What is it like to go back to Jamaica after Peace Corps? Many have asked us this, and we are still trying to figure it out ourselves.
Let me start by saying that going between Jamaica and the U.S. feels like two separate worlds. Sometimes I forget how different these two countries are. Now that both of these worlds are very familiar to us, and we become completely immersed in a particular way of life when we enter each one, there is a strange phenomenon that happens. Within a day of arriving, the second world fades away as if it cannot co-exist with the world we are presently surrounded by.
Being back in Jamaica feels as though we’ve been transported back to a different life, like we just stepped through a time warp. Seven months has passed but we were never gone. Our return to the States is now like a distant dream, just as our two years living in Jamaica seemed like a dream when we went home.
You can’t prepare yourself for that kind of teleportation. You just have to go through the motions, get on a plane, and then let the new world wash over you until you have your “Jamaican self” back.
To be honest, I think we were both very anxious about returning to Jamaica. We would look at each other and think: What were we thinking booking these tickets at this point in time? Are we ready for this?
Living in Jamaica as a Peace Corps Volunteer comes with a certain level of stress, frustration, and heightened need to keep your guard up (for safety). So some of those tensions still lingered.
But there was also an anticipation that I find similar to the feeling of returning to your alma mater, where- although you have much nostalgia for the place- you don’t necessarily belong there anymore. Being Peace Corps Volunteers was such a dominant part of our identity when we lived in Jamaica, but we no longer own that title and in some ways, that left us feeling a little lost.
I’m happy to report that our anxiety was unfounded. We were warmly greeted everywhere we went, like old friends or even family. We didn’t feel out of place but more like we had just taken a long vacation. Some people clearly felt as if we had never left (and if you think about it, seven months would not have been too long of a stretch to go between seeing people on the island back when we were Volunteers).
In this first week back, we went on a bit of a road trip and tried to see various people around the island. We made a quick stop in St. Mary, touching base with our friends at the non-profit American-Caribbean Experience.
Then we traveled to Kingston and reconnected with a friend from USAID, past and present Peace Corps staff, and some of the current Volunteers who were passing through.
We proceeded to our former home in the parish of Westmoreland to stay with our host family. We enjoyed some delightful home-cooked dinners with our host parents and Jordan, the Volunteer who now lives with them. We returned to my school and Jedd’s community center, shared meals with our Japanese (JAICA) Volunteer friend and a neighbor lady who used to drive us to church, stopped by the market vendors we used to frequent, and helped our host family prepare for their annual Plant Sale event.
Finally, we participated in the Reggae Marathon race (though we only ran the 10k), which is one of my favorite events on island. A lot of Peace Corps Volunteers attend, so it was fun to reconnect with them. Following the race, we headed back to our host family’s yard and participated in their annual “Home Grown” event for the third year in a row!
Overall, this first week has been nice and relaxed, giving us the opportunity to focus on simply enjoying the company of those we came to visit. I was reminded how fortunate we are to have met these people, to know their stories, to laugh and reminisce with them once again.
Perhaps when we leave at the end of these three weeks, Jamaica will start to feel distant again. For now, it feels good to be back and I’m glad we came. (Just pray that we don’t catch the chikengunya virus!)