February 10th, 2020
Let me preface all of this blabbering and say, I am very excited to return home and be with my loved ones again. On multiple occasions I would sit and daydream of seeing them, and a piercing pain would stab my heart. It made me catch my breath, as if I was having heart palpitations, and tears would weld up in the corners of my eyes. Literally, it happened in the snap of a finger. It was almost as if the “Missing Them” was soul deep. My inner being is yearning for those familiar faces, for those familiar hugs…for that familiar love. I am not sure many people truly know this feeling…unless, of course, you have been far away from your family for two years. Then, well…you might totally get it. It truly is an indescribable, raw, deep impression.
So to be reunited is without any question. I truly don’t want to wait another minute.
There are other aspects of returning to America that I am nervous about. It’s been two years since I have stepped foot in a first world country. I haven’t forgotten what American land is like….but I kinda, sorta have. Everything I do and see here in Ethiopia feels normal now. Slowly, over time, it has just become my new world, my new normal. Cooking by candle light and flashlights? Normal. Going boom boom in a little grass hut and hole in the ground? Normal. Walking through market outside to buy food? Normal. Having everyone stare at me while I do as such? Normal. Yelling at each other through the walls of our house? Normal. Riding a bus to get anywhere? Normal. Hanging my clothes outside to dry? Normal. Eating with my hands? Normal.
But now, once again, my new normal is going to be shifted and I am going to have to relearn a culture.
Which brings me to reason number one for being nervous:
Tokkoffaa (First): No longer understanding American Culture.
Most people I talk to will probably not have been to Africa or a third world country. This is fine, to each their own! I am not saying this is a bad thing. My wish for when I come home is that my understanding of America will be the same, but I don’t know if I can do that. I can’t erase the things I have seen, I can’t erase the life I have been living, I can’t erase this experience. I have witnessed how hard life is and how much effort people have to put into life here to get things done. I have lived in a town with some of the poorest of the poor. Where people ask for one birr, which is .3 of a dollar. Pause and think about that….. .3 of a US dollar. My eyes have been shaken wide open at how simplistic American life is. Press that button and everything is done for us. I think I might cry (in happiness and sadness) when I wash my clothes for the first time in a washing machine. Like, what??
Life here is almost incomparable, it’s that different. My living here is nothing like it was in the states. In the states I worked a lot, usually having two jobs and occasionally three. I felt like I was rushing around a lot and always working against the clock. Having very little time for people.
But here… I have been able to slow down. I have been able to spend more time with family, more time at home doing different hobbies, more time on simple household chores that make you feel accomplished, more time to let my mind wander, more time to enjoy coffee, more time to sit with friends, more time to read books… I could go on and on. I could slow down because work doesn’t last the entire day and constant mind stimulation of electronics is to a minimum. My network is hit or miss, there are few TVs, my laptop battery doesn’t last too long without electricity, so all the extra stimulation of phones, gadgets, computers, TVs, all of it has ceased to be or has become very minimal.
Will I come back to America and the mind stimulation be off the wall? TVs, WiFi everywhere, electricity everywhere, phones everywhere, will there be a constant buzz and rush that will throw me off guard? I recently visited with an American here and she told me how AirPods are all the rad…how everyone walks around with them in. Then, after chatting with me for a couple hours, she told me “It’s going to be so different for you when you come home.”
How do I not be nervous about this?
Lamaffaa (Second): Scared people won’t understand me.
To be honest, I have no idea how I will feel and act when I am in America. I don’t know if the same things will fill me with enjoyment that did before. I don’t know if the same people will be people I want to be around anymore. I don’t know how I am going to react. I know I will make the most of it and try my best to remain positive, but I also refuse to go back to how I was. My mind has been expanded in so many different ways; going back to my old self is something I don’t even want to entertain. Because of this..I’m terrified people won’t understand me.
One, because I might speak another language at them. 😜 Two, because as many of my qualities I am sure have remained, I am sure plenty have also changed. I am worried that people won’t take the time to understand me again, that people won’t want to ask about my experience, that they will say “Did you have a good trip in Africa?” and I will say “Yes,” and they will go on about something else more present.
I know this is going to happen because it did after the Appalachian trail, and it felt like a sucker punch to the heart. I felt like people didn’t care about what I had experienced. Which is fine, not everyone cares. A quote I always write about that my basketball coach said to me in High School has stuck with me ever since… “Not everyone is going to work as hard as you, Izzy, and not everyone is going to care as much as you.” I constantly repeat this to myself so I get it and I understand this. That’s okay, its just something that I am fearful to experience again.
Sadaffaa (Third): Individualistic Culture vs Communal Culture.
I am terrified that our individualistic culture will get the best of me. I have been in a communal culture for two years. Family means everything, we do everything together. Even if some of us get in a fight, we all still show up to coffee. If you are going somewhere, you ask someone in the family to go with you. We do so many things together. I was the crazy one who was sleeping in my house by myself. All of this… has grown on me. My want for alone time has drastically decreased and I now love the feeling that people are near.
Where will my morning and night coffee sessions with the whole family be? Who is going to go with me to the store? Whose going to continuously come to my house to sit and chat with me? Who is going to greet me along my walks? Where are those little kids shouting “Izzy!” on my way to school going to be at? Where will all those smiling faces greeting me day in and day out be?
But it hasn’t only been the Ethiopians that I have found community with, it has been the other volunteers as well that have constantly supported and frequently met up with me. Community is here in every aspect of my life.
I now feel like I understand even more the difficulty I had when I came back from the Appalachian trail…I lost that sense of community. On the trail, us hikers stuck together and we helped each other out. We talked to each other during meals and hiking and got to know one another. Constantly surrounded by friends and support, day in and day out, truly does bring happiness. Even if you get sick of each other for the day. When I finished the trail and flew home, I was thrown into this chaos where everyone has their own jobs and houses, we have to make time to meet friends for a quick hour and then rush rush rush rush, be on cell phone, be on laptop, people aren’t real, lets not make conversation. rush rush rush on and on and on.
Am I going to feel so alone when I am home?
Afraffa (Fourth): How do I say bye to my family here.
This one, may be my biggest fear of all..
I am scared to leave this compound family because I know and they know, who knows when I can come back? Who knows when I can come back?… that phrase leaves such a sinking feeling in my heart. People that I have lived very closely with. People that have helped me, cared for me, loved me for two whole years. And now I am just supposed to pack my bags and leave and never return?
I can’t do that. I literally cannot do that.
I love meeting people..I love connecting with people and when I do make that connection, I fall in love with them and care very deeply for them. I have fallen in love with these people and now I am going to have to say goodbye. Which seems a lot harder than saying bye to my family two years ago strictly because who knows how frequently I can talk to them? Network is iffy, cell phones are iffy, no one has a mail box. Simply put… how do I keep my connections like I want to if all of these fail? It’s not like they can go into Jimma and get WiFi, like I could to talk to my family back home. Keeping a connection is going to be that much harder than it was with my family, and that..is incredibly terrifying. I don’t want to ever have to say goodbye.
How do I say goodbye?
My anxious thoughts about this circle in my head on repeat as my time comes to a close.
In the end, I know this was a lot of what ifs and a lot of anxious thoughts, but I figured I would put them out there regardless. Who knows, maybe I will love being back in America and the simplicity of life and things will fall smoothly into place. I am trying my best to come in with an open mind and an open heart. I was told a while ago to be as excited and motivated to learn the culture when I return to America as I was when I came to Ethiopia, so that is what I shall do.
America, I hope you are ready for me. 🤗