The Northern Coast

The Northern Coast
The Northern Coast--photo by Zack Thieman

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Losses, gains, and rediscovering community.

Every time I was away from my Peruvian town, whether I was on a weekend trip to my regional capital or a vacation, there always came a point where I felt a sudden nagging:

It's time to get back to site.

And at two months since I've been back in the USA, the inner guilty feeling of, "It's time to get home and get back to work," has been going off the charts. Only I'm not going back to work in my small town in Peru. I have no projects that need tending or socios that need rousing, and my host family isn't expecting me home for dinner. I'm not a Peace Corps Volunteer anymore, and haven't been for awhile. This changes the feeling of nagging guilt to a feeling of loss. A loss of community, a loss of friendship and family, and mostly a loss of identity.

So where am I at all this time after being home? Am I readjusted? Well, yes and no. The US is no longer the strange home I had been missing with sudden glaring characteristics I hadn't noticed before, but certain aspects of it have yet to seem "normal." I no longer eat like I'm on a weekend binge in my regional capital, scarfing down everything I missed for two years, but certain food items like cheese and salad never fail to make me feel blessed. Grocery stores no longer bring me to tears with the overwhelming variety and excess, but I still only buy the same few items every time I go as my stomach can't handle the richness of anything else.

People don't really ask about Peru anymore but instead ask, "So, what're doing now?" Even when I call my host family to check up on them they ask, "Did you get a new job yet?" I try my hardest not to start every sentence with, "When I was in Peru..." And so I try to talk about things like the jobs I'm applying for to reassure everyone that I am, indeed, moving on.

And life here makes sure of that. Everything and everyone is on such a strict timeline that they actually follow (imagine that). Everything is so expensive, I watch my readjustment fund I received after completing service slowly trickle away, like an hourglass telling me, "Time is almost up, you need a job."

While day-to-day isn't the constant roller coaster Peace Corps life is famous for, it has hardly been an easy unicorn ride over the rainbow. Within a two week time period both my grandfather and a friend passed away. I have had a lot of blessings and things to be grateful for, but also there has been a lot of loss and grieving. Readjusting in the midst of tragedy is a hard thing to do, and finding some sort of "normalcy" seems like a joke.

But I haven't been suffering these losses alone. A bittersweet part of losing a loved one and grieving is the feeling of community that comes with it. It brings people together to mourn and remember. My family will be reuniting to honor and celebrate my grandfather's life. People from all over are coming together to mourn the loss of a shared friend in my town. And I should add, I'm glad I am home for this. I of course wish these losses never happened, but I would rather be home than in a different country unable to connect and mourn with those around me.

While I have "lost" my place and sense of identity as a Peace Corps Peru Volunteer, I am once again, like my whole service, not alone in my feelings. I have a community of RPCV friends who finished their service as well and are readjusting to American life. Maybe they're on the other side of the country, but they are going through many of the same feelings. And while I am missing my Peruvian community I have come home to my family and friends that were waiting with open arms the whole time. Maybe it was a strange re-entry, maybe I felt out of place and awkward, but they saved a place for me all along.