That’s not to say that my experience wasn’t worthy or even positive. I had many wonderful days, I formed more than a few lasting relationships with both Ugandans and with fellow volunteers. I plodded forward with several good projects in my community. I made some delicious food. I went on a few wonderful vacations. I enjoyed sunrises, sunsets, the warm laughter of neighbors, and I marveled at the culture and traditions around me. I spent nearly every day besides my best friend. I learned, I smiled like a goof, and I drank delicious warm Congolese beer with priests. I watched giraffes lope over hills and I ate ripe fruit off of the trees in my yard. I lived simply and thoughtfully.
I tried to focus on these positive things, especially when talking to loved ones and on my blog. I made fierce efforts to recount funny, awkward stories instead of writing in hopeless, bleak sentences about enduring another day spent hiding in my house.
Recently another Ugandan RPCV came to visit me, and we inevitably found ourselves talking about Uganda. It was where we had met and become friends, so of course we did. Partway into our conversation, I started panicking. Feelings resurfaced, and my body became tense. I don’t think either of us had spoken so candidly to other volunteers about our experiences, since leaving. At least not beyond the funny surface stories, and the safe memories about volunteer conferences or parties. That rush of anxiety and panic was not an uncommon sensation to me while in the Peace Corps. In many ways, that was a large part of my experience. Like many volunteers, I experienced great anxiety, stress, and sometimes depression while in Uganda. The days didn’t pass. The sun was always out. There were so many days to pass.
I was absolutely a shell of myself for most of my time in Uganda. Early on, I started numbing my feelings, emotions, and reactions. I felt neither the exhilarating highs nor the paralyzing downs in the way that I normally would. I became a stilted, abbreviated, stunted version of myself, and existed almost entirely in a shade that blocked out both the sun and the night. I looked forward to little. I, inadvertently, staved off the friendly advances of other volunteers, and missed out on many friendships. I was antisocial, clammed up, and far too even-keeled. Those of you who know me, will perhaps know me as a person of extremes. I’m easy to read and can vary from exuberant social butterfly to moody introvert. I was neither of those things in Uganda. I was moderate, stagnant, mild, dulled. I had none of my normal extremes; neither vibrancy nor even morose introspection. I shut myself off. I was no longer a life force.
All this to say that I’m happy now. Sure, it may be the long summer days and nights, the time spent with friends and family, but it’s more than that. I feel like myself again. I feel bolder, stronger, more prone to emotions, weirder, more extreme. I feel unapologetically and uniquely myself. I feel excited about doing things and about seeing people. I cherish the few moments a week I spend alone with myself doing nothing, but I also relish the bizarre and busy lifestyle that I keep up. I make mistakes and then I laugh or cry about them. They become part of me. I become more and more me every day.
I have seen two friends get married in the last month. I have sat on prickly grass and picnic tables and listened to music under a summer night sky. I have won a t-shirt at a German drinking establishment for polishing off 3 boots of beers with friends. I have consistently gotten less than 8 hours of sleep a night for months. I have ridden my bike all the way to Minneapolis just to get a drink with an old friend and then biked back. I’ve been hung-over, full, excited, annoyed, exhausted, exhilarated, and loved. I have spent time with brothers, best friends, family.
I feel wild. Thank you, everyone, for your love, laughter, and companionship.