I was home for a month, and before I left I heard a lot of “oh, so you’re not coming back” comments. Fellow volunteers, my headmistress, my coworkers…all of them joked that I would stay in the states if I left Rwanda for that long. So back in America, I naturally began to wonder when the idea of staying would start to take over and I started to get a little nervous that if it did, I wouldn’t be able to ignore it. I wondered whether it would be in the snack aisle of the grocery store, looking at all the different kinds of Oreos. Or if it would perhaps be in the passenger seat of a car on the highway, or while building a snowman with one of my cousins the day after a big snowfall. Maybe in the middle of The Hobbit, engulfed by those ridiculously comfortable movie theater seats? Or watching a musical, knowing I wouldn’t be seeing another one for a year? I waited, but all that I seemed to be able to think of, at least towards the end of my four week trip, was how much I missed home. Not America home, Rwanda home. And how much I wanted to come back.
But that came later; let’s start at the beginning.
Climbing aboard the plane in Kigali, I felt only relief. I had just had my infamous mid-service breakdown after some difficult months, and I was more than ready to recharge my mental batteries. Just the thought of the candy aisle at Target was enough to make the 20 hours of plane rides and layovers worth it, and once I got through customs in the U.S. things only seemed to get better. The relief I felt in those first few days and weeks was for physical comforts as well as emotional ones—microwaves and hot showers, friends and family, grocery stores—I fell back into my old life and self as easily as if I had never left. It was relaxing to be surrounded once again by people who could actually understand me, people who could understand the idea of personal space and eating in public. People who didn’t stare and call me umuzungu. People who understood my excitement over a thing as seemingly insignificant as Skittles Riddles.
The longer I stayed in America, however, the more uneasy I grew. Everything had picked up where I left off a year ago—nothing had changed. Why wasn’t there some tangible evidence that I had lived over a year in an East African country? Why wasn’t I more capable, self-sufficient, wise? A part of me had hoped the effects of Peace Corps would be both immediate and obvious, and it was more than a little disappointing to arrive home and realize that it was easier to revert back to who I was before I left than to try combining my two selves—the one in Africa and the one in America.
Now that I’m safely tucked into my Rwandan life again, it’s both comforting and off-putting to think about how everything will still be there when I go back to America. The microwaves, the hot showers, the friends, the family, the grocery stores; all of that will be there in a year. Right now I guess I just have to hold onto the things that I won’t have in a year—my coworkers, good weather, freedom, total immersion in another language (however obscure that language might be), and an endless supply of Fanta.
Sometimes it seems like I’m living as two people at once (I think it’s helpful to add that one of my biggest fears these days is that I will slowly-or quickly-go insane living in this house by myself). But I suppose the trick is to remember that I only have a limited time in Rwanda, and I can’t constantly be wondering how much better my life would be if I just had one more packet of Gushers. Everything will be there when I get back, so in the meantime I’ve just got to enjoy all the capability, self-sufficiency and wisdom I’ve picked up here . Who knows how long it will take to show up in the American me once I’m back in the states for good….