Today, with the brief flourish of a pen, I became an RPCV. Granted, before that there were also mountains of paperwork, rivers of blood tests, and three poop samples—but the final moment was, as most endings are, anticlimactic. No brass band, no ticker tape parade, just a little boogie in the hallway and the dawning realization that I had just been dumped into the rest of my life.
The “R” in RPCV stands for “Returned”—which of course I won’t technically be until Monday. I’ve been asked how easily I expect to make the transition back to the U.S.; I’m not sure. I’m lucky to have a full schedule for the next few months—Baton Rouge, Suzanne’s wedding in North Carolina, a mini-reunion in Austin, submitting my Berkeley application, and moving to the Bay and finding a job (anyone need a roommate? anyone want to hire me to… do… stuff?)—so at the moment at least I’m expecting it to be a happy reunion of motherland and prodigal daughter. Most volunteers travel around a bit after their service, but at this point I’d be ready to go straight home even if I didn’t need to get back for the wedding. As I explained to the hat-seller who accosted me at the bus stop today and spent ten minutes trying to talk me out of money, my home address, and/or a visa to the U.S.: I’m tired.
There are some things I will miss:
- Being able to solve most household maintenance problems with rope, a nail bent into a S-hook, and/or a bucket.
- Donkeys braying, especially when one sets off all the others within earshot.
- Thunderstorms and clouds. (A wall of wind and dust rolling in at sunset, lightning on the horizon.)
- The illusion that I’m doing something noble.
- Dance parties and long conversations with fellow PCVs.
- Care packages and hand-written letters.
- Cheap and plentiful mangos and papayas.
- Cold bissap from a plastic baggie.
- Having the time to read all the books and authors I never would have gotten around to otherwise.
- Sleeping on the Tamba house roof and waking up to the sunrise.
- Stunning people by speaking their language.
- Talking about people right in front of them because they don’t speak my language.
- Being able to make children cry just by looking at them.
- Bandi Bah.
- My village family.
Some things I can take or leave:
- Crapping in a hole.
- Making friends by insulting someone’s last name and calling them a bean-eater or a thief.
- Eating any number of things that I’ve picked up off the ground.
- Not understanding 90% of the conversations around me.
- Calling a day a success if I accomplish one thing.
- Being on a first-name basis with all of my friends’ bodily functions.
And some things I’m ready to be done with:
- Strangers shouting “toubab” at me.
- That traveling anywhere in a vehicle is flirting with death and dismemberment.
- Bugs constantly invading my personal space (mosquitos, flies, earwigs, giant demon spiders).
- Being treated like a truant teenager by parts of an organization that I devoted two years of my life to.
- Having to bargain for the simplest of purchases—and suspecting that I’m getting ripped off just for being white.
- Non-ironic conversations about celebrity gossip.
- That the vast, overwhelming, and otherwise depressingly huge majority of romantic advances here are unwanted, if not outright offensive.
- That all of my public actions attract an audience, which is usually happy to provide unsolicited commentary and/or statements of the obvious.
- Village food. (With the notable exception of nankatan. And maybe leaf sauce. Oh, and fish balls.)
- Having to accept that women are second-class citizens here.
- Guilt and boredom and guilt over my boredom and frustration over my guilt and my boredom, ad infinitum.
Tomorrow I go to Thiès for the new stage’s site announcements, where I’ll meet my replacement. I’m excited to have a chance to talk with him/her before I leave.