At 5:00am this morning (my usual waking time) I rolled out of bed to a thick coldness, brought on by night rains and dense fog. The moist atmosphere smeared my skin as I entered my backyard. I raced to my latrine, about 20 yards away, and then back into the comforting cement walls of my home. The BBC radio station was buzzing about the latest of the first government shutdown in 17 years. The back and forth finger pointing of our political parties droned on and so I took my steaming tin cup of coffee outside back near the edge of a blistery Rwandan morning. I had been unable to find REAL coffee in my regional town and so I had been drinking the severely subordinate instant Nescafe brand sold in Rwandan towns for nearly 2 weeks. A small miracle had happened the previous day, however, as I found the much desired bag of Rwandan coffee (complete with an amazing aroma) in my package town out East. HALLELUJAH. 4000 RWF (Rwandan Francs). That’s about 6 bucks. Well worth the cost.
I held my coffee as if it was a precious jewel and wrapped my neck and arms with my pink Ugandan scarf. At 5:25am, the sun had barely crested the sky and so I could see the moon, stars, and small glimmers of sunshine mixing together. The bitterness of the cold reminded me of how I will be coming home in December, to a deep Colorado winter. The smell of my coffee integrating with the cool breeze brings a smile to my face; somehow it smells exactly like winter, Christmas, and home. The hum of Taylor Swift’s song, “The Best Day”, drifts from the other room where my radio is playing. I stand there in the doorway and I think about the soon-to-come holidays with my family. I remember the soothing feeling of a wool sweater as you awake Christmas morning, the way Buddy always played vigorously in the snow, and comforting way we all sit together on couches and chairs as we laugh and open presents. I let myself drift for a few minutes in these memories and senses and I have to hold back small tears of anticipation and joy. Two years is a really long time to be away from home.
What day will I reunite with the good ole USA?
My flight from Rwanda is on December 10, just before 9:00pm. I have a total travel time of around 24 hours in which I will pass through Nairobi, Kenya, Belgium, New York City, and finally back to Denver, Colorado. It’s nearly the same route I took on the way here. And when my travels finish, it will be the first time I’ll have been back on American soil in 27 months. WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 11. 7:50pm: I’m home, y’all.
What will you eat first?
I love Rwandan food, no doubt about that. Ask any volunteer: I’m the weird one who cooks bananas and cassava bread for FUN. Because I like it! I’m kind of crazy. But that being said, I’m excited to be back in our wonderful country that has a ridiculous variety of food choices. I plan to consume all of the following as soon as possible upon arrival:
burritos, dad’s enchiladas, mom’s enchilada casserole, mom’s tuna noodle casserole, queso, cereal, fresh salad, smoothies, blocks of cheese, cafe lattes, panninis, quiche, lasagna, cheeseburgers, pizza, macaroni and cheese, quesadillas, salmon, huevos rancheros, blue moon complete with a fresh orange, and a big strawberry daiquiri.
What will you do first?
HUG MY FAMILY. SLEEP IN MY BIG BED. PLAY WITH MY DOG. EAT. REPEAT.
Okay but seriously.
This whole coming back to America thing is exciting. Crazy. And BIG! It’s a big life transition that I’m approaching and so my goal is to take it slow. Enjoy the moments of readjustment. Be patient with the more difficult things. Celebrate the joys of being home.
In doing so, the first things I want to do are to focus on spending time with my family and friends while reconnecting with my loved ones. Sure, for the past couple of years I have missed weddings, births, deaths, and graduations. Those things are hard to miss, but it’s also equally hard to miss out on the day-to-day stuff that we often take for granted.
I can’t wait to go out to lunch with my mom, to paint nails with my friends, to drive on the beautiful American highway system, to go on walks, to talk sports with my dad, and to find a good gym to frequent. I am excited to see my brother, to text my friends, and to read the newspaper. Maybe the best part of all of this is that I will have a totally fresh and renewed appreciation for these things.
Logistically, I will have to get a phone, purchase a new computer, and get resettled. That will take time, but like I said, I’m ready to do all of this, but to take my time doing so.
Will you travel upon returning home?
Absolutely! Because of my late decision to not extend another year in Rwanda, I declined to receive my Peace Corps stipend before leaving the country. Because of that, I will initially be coming straight home. But no worries: I want to explore our beautiful homeland anyway! For New Year’s, 5 of my best friends in the world will be visiting Colorado. We will spend the holiday in gorgeous Estes Park and I imagine it will be one of the most epic reunions you could envision! I would also love to visit my grandparents in Oklahoma, see The Lion King on Broadway in New York (a long time dream of mine), and try and catch my cousin playing college basketball (she’s a freshman basketball player in Alaska). I have a lot of ideas and so we’ll see what happens. There’s a lot to see in this world and doing Peace Corps only started the travel bug, I am sure.
That’s so neat. Except, um, what about reality? Don’t you need a job or something?
You bet! It’s a bit stressful to think about in my current state (what can I really do out in the middle of the village boonies?) but I repeatedly tell myself that it will be just fine. Perhaps I’ll find a temporary job for the first 6 or so months of being back in the states. With my committed love for coffee, I’m thinking a barista job or something. In the meantime, I hope to begin graduate school applications. I am planning to try to do a graduate program associated with Peace Corps (there are scholarships for Returned Peace Corps Volunteers available) and that would focus on social work. I would love to integrate my interests in international development, girls’ empowerment, and the general “people” skill that I think I have come to appreciate most in myself. Peace Corps has opened a lot of doors and one of those has been coming to know what I am most passionate about and how I can utilize this for the rest of my life. Working with girls and helping them develop relationship skills, personal growth, and confidence has brought the greatest joy throughout my entire service.
But who knows, right? There are also potential career opportunities in Peace Corps that I could explore. Or even work with another international development agency. Or shoot, I would also love to coach some field hockey! While I know what I care about, it’s still hard to understand how that practically plays out in my life. Long term, I’m open to living anywhere. But, for the meantime, I’ll likely have to find a way to get a car (or a damn good public transport system) while re-establishing myself with my parents for awhile. I have no qualms about this; sure, I’m 24 and will be living with my parents, but I see it as an opportunity to grow and deepen those relationships.
So, is that what’s NEXT?
As mentioned, I want to study as to enhance my qualifications as a social worker. I want to travel more. Someday, I want to get married. I want a family. I want helping others to be the center of my professional and personal life. I want my girls in Rwanda to finish their education in secondary school. These are the ideas and values that I have boiled it all down to; if I’m able to achieve these things, well, I think I can handle the constant (and usually uncertain) question of WHAT’S NEXT?
As of now, the next thing is closing out my time in Rwanda exactly as it fits, coming home, and enjoying what I have waiting. Scratch that, what God has waiting. I don’t really know what is next. But, I think God will help me along the way, and in the end, I’ll end up in the right place.If the past is any kind of indicator, I know this to be true.
It’s hard to imagine my future life without afternoons of dusty football practices, Voice of America radio shows, and GLOW club sessions that last for hours. I am going to miss my girls more than anything. I’ll also miss my other students, the cheap avocados, the pace of life in the village, the old mamas, the dancing, and the goofy girl I have been able to be the last couple of years. I love being Impano, you know, and I think I’m a little scared of having to say goodbye to that part of myself. When you leave a place, you not only say goodbye to the things and the people, but you say goodbye to who you were for that part of time.
But, luckily, you can take the best pieces with you. I try to remember that.
And hey! Besides the familiarity of home, I no longer will have to continually become drained everyday from being different. Lying and secrets won’t always be at the foreground of a lot of relationships, and I’ll live in a country that values time and making lines. Awesome. Maybe my Impano life will be finished, but so will be being the umuzungu (the white girl foreigner). I will be just like anyone else.
BBQ, family dinners, take-out, road trips, American accents, the NFL, mountains, church in English, movie theaters, reunions, and girls’ nights out are on the horizon for my life. America, YOU are on the horizon.
See you soon, red, white, and blue.