Everything in my town looked smaller. All the buildings were smaller than I remembered them. I also didn't feel the same desperate pull to things that I had before. Ever since I started rowing in high school, I have felt a really deep love and connection to the Connecticut River, where I sweated out many mornings under the moon and rounding one big bend in the river to a beautiful rising sun. Since graduating, I always felt a deep longing for those exhausting mornings I had in high school, a desire to go back, but it wasn't there like it had been before.
It was weird driving into my town and finding everything pretty much how I had left it. I started to breathe quickly on the road up to my house, wanting to get there immediately and being afraid to at the same time. There is one big curve in the road and then the quiet little neighborly cluster of houses that make up Lyme Center line up in front of you. I burst into tears and by the time I put on my blinker to turn left into our driveway, I was trying to stifle what was no longer a ladylike stream of tears down my face. It wasn't excitement I felt, it wasn't joy either, I think it was pure and overwhelming relief. I knew that walking in that door I wouldn't just be dropping the weight of my backpack. Writing about it right now makes me want to cry again...
I was scared to walk in the door because I knew Summer, my golden retriever, wouldn't be there to greet me, and in her place, Cedar, the 3 year-old golden my mom adopted. I didn't want my mom to feel sad or guilty or anything but I knew it would probably make me cry. Summer was always the best part about coming home, her puppy-like excitement, even when she was 14 years old, always put the cherry on top of the "it's wonderful to be home" cake. I had a feeling the only reason I had gotten myself through her death in April was by convincing myself she hadn't actually died. I wouldn't be able to hide behind that lie anymore.
I walked in the door and I saw the brown coat of a dog too small to be mine come running to the door. Mom was right behind me and started talking to her and petting her. I dropped my bag and had to get away. I walked myself to the kitchen with my eyes squeezed tight hoping the hand clapped over my mouth would keep it all down. Wishful thinking. Mom came into the kitchen and saw me leaning against the counter. "Summer?" She asked, quietly. I just nodded and she gave me a big hug.
It was hard not to have Summer there, but I'm really glad my mom has Cedar. I needed an outlet for all the love I had saved up for Summer while I was gone, and I know that Cedar is a companion my mom really needs. She's a wonderful dog. Although no dog will ever measure up to Summer, she's pretty great.
I had a great time at home visiting everyone, and naturally, it went by way too fast. I was a bit of a useless lump the night before I left. Coming home from Peru in December, I felt so burnt out, so tired. While home I felt so full of life, so energetic, so healthy. As I watched my mom pull away from the airport, a forced supportive smile plastered on both our faces, I felt all that weight, all that exhaustion crawl up my back and settle itself comfortably back on my shoulders. I dragged myself through check-in and security, each step taking me farther from home, knowing I needed to go back, not just because I made a commitment to Peace Corps and my town, but because I know it is where I'm supposed to be right now and I have things I want to accomplish. It didn't shake that weight and exhaustion though. I did what anyone would do, I went to a bar and I bought myself a blue moon with an orange slice.
So skip through everything else and here I am, back in site. It hasn't been easy. I keep having insane emotional responses to things and feeling generally miserable. I got back and hid in my room for a day just excessively cleaning everything, throwing away the bottom layer of clothes that had rotted through in my absence, and bleaching down my little food shelf thing because there was rat poop everywhere. Unfortunately, we didn't have any water for the first 4 days I was back, so I couldn't wash any clothes or sheets or anything...or me for that matter. I ended up finally rousing myself to work out one day, and pulled a muscle so badly in my leg I spent two days pretty much unable to walk. Then, yesterday, I completely messed up the ankle on that same leg.
It's Carnaval in February, which means for most of January, you have to walk around knowing at any time you could get aggressively water bombed by anyone. I was walking down the street in my town and a gang of boys on a hill decided to water bomb me. I was running to get away from them but watching the water come and, given the horrible state of the roads in my town, I stepped a bit wonky on a rock and ended up running on the outside of my foot, which snapped something in my ankle. It didn't hurt too bad right away, but by the end of the day I literally couldn't put any weight on it. Lucky for me, the doctors had prescribed me muscle relaxers for my leg, and they helped a lot that night with the bad pain in my ankle. It's not preferable...
I've gotten a chance to get to know the 20ers who showed up to start service in December. They are a really awesome group of girls - super laid back, so so sweet, and so easy to be around. I'm really excited they have joined our Cajamarca family and think they are going to add a lot of fun and love to the next year of service.
I came back, like I said above, and felt mostly like hiding in my room. I didn't know where to start, didn't want to start...I think there is a not so secret fear that if I try this viviendas saludables (healthy homes) project, I'm going to fail...and then what do I do. It's illogical and put me in "overanalysis paralysis", as my mother says, for a few days. But then I got a nice little motivational present that I wasn't expecting.
I went to the health post to have a meeting with the health post workers about the health promotional work we should do in the coming year. I was expecting them to make me feel like an inconvenience. I ended up finding them super enthused about the year to come and all the health promotional work. They were promising adamantly that they were going to help with things this year and participate and whatever. I even told them about a mini project idea I had and Violeta responded with, "if it's health promotion, we're going to do it." They mentioned a meeting the next day that they wanted me to go to. It turns out, after the evaluations they went through for the last year of work, my town, Iraca Grande, was ranked #1 of all the health posts in our class in the district of Chota for their health promotional work. AWESOME. That was a giant pat on the back I had not been expecting, and a really awesome way of acknowledging all the work I did last year. As a result of this, all the other health posts were saying the only reason Iraca was first is because they have a Peace Corps volunteer, so they called a meeting to persuade me to go work in all their health posts. Flattering, for sure.
I called my boss, who told me I can't work in all their health posts, as I already knew. So I went to a meeting, and each health post representative was telling me their own individual stories about how they can't do X because the director of the high school is difficult to work with, or X hasn't happened because this person won't help, or they have this problem. It was so weird to sit there, and have them ask me for help with these things...because they are all problems I've had and have probably been harder to cope with because I'm NOT peruvian. I had to tell them all repeatedly that I can't come work in all their health posts and do all their promotional work for them...but I did say I'd always be willing to meet with them in Chota to talk about a project or plan something or exchange resources. I also promised them all that I'd teach them how to use the Pasos Adelante manual, which is the sex-ed manual/program that I've been using the last year. So, in February, we're all getting together and I'm training them how to use it. A couple of the 20ers want to come too and bring their community partners. I'm excited about this, because it is more what I expected Peace Corps to be, capacity building. It's so much more efficient this way because they will learn from me and then go into their communities to use those resources. I'm a little nervous but I am confidant at the same time. It just makes me feel more like the professional that I am. I don't have the same wide-eyed lost feeling this year, which is exciting. I feel like I'm actually prepared to get the work done that I need to.
Other good thing that happened, was that I got an email from the Country Director of Peace Corps Peru, congratulating me on a presentation I did about Peace Corps while I was home for the holidays. It meant a lot for someone in the Peace Corps office to recognize something I did well and take the time to let me know what he thought. He said it sent on the report I wrote about my presentation to the Peace Corps office in Washington. :)
I am slowly getting settled back in and feeling better about where I stand for this new year. It is going to be hard, and interesting, and exciting, and frustrating, and exhausting...it's going to be another year of Peace Corps.
Bring on the personal and professional growth!
Love you all,