7 Things to Expect When Returning from Peace Corps

 You finally land on American soil after a 20-30 hour trip from the place you called home for 27 months. This is a place that you probably had a very complicated relationship with, but also the place that has changed your life. You had a love/hate relationship with that place. You are not sure how things will be like once you step foot off that plane, but you are both nervous and excited as hell.

You go through Immigration and you realize there’s something different. Maybe a distinct smell to you that you notice others don’t have, or perhaps it’s the way that you wear chacos while everyone else is a Mr. Fancy Pants, or maybe it’s the way that you are the only one not looking at a phone. You hear another person speaking Amharic, you get excited to practice the language, you try speaking to them, but all they do is look at you and say “don’t understand.” Sigh. I’m back. You get through Customs, get your bags and then you see your family and friends. Do you run to them? Play it cool with a “hey, what’s up,” or let loose with the water works? You don’t have any control over your emotions the first few days so eh, why the hell not?

In the beginning everyone is curious about you and your time abroad. In most ways it’s really nice to be able to reminisce on your service and talk constantly about the place you just left behind, but mostly, it’s hard. Really hard. You aren’t sure what just happened to you, and now you have to try and explain it to other people. The tough questions start and you sit there with a dumb look in your face trying to figure it out, and then you get emotional and start crying. No? Well that’s just what I did.

I got back to good ol’ America on the 2nd in the morning after a very smooth flight. Since then, I went through some cultural shock and noticed some things/got asked some tough questions.

So here are the top 6 things you can expect once you return from your two years bad-ass stint in Peace Corps:

  1. “Wow, you look good! But where are your Ethiopian clothes?” Thanks guys. I planned weeks for this outfit, shaved my legs and took a shower specifically for you, and that’s the only question you want to as me. How about you ask me how long I had to scrub in the shower to look this decent? Or how much I tried to cover up the smell of mildew with some fresh perfume? What did you expect me to look like? I can’t help but think that people half expected me to come back with dreadlocks, traditional tattoos on my face, and singing kumbaya my lord.
  2. Emotions are up and down. There’s just so much going on at once that all you wish is to be back in your comfort zone in your town. Pretty insane that just two years previously, you had felt that way about serving and now all you want to do is go back. I got up one day feeling nice, took a hot shower, washed my hair and when it came down to getting dressed — had a melt down. I smelled my clothes, looked at them and then proceed to ugly cry. My boyfriend, Eddie, froze in his track with a face that said “the fuck? this trick be tripping!” I explained in between my tears that all I wanted was to feel pretty and nothing I had made me feel that way. He held me to try to console me but thankfully, my sister came up and saved the day. She got me in some fancy earrings, with some red lipstick, and a dress that Eddie got me in Italy. Crisis adverted — until the next possible melt down.
  3. “So, what now?” Well, I got plans for a long hot shower, a two hour nap, and a definite stuffing my face session. Not the answer you were looking for? Well, how dare you. You’ve been back for less than 24 hours and all you really want to do,  is eat some ‘Merican food, because well, ‘Murica. So, when someone asks you this question, you go in to panic mode and start to wonder if you’re actually supposed to have a plan. You get a little moody and tell the person, “stop asking me all these questions!” It’s definitely hard and you feel some kind of pressure to quickly find a job and work 9-5. We want freedom, and time to adjust, and we certainly don’t wantto come to terms with the fact that we actually have no idea what’s next.
  4. Oh my God! Those are some small shorts!!!!!! There I was in 60 or 70 something degree (Fahrenheit) weather in  a black maxi dress, a tank top, a shirt, a thin jacket and a scarf and somebody on the street is wearing shorts shorts. SCANDALOUS!! Once you are back in America, the land of the brave and the free, anything goes. You don’t have to hide your pasty legs anymore, you can show off your chacos tan lines and gasp!, you can show your shoulders!
  5. “She just got back from Ethiopia!” This is my family and friends. I love how proud they are of my time in Ethiopia. I love that they want to show me off and they want everyone to understand what I just did and how it changed my life. But in reality, do people really care? I did an experiment the other day  when I was activating my phone. I told the representative that I had just gotten back and needed to buy a plan. Maybe she would ask if I was in the military. Did she ask where I came back from? What I was doing? How long was I gone for? Nope. Didn’t even faze her. 
  6. So many cars on the roads and so many supermarkets. You don’t have to walk to go to the market. If your house and a supermarket are a block from each other, you can literally get in your big ass SUVs, put on the air conditioner (AC) and drive down to the end of the block.
  7. “What was it like?” Well, Becky, let me just tell you about the last 2 years of my life using one to three sentences. And what about you Becky, what was the last 2 years of your life like? Please summarize all your ups and downs, relationships, depressions, highs, lows, your house, how you showered, what you ate, oh and your job- in one to three sentences. Oh, you stopped listening five minutes ago?? Linda, honey, just listen. The complexity of this question is HUGE. In a single day emotions could range from happiness, to sadness, to anger and back to happiness. So many things happened. It was a different world. It was unbelievable. Some of the things I saw can never be put in to words, because only those who actually lived through it would understand. But because Peace Corps service ranges from town to town and even country to country, no one will ever fully understand. It might be easier to speak with other volunteers because they had similar experiences, but each service is unique and distinct.

It brings me insane happiness to know that people genuinely care about my life in Ethiopia. I am more than happy to tell you all of my stories, but it is harder than anyone can imagine to answer questions when I am still trying to figure it out. When people ask questions, their intentions  are not malicious or ill-willed, and so they help to get me focused and motivated. Unfortunately, these every day normal things to ask, are difficult for someone who is still adjusting. Nonetheless, keep asking the questions because one day, I will be able to answer them without stumbling and give a direct answer.

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