There are so many formalities to address and compulsory half-hearted attempts at pretty bow tie closures to that African time of my life that it’s best I start with a recounting of the past 5 months.
I’m not in Africa. I’m in a backyard with roses and hydrangeas and lilies and a dog so eclectically and precisely bred that I can’t remember what he is, but he is ok with that. 100 meters to my right is a wall of concrete 4 meters high and on the other side of that a horizontal North to South pocket of tumbling atmosphere kept in suspension by the unrelenting motion of internal combustion engines, locally known as Interstate 5. It used to be that when I sat in the sun of my deck that 100 meters to my right was a family bustling to breathe life and make marks into the red clay dust that surrounded us. Those witching hour scenes are no more mine and I’ll try to make it brief as to why.
Last Thanksgiving I got malaria. I know it sounds awful, but taken in stride with medication in hand, on a firm mattress, in a quiet village I called home, it wasn’t so bad. For Christmas we flew to Ahmerica. Some time with our families and friends, the Atlantic Ocean, and my favorite big-box amenity, the warehouse liquor store. The beers of the world and more especially the West Coast snuck in the backdoor of the neat, tidy and flavorless world of South Florida strip malls. So people ask what THINGS did you miss about Ahmerica, and that was it, the people we care about, the clean water to swim in, and the tasty beers to partake of. Other than that, no real culture shock. I remembered all the things I didn’t like because they were still here. I did have a new-found appreciation for ingenuity and creativity as some of the characteristics we take for granted as Ahmericans, which are often uniquely shared by sworn cultural adversaries. I got a little mysteriously sick while on vacation but returned to Zambia nonetheless because Africans are still hungry, Ahmerica still likes cable news and traffic jams, and I was curious to see what transpired in the village in the absence of the muzungu (white person).
The airplane landed in Zambia with a bump-thud-thud-thud, an appropriate welcome back. We did what we always did when Zambia flashed an innocent smile on its lovely knucklehead,we got on with the day the way those around us did. It was January now, I reported my mysterious symptoms to Peace Corps and was now firmly in the medical system. Ten days later I was in Pretoria, South Africa for more thorough investigations while Carly was back to work in the village. February came and I was still in South Africa oscillating between the possibilities of near futures in Zambia and Ahmerica if I was to be medically separated from Peace Corps. In the meantime I got to explore the Jacaranda clad streets in the proper part of the capitol of South Africa to feel things out that aren’t too often discussed or publically aired. To be brief I was captivated by the dynamic social scene where history was still happening. The people were of all shades and were combining to inspire new neutral tones soon to be available on the shelves of Home Depot. The future in SA seems uncertain, while many are hopeful some big challenges lay ahead. I’d like to go back someday, and I thought I would visit from Zambia but stuff happened. So I was returned to Zambia with a wait, watch and see attitude towards my health.
Getting back to the village was my goal. Everyone was really happy to see me, they were worried and gave a warm welcome. Once people in the village saw that I went to Ahmerica and came back they believed my words a little bit more. Rocket was so happy to see me that he didn’t even ask if I brought back a record player for all his old records as he requested. Things in the village seemed to be happening. Maybe it was all those rainy days that gave people time to think, or maybe meeting up every month or so is just the right amount of time, or maybe they were bluffing me. It was still rainy season and my garden had succumbed to weeds and everything was ready for harvest while we were gone. My neighbors managed to eat from it for a few weeks so at least I helped someone with food security. Days and weeks passed and I was busy biking around to make sure people knew I was back at it. I think it was the biking that made me realize I still wasn’t well as the rough ride was making my chest really hurt. It started scaring me and I decided it was best we came home, then I got word from the Peace Corps medical that I was being sent home because my symptoms were unresolved. I had been back in the village for a month and now we had 4 days to get rid of our things before we would leave for good.
I didn’t get to say goodbye to everyone that I was friends with which is weird, but I did say goodbye to the ones I was closest with. They had a hard time believing we were going and there was a lot of sadness. When my neighbor Rocket found out I was leaving his eyes swelled up but stayed dry and distant like cumulonimbus clouds stuck on the horizon. He was an amazing friend and I miss him. He was always so fascinated and happy knowing that people in America knew about him. So by reading this you might have just given a smile to a humble burdened and genuine soul.
The hardest day I had in Zambia was the day we sold our things. We didn’t want to give them away because there were so many people I knew it would be troublesome. So I decided to sell things, the problem was that I made the prices too low and set the stage for a bitter frenzy. We learned that some of the government workers do have some money stashed away and some were willing to undercut a friend to get a good deal. My rule was that the first person to give me the money would actually get to buy the item. I only had 2 days to sell things and I knew people would say I’ll take this and then never come up with the money. So in my final days I was vilified when one man ran home to get his money before his friend could go to town to get money from somewhere to buy a bed. I’ll just say I don’t miss being the one of privilege who is expected to be generous and paternal. I did get to see most of the other peace corps volunteers in my province before I left which was an unexpected bonus and then a few days later we were back on that TransAtlantic plane.
We visited with our parents until I got a job offer and then we were off to Western Scotland, aka Portland, Oregon. I got to work as a seasonal botanist in Eastern Oregon which is drier and less populated. This allowed me to get back in the groove of working and responsible citizenry. My Eastern Oregon adventures are winding down while Carly holds down the fort in Portland as the ideal educator and babysitter of 3-6 year olds. Summer should get here any day now. I still have health issues and I still see doctors for what it’s worth. The future is uncertain and we’re open, but we’re not worried, we’re getting by. Hard times ain’t going rule this mind.
I would also like to thank all of the people who have been supportive of us and interested in our doings. Soon I will try to address some of the common questions people ask about the last year. Zambia still lays heavy on the mind, but when in my sleeping thoughts I’m returning to Zambia it’s been dreams and not nightmares.