As digital nomads, our concept of home is constantly evolving. As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, it’s hard for us to answer where “home” exactly is. It seemed only fitting, then, that as we returned to Jamaica, our friends here said “Welcome home” to us, additionally adding: “Will Jamaica be home?” We made sure to answer them directly. “No. But we do love Jamaica.” Continue reading “Homes for the Holidays – Part 1: Jamaica”
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. Continue reading “Life After Peace Corps: Returning to Post As RPCVs”
“You look good.”
“Wow. You’ve lost a lot of weight.”
“You look stronger.”
“You lost some weight around here.” (a friend says as she points to the sides of my stomach)
These are the comments I’ve been getting from people who haven’t seen me for two years while we were in the Peace Corps. Apparently, I look different now since we’ve returned, which begs the question:
What did I look like before?
In all seriousness, the comments have been nice and flattering. I am probably in the best shape of my life, at least since my high school days. I actually probably weigh around the same as I did in high school as well. But the most important thing is how I feel today.
I feel healthy.
Like many, college was the start of my decline Continue reading “Intentionally Healthy”
Our Epic Road Trip of 2014 is over. For one month we traveled from Portland to Seattle; to Canada’s Vancouver B.C.; Kelowna B.C., Banff (in Alberta); back to the states to Glacier, Montana; Salt Lake City; Fort Collins; Boulder; Denver; Boise; and back to Portland. About 5,500 miles in all.
It’s hard to believe that we’ve been back in the United States for a little over a month now. First, we went on a road trip from Orlando to Chicago to reconnect with family and friends. Then we went to Oregon to see more family. Finally, for the last two weeks Michelle and I had a chance to spend some quality time with our own families, Michelle in Oregon, and me in Hawaii.
Being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (the official term – RPCV) everyone seems to be asking 3 major things:
1. What was it like? How was your experience? – We’ve talked about the difficulty of this before for any volunteer to sum up their 2-year lives as volunteers and how we’ll probably be reflecting about our experience for months to come.
2. What’s next? – We’ve sort of mentioned things here and there but we are working on a post to better explain what we’ll be up to this coming year. As we said in Jamaica, “soon come.”
3. How has it been to be home? – This is the focus of today’s post: Home.
Home….Not Yet Home
As travelers, I’ve come to understand that “home” is different for everyone, especially for us wanderers. I grew up in Hawaii. That’s home. I felt a deep connection to Portland. That’s also home. Jamaica has a special place in my heart and life. There’s a part of me that calls that home now, too.
Here are my favorite recent questions we’ve been getting that I struggle to answer:
Where are you from?
Umm…where did I grow up? Where did I just come from? What country?
Where are you living now?
Well…right now I’m visiting family in Hawaii, so I guess there??
Ok, then, where will you be living?
Good question. We will be traveling for awhile so…yeah.
How’s home been since you’ve been back?
When I landed in Hawaii 2 weeks ago I thought I would feel as if I returned home. For anyone that has been to Honolulu, once you land, you actually go outside right away as you walk to baggage claim. It’s another small thing I love about returning “home.” The warmth, humidity, and trade winds gently remind you that you’ve arrived. Yet as I walked through the airport, I didn’t feel home. The local people that I grew up with seemed different to me. I started wondering: will people know I was born and raised here? Will they see me as a tourist? I didn’t feel that I fit in.
What’s crazy is how things change and don’t change in two years. Honolulu has more new condos and big buildings. They started building a rail system. Yet Diamond Head, the mountains, and valleys are still there and still beautiful. I love surfing. I love the local Hawaiian food. And most of all, it’s been great to see family and friends. It’s been great to see so many people I haven’t seen in years that have changed and in many ways, haven’t changed at all, too.
But I didn’t go home to the house I grew up in. My family moved while I was away. I thought I would be sad about it but being with my family, I’ve realized wherever they are is where home is. I’ve forgotten about the old house.
And really that’s it. Home is not a place. Home is not a physical structure. Home is a familial structure. Home is a feeling. Home is being surrounded by the people you love that also love you. That’s why I can be home with just Michelle, or in Portland, Hawaii, and even now, Jamaica.
So yeah, it’s been great to be home.
“Where is home again?”
Wherever I’m with my family and friends….I’m home.
Here are some things I’ve been up to since being back in Honolulu (including some random part-time jobs).
Helping setup AV equipment:
Helping setup a wedding:
The latest “Jumping Jedd Photo” – Surfing out by Diamond Head
For the last two weeks, Michelle and I have been on a “Welcome Back”/”Reintegrate to American Culture” tour. Leaving Jamaica after our 2-year Peace Corps service, we headed to Florida to visit family, drove to Atlanta, Nashville, and Birmingham to visit friends, and concluded our trip driving to Memphis and Chicago to see more family. For a more detailed look at each stop (including pics), check out our travel blog – http://intentionaltravelers.com
As we prepared for our transition back to the states, PC staff and friends had told us there would be a time of readjustment. It might be difficult, strange even.
I laughed. How hard could it be?
It turns out, the one thing that really bothers me about readjustment hasn’t been about whether or not I fit back in being American. What bothers me is how EASILY it has been to go back to living life the way I had before…as if two years of a different life didn’t even happen. It feels as if our time as PC Volunteers in Jamaica was so long ago.
It’s only been two weeks.
Here are some observations we’ve made on our road trip since we’ve been back:
Life Moves Quickly in America (and usually in a car)
You know you were in Peace Corps when you can stare and marvel at sidewalks. We hardly had them in Jamaica. Some towns and major cities had them, but most of Jamaica does not have sidewalks. Yet a majority of the people walk. A majority of the people do not own cars. The towns and cities are not designed for cars.
On our road trip I loved looking at the layout of neighborhoods, towns, and cities. I was amazed at the beautiful sidewalks, well kept yards, and attractions. The only problem is there were little to no people walking on these sidewalks to enjoy everything. Most people drive in America (if they can). People get around here more efficiently, no waiting, and I like that. But I’ve also realized that the slower pace in Jamaica forced me to notice things, to observe and watch more. When you are driving, you’ll probably miss something you didn’t see if you were walking.
Choices, Choices, Choices
I remember a story from a former volunteer who went to a grocery store in the US after finishing their service in Kenya. They were astounded by the amount of options to choose from. In Jamaica we had an American-style grocery store and had way more choices for food and things than the volunteer from Kenya. However, I am still amazed at all the options and choices we get to make as Americans. And I’m not jut talking about food.
Where would you like to go? What would you like to do? What would you like to eat? How would you like that cooked? If that doesn’t work, we have plenty of other options.
It’s also a great opportunity to be thankful for the little things. I missed variety and the freedom to have so many choices. I also never appreciated this before I joined the Peace Corps. But I’ve also realized that life has become way more complicated than it use to be. Also, I’m starting to see that my ability to make good and healthy choices (as it relates to food) is challenged by my mindset of having been away. Two servings of something I haven’t had in awhile? Yes, please. Another chocolate chip cookie? Sure, I’ll make up for all the times I didn’t have it. I’m starting to see that this excuse could lead into other issues. As the great philosopher Notorious B.I.G. said, “More choices, more issues”. He said money, but same idea.
People are People
Our host mom in Jamaica would say this a lot. What she meant by it was that regardless of where you go, there are things about people that you’ll find universally. A smile will usually indicate happiness. Rude in any country is rude. Sadness and tears. Laughter and joy.
Being back in the states, though my host mom is right, there are still a lot of differences between Jamaicans and Americans. I realize that Americans keep to themselves whereas Jamaicans are more communal and sometimes too much in your face. Americans are a little cautious about putting themselves out there. Jamaicans are not afraid to sing, dance, or be loud- ever. Jamaicans we be more direct and blunt. Americans will try to find a more delicate way to say something.
As the PC staff and former volunteers have said (Michelle wrote a post about this too), this is a process. It’s only been two weeks back in the USA. Who knows what two years in the country might do to us.
Quick life update: We just got back from two days in Kingston doing our final check out process with Peace Corps. We have only 4 days left in country! Wowza. Our upcoming travel itinerary is posted on our new travel blog if you’re interested.
We haven’t even left Jamaica yet, so how can I tell you what to expect from a returning volunteer? I guess I’ve experienced “re-entry” a few times before, albeit from shorter stints abroad. And I’m also basing this on some of the things we’ve been told through our Close of Service process and past volunteers.
First, I’ll share with you the abstract side, in poetry, then the practical, in bullet points. (I’m not really a poet but was compelled to compose my thoughts into a poem because it didn’t sound right any other way.)
Going Home: A Poem
A new place is a new world.
A blank canvas.
Before you experience it for yourself,
its image in your mind
is mostly empty.
The first time I went to a Caribbean island,
it was little more than a black hole
I tried to see into it,
but there was nothing there yet.
Coming to Jamaica,
I pictured the movie Cool Runnings
and the familiar colors of Caribbean islands.
But still, it was two-dimensional snapshots.
A pile of postcards.
Pictures without personal meaning or context.
Immediately upon arrival in that new place,
when you see it for yourself,
the blank canvas
starts to form a few nebulous sketches.
The longer you stay
and the more you experience,
the black hole transforms
into a world of colorful details.
Just as you can walk through your own bedroom
with your eyes closed,
you can picture so many now-familiar corners of your new world
without actually being present to them.
Now they are full of history,
that color them deeper.
A “new world.”
Although sharing the same planet
and the same humanity,
it does feel like you’ve been transported
to an altogether different place.
Going between the two
is so unreal
you almost have to forget the one you just left
in order to function.
Your mouth is incapable of translating
the world you hold in your mind.
You try speaking in text
to people who see only in postcards.
It becomes like a distant memory
or a story you once heard second-hand.
But if you take the time to remember,
to step out of the home that immerses you as if you’d never left,
it’s not a black hole
or a pile of postcards
that you recall.
It’s a whole world
and many stories.
This world of nostalgia
may haunt you
in the most unexpected moments-
the familiar nooks and crannies,
… the simpler life.
Practical Ways You Can Help a Returnee
- Don’t expect everything to be exactly the same
Returning home “should” feel comfortable for RPCVs (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers). But in reality, it might not. Because we may not even realize how much we’ve changed on the inside, Returned Volunteers may feel conflicted or confused even when things are familiar. We will be seeing our former life from a different vantage point, good and/or bad.
- Support us by showing interest
Whether you see it or not, we’ll be processing the experiences we’ve had in Peace Corps for a long time coming. It’s a huge part of our lives that we don’t want to forget or minimize. If you do want to hear about our experiences, it can help to carve out a time and space to really talk. But we don’t have to sit down and hash it all out at once. Ask genuine questions that you’re curious about, as you think of them. Or, just hang around and our stories will come out naturally in conversations. However it happens, we’ll definitely appreciate your interest.
- Please try to ask specific questions
It’s basically impossible to answer the question, “How was it?” As my friend Brandi put it so well, this is as good as you’re going to get: “There were some really awesome parts, but honestly, there were some really awful parts. Most days were something in between.” Could you sum up the last two years of your life on the spot? Again, if there’s something in particular that you’re truly curious about, ask. (What kind of resources do the teachers have access to in Jamaica? What are the most common meals people eat? What was your apartment like?) If you don’t know where to start, ask to see a few of our videos- they’re a short and sweet way to share an overview of our experiences with you.
- Include us
Yes, we’ve lived apart from each other for two years, so we’re no longer in the habit of hanging out. And true, we may not be around on a regular or permanent basis even after we return. But we could sure use some friends to make home feel like home again! We’re leaving a highly relational culture and re-entering into a very independent one. Let’s reconnect!
Fellow RPCVs, what was your experience re-entering the U.S.? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.
It’s hard to believe but today is my last day at the community center and so I figured I would leave doing something great – they got me to dance like a Jamaican….sort of.
At the community center, I became friends with a some amazing young entrepreneurs called “Super Legend Entertainment” (a very Jamaican name) who started their own entertainment company that preforms in our town as well as at hotels in the touristy area known as Negril. I am a huge fan of theirs, partly because I wish I could dance as good as them, but also because they have assisted me with all of our summer youth camps by providing free dance lessons.
After a year of so of talking about making a video together and doing lessons regularly at the community center, both finally came together this past week, even though it was my last one. Oh well. Such is life in Jamaica and a great way to go out. You never know when things will happen, but they do. It is what it is and more importantly, it was a great way to finish my service here at the center. It’s one of many fun memories among the many challenges, joys, laughter, tears, and some times utter ridiculousness that was my Peace Corps volunteer service (more to come for another post). I’m incredibly thankful.
Hope you enjoy the videos. -J
Jamaican Zumba Routine – “Same Way” by Busy Signal (Blurred Lines remix)
Henroy from Super Legend Entertainment breaks down the moves of the routine
Speaking of videos, here’s another update from our new travel blog Intentional Travelers: The Best Videos by Peace Corps Volunteers Around the World.
New Travel Blog
As we gear up to finish our Peace Corps service at the end of this month, our next chapter brings a whole heap of travel. We are so excited to do some more exploring while we reconnect with friends and family.
A number of people have asked us if we will keep up with our blog. The answer is yes… and then some. We’ve been writing on this here blog for almost as long as we’ve been married. During our Peace Corps service, it naturally became geared toward helping folks at home understand Jamaican culture and our experience as volunteers.
We plan to continue sharing our life updates and personal thoughts here. You may have noticed that our web address has changed to jeddandmichelle.com (although simplyintenitonal.wordpress.com will still get you here, too).
In addition, we’ve started up a new blog dedicated specifically to our travels. This will allow us to try our hand at true travel blogging, where we’ll write reviews and guides. (I [Michelle] also have another website in the works about intentional living, but more on that later.) We’ll be sure to continue sharing the more personal photos, videos, and stories of our travels here on our personal blog, and we’ll share links to the travel blog whenever we think it would be of interest to our family and friends.
For example, this past weekend we participated in Jake’s Triathlon for the second time. I wrote an informative review about the event and location on the new blog, which you can read here: Jake’s Off-Road Triathlon. I’ll only share the more personal photos from the event below, including this one of me getting interviewed after the race.
Apparently, I was the first female runner to cross the finish line, and the reporter thought I had won something. The truth is, I was part of a relay team and there were a number of others who finished ahead of us. I just happened to be a female runner- whereas other teams may have had female swimmers or bikers. The real female triathlete winner- who completed the whole race on her own- came in just behind me, as I was doing the interview!
Here are some more photos from the event:
Here’s the main page of our new travel blog, Intentional Travelers. There are already some posts up from our previous travels. Over the next year, we hope to be adding to it fairly regularly. Click on this image to check it out:
Let us know what you think of the new blog in the comments below.