A Stranger in a Strange Land

This time last week I was in a plane flying from Boston, MA to Baltimore, MD. Two kind strangers lightened my five hour layover by listening to my slack-jawed stories in the airport bar and laughing with me at the surrounding absurdities. They bought me Yuengling, a cheeseburger and a reassured comfort in the kindness of America. Now I write from between the sheets of my queen-sized bed in suburbia.

It’s been a crazy week.

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My post on Ebola went viral, picked up by both WordPress Freshly Pressed and the Today Show. I’m grateful to play a hand in the dissemination of information and have been touched by the outpouring of kindness and support from fellow PCVs and RPCVs. Welcome to all new followers — I hope you enjoy your stay.

Unfortunately, not all in real life have been as interested in hearing about Guinea, Peace Corps, or my temporary removal. I haven’t met much ignorance on the streets; feigned interest dominates. It’s as if many are content to just accept the fact that I have reappeared without wondering where I went. Before we left Guinea, Peace Corps staff warned us that people might not exactly care about what volunteers have been up to. Sipping a gin and tonic at the bar surrounded by old friends felt less like a reunion of changed minds and more like stepping into a time machine and rewinding back. The same as it ever was. It was easier to sit quietly and watch the surroundings than to dip my toe in the social pool and attempt to answer the infamous question – “How was Africa?”

54 countries, y'all.

54 countries, y’all.

It’s very easy to paint this whole situation in a negative light. I don’t want to be back – not to a home that no longer feels like home. It’s scary and overwhelming and my heart aches to be in Guinea. I’m surrounded by those who love me but who do not understand my discomfort. Fantasies of air-conditioning and pad Thai had during a 5 hour bush-taxi ride are now replaced by deep desires for peanut sauce and rice shared with family. If I let my brain roam free, a panic begins to rise. I’m working to reign it back in and focus on the positive, search for the silver-linings, and make the best damn lemonade I can with all these red, white, and blue lemons.

My counterpart's daughter, Oumou, with some food for me.

My counterpart’s daughter, Oumou, with some rice and sauce for me.

In the days preceding our removal from Guinea, a fellow volunteer shared with me a short story he once was told about the changing and evolving nature of self during the Peace Corps. You leave America as an “A” and you are slowly changed into a “B” by living in your host-country. When you return back home after service, you find yourself a new complex mixture of the “A” and “B” you once were — a “C”. And, if you return back to your host-country, you find yourself not quite completely the “B” you once were, but changed again into a “D”.

So I’m a “C” and navigating through old waters is proving tougher than imagined. Yesterday I had a grilled cheese sandwich from a local restaurant and cried at how good it tasted. Today I drove past my old high school and cried at how incomparable it is with the local high school in Koba.

The August heat of the mid-Atlantic reminds me of Guinea. It poured the entire ride as my mom drove me home from the airport – it felt like Guinea was with me, reminding me that it would be okay as my mind churned and tried to process the clean, paved roads of I-95. America has so little trash littering the streets, yet we produce far more trash than Guinea ever could. Where does it all go? The process of waste disposal in this country seems more magical to me than ever before.

I spoke to an airport worker in France in Susu. He was from Cote d’Ivoire but we both knew enough Susu to have a conversation about the day, the travels, work, and our families. He was a much-needed pick-me-up; a reminder that these two worlds don’t have to be separate and one flight home isn’t the end of an 8 month journey through culture, language, and life.

It’s only been one week and there are many more to come.

This is a layover – only we’re not sure just how delayed the flight will be and, fortunately, we can leave the airport. Like all layovers, how the time passes is up to us. We can plug in our earphones and tune out the world, recede into bedrooms and pass the day with Netflix. Or we can take a deep breath and strike up a conversation with the strangers to our right and left and share our stories.

There are so many interesting people to meet and interesting things to do. I can’t shut them out just because I’m sad and overwhelmed. Now, more than ever, I must remember positivity and to stay grounded.

The toes and artwork of one of my inspiring friends and fellow PCV, Amanda.

The toes and artwork of one of my inspiring friends and fellow PCV, Amanda.

In the weeks to come, expect to see posts detailing life on Guinea as well as readjustment back to the United States. Thank you for your time and support.

Best,

Sara

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12 thoughts on “A Stranger in a Strange Land

  1. thank you for what you have done so far .. you have a heart so huge. people like you are a gravitational force. We have to be drawn to you.. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi, I am a South African living in the USA for 20 years now…I fully understand your feelings….Africa gets under your skin….there are no words to describe it…..”Home” to me is here in the USA and also in South Africa..my heart is torn in two…..there is something about the air, sun, smell and the sunrises and sunsets that make your heart sing….enjoy your time back here and appreciate home and your loved ones….I am sure you will be back there doing your outstanding work….thanks for sharing…

  3. sara, what you’re feeling is normal for the situation. From what the peace corps told the parents,when you feel like this the best thing to do is talk to other returned peace corps volunteers. I know Ben said he’d like to connect with you and i’m sure that all of your other peace corps friends are experiencing the same confusion. It’s so hard to become repatriated, especially when you were pulled out of your country way before anyone expected it. Its hard for anyone to understand exactly how bad this is unless they’re going through it , or have gone through it themselves. You can try to put it into words, but we can never fully understand like another PCV would. Hang in there, and go hang out with other PCVs. Sandy

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  4. Reading your blog now, will “vote” to get you to DC. Having been in and out of Guinea since 1988, and lived/worked in both Guinea and Liberia for years until one year ago, I very much enjoy your writing, and would love to have your over for rice and sauce! Guinean community here (in DC) counts around 3,000. RPCV Paraguay, Guinean husband. And yes, the emotional side of being pulled away and an ocean away…
    Rebecca (aka Mariam Kenneh)

  5. I’m a newbie to blogging and have enjoyed following you and your experiences! I lived in Nigeria for 2+ years and can also relate to that feeling over being overwhelmed upon returning to the U.S. It’s like another planet…kind regards!

  6. I was lead to your blog by The Today Show post sharing your information. I have been wanting to remember to check back in to see how your journey home was.

    I have never been out of the US, but I have a deep curiosity about the rest of the World. I’m glad I found your blog and have gotten to read some of your story and the story of your time in Guinea. I’m more knowledgeable because of it. So, thank you! If I were sitting next to you at a bar, I would want to know ALL ABOUT IT. So keep on keeping on. What you have done and what you will continue to do matters!

  7. I’m one of the PCV’s from Liberia. Thank you for the posts about evacuation and being home. Its like you’re speaking my thoughts out loud. This is a beautiful blog!

  8. All of life is full of A-s, B-s, C-s and D-s. You may be one “letter” for a time but life itself is a continuous transition. Please know that there are special people in your life that care about and support you.

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