I’ve been trying to write about being back for a while. Thinking about it, the idea pulsing in the back of my mind waiting to shine brighter if I would really examine it. But that’s just it. I’d have to examine it- being back that is. Back from Brazzaville. Examining it however, doing that deep, much needed reflection on what it means to be back in the states means that I have to confront the fact that I’m moving forward now. That my year full of adventures and heat, close friends and loneliness is over, and that inherently means I have to discover what new journey lies ahead of me.
I was prepared coming back for reverse culture shock. I did my reading, I thought about what the differences would be, but mostly I was just excited to leave behind my war with the insects in my apartment and blend into the crowd. That first week I was home I took a walk down the street, past the library I would frequent three or four times a week as a kid all the way to an old bridge crossing the river. I loved that walk. I slipped into anonymity with a sigh of relief like a fish into water. People didn’t stop and turn to follow me with their eyes as I walked by or stare boldly at me. Nobody calling names at me. No snide comments from passing men of “salut chérie, ça va?”or “ma belle, ou vas-tu?” as their eyes rake my body. I let the mask of stoic indifference and purposeful resolve of where I was going fall and began to actually turn my head from side to side as I walked, taking in the familiar scenery. I even smiled and said hello to passersby without fear of coming across as being interested in them. There is definitely something to be said for the peaceful suburbs of Maryland.
Later that first week I found myself up in Boston walking around the city and marveling. It wasn’t the snow (though yes, that was ridiculous), it was… everything. How clean the roads were. How nice the roads were- paved and gloriously smooth to my mind despite their rough winter. There were no piles of trash, let alone ones on fire and this beautiful mix of diversity was all around me. I might have stared at people on the T (Boston’s metro). Maybe a lot. I was fascinated and in love with rediscovering a diverse population where people are of every color and hail from all around the globe. Perhaps the clearest example of reverse culture shop thus far is best explained in the story of the coffee shops.
I’ve missed coffee shops. I’ve always loved the atmosphere: the delicious smells, soft music and cozy seating. So that ended up being one of the first places I stopped in when I arrived in snowy Boston. The first one I walked in had so many options written all over the walls in artsy chalk that I struggled to find a simple mocha. Finally I found it and proudly went to the counter to order, my brain still placing the price in CFA instead of dollars when all of a sudden, “White or Dark?” the woman at the counter asked me…there are options? I thought. I picked dark, hoping I hadn’t given it away that my brain was still in Brazzaville. Another day I met up with friends in two different coffee shops. TWO. The next day a friend asked if I wanted to go to a coffee shop in the morning and the idea sounded extravagant. To go from nothing for a year to being able to indulge in something I’d missed three times in two days was too much. Way too much. There wasn’t anything wrong with me… right?
Options. People told me that options could be overwhelming when you come back from living overseas, and I guess the coffee shop was my taste of that. My missionary friend in Brazzaville once told me that when she was on home leave her sister sent her to the grocery store to get cheese. She walked around the entire store, amazed at how much there was and left without buying anything. Would that be me? Not quite. I loved being back amongst the variety, even if it did seem excessive. Part of that has made me feel guilty. How could I possibly enjoy everything about being back without thinking of those I left behind? Shouldn’t I be deeply missing Brazzaville?
Now, two months later, I have finally started to adjust to life here. Having a debrief with HOPE in the Lancaster office was huge, not just to talk with staff and share stories, but also to intentionally take time to reflect. I made myself work through the reflection exercises and realized that while I didn’t miss the dirt and the mosquitos, there were so many things I loved. I loved the friends I made – whether at SIL where I lived or amongst my colleagues and fellow English-speakers in the city. I loved that my job was to spend hours outdoors just listening to people’s stories and trying to capture them with photographs. I loved getting to see what HOPE was truly like on the ground and to be filled with a sense of purpose in contributing to their mission everyday. It is these things, and many others that I will miss.
So if you’ve made it this far in my blog, know that I’m back home safe. I’m adjusting, figuring out what things to carry with me and what things are okay to let go. Reconciling guilt and joy at being back. I also want to thank you all so much for all of your support. For your prayers, your notes and generous financial contributions. I could not have done it with out you, and you all helped HOPE International’s work in a very big way.
Many people have asked me the big question of what’s next? For now, what’s next is job hunting. I’m hoping to use the fantastic set of skills I’ve learned this past year for an equally-inspiring organization that does international relief and development work. Geographically, my search is focused on the Boston area where I hope to keep using my communications, photography, design and writing skills to serve those who need our help most in the world. If you have any organizations or jobs that come to mind, please let me know! I’ll be keeping up this blog with some stories of my time in Congo that I haven’t shared yet (stay tuned for rainforest adventures).
In the meantime, I’m working as a freelance graphic designer, catching up with friends and family and finding new causes that need our support. Right now, that cause is Nepal.
You may have heard about it on the news and wondered how you could help. A few weeks ago a massive earthquake struck Nepal killing thousands and destroying the homes and livelihoods of millions of others. The global emergency response is drastically underfunded and these people desperately need our help. To make matters worse, just this morning another 7.3 earthquake rocked the region yet again, and monsoon season is coming. Please consider joining my campaign and donating to World Vision to help emergency relief efforts in Nepal. My goal is to raise $2,000 to support emergency relief efforts, and I know that with your help we can reach it! For more information on the impact check out my infographic below.
To donate, click HERE to go to my fundraising page, or click on the orange donate button below: