I couldn’t bear to write this post. I’ve had editions and renditions, notes and reminders on my computer, phone and planner for months to do this. But it breaks my heart. This is a final nail in the coffin of my Peace Corps experience.
Months ago, I began this post writing this:
This blogpost has been a long time coming. I kept on putting it off because I felt like writing this means that my experience is truly over. I’m not going back. I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, officially.
A lot has happened since my last update. I was able to leave Yaounde and go back to post to say goodbye and pack up, which is unusual. I am so grateful that I had that chance. My sister, Kelley, just happened to have a visit scheduled for this time. So that was absolutely perfect. I left Yaounde just in time to meet her plane in Maroua. She got off the plane and man, was that a sight for sore eyes. I mean, we had debated whether or not she was even going to come because of everything being up in the air, but I really felt like I wanted her, needed her even, to come. I needed a witness. I needed someone back home that I could reminisce with or just someone to understand where I was coming from if I did something strange.
So she came. In her bags, she carried delicious American treats, hugs, and instructions from my parents as to how to get me home as safely as possible (which, mom and dad, she followed almost to a T). Since my spleen was enlarged, I had to be a bit careful. I couldn’t ride motos (pretty much the only form of transportation in the north), I couldn’t play sports or get hit in the left side; stuff like that. But it wasn’t that big of a deal. We worked around it.
Kelley arrived and we immediately went to village. I probably should have let us stay in Maroua for a day or two to make the culture shock a little less, but I wanted to get back in time for my last women’s meeting. Kelley was a pro though, she handled the four hour bumpy, hot, dry, dusty car ride like a pro; barely complaining at all.
We got to my house and, of course, there was no electricity, but there were the puppies (!) greeting us with yelps of fear at the door. Apparently the neighborhood kids have been less than kind to them, or maybe they just hadn’t seen anyone since I left a few weeks before. They were still breastfeeding so its possible my neighbors didn’t even come in to check on them. They were so big and cute! Kelley instantly took a liking to them and was sorely disappointed when they didn’t come up kissing and playing like most puppies.
We made ourselves a little dinner and sat down to enjoy the amazing mountain stars. I was so worried that Kelley wouldn’t like my post, or wouldn’t feel comfortable, but I think she had a great time.
The next morning, we woke up early to explore a little and go to my women’s meeting. We had beans and beignets with Asta and then went down to the market. Kelley was completely disgusted by the meat market where they were chopping a full grown cow up right in front of us. We got some entrails for Nous-Nous (mama dog) for her dinner and some fruit for us before heading back to the meeting.
Not many women showed up but the ones who were there were some of my favorite. I hadn’t told anyone I was leaving yet, so I took this meeting to tell them and went over the logistics of how I was being replaced (I’ll go more into that later). The reaction I got surprised. Women started crying and walking out. I felt like it was a funeral! I had no idea I had such an impact on these women. I was amazed and flattered, which at the same time horrified that I was leaving them in this manner. Women rocked and cried and prayed for me. They laughed and joked with us too, but most of the time they were just somber.
Now, months later, I’m sure I can finish that beautiful blow by blow of my last fews days in Cameroon. Suffice it to say it was heart-wrenching and beautiful. It was an amazing time that I will never forget.
One of my last few nights there, Kelley and I escaped the endless bouts of exit interviews and paperwork and went to Limbe with some friends. We ate, drank and lounged as if my life wasn’t changing days from then. Friends from around the country came, shared a meal with us, and said goodbye. It was glorious. One of the nights, we had a bonfire on a cliff overlooking the black sand beaches. It was late at night, the stars were out, our spirits were high. So of course, what else could one do, but go for a midnight skinny dip. As we ran into the water, it started lighting up beneath us. There was phytoplankton in the water. I’d never seen anything like it. We splashed and bounced around, making the water around us turn an eerie green. It was nature’s way of giving me a goodbye gift, a beautiful experience I will never forget.
My whole time in Cameroon is unforgettable. It has changed me in ways I didn’t anticipate and didn’t even see until I got back, both in good and bad ways. Looking back, I would do it all over again, and again, and again.
Since leaving, so much has happened. On the Cameroon front, recently only bad news has reached my ears. As soon as three weeks after I departed, and found a wonderful volunteer to take my place, a French family vacationing in the Extreme North was kidnapped by the Boko Haram, a Muslim insurgency group based out of Nigeria. They were protesting France’s participation in the Mali uprising and response. My post, which was a border-town, was shut down immediately, followed very closely by many nearby posts. The entire region went into consolidation while they decided what to do and what was safest for the volunteers.
Last week, they officially closed the Extreme North. The volunteers are all being shuttled to other regions and posts or going home early with “Interrupted Service” Status. My heart is broken. Terrorism has robbed people, both local and volunteers, of sorely needed experiences. Aid and help is being denied to the region that arguably needs it the most. My friends in Mogode, as they would say it, are being abandoned by our organization. “Tu m’abondone?”
Back here, stateside, I’m still adjusting. I still get overwhelmed in restaurants and grocery stores where choice and waste are overpowering. I’ve moved to DC and live with my older sister and am in the process of reconnecting with nearby family. I’m adjusting to life, sometimes with gusto, and sometimes with fear. But slowly, life goes on. I’ve filed my taxes, had my identity stolen, joined a gym and had some dates. I have a chinchilla. And a job. And a home. And running water and electricity all the time!
The other day, when our dryer was broken, I caught myself getting worked up about it. I stopped and had to remind myself that just a short time ago, I was spending all my Sundays washing my clothes by hand. How dare I be upset about having to hang my clothes up to dry for a few days! I find my brain is constantly riddled with the phrase “#firstworldproblem”. I try not to say it aloud though J
Health wise, all is looking well. I spent my first few weeks back in a health center in San Diego. I haven’t felt ill since. My bloodwork looks normal and my spleen is reducing in size. Without getting too graphic, let me just say all is well.
My next steps? A better job. An opportunity to travel and help the world. And medical school. My sights are still set on changing the world, one uterus at a time.
So I end my Cameroonian adventures on this blog, but I pray they’re not my last. My hopes and dreams point to journeys and explorations of my mind, languages, and this beautiful, hopeful world.
I apologize from the bottom of my heart to my faithful readers whom I have abandoned with a cliff hanger. I hope that you will one day forgive me and choose to travel with me as I explore and grow.
With love, a heavy heart, and a hopeful view, I thank you again for your support and close this chapter of my life.