I had the pleasure of leading some of the new education class around the city yesterday (Dar) to see the sights, learn the essentials, tell some stories, share some (what may seem like) wisdom. It brought me back to the very beginning of my service – week zero as it’s known, the week of arrival, the week prior to joining home stay families, the week before it really all begins. It feels so very long ago, and I suppose two and a half years is a chunk of time.
I’ve been reflecting quite a bit on my service lately, thinking back to the beginning, and to all the in-between. Going back to the States for home leave sparked the reflection. Returning to the house, the room, in which I spent the days leading up to my departure for service, coming full circle in a way, inspired some looking inward. A lot can happen in two point five years. And sometimes you need to be uprooted from the place where everything has happened in order to realize the roller coaster you’ve been riding.
On home leave – out of the context of Peace Corps, of Tanzania, of village life, of crazy motor vehicle-filled streets in a dirty, smelly, multi-faceted, conglomerate rock of a city – I could look back at my two years in the village more holistically. Yes, I am still serving my third year, but I am living a different life in Dar, with a very different role as a volunteer leader, so I look back at my two years as a regular agriculture volunteer and see it as a separate experience that is now finished. And I’m okay with seeing it that way. It’s almost a relief to see it that way. I finished. I did it.
Being in the position to train new volunteers, being asked the great array of questions trainees bring to the table, is always a welcome forced-reflection on various parts and aspects of service, and it feels good to be able to share my experiences as things of the past, hurtles I have leapt, ranges upon ranges of mountains I have climbed, descended, climbed again… And now I look back upon them from some distant plain, as the sun rises and sets and rises and sets, and I see all the glorious hill tops and peaks shining in the varying glory of the sun, and I see the ridgelines and the ravines, the chasms and the cliffs cloaked in all their shadow…
But it is far away now, a land I intimately knew, a land I will always remember. Like a carpenter who spends years sanding the top of a single table, deeply absorbed in the study of the waves of grain, so I too know the ranges in which I walked, see them from afar, still know them, understand them, love them – but love them all the more because they are now behind me, in the distance, light and shadow made sublime when seen all together as one, the yin and yang repeated again and again, overlapping, intertwining, twisted in such complicated confusion until the sight becomes… simply and wholly beautiful.
I have no words nor will at the moment to delve into the details of those light and dark places and moments during my service in the village. I am just happy to be in a place both physically and mentally where I can glance behind me on my current path, and see those mountains in the distance. Navigating those undulating hills was a challenge the likes of which I’d never experienced before. And now I feel a certain strength, and a certain calmness, looking back at my accomplishment.
But enough on that! How about a few words and pictures from my visit back home? I packed so much into my four weeks… it was an exhausting but extremely fun, relaxing, and (most importantly) rejuvenating month of home leave.
The first week I mostly spent hanging out with some of my best friends from growing up. We went to some of our favorite haunts, some new favorite places, and just spent quality time catching up as the weirdoes we’ve always been.
I then went to the Adirondacks for the weekend with a few college and a few Peace Corps friends. That trip was exactly what I needed – staying with friends at a cabin on a loon-filled lake with canoeing and hiking adventures, skinny dippin in the moonlight, bon fires and some delicious food…. now that’s the freedom of my America.
When I returned from the Adirondacks, I had a lovely visitor for a few days: a friend from my summer working up in Homer, Alaska. We had a fabulous time (as usual) exploring some of the Finger Lakes and the glens in between, with the valued assistance of my best buddies from childhood.
The same day she departed, I left with my parents to head to Portland, Oregon to visit my brother and his wife. Downtown exploration, yummy foods and wines, barefooted frisbee in the park, dog walking, Father’s Day brunch, bocce by a bon fire, bookstore wanderings, etc…. the perfect trip.
Next up, my Mom and I went to Niagara-on-the-Lake for the Shaw Festival, wine tasting, and low-key shopping. It was so good to get back to our tradition of this trip! I’ve missed it these past few years.
Then after that, I went to three nights of the Rochester International Jazz Festival with my Dad – so nice to be able to tap into some of the music scene I know and love. (And since I have no picture from the jazz fest, here’s a pic from one of our hikes while I was home…)
After a few final meet ups with friends/family for breakfast or lunch here, a day in the park or dinner there, and a few precious moments to myself, I then got back on the plane and hopped across the world back to Dar es Salaam. Quite the trip!
And of course I gave myself no real time to recuperate and absorb it all. Instead I climbed onto a bus after a day of fitful, jet-lagged rest to head North to coastal Tanga, and then up into the Usambara Mountains to Lushoto and Mtae. The highlights: visiting my home stay family again at long last, visiting fellow volunteers and doing the village thing in someone else’s village, and seeing some majestic views from those mountains…
And now I am back in Dar, preparing myself for assisting with the upcoming three weeks of training (two weeks of the Health/Ag Early Service Training, and one week of the optional Gender and Agriculture Training). I’m looking forward to it – being on my toes for a bit, organizing, facilitating, leading… It’s what I signed up for after all, time to get back to it and have some fun.