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.