Monday, December 17, 2012

Impressions of Home

I've been home for almost a month now.  The time has flown by.  Peace Corps did their best to prepare us for our return, saying that it is frequently more difficult to come back to the United States than to go to our country of service.

The first week home was challenging but good.  That was as much from exhaustion from the flight as anything.  Plus, I just wanted time alone to soak in internet, television, palagi food and privacy.

Since then I've been slowly adapting.  I've noticed that I'm no longer constantly comparing village life to Florida life.  There are some differences that stick out.  In no particular order, here are a few:

Mirrors.  I had a small hand mirror in my house.  That was the only mirror I ever saw unless I was in a hotel in Apia where there was usually (not always) a mirror in the bathroom.  In the United States there are giant mirrors everywhere.  Frankly, I don't like it.  I prefer believing I look as spectacular on the outside as I feel on the inside. And who decided it was a good idea to put a full-length mirror on a wall facing the toilet?

Makeup.  I didn't bother to wear makeup in Samoa.  There were several reasons.  1.  It just melted off.    2.  Who was I going to impress?  One of the Year 2 students?  3.  No makeup meant I could just wash the sweat off my face anytime.  4.  I am lazy.  One of my first stops after my arrival home was to a place called Ulta (or maybe Alta).  I was running errands with friends and one wanted to pop in to pick something up.  It is a HUGE store selling nothing but makeup.  Really, America?  A store larger than any store in the country of Samoa, just to sell makeup?

Food.  Samoans love food.  It is an important part of every formal and informal event.  But their choice of foods is limited.  Part of that is economics and availability but part is also culture.  I heard the phrase "Lei masani!" (Not normal!) often when I offered friends a palagi food I'd made.  In the United States, there is so much food.  All different kinds.  I'm still trying to get into my grocery shopping groove because there are so many choices.  Aisles and aisles of choices.  Rather than take advantage of all the riches, I've found myself wandering through the store, unable to make a decision on what to buy.

Freedom.  I've been going out at night.  Driving alone.  Just because I can.  No one asks where I'm going, which is kind of sad, but it's so freeing to be able to just go and do when and where I want.  I woke up at 4 a.m. the other morning.  I decided to get up and get a move on.  First, I drove to the 7/11 for a big cup of flavored coffee.  At 4:00 a.m. in the village, the only thing moving would have been a bus headed to the wharf, maybe.  Then I drove 20 miles to work on unpacking my home.  Through the dark, music blaring on the radio.  It was splendid!

Respect and friendliness.  I was worried about how I'd react to receiving less respect and less friendliness when I got home.  I've been pleasantly surprised.  It may be because I chose to spend my first month in a small, sleepy beach community.  People smile and say hello.  They hold doors and say "please" and "thank you".  It's been good.  I miss hearing kids screaming my name, though.

Sensory overload.  There was a lot to see and hear on the island.  A beautiful lagoon.  The mountains covered with palm trees.  All the kids playing, laughing, screaming.  I was taken by surprise at the sensory overload I've felt on a few occasions since coming home.  First was Day 1 when I had to go to the mall.  I was both awed  and overwhelmed at the number of people and amount of "stuff".  While I was in Tucson some friends and I went to a street art fair.  It was a beautiful day and one of my favorite things to do.  But half-way through, I had to take a break and just sit with my eyes closed.  The sensory overload was giving me a sense of vertigo.  It didn't last long but it was a gentle reminder that life here is very different than my very quiet life in the village.

Stuff.  Before I left for Samoa I ruthlessly thinned out my belongings.  I didn't want to pay for storage for stuff I didn't need.  I should have been more ruthless.  After two years of living with very little (although far more than most Samoans), my wants and needs have shifted.  I first unpacked two large boxes of clothes.  I sorted them and gave one of the boxes to charity.  As I unpacked my kitchen stuff, I wondered what the heck I'd been thinking in collecting all those martini glasses.  Big ones, small ones, colored ones, clear ones.  I put half back into a box for the thrift store.  That trend continued.  If things are in multiples or unless they have sentimental value, I don't need them and I don't want them cluttering my house.

I've noticed more differences - and similarities - and I'll write about them soon.  Now, though, I'm going to take a hot shower and drive up the road to buy a flavored coffee.  Because I can.  I feel very, very spoiled.


  1. Woohoo! You're back writing your blog! I particularly liked this entry. One of the first things I have to get used to when coming back to NZ after living in Samoa for extended periods of time, is the diversity of people simply walking down the street. In Samoa, everyone looks like me. In Auckland, there are Asians, Europeans, Maori, Indians, Africans etc. Keep up the great writing!

  2. Finally, I am up to date reading your blog. As you might remember, I am one year behind you schedule-wise. I am finding your experiences with readjustment as potentially helpful as I found your earlier postings helpful for my transition out of the States. I am not wishing the time away, but it is strange at this mid-point to begin looking ahead to the changes I will encounter.
    Continued best wishes for your settling in and all things to come your way.

  3. I'm thinking of you, Lew. Peace Corps warned that it would be very hard to come home. I've found it not so tough. Different, yes. But I'm enjoying being home and loving all the luxuries - driving, washer/dryer, hot water, etc. I found my second year to be hard in the sense that the novelty had worn off. I viewed it as true service and the second year allowed deeper relationships and a better understanding of the culture. I hope you can embrace the experience. My advice is to be present in the moment there and not try to anticipate coming home. That joy will come soon enough. Merry Christmas!