Two years spent residing in a remote African village is just the right amount of time to cause someone to have an identity crisis. This I believe. Spend six months, and you’ve convinced yourself you have learned everything there is to know about the causes and even the solutions to the afflictions of the people with whom you are working. Make it a year, and you’re convinced everyone would be better off if you just went home. How much more homesickness can one person endure, anyway? Stay on for a whole other year, and something else entirely happens. I believe, at this point, just the right amount of time has elapsed in order to have an advance grasp of the local language and culture, but only enough to realize you can never become a native national. It is also just the right amount of time to recognize all the entertainment and technological advances that have taken place back home while you’ve been gone, and to begin not to mind about catching up on them. Confliction sets in.
Upon joining the United States Peace Corps two years ago, my group was advised to pack light; leave valuables at home, among those, our expectations. Perhaps the culture shock or lifestyle transition would be cushioned if we did. I wanted to follow that advice and tried to. Yet all I could think about upon introduction to my temporary three month training residence, a two room mud hut with pit latrine, and host parents who didn’t speak a lick of English was: how on Earth could anybody do this for two whole years?! Then, just as shock value began to wear off, we were ceremonially given our Muslim names, to which we were supposed to answer for the rest of our service. Looking back now, I am still not sure how I got through some of those really low periods, almost psychically predicted by our medical officer.
But I believe spending two years outside a comfort zone allows another one to be created. And when I think about saying the final goodbyes to my Gambian family, heartstrings I never even knew existed begin tugging and aching. Some of the most valuable friendships were acquired during this time, which in turn, led to the re-evaluation of some other relationships back home.
Despite the misconception that time hasn’t been suspended while I’ve been away, it’s hard to mentally ascertain the degree to which this revolving world and its people, have evolved. Internally, I can feel that I’ve grown as an individual, and even though a reflection is the closest someone will ever get to view their own self, mirrors can still be deceiving. With that said, I believe, in order to ultimately understand the degree to which I’ve personally progressed, it looks like I’ll simply have put my faith in others, and let them be the truest judge of my new identity.
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