Daylisha Reid, 130 YinD
I haven’t driven a vehicle, played with my nephews, hung out with the majority of my friends, received a professional manicure/pedicure, seen snow, had a proper breakfast, attended an Ugly Sweater Party, or baked my infamous macaroni and cheese in 23 months.
The other day, someone wished me a “Happy Halloween” which was weird because I’ve completely lost touch with American holidays.
As years have passed and I’ve moved further away from home sweet home, some friends and family members have made babies, said, “I do” to now husbands, and celebrated life’s accomplishments with “new” friends that I don’t even know or recognize. While I am happy for them, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel slightly forgotten or disconnected. I’m sure they’d say the same thing about me.
With not even a year into my service last year, I asked myself, “Will I be able to drive?” Over a year later, that question still stands along with, “Will I be able to bake? Can I survive cold weather? Will I even care about keeping up with the material things I once consumed in America? Will the tiny people that were babies the last time we embraced recognize me? Will they think to invite Gabe and me to the Ugly Sweater Party next year? and How the heck will I reintegrate into American culture?”
While I look forward to indulging into the things that make me me, I wonder if there’s a place for us upon returning “home.” Of course, our parents anxiously await our return and are more than happy to welcome us with open arms, but the reality is I’m a completely different person — most likely they are too and something about that is necessary, yet terrifying.
Life doesn’t stop for you, nor me and while our life went on, so did theirs. Only the people who’ve I’ve shared this journey called Peace Corps with will understand the emotions that will rush me upon returning home. While we worked to integrate into a culture different from our own, they did not. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, yet I anticipate the awkwardness that can be made manifest if I accidentally “Wai” (a Thai greeting wherein the palms are brought together in front of the face or chest, accompanied with a bow) to my family, attempt to take off my shoes before entering a restaurant, express shock when the check for my food is $30 USD (the average dish in Thailand is $1.20), or hesitate when someone goes in for a hug, because as I’ve mentioned before, that’s just not a part of Thai culture.
And, it’s like, every time I appear in my village it’s all eyes are on me. The children, grandmothers, and grandfathers wave aggressively, cheering me on as I pedal uphill on my bike in the blazing sun. Running to the edges of their yards just to shout “hello” and ask “ไปไหน?” (where are you going?). Transitioning from a place where everybody is curious and inquisitive, to back home where I will blend in and life never paused.
I’m probably overthinking per usual, but this is the reality for volunteers after living a lengthy period of time abroad. We go from being culture shocked, to finally adjusting to a new way of life, just to go back and be shocked again. Don’t get me wrong, this experience is one that I’d encourage anyone to try as crazy as it sounds, because it’s rocked my world in ways that have broadened my worldview and sparked a sense of creativity that I never knew existed. However, as I buckle up and prepare to roll into the next chapter, I still ask myself “will I be able to drive?”
Check out Day’s first thoughts on this question, Will I Be Able to Drive? Be sure to read some of her other works here.
I’m sure most RPCV have had similar fears and concerns returning home. I was in Thailand for 7 years (1974-81)— 4 Peace Corps and 3 US Refugee Program. I communicated with friends and family by mail— long before internet and cheap phone calls! It was awkward at first, especially to find out where you fit into the family dynamics again. And how you relate to your friends again. But you’re on the right track… getting to know new family and friends was a joy. (They has to get used to my casually dropping in Thai words into conversation!) but be patient with them and yourself. Take a keen interest in how others have moved on or changed. If you don’t, that’s where you loose each other.
And, yes, driving on the right again came back quickly. Living through cold winters, not so much!
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