So as many of you know, we have come back Stateside a bit earlier than planned. The decision was multi-faceted and extremely hard. But here we are. Below is a snippet of each of Ash and I's thoughts about the whole journey that we'd love to share...
And we’re home… and it’s good. We’ve had a ridiculous amount of validation in our decision to come home, so many blessings unforeseen and so much support from everyone around us.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop, studying for a test that will determine whether or not I’m admitted to a program for a teaching license that I didn’t know I even wanted before my experience in PC Moldova. Sitting here is all at once completely surreal and perfectly normal in relation to my life story. I can’t count the number of hours I have spent studying in coffee shops throughout my years of study and yet there is a part of me that can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that just 2 weeks ago I was sitting in a room surrounded by Moldovans and their American partners trying to figure out just how to write a grant proposal in Romanian.
I do know that is was the right decision for us on a variety of levels. We have been welcomed back with open arms by our closest friends and family. Blessings that we cannot count have come our way and the only questioning from others is “Do you feel you made the right choice for your health and happiness?” There is no tone of judgment or lack of understanding and for that we could not be more blessed or reassured.
We talk about the fact that there are times in which it seems as though we never left – those incredible once in a lifetime friendships that allow you to pick up where you left off regardless of time gone by, the love of a certain Java cat who didn’t forget us, the majestic beauty of the mountains, the fullness of life that greeted us here the moment we stepped off the plane. And yet when we think about it it’s more and more obvious that there are subtle (and not so subtle) things that have changed – those same lifetime friends buying homes, friends starting families of their own, the changing of seasons, opening of boxes that we haven’t seen for 18 months, growth of two spectacular younger sisters (both physically and emotionally), the weightiness of a certain Java cat (that can only be explained by the comparison of the cats we’ve become accustomed to during our time away), and nuances of 18 months having come and gone that we were not a part of blended with the realization that although we are the same people there are things that are different about us as well. There are stories that we have experienced that we can’t fully put into words, languages learned (both literally and figuratively), people we have met that will forever be a part of our life story, journeys that we have been a part of that have helped shape new and exciting passions in our lives.
There are times in which I find it all slightly overwhelming and borderline unbelievable, as though I’ve just woken from a dream, but then I remember…
I remember the African sunset that commanded attention.
I remember the exchange of cfa on the roadside for some breakfast millet cakes.
I remember the infectious laugh of our host mom as she yelled out “Mariama!”
I remember the heat of the afternoon as we studied Hausa under the shade of a tree.
I remember the inevitable and much anticipated outbreak of song and dance that came with every CHARM birthday.
I remember the friendships and the unfathomable bond of CHARM.
I remember the two young boys who helped us and claimed us as their own territory in the market during our first week in Fadama.
I remember our kitty, Charlie.
I remember working to plant moringa trees in yard and as many veggies as we could manage in our “garden” looking forward to seeing them grow.
I remember the men from Fadama surrounding us in prayer seconds before we were looking at them in the rearview mirror and wondering what was going to happen next.
I remember eating ice cream (more times than I can count) at “bar Teresa” as the “Budestians” drank a cold beer after a long day of language classes.
I remember Budesti (and Colinita) and a group of people who have blessed me in ways that cannot be put into words.
I remember T and her abundant joy that is so evident that you can’t help but smile and laugh in her presence.
I remember Katie and her heart of hearts and how happy I am to know her and have her in my life.
I remember Erin and the way she kept us all together and strong as a group.
I remember Cristen and the unbelievable way she cares for people without even thinking about it.
I remember Martin and his little-big brother ways that make me smile.
I remember Craig and his amazing ability to be laidback in any situation.
I remember Sarah and our long nights of talking that I will forever be thankful for.
I remember Stu and his quiet peacefulness that drew people to want to know him more.
I remember amazing afternoons spent with Jos – cooking, laughing, and enjoying our time together.
I remember the smiles and laughter of the 4th graders as we taught about transmissible diseases and my Moldovan partner teacher sprayed them with a water bottle as a demonstration.
I remember the flowers given to me by shy 4th and 5th graders at First Bell.
I remember Galina and our ability to speak to one another on a level that didn’t make much sense considering my lack of Romanian.
I remember playing Uno with our 10 year old host sister and her silly competitiveness.
I remember laughing and making traditional Moldovan foods with Anastasia.
I remember picking grapes in anticipation of another year of delicious wine.
I remember the moment I fell in love with teaching.
There is so much good that I remember and that is what I will hold onto, that is what our PC story will be.
The journey we started together two and a half years ago by pressing send on the Peace Corps application website from our Capitol Hill studio apartment is coming to a close. The question of would we have changed anything had we known the form it would take is simultaneously ridiculous and extremely crucial in this moment we’re facing. Obviously we had no clue the journey would start before we left the US. With 15 months of application processes, medical appointments and bills, interviews, and aspiration statements. Even more than the actual application steps, it was the sense of waiting. Not knowing when we would know, then once we knew, waiting for it to come while still trying to fulfill commitments and work on passions which were in front of us.
Then, departure to an unknown land – fear, excitement, nervousness, purpose. All riding in the economy class seats with us as we descended toward the vast brown simmering land named Niger. The shock of the heat stepping off the plane, the beauty of our host family, the depth of Islamic culture and belief. To cover those three months with broad strokes only creates an abstract image, leaving the outward impressions up to the viewer. Yet in many ways, that is the painting of our memories: imparting more impressions and emotions than steadfast images or facts. When details do jump out at us, they are often without context, perhaps a dot or patch of clarity which deepens the abstractness of the overall piece.
The time in between. Suddenly we were back, having rushed to Morocco, then home, we were thrown back into limbo as we awaited the next overseas assignment. Generous friends. Supporting family. Meaningful encounters over beer or in a garden. The time was brief, packed, beautiful. I was burrowed into work with Revision International, yet unable to fully settle knowing we were still pursuing Peace Corps service. Where can I make the most difference, here, or overseas? Or perhaps more accurately, where am I supposed to make a difference at all? The answers to these questions were frustratingly beyond our grasps, as if their colors hadn’t yet been selected. We still had to try. Without pursuing service overseas, we could never know for sure (or think we know for sure) that serving here is where we’re meant to be.
So the airplane took off in the United States and set down in Eastern Europe. In Moldova. A country neither of us knew about, nor frankly that either of us had thought we wanted to know about in this way. Yet there we were. The heat stepping off the plane slightly less severe. The rolling countryside a palette of greens instead of browns. The paint strokes seem fresher now. Homemade wine. Friends and relatives simply stopping by for visits unannounced and the Moldovans stopping everything to make sure their guests had something (either white or red) to drink and eat. Another tongue. Another culture. The colors comprising each just as deep yet profoundly different than that of Niger.
And now, we’re leaving. We’re choosing to cut our service with the Peace Corps short instead of it being cut short for us. We’re choosing to leave this country after seven and a half months of investment and electing to change the shades of paint into which our brushes are dipped. Part of the reason we’ve chosen this transformation is that we’ve noticed the vibrancy of the colors we’re leaving behind have been growing duller and duller lately. Our hearts have slowly grown less passionate, less engaged, less alive here. And at the same time, the direction our paths are leading us toward in the future has become more detailed, more clear, and more sure than when the planes wheels left the tarmac more than 15 months ago. More certain than when we clicked “Submit” online two and a half years ago.
What is even more reassuring now is that instead of this journey ending with its road narrowing into a dead end, it feels – when we pause long enough to see through all the doubts, frustrations, and feelings of failure – as though its widening into new possibilities. The speed bumps, potholes, and detours are all still a part of the road ahead. But in spite of this, in spite of knowing the hardships are not something to try to avoid, but simply a part of the journey, we’re hopeful. The fresh paint and new colors about to be added to the canvas are exciting. The direction of the strokes and the patterns or shapes that result are yet to be understood, as is the impression this masterpiece will leave on those who see it. Yet this is the ultimate freedom: to choose how to paint with colors and brushes you’ve been given.
Thank you Father for this gift, let us "Listen closely[, for] the gift is music. Return it abundantly [because] the gift is love. Touch it gently [as] the gift is fragile. Protect it fiercely [since] the gift is vulnerable. Laugh aloud [recognizing] the gift is joyous. Share it[, acknowledging] the gift is truth. Use it bravely [knowing] the gift is freedom. When [there] is money, give it away. Above all, [let us] not pretend to understand why [we] have been chosen to receive these gifts. This is the mystery of life."
- Moore & Nelson, Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril