Peace Corps year 2

home stretch, stretching for home

street scene from above

Riding a bus in Dakar, trying to absorb the brilliant blue post-storm sky, passing groups of men sitting the day away and rams tied to trees along the median, I felt how the city is still a whole, pulsating organism to me. It remains foreign and exotic—sensory overload in every glance. I worry that when I am finally, finally back in the U.S., I’ll wake up after the first night of sleep at my parents’ house and these past two years will only seem like a mefloquine dream—over-vivid and unsettling, but ultimately fading.

The ease with which I slipped back into the warm, sweet-scented bath of First World comforts does nothing to allay these fears. My group’s Close of Service conference last week was held at a hotel in downtown Dakar that had air-conditioning, CNN in English, wireless internet, and power outages that could be described as infrequent.

Sometime around when we called in an order for poolside ice cream delivery, I wondered: when I go back, shouldn’t I be one of those volunteers who has a breakdown in Wal-Mart or stands paralyzed in the cereal aisle, overwhelmed by the sheer acreage of consumer choices? If I accept that world as normal, aren’t I denying the lives I’ve been a part of for the past two years? It seems disloyal.

At the same time, I am done with being here. Just as every bad interaction can be redeemed by a good one (wowing pushy Dakar vendors with Pulaar), every good moment can be squashed, obliterated, and otherwise cancelled out by an awful one. My taxi driver Tuesday morning asked what office I was going to; when I explained what Peace Corps was and that I’d been living in Tamba (inconceivably remote and hot to Dakarois) for the past two years, he seemed genuinely amazed and pleased. He told me I was doing good work and wished me luck as I got out of the cab.

A few hours later, I and four other volunteers went to the gare (hectic and aggravating on the best of days) to get transport to Tamba. We found a sept-place to rent out, refused to pay baggage because we were paying for the entire car already, got in, and sat as the driver started navigating through rows of parked station wagons. Then he stopped. And got out. And he and his boss demanded that we pay an outrageous amount for our six small bags.

So we got out. And argued. They refused to relent. We refused to budge. They started pulling our bags out of the car and we demanded our money back. The backpacks were on the ground, the cash was in my hand, and a crowd had gathered to watch the white kids get screwed. It wasn’t the kind of cultural exchange Peace Corps promotes in the brochures.

In the end, we paid. We paid because we could, because we wanted to get the hell out of there, and because they knew we could and would pay to do so. We consoled ourselves with the fact that it was our last time to go through that ordeal, and as we drove away we indulged in a round of rather unkind sentiments.

Now I’m back in Tamba for less than a month before making one last trip to Dakar to COS. Peace Corps has bought my plane ticket; I have a touchdown time in Baton Rouge. Before then I have work to finish and reports to write and still that goodbye to say to the village, but I’m going home home home. I’ve been working on grad school essays and looking at Bay Area apartments. I can see a giant crack rushing along the ground towards me, and I know which way I’m jumping.

8 replies on “home stretch, stretching for home”

After finding your blog last year when a friend was considering the Peace Corps, I continued to read your updates and view the fabulous photos. It has been fascinating to have this peek into your journey. I have more than enjoyed your articulate, reflective, and humorous commentary.

Thank you for sharing — best of luck on returning and beyond.

39 days and counting. Soon I go camp out at the curb until it’s time to leave for the airport to pick you up. Love, Mama

I will miss your wonderful journal entries. I found your blog a little over a year ago when my son was leaving for his PCV stint in Benin. Both you and Gretchen put such a smile on my face with your insightful, well written pieces. I hope everything goes well with you when you return home. Oh, and just buy all the different brands of cereal when you feel that grocery store meltdown beginning to happen!

Thanks to everyone who has let me know they’re reading — it really has helped me maintain sanity over the past two years.

Best of luck with your service, Juliana — keep me updated.

Way to stick it out to get things done. It takes a lot of strengh in character to plod through politics, negative experiences and hardship and still find the positive. You’ve made a difference for many and now you are going home and can take all that you have learned to continue your work in a place with things like air conditioning, consistent electricity, and a limitless number of consumer choices. You are an inspiration.

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