I have been back in village for a week now after the whirlwind of COS conference, and I have never missed Americans this much in my entire life. My fortunate circumstances that have allowed me to live in different places also at times gives me severe identity crisis. The first 12 years of my life, I was a Taiwanese. No doubt about it. The 6 years that followed, I successfully transformed myself into an American. I did such a stellar job that in college, my Asian friends were surprised when they found out I spoke fluent Chinese and grew up in Taiwan. Talk about being bien intégré. For the past 6 years, however, I’ve traveled. I’ve utilized that integration skills to put myself in the life of an English, a Cameroonian, a French. I avoided hanging out with Americans too much to get the full experience. However, my time with my fellow volunteers last week made me realize that I am in fact, American, and I miss them.
After our conference in Yaoundé, a group of us took vacation and went to Kribi, one of the popular beach towns. One evening, we were out in a very chic pizzeria that is designed for expats. The restaurant had these really wide and comfortable chairs. Being the luxury starved volunteers that we are, a conversation went on for a good 10-15 minutes about how big and comfortable those chairs were. Then it occurred to us that once back in the States, people will look at us strangely if we ever went on a rant about how big chairs are.
Several times throughout the week, we went dancing in clubs and had a fantastic time when American music came on. That kind of bond and excitement won’t exist Stateside when all the music played are, well, American. I will miss a group of 15 Americans going bunkers on the dance floor to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance while Cameroonians are trying to figure out what is going on with us.
Our bus ride back from Kribi was bizarrely hot. All of us were packed in a bus like sardines, which is normal, but the humidity was unusually high that all of us were literally sweating bullets. I did not know my body was capable of sweating this way. We would all sit in the most relaxed manner possible, and there would be sweat dripping down our bodies as if someone was spreading water on us. It was pretty disgusting. To make matters worse, Cameroonians hate having wind blowing on them during bus rides, so even though we are all dying of heat, they would try to close the windows. You throw in the crying babies, or loud mamas who break out in songs because they wanted, then you have yourself a fantastic ride. I decided in that moment in time, amidst all the sweat, that I will NEED people in my life who can understand this.
During our COS conference, we had a RPCV panel who talked to us about life after the Peace Corps. The recurring theme was that people will not really be interested in your experience. They won’t care. I got a glimpse of that this summer while I traveled back to Taiwan. I carried a photo album with me to show people my life here, and with few exceptions, most people really just aren’t that interested. I am terrified of going back to a place where no one can understand the intense two years that I’ve just experienced. But when I looked around my beloved friends who were on that hot bus, I felt more at ease. At least, they will.
Over the week, there were several conversations among us discussing our plans for the summer and trying to find a way to meet up. We then pointed out how we are so eager to see each other Stateside even though we have all just spend two years together. We came to the conclusion that we need to talk to each other about the big chairs that we will be sitting in, and freak out about other minute details of American life together. I will miss these amazing people who are likely to be lifelong friends. Nothing bonds you more than being tossed in a strange place together for two years.