Of course the first big event of my return was…seeing my friends that first week I was back in town. That was a great experience of just reconnecting with them and seeing their faces for the first time in two years. It was the first time, though, that I had trouble explaining my Peace Corps experience to someone. You see, up until that moment I had primarily been talking about Samoa with people who either read my blog or came to visit me in Samoa – but now I was dealing with folks who qualified for neither of those conditions. While I was in Samoa, I jokingly realized that I would only have like 5-10 minutes to catch folks up on what I had done in my two years in Samoa. I thought that it wouldn't bother me since I was expecting it.
I was wrong – it did bother me.
Because trying to encapsulate two years of your life in another country in 10, 30 or 60 minutes just isn't possible. I had this desire to just keep talking and talking about Samoa, but you know how people get that glazed look in their eyes when you know they've checked out of the conversation – yeah, I saw the on-set of that a few times. Now don't get me wrong, I love my friends and family but another RPCV from Samoa told me (and I agree) that you have to be measured in what you tell people about your time in Peace Corps. Not because they won't understand, but because in the early stages (which I was in, only being 5 days removed from Samoa) you have this desire to just compare everything to the country you left. While I still have that desire in me now, over a month later, it's not as strong as it was during those first weeks at home and now I feel I can give a more measured response for my time in Samoa.
So I met with my friends on the Friday before Christmas – on the Saturday before Christmas, my mom had arranged for some family and friends to come over and conduct a welcome back party of sorts. This was a nice affair in which I got to see all my family in Nashville and friends from my mom's job who had been informed of my Peace Corps tour through my mother. I thought it was a pretty cool get together, it was nice to see everyone in one fell swoop. Saturday was also the day that I finally started calling people letting them know I was back in the country – it took almost the entire week for that to settle in. One of the people I called was my Dad, but I had to talk to him about something else (he had previously called me in the week to say welcome back). When I called him, he stated that he was in a store and would call me back later.
He never did.
Instead, he showed up at my front door Saturday night with his wife, Andrea. My mom, Dad and Andrea had planned for them to fly down to surprise me during my welcome back party. It truly was a surprise – you see, when I called Dad he was actually at the airport about to get on the plane…talk about great timing! It was such a joy to see my Dad and have both parents together for my welcome back party, it brought a tear to my eyes folks. The surprises didn't end there though – two days before Christmas, my aunt, cousin, cousin's wife and Grandfather all came down from Iowa and Chicago to see me. It was truly a great Christmas – this was the first Christmas my entire family (mom's side and dad's side) have been together for since the 1990s….It was heartwarming.
The day before New Year's Eve, my travelling began. I went up to Minnesota to visit my Dad and surprise Grandpa for his birthday (which is December 31). We went to a midnight church service to welcome in the New Year and I have to admit, it's probably the safest I have felt on a New Years Eve in a long time – no need to duck down and avoid gunfire when you're in a church! But on New Years Day, I was treated to the best bowl game of the year – Tennessee vs. Wisconsin. You see, my dad is a Wisconsin alumni (former football player) and I am an alumni of the University of Tennessee – and this is the first time both teams have met in quite a while. Fortunately, my good fortune continued with UT coming away with the victory – but I was able to spend a good week up in Minneapolis just hanging out with my dad and grandpa. 3 generations of Stewart's just spending time with each other – priceless.
Oh yeah, it was also at this time that I made my first trip to a mall. On the Friday that my friends came into town, I went to Opry Mills Mall – which is considered the tourist mall – and my heart was literally racing it was just so much to take in. When I went to Minneapolis, I went to the Mall of America and my heart started racing again – the overwhelming consumerism was just a bit much. In Samoa, things are limited and I just got use to not having things – oddly enough, I was happy with the simplicity of things there. Of course there were times when having a lack of choices was annoying and frustrating, but I just learned to live without certain things. Now I come back to the states and there's just so much choice it's ridiculous. I literally have a hard time choosing things because there's just too much to choose from. And you want to know the sad thing about all the stuff I saw in the malls of Opry Mills and the Mall of America – it's just stuff. Stuff that clutters up our lives and takes up space. I remember being the type of person who just filled his life up with stuff – my stuff is usually gadget related. I love my gadgets, DVDs – basically anything tech related. But now when I see something tech related I ask myself 'Do I really need this or will be just another thing to fill my life with' and that has kept me from buying a lot of stuff I would have normally bought without thinking about it. That's probably the best change that has occurred in me during my time in Samoa.
Anyway, back to our story. I came back from Minneapolis on a Sunday, stayed in Nashville on Monday and left for Dallas on Tuesday. This was another opportunity to spend time with a friend I had not seen in two years. I got to spend almost a full week with her and it was just a great time of hanging out and just being around each other. One of the things I realized while in Samoa is that I can enjoy being around people while doing absolutely nothing – just talking or just being around each other is good for me. Unfortunately, when I came to visit folks they thought we had to go around doing tourist stuff and while all that's fun, I missed the person not the place. Except Minnesota, I missed the people there but I definitely did not miss the place – I am no longer built for the snow. It's just a bit too much for my thin tropical skin.
So after coming back from Dallas, I spent time with my Nashville friends and now I am at the longest readjustment part of being a RPCV: the job search. It took me a while to get my head back around the whole job search deal and all the details that go into it. One of the things that annoy me the most about the job search is the fact that you have to prove yourself yet again. It's just strange that after two years of establishing connections in Samoa and knowing the people to get almost any job done, I'm basically back to square one. I have the experience to get the job I want – it's just a matter of getting that first step…that one opportunity to get through the door and starting building something stateside.
So your next question is probably 'Well Marques, what do you want to do next?' – I'm pretty sure that is the number 2 question ALL Peace Corps Volunteers get ask within their first 24 hours back. The number 1 question would be 'So tell me about Samoa (in 5 minutes or less)'. My main focus is in information technology i.e. working with computer hardware and networks (basically what I was doing in Samoa). I would like to find a career which allows me to combine my love of working with kids with my love of working with computers. I have found a few positions that would fit that description – working as an IT manager for a Charter School, working at a Computer Camp, working for an organization which establishes computers in the home of underprivileged children and working for Generation Yes – an organization which empowers students to be tech ambassadors within their community (whether that be as a student tech for a school or just becoming more tech literate). All these positions sound great but as usual the problem is simple – getting that first step, that first opportunity to prove myself.
So that is my readjustment – it's a life-long process, but I know that a part of me is still left in Samoa. It has been well over a month since I left, but I can still see the palm trees, great weather and of course the people who made my time there special. While I don't know when I will return to Samoa – I know I will, I have to. It's an undeniable part of who I am and I can never thank God enough for giving me that opportunity to grow. The slogan says 'It's the hardest job you'll ever love' and while that's true it's also an 'Experience that Enriches' your mind, body and soul.
So if there is anyone who is still reading this blog, thank you for your support and kind words over the past two years. If you left a comment on the blog, trust me – I read it. As I stated all along, this blog was meant as a letter to my mom to keep her informed of what I was doing in Samoa but while doing that it accomplished another goal…the Third Goal of Peace Corps, which is to share your Peace Corps experience with the folks back home. Of course this blog reached folks all over the world and that still blows my mind. Again, thank you for your support and God bless.
Just a little extra note before I officially end this thing: while this blog will come to a close, you can still follow my thoughts and ramblings on a smaller scale. There is a min-blog platform called Twitter which allows folks to post their thoughts and rambling in a short concise 140 character format. I have established a profile on Twitter at http://twitter.com/marquesstewart and if you want to keep up with the job search, readjustment, etc that will be the place to see it at.
And oddly enough my computer – the tough warrior that it has been over the past 2 years in Samoa – started to act up almost as soon as I got back. Within a few weeks of being home, something happened to the battery where it can't hold a charge anymore and just this past week my hard drive crashed. Fortunately, I had moved a majority of my music and photos off of it (can you imagine, losing the last 6 months of pics from Samoa – that would have been devastating) but I didn't get all the important stuff off before the crash. Who knew that coming BACK to the states would result in my computer messing up on me. I do look on the positive side –at least it happened here where I was able to resolve my problem fairly quickly instead of in Samoa where it would have been a much bigger deal. I knew this variety of choice in America would be good at some point.
Fa Soifua – Manuia le aso.
(The mini-adventure continues at: http://twitter.com/marquesstewart)