Saturday, January 10, 2015


I came home yesterday.

Pops really rolled out the welcome-home wagon, complete with streamers, balloons, and flowers
After almost two and a half years away, punctuated early on by a short visit to America for my cousin's wedding, I have finally moved back to the States.  I am back in Virginia, back (for the moment) in my parent's house, in the small eye-wrenchingly yellow room in which I spent my high school years (years during which, it seems, I found it appropriate to paint entire walls that particular shade between school bus and highlighter on the sample strip).

I took the train down from New York on Friday. The sun dappled through the windows, reflected in bright bursts off the snow that blanketed New Jersey's sins like a choirboy's surplice. I spent the first few hours dawdling luxuriously over a paper copy of the New York Times, delighted that it was a copy from that day, rather than a copy sent in a care package mailed weeks before (old news: good for wrapping dead fish and sending to Peace Corps Volunteers).

As we moved south of Baltimore, I flipped open a paperback, a light read that I should have been able to breeze through. My attention wandered, though, as my eyes kept straying to the window, hungrily soaking up the landscape that flitted past. The train flew over long stretches of the Chesapeake Bay, capped with a crust of ice on which little piles of snow skittered and blew. South of DC we passed deserted piers that jutted into the Potomac, the boats frozen into their berths. I abandoned my book completely when we reached the marshlands north of Fredericksburg, staring out with wet eyes at brooks and runnels braided into a fine net that twisted between barren trees and over brown, loamy leaf mould. It is a curious observation: I have had the good fortune to spend the last two years travelling and living in a number of objectively beautiful places, from the dense, cacophonous rain forest of the Congo River Basin, to the stark, barren expanse of the Sahel, to the vertical majesty of the Sharr Mountains, whose snow-capped ridge thrusts like a knife swept across Kosovo and Albania. And yet, in that moment, eastern Virginia-- those flat, tidal floodplains-- seemed like the most beautiful place in the world, because it meant home. Eye of the beholder, I suppose. As we moved steadily closer to Richmond, I felt like my heart was the top half of a used toothpaste tube, and someone was squeezing up from the bottom.

It's been two days. I have yet to conquer all of my laundry, and I haven't really left my house much. I've been getting a lot of phone calls and visits, which has been touching and very pleasant; I don't think I had realized how supportive of a network I had had all along. I got to see my grandfather for the first time in almost two years; we drank straight gin (he forgot to buy tonic) and talked about Russia and the Ukraine. It feels fantastic just to be home, to be in my own bed, to have access to any food or form of entertainment I could possibly want, to have my parents here and my friends a mere same-time-zone phone call away-- animal pleasures, but things I had longed for in my darker moments in Cameroon. This month before I start my new farm job feels like the most well-earned long weekend ever.

In other ways, though, I act like someone grieving a loss; I cry spontaneously, and get pangs of longing for people and places on the other side of the world. Everyone warned me that readjusting would be hard, but it catches me off my guard in unexpected ways.  I knew to mentally prepare for the grocery store (every RPCV's first meltdown seems to happen in the shampoo aisle), so although Whole Foods was overwhelming, I maintained my composure. I burst into tears, though, when I suddenly noticed a picture in the living room of me and Amina, my five year old across-the-street neighbor, who followed me like a shadow around Mbang Mboum for months. When she visited, my mom had apparently snapped a shot of Amina beside me, fingers in her mouth, with the same bashful yet defiant look she gave me if I whirled around too fast when she was plodding along behind me. I had to put the picture face down-- it is all still too soon. In some sense I miss the way of life I had in Cameroon. The hardest loss is friends who are now practically unreachable; people I love who I have left, if not behind, than certainly elsewhere. It will take time to learn to cope.

But until I do, hey, at least I have the New York Times and cups of coffee big enough to bathe in! America.

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