We interrupt this regularly scheduled broadcast of food, running, and San Francisco adventure to spend some time reflecting. These two weeks hold a number of meaningful occasions for me, and since my passion is first and foremost to write, these posts may a little bit different than the normal fare. But if you choose to read them, I hope you enjoy.
Today marks a pretty momentous day for me. It’s officially been six months since I got back to America after 27 months abroad. At this point, I’m officially supposed to be adjusted… right?
This blog started in Africa and Africa is an inextricable part of both me and P&P. Being so far away, a “Stranger in a Strange Land,” as it worse, changed me forever and was a big part of me starting this blog—a last-ditch effort in re-establishing connection with the “outside world” that I so often felt had forgotten me. I’ve been back now for half a year, six whole months, and life has changed drastically.
I’m living the life I dreamed about when I was in Africa. Not that the life I’m living is a dream or ideal life, but it has everything I missed so much when I was there. Friends. A social life. Things to do. Good food to eat. Things to buy. Cute clothes. Eligible men. Places I can go by myself at night. Personal space. Language I understand. Etc. We always what we can’t have, as so often in the last months I’ve found myself longing for the simplicity of Africa, the dirt and the sand and the sea and the sky, each stretching onward in a remarkable sense of infinity. Where life was simpler and worrying about what to cook for dinner was enough.
My life has changed a lot in between then and now, and I’ve been spending a lot of time, mostly subconsciously, thinking about what I sometimes internally refer to as The Great Divide. Africa. America. Two different lives. But not two different people. Rationalizing that has been hard. A few examples:
Africa: Too. Much. TIME.
Okay, I saw this one coming for sure. But it’s no less of a shock. In Africa, some nights I’d come home to my hut, made dinner, ate, watched a TV show on my laptop, and changed into jammies… all before 7:15. What now? Reading, journaling, more reading… sleeping… there were nights I went to bed at 7:45 because I just simply had nothing to do. Here, my to-do list grows every single day. Finding time for just the crucial things I find important—God, important relationships, cooking, blogging, working out—feels darn near impossible.
Africa: a cell phone with one-color screen that got reception half of the time.
America: an iPhone that rules my life and voicemails that terrify me.
This is probably the weirdest one: I came back from Africa intensely upset by voicemail. I recognize this is irrational. After years of not having reception quite often, much less voicemail, I grew used to the fact that communication happened on occasion, almost by accident. The idea that someone can leave me a message whenever they wanted and socially I HAD to respond to it freaked me out. I just didn’t listen to them. At one point I had 12. The breaking point was when a friend was in SF for a weekend—that I hadn’t seen in months—and she called me and told me. I thought I missed the message, but then I realized that like all the other ones, I just hadn’t listened to it. I can’t say I am perfect, but I listen to them more now. This speaks to something bigger, a bit of discomfort with the way that here we’re so connected, but in artificial ways.
Africa: No money and nothing to spend on.
America: no money and too much to spend it on.
In Africa I made $5 a day. In America I make over twenty times that and I worry about money about a million times more. Bills, monthly rent which is equivalent to more than five month’s salary in Africa, utilities, and all the good stuff… restaurants, $11 margaritas, fun distractions… too much to do, and too little money, in one of the most expensive cities ever. It was so much easier to just not have any money and to not care because I spent like $30 a week. Man.
Africa: not enough personal space!
America: too much personal space!
Let me explain this one. In Africa, one of the hardest things about life there was people never leaving you alone. Anywhere I went, people wanted to talk, or at least talk about me in front of me. No one ever let me listen to my iPod in peace. No one let me walk down the sidewalk in peace. I longed, literally LONGED with all my heart to blend in and simply not be bothered. Some people grew to love kids calling them “mulungo!” (white person), yelling at you whenever you walked by. I didn’t. I got used to it, but I never liked it. I simply wanted to blend in. but in America, I miss that. We keep to ourselves too much. Yesterday I asked someone what bus had just passed and they looked at me like I was a crazy person. So many places in the world, you can make friends on the street or on the bus and no one thinks you’re a creeper. Here, people are content to live in self-isolation, and I never thought I’d say this, but, I miss that about Africa.
I think this has been the hardest part of coming back. In Africa, I was free. Sure, I had a job and some responsibilities, but not that many. I had a lot of flexibility. I could take off for a long weekend, hitchhike 800 kilometers, spend a day on a beach somewhere with a cold soda for 25 cents, and not really have anything to care about. I didn’t have a to-do list coming home with me at the end of the day. I could travel to Swaziland, to the World Cup in South Africa, to Thailand. I went to eight countries last year, maybe 9? I don’t remember. I felt like I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. There were no limits.
Here I don’t feel that way anymore, that sense of endless and limitless possibility. I look at my near future and instead of seeing world travel and adventure, I see a job and bills. That’s all I see anytime soon. I know that’s not fair—that this is real life and that real life demands certain sacrifices and the obtaining of a certain sense of balance—but I’ve been so far on the other end of the spectrum that real life feels like handcuffs. The idea of not leaving the country in 2011 (when I circumnavigated the globe in 2010!) feels too much to bear. I feel like some youthful irresponsibility has been forever lost. And my heart starts pounding when I wonder if I’ll ever get it back, or if this is really it. A former Volunteer told me “it all fades to a rosy hue…” and it does. I look back on Africa now longingly, missing the parts of life I’ll never get here, and forgetting all the times I wished I was anywhere else. That’s how life goes. It’s so hard to be content in the present.
If there’s anything this self-indulgent post makes me realize, it’s that I’m still adjusting. I’m six months back, and life simply won’t be the same, no matter how hard I try. The only thing I can do is to accept the differences and find ways to explore the joys of Africa in San Francisco, to mix the best of both worlds, to find that balance between my two lives. To find the moments where I feel free and unharnessed, that the world is wide open in front of me, and hang onto those moments. To approach my life with that same sense of wonder that I once approached the unknown. That will prove to be my key to happiness. That will be my ticket to finally once again feeling like I’m home.
If you’d like to read any of my posts about Africa, please check out my Peace Corps/Moz tab.
Have a good night everyone!