I think I’ve uttered the aforementioned phrase literally a hundred times in the almost four months I’ve been back. Whether at a job interview, a family gathering, or an impromptu chat with a grocery store cashier (yeah, I still do that) it’s unintentionally become my go-to when I have 30 seconds to sum up the past few years of my life. My life jacket for small-talk situations to prevent me from blabbering on. It may not be the most creative or eloquent & at this point it feels like kind of a cop-out, but honestly, I stick with it because it’s the truth. I can’t think of a more succinct way to encompass the slew of of sentiments the long-awaited transition has brought about. I realize this final entry is a little delayed, but while entirely unplanned (I just love me some fast-paced, friend-filled America & have developed a slight aversion to sitting alone with my thoughts) it is pretty convenient, as I think I’m almost to the point where I can meet someone new & not mention Ukraine. In fact, I really probably shouldn’t or else I’ll start sounding like that girl spouting on about “This one time, in the Peace Corps…”. So now as I careen into my new life & closer to the days & weeks when I won’t need to say it at all, let’s take a minute & break this sum-up of a sentence down.
Incredible? Really Alei? As overkill as it sounds, I like that as a descriptor not for its hyperbole, but because I think it emphasizes the fact that prior to Peace Corps I didn’t & couldn’t understand what my service would be like. It really, truly was unbelievable. The two years & two months pushed me to limits of frustration & homesickness that I couldn’t possibly have fathomed from Cary or even Champaign, Illinois. That going to buy bananas would require a fully formulated speech beforehand as well as time specifically devoted to psyching myself up to be stared & often yelled at (for misdemeanors like refusing to eat meat or wear socks obvi). That saying “Happy Easter” to my family couldn’t happen without a very orchestrated adaptation to our daily routines as well as a hint of good favor from my fickle internet connection. The simple was made difficult in ways I could have never anticipated. But at the same time, how could I have ever known by reading the information packet some 700 days ago the effect Ukraine would have on me? That to this day my heart would melt from the mere remembrance of my little babies trying their hands (& flailing arms & legs) at yoga as an excuse to hang out with me? That I’d rank an evening spent sitting in my pajamas singing Russian karaoke with my host family as one of my lifetime’s chart-topping favorite moments? That I’d make connections with people whose voices I still (& hopefully will forever) hear both on the phone every week & in my head every day? The things I felt, the things I got to see, to experience, the relationships forged anew & kept strong against all odds; in a word, incredible.
Also incredible is the opportunity I have to reflect back a few months removed not just on the experience’s impact on me, but on God’s grace & palpable presence throughout. I started most mornings reading a few chapters from the Bible & annotating in the margins.
At that point I’d been running on single-digit hours of sleep over the course of three days & was simultaneously exhausted by the sad goodbyes & exhilarated by the happy hellos waiting for me at O’Hare. I wanted nothing more than to pop the half of a heavy duty sleeping pill that my friends scrounged up for me the second I sat down on the airplane & pass the heck out. No such luck. Mere moments into the boarding process I was asked to swap my window seat with a crying baby & her mom. Then after tearing maniacally through my carry-on bag I came to the devastating realization that the meds (which I was referring to as ‘horse tranquilizers’ by that point & finding hilarious every time) were nowhere to be found. So instead, while already eons beyond slap happy, I resolved to watching hours of ‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadephia’ which is hysterical on a bad day. Suffice it to say, I’m pretty sure my fellow passengers were (rightfully) afraid that the zombie-esque girl in the back was having a seizure thanks to my frequent convulsions of silent laughter. For eight hours. After proving one last time though that I will never be a truly seasoned traveler, I made it through security & into the loving arms of my mom & dad, & it’s been on the up & up since then.
Honestly, I think the biggest blip I hit was the dastardly discovery that my pants no longer fit, & while I handled that challenge like a particularly petulant five year old, America also just so happens to have amazing technology called the elliptical machine as well as sugar-free everything so me & my jeans are just fine again. Trying to find a job was an irritating-at-times process mostly because it made me feel like a bum being unemployed & more often than not sporting sweatpants while everyone else was out accomplishing things, but thankfully I’ve been gainfully employed for the past 2 months & fully appreciative of health insurance & a paycheck that covers slightly more than cabbage & chocolate. Really though, it’s my people. It’s knowing that despite living in Austin (& loving it, btw :)) I can be home in a matter of three hours if the need be. It’s getting to spend Spring Break with my parents in Las Vegas. It’s being able to call & check in on my stupid, little brothers (jk, kind of) on a whim because going to Taco Bell reminds me of them. It’s spending literally the whole day laying in the living room with my roommates burning CDs & laughing about things that only we find funny. It’s doing, well, anything with the world’s most perfect dog, Dexter, who I now share a roof & often a bed with.
I’m not going to take more of your time going into the details of the life that I’ve had the joy of crafting & getting used to these past few months (that’s what the pictures are for), but I will say that I love it. I still am known to fall prey to whining about the daily first-world irritations of bad drivers & long lines at Starbuck’s. I’m slightly alarmed at how easy it is for me to drop $40 on a new pair of sunglasses & definitely still have some things to work on, but I go to bed each night with a sense of peace & a new awareness of how blessed I am to be here with all of you.