Everyone who asks me how my readjustment to the U.S. is going does so with just a hint of morbid expectation, as though they’re looking for signs of an impending meltdown—or at the very least some involuntary twitching. However, after a week of re-immersion in the warm, soapy bath of American culture, I’m here to report that I’m finding it all pretty freakin’ great.
I’m in what the Peace Corps literature on re-integration describes as the “honeymoon period,” where the elaborate American systems designed to quickly and painlessly part me from my money still seem new and thrilling. Eighty kinds of shampoo? I’ll take ’em! Four-dollar coffee in twenty flavors? Put it on the Visa!
What have I noticed so far? When I first arrived at the JFK airport and was hauling my baggage between terminals, I was distracted by the airport employees’ idle banter. I don’t think that what they were saying was especially loud or obnoxious, but it demanded my attention because it was in English. I had become so used to tuning out 90% of what was going on around me because it was in languages I didn’t understand that it was startling to find myself involuntarily paying attention to overheard conversations.
Everything’s so clean and functional! I’ve been driving around Baton Rouge in near-orgasmic bliss, following smoothly paved, clearly marked roads from one air-conditioned destination to another, depositing money along the way. I feel so grateful to every store employee who’s polite to me. I’m going to have to get back in the habit of remembering what mall entrance I used or where I parked my car.
Last Tuesday, my first full day back, I called the village. After only a few false starts, I was speaking to Kanni, Deya, and the rest of the family. They asked me if I was in Dakar and were surprised when I said I was already back in Amerik. They even put Aadama on the line—I could hear Kanni and Maymuna coaching her through a series of mumbled “jam tan”s. Speaking to them just like I would have if I was calling from Tamba was reassuring—a reminder that that world really does still exist, that it wasn’t just a hallucination.
I don’t quite believe that I was really gone for two years—it sounds like an impossibly long time considering how familiar everything here feels. (It often felt like an impossibly long time, too.) The village is never very far from my thoughts; I entertain myself by imagining my village moms wherever I am at the moment—walking into a grocery store or driving through suburbs. It would all be so amazing to them. There’s something in that reaction that I’m trying to hold on to—some element of awe that will remind me that this is an incredibly wondrous, privileged lifestyle that we live here.
I drove to a Baton Rouge coffeehouse last week to attempt to work on the grad school essays I’d been avoiding for months, and, wouldn’t you know, the paintings on the walls, by a local artist, were bucolic scenes of livestock frolicking under bright blue skies. There were chickens, cows, goats—even a donkey. While I’m sad that I probably won’t be seeing any more Donkeys of the Month, I’ve found a way to get my daily donkey fix: Behold! The DonkeyCam!