August 16, 2020
I can’t tell you the amount of times I have sat down to write a blog post.
There are countless entries I have started.
Yet, everytime I proceed to post, something in me clutches.
So I don’t.
To be honest.
I didn’t want to come off in a sad or depressed or upsetting way; in an upsetting time with Covid.
I like to bring light to people.
I like to put a smile on people faces.
I like to be the Positive Paula.
I also like to mask the fact when I’m hurting.
Put on this smile and think to myself “Am I acting normal?” and proceed to fool you that I’m completely okay. That I have adjusted to America without a hitch.
“Oh my Gosh, You look and seem like you’re doing great!”
Doing this though, if all of you didn’t know already, is one of the most unhealthiest habits anyone can have.
Shoving down feelings and making myself numb.
The transition became a little too much for me though. I knew that I needed someone to vent to so I set up an appointment with a counselor (Peace Corps Insurance pays this for us because they know transitioning back to America can be difficult for many).
After talking with her, she helped me realize that I needed to share and post this part about coming home. That it too was part of my journey.
So here is me, being grossly vulnerable, sharing how the past four months have been.
I will start it off with….remember me coming home from the Appalachian Trail and being uber upset?
Imagine that, but x 100.
It was grief in every direction.
Grief because I left and missed my Ethiopian friends and family.
I was grieving over a culture learned and cherished.
I was grieving over a life lived.
I was grieving because I was now in America.
I was grieving because my plans to hike the Pacific Crest Trail were diminished.
I was grieving because covid had/has taken so much from all of us.
What is normal America like?
I don’t know.
It’s now been 3 years since I have experienced it.
It’s been a lot of…
It’s hard to come home after the Peace Corps, for anyone. But I find it excruciating to be coming home during a Pandemic. Especially one that requires you to stay 6 feet away .
The climate I left, so very intimate. The intimacy permeated the culture. We practically sat on top of each other, walked hand in hand, kissed to greet each other, to what is now the very opposite in America – now hardly any physical touch.
On top of that, no one, no one, is their best selves right now.
The first month was rough.
I would walk around and blink my eyes and shake my head.
The feeling surreal.
I’m not sure how else to describe it.
I felt like everywhere I was walking, I was in a dream state.
The places had familiarity, but something was different.
Then I realized
It was me.
I was what was different.
I looked around at everything with infant eyes. Most of what I was seeing was the same, maybe a few new buildings, but for the most part, it was the same. But I looked around with amazement because my “new normal” looked nothing like my old normal.
It is so spacious and big and clean here.
The familiarity of Ethiopia had all but vanished overnight.
Where was the dirt?
Where were the animals?
It’s not that I wasn’t happy to be home and reunited with my family. My brain just couldn’t process how different these worlds were. Nothing about them was the least bit similar.
It wasn’t that I wanted to think of Ethiopia all the time, but every little thing, made me think of it.
It’s not that I wanted to compare how different everything was.
But I couldn’t help it.
and I still can’t help it.
It’s a gut wrenching implosion when I see how privileged we are.
It’s even more alarming when I see so many ignorant to their many facets of wealth.
There was always a steady flow of tears.
At times it felt like I was suffocating.
We have as much clean water as we want, at our fingertips…what?
I watched as summer came and watched people watering their lawns. We have so much water we can even waste it on our grass….for no other reason than to make it look pretty….WHAT?!?!
I pondered on the idea that american homes are so big we can each have our own room and not converse with each other for most of the day.
My brows curled when I realized how much fake food we eat.
We take the easy way out.
Throw something from the freezer into the microwave and wala. Boom…
My stomach was causing me gigantic issues coming home. Bloated, cramps, unpleasantness.
Was it just getting over Ethiopian food or was it having issues processing processed food?
I couldn’t understand people’s complaints about staying home during the shut down.
We have superb wifi and cell service…in our homes…We have any toy imaginable; xbox, playstation, bikes, roller blades, books, computers, games. OMG how board games are there? (what?) We have parks, we have dvds and netflix, we have musical instruments, puzzles, we have any food we want at our grasp. We could pick up a new skill in no time.. AND you want to tell me you are bored? Go outside and play for Pete sake.
Or, how about you go live in Ethiopia where they have none of that?
Where kids would ask me for my trash cardboard boxes to try and make some kind of toy. Everytime I put my boxes in the recycling bin now, I think of how they would have loved this box,
“Oh this one is so sturdy, they would have gone crazy!”
I just couldn’t wrap my head around it.
It’s all been really…hard.
So much so that I found myself not sleeping for the first couple of months. I would lay in bed with a racing mind. With tears drifting from the corner of my eyes. Someone please shut my brain off.
I found myself meeting with people and becoming struck with hurt because some didn’t even ask me about Ethiopia.
It was as if “Oh good, you’re back, now I can fill you in on my life.” Drama stories have filled my ears to the brim.
We were told this before we left, that people weren’t going to care about our journey when we arrived home (I had hoped this wasn’t true, I was wrong.)
So I stopped talking about it.
I decided that I wasn’t going to bring it up anymore unless people asked.
I gave up. Shove it down, act okay.
I didn’t let anyone know how much pain I was really in because what was the point?
I started running again and found myself anxious to be running alone, always asking my siblings to join me.
I found myself anxious going to the grocery store for the first time. Trying to zoom in and zoom out. I didn’t want to process the anxiety that filled me thinking about all the abundance we have. All the choices and options we have. Options. Oh my God, we have so many options. I almost had a panic attack using the debit card machine at the checkout for the first time.
I found myself never wanting to do anything alone.
But I quickly realized that that is what most of us do here.
We do a lot of things….alone.
We are such an individualistic culture.
It broke and continues to break my heart.
Coming home was also hard because it required relying a lot on other people to help me get my life back together. I constantly was fearful of being a burden to people, not wanting to mess up their plans.
I had to buy a car and realized how stingy dealerships are.
Everyone out to get more money.
Everyone wants to be at the top.
I don’t care what it looks like, just give me a goddamn reliable car.
When George Floyd and the BLM movement started, I thought I was going to literally shut down.
I sat and wrote a post and then couldn’t get myself to share it.
I instead got off of social media and have been for a couple months now for no other reason than I couldn’t handle the mental warfare it seemed to cause.
My mental health needed a break from the constant sadness.
I couldn’t understand the discrimination happening against black people. I lived for two years exclusively with black individuals being the only white person and my community treated me with love.
I had hoped and prayed that one day my Ethiopian friends could come join me someday in America to never ever wishing that scenario would happen again.
I would never want them to experience this kind of hate.
This broke my heart some more.
The waves come, then they go and now I am just trying to learn how to not sink when the waves hit. Some days they come full force out of nowhere and I try to hold my tears back but I am learning to let them come. To let them leave me with a crying headache and once it goes away I know I will feel better.
I’ve built up courage to show my vulnerable side and ask for a hug when I need one.
God, we need to hug each other more, screw covid, wear a trash bag for all I care.
As always…I will try to leave this post a little bit more on the positive side.
I know this post seems depressing, but now, 5 months later, I really am doing better. A LOT better than a couple months ago.
I am currently sitting in the dining room of my new home that I share with my best friend Molly. Someone who has been my partner in crime for years and will continue to be until we are old ladies still owning the basketball courts.
I 100 percent don’t know what I would do without her and her friendship.
I have a new home and car and now new jobs as well.
I have been hired on to work full-time with Garmin and part-time with REI. So yes, I will be busy, but I have new goals in my mind now that are worth working towards. (More on those another time).
It was sad starting work again.
It felt like the final page of my Ethiopia book was finally closing, but I keep reminding myself of the things to come.
All the possibilities the future holds.
I have been able to talk to my Ethiopian friends and family members every so often. Sometimes when we talk the network cuts out after 2 minutes and sometimes it lets us talk for 30. Hit or miss, but every time it’s so special to hear their voices.
Life is going to keep moving at a ridiculous speed. So for now, I am doing my best to move on in a gentle way. Still keeping Ethiopia close to my heart, but looking forward and finding my place in America again.
And like my counselor said…to keep sharing about my story because “some people just don’t know how to ask or talk about a 3rd world country.” I’m doing my best to share more instead of waiting to be asked, instead of holding it all deep inside my chest.
And like always, I shall do my best as Dr. Seuss has directed:
“Don’t cry because it’s over, Smile because it happened.”
My blog will still remain, with fewer posts to come in the immediate future but as always….the adventures will come.
Isabella always has somethin brewing in mind. 🙂
Much love to all my readers; the ones I know of and the ones that I didn’t know existed.
I appreciate you, so much.