Wake up, read the Bible, followed by Encouragement for Today (a daily devotional), check my email and finally my Facebook feed. So goes the life of this Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. Of course there is more to my day than those activities I mentioned, but this is my new routine I’ve established stateside in the absence of my routine in Merawi, Ethiopia.
Two months after that infamous day of my gong-out ceremony – marking the moment where I completed my service – I’m sitting in the US, thinking about my work, the people and my town that I called “home” for the last two years. Well, honestly it didn’t start feeling like “home” until maybe a year, year and a half being there, but eventually I felt that way. I knew that I would miss being in Merawi. I just didn’t know what I would miss or reminisce about. Now with 60 days in the rear-view mirror there are several things that stand out. These aren’t listed in any particular order:
- Being greeted by kids as I walked around my town. I have to say, by the time I left my town, 98% of these interactions were positive. It wasn’t always that way, so I’m grateful for the progress. It is a great feeling to see young kids running down the dirt road towards you, just to shake your hand or say hello. I would also let them hang out in my office at school, working with different teaching aids, so the kids would ask me “Zare, biro?” (direct translation: “Today, office?”). Now I wonder, what is in store for them (some were not even school age yet)? And selfishly I think, will they remember that person who spoke funny Amharic and showed her watch whenever asked – “Sint saat naw?”(“What time is it?”). Did I make a positive, if any, impact on their lives?
- Traveling by mini-bus to various towns in my region. Grateful when I could grab a seat with the following criteria: 1) By the window and 2) Not crowded with 3-4 people trying to fit into a 2-person seat ( it doesn’t take much to make me happy). I could enjoy the passing countryside, which was briefly interrupted by towns as the van drove along the road. I watched the people walking on the side of the asphalt, carrying wood and/or water, herding their animals, bringing goods to sell on market day, students going to and from school. With my head leaning against the window I would think-“I am on a bus, in Ethiopia.” A simple, but overwhelming thought.
- Being fed above and beyond what my stomach capacity could comfortably manage. In Ethiopia, I had a love-hate relationship with food. It was definitely tasty. I enjoyed eating with my host-family and the socializing that occurred in the room. We don’t do this often in America, but sharing a plate of injera and wot with friends brings new meaning to the phrase “sharing is caring”. However, my enjoyment would turn to frustration and a diminished appetite when people forcefully insisted I eat more, while automatically placing more food on my plate in spite of my constant protests. These situations affected when and whose houses I visited. Holidays brought on anxiety as I navigated the delicate process of declining invitations to certain houses. Although, there were some food challenges, I feel some of my best relationships in my town developed over preparing and eating meals, so that in itself makes it all worth it.
- IT training with my awesome primary and high school teachers! This training was my success story when it came to working with adults in my community. Students were easier; give them some activities or just a chance to talk with you and they were there. Adults on the other hand, well their participation required a larger “carrot”. That carrot turned out to be computer knowledge. Having the opportunity to gain skills which could contribute to obtaining a better job, attracted teachers to the program. I had no idea how popular my class at the primary school had become, but when I received a request from the high school to expand the program there, and the teachers showed up consistently for the entire time, I realized this program would be a highlight of my service.
My transition to American life hasn’t been as challenging as I thought it would be. However, there are little things and situations where I have to remind myself, “Hey, you’ve been out of this country for 27months. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Usually, this happens when I’m looking for my favorite item on a menu, and I can’t find it because 1) the menu offerings have changed over the past two years, or 2) the menu layout has changed. Also, I’m more “at home” in one-room places. I find it easier to function when everything is right around me. But don’t get me wrong, the conveniences of America are what I love and dreamed about while in Ethiopia. I think it’s my perspective that has changed since being abroad. I didn’t have a life-changing epiphany or “find my true self” as a result of my Peace Corps service, but my appreciation for life in America and Ethiopia has grown tremendously. I am even more determined to look at ALL sides of a situation or problem. And I hope this refined perspective will aid me as I embark on the next phase of my life – obtaining the job that has been perfectly prepared for me.