twins. I told her the hard part is that in my mind, they're frozen as these six year old angels and they are so very fond of their Lobi Mai. The reality is that they are growing up every single day and I'm not there to see it. I hate that. My selfish heart hurts because when I finally go back to visit, they won't need me. They will be older. They are older. They won't remember me the way I remember them. That fact hurts so much. My mother hugged me as I cried and told me that I don't really want them to stay little forever. She's right. I want them to grow and be happy and healthy. I don't want them to be 6 years old forever, because that means they didn't make it to 7. Beth Crumpton would make an excellent Peace Corps Volunteer.
Two years ago yesterday, some friends and I rang a bell to complete our service in Suriname. It was a special day. Jamie sent us the video she filmed on her GoPro. No one knew what a GoPro was. The video is 30 minutes long. It won't matter to anyone reading this if you didn't serve in the Peace Corps, but it belongs on this post. Thanks for sharing this moment, Jamie. Thanks to the misfits in it, as well as a few not present, for sharing the journey with me. SURs, I think I miss us most when I hear Rihanna and Pitbull. I long to be sweating in Havana Lounge or showing the locals how to properly take advantage of a party bus. Mr. Worldwide has some great new songs. I'd like a dance party reunion. Or we could loiter outside of a wenke and split too many djogos. Let's do both.
During our recent conversation, Polo asked if I had this thing called WhatsApp. I didn't, but I told him I would load it onto my phone. He said he could send me messages and pictures. Writing an unwritten language is hard. Writing an unwritten language to someone that doesn't speak English as their first language, is silly. Still, Polo and I have managed to chat through text messages, and on June 25, 2015 WhatsApp changed my life. I cried just a bit. I went to work crying. I cried in my office.
There they are. They are grown ups. Jamie and Julie had great responses to the photo when I shared it with them. Jamie pointed out that they're still the same kids. They're just bigger and older. His joyful smile. Her shy nature. That baby's eyes. Julie just said, "Damn." My exact thoughts. It's hard to think of them growing up and forgetting me, but ultimately I know that if I were able to walk into the village right now, I would be attacked with hugs.
I miss Suriname daily. I'm so grateful I have her to carry with me for all my years.