There are days when it seems as though I returned to live in Hampton, Virginia only moments ago. On other days, my returned spirit feels every second and minute of the 21 months since leaving Botswana.
PEACE CORPS BOTSWANA EARLY TERMINATION
A NOTE TO BOTS 14
Leaving Botswana was less scary than my return to Virginia and the motivation for it was way more candid! In retrospect, I think I went to Botswana for too many of the wrong reasons. What were my reasons? Well, I needed a job; and, I didn’t need a job that paid me, but I did need a job that afforded me the opportunity to ignore my 401K for 27 months.
The intensity of the Peace Corps screening process and the ambiguity of some of its aspects created enormous stress. Even as the 12 month process unfolded, and I worked to research every possible component of my hoped for upcoming experience, someone said to me “no matter how much research you do, you will not be prepared for Botswana or your pre-service training!” What a true statement! And so as I reflect on that snapshot, the picture of the collision of my bad luck and the consequences of ambiguity, I am content that the correct (and also the right) decision was made when I decided (after the briefest of moments) to “Early Terminate (ET)” and return to America.
Over these past many months, as I have remained an E-Member of Bots 14, I have lived vicariously and enjoyed reading about their triumphs, tribulations, joys, despair, and amazing transformations. I have loved their pictures and their stories! I have loved their appreciation of things that I, too, loved about Botswana! Of course, they have explored the Continent way beyond my exploration! Even so, I easily recall the light of dusk and dawn, the artistry of the sky – the moon and the stars were all so eerily beautiful! Even now it is difficult to find words to describe their magnificence; but, it is more special and more different than any where else I have had the privilege to observe light, sky, stars, moon and sun. Several members of Bots 14 have shared photographs of blazing and brilliantly colored skies, captured at sunrise and at sunset. I am grateful! Somehow you feel ensconced in the beauty and love of the Mother…still so hard to find words, but I know I will never forget what I saw and how it felt… Trust me, it was God’s Majestic Beauty.
Believe it or not, the majority of Bots 14 will return to the States during October and November this year. Time seems to have zoomed by for me. I wonder how the Bots 14s felt as they embraced the new and unfamiliar, and I am sure at least on occasion longed for the old and the familiar. I admire you. I salute you and I am very proud to have stood with you, even if only for a brilliantly bursting moment. For me, it wasn’t my time. And as my brother said as he greeted me at the airport upon my return from Botswana, “I don’t know why you had to go all the way to Africa to come home, but I am happy to have you back home!” I don’t know either, but there are reasons for everything!
BACK IN MY HOMETOWN OF HAMPTON, VIRGINIA AFTER 35 YEARS OF LIVING SOME PLACE ELSE
The basis of my decision to return to Hampton, Virginia, as opposed to where I had been living in Upstate New York, or anywhere else I might possibly choose to live was less clear to me and wrought with uncertainty. I had lived away from Hampton for 35 years and until now I had never once considered the possibility of returning.
I was returning to a place that was so very different and yet so alarmingly the same! My mom and dad had passed over and I had never lived here without one or both of them. My family is small and my relationship with each person holds its own story. Hampton’s culture was foreign to me; and, what I remembered of it from my youth and early adulthood left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.
The first six months here were difficult and I still questioned my decision to leave Botswana and the Peace Corps. I didn’t seriously question it, but I did question it, especially on those days when I truly wondered why the hell I had decided to return to Hampton.
Ghost and skeletons were always popping out of closets, memories more bitter than sweet, memories more sweet than bitter as I visited places and long ago experiences with my mom, dad, brothers, family, friends and school- mates. Sometimes I would cry. Sometimes I would laugh! Sometimes I would feel angry! Sometimes I felt grateful!
One of my fondest memories since returning happened during my first winter (2013) when Hampton was blessed with multiple snows and one large one, at least one large enough to get my cross-country skies out and attempt to ski on the grounds of my apartment complex. That was funny and the way folks looked at me was funny, too! Boy! I was missing Upstate New York and the winter! Boy, was I feeling out-of-place!
Over time with an open heart and open mind, the love of family and friends, I begin to see the beauty of this place. More importantly I grew more in touch with my gratitude! Hampton Roads is a beautiful area and I am learning to appreciate it more and more, especially the water! I am surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the James River and the Chesapeake Bay! It is truly amazing to see and touch water whenever you want and to be able to do it so easily! Many people love the weather in this area and it can be awesome, but the heat and humidity can be quite draining!
Building new friendships, being held by the love of old friends, and becoming reacquainted with family have been enriching experiences. Making new memories to hold along side the old have allowed me to come full circle, like a metamorphosis – vibrant adulthood bidding farewell to tumultuous youth! I am still growing and I hope I always will! This is what I know for sure: I will continue to seek freedom – so long denied, in a place that so often felt like the culprit!
NEEDING BUT NOT WANTING TO FIND A JOB
Looking for work has been a trip! I hadn’t worked in three years, since retiring to take care of my mom; and, I knew finding a job, which I didn’t really want to do, would be a challenge. And I was right!
The market is generally tight and it is especially tight for a soon-to-be sixty-one-year old woman with more than 30 years of experience and a PhD. Who wants an old dinosaur? And what the hell has she been doing since retiring? How technology phobic is she? How much money does she require? Does she want my job?
I experienced both joy and angst at not being able to find a job! My angst was at its greatest intensity when I worried about becoming homeless and eating at my local soup kitchen! My joy was at its greatest when I chose to dedicate two hours to fitness each morning, generally owned my own time and didn’t have to deal with anyone else’s bullshit except my own!
Desperation and the love of friends led to endearing but unsustainable experiences! Check it out!
JOB #1 – HAMPTON CITY SCHOOLS SUBSTITUTE TEACHER
I worked as a substitute teacher. I fooled myself and I was a fool thinking I would be good at this job! Work was abundant, but I resigned after it became crystal clear to me that I was going to kill myself or kill someone’s child! After several nights of vodka and tears on my sofa, I was done! When I visited the school board representatives who hired me, I could see them trying to stifle their knowing laughter as they tried to question whether I was certain that I wanted to resign. Oh yes, I am certain!
My brief tenure as a substitute teacher was an eye-opening but unwanted experience! Thank God for the men and women – substitutes and career professionals who teach America’s children on a regular basis! My brief tenure revealed more than enough: I heard the fbomb a million times (one was too many)! I had to confiscate students’ cell phones and then felt threatened that I might be beaten up as a result! High School students and elementary school students were alike in that they did not listen, pay attention or stop moving! One lovely looking 16-year old African American female told me her aspiration upon graduation was to be a pimp. The only thing I could manage to say was “be sure to do your research!
JOB #2 – RAMP AGENT
I worked for an airline that will remain unnamed here! What an experience! Truly the love of a friend led to this opportunity! I was ramp (ground crew) personnel. I got to wear a uniform! I love uniforms! Even in the rain and snow, I had uniform gear that I loved! I got to drive big equipment and I got to drive it right up to the plane! You should have seen the faces of some of my colleagues when it looked like I was going to hit the plane with my big rig! And you should have seen their faces when I tried to send a Dash 8 out with the safety cone still under it’s wing or when I was forced to push back a CRJ 200 without training! Think about when you first learned to drive a stick shift! Oh, those poor people! I really loved driving the baggage cart, but trust me lifting tons of heavy bags from the conveyor belt to my buggy and from my buggy to the conveyor belt was hard work. The reward: My biceps looked the best that they have ever looked!
Being the oldest person with this airline crew was noteworthy! I was amazingly physically fit but the stress was too much. Airline crews are committed to bringing flights in, deplaning folks, getting baggage off, fueling up, getting the new folks on and the new luggage on and the flight out within 30 minutes. It is an intense task!
My Ramp Agent life was short lived, but it was an experience never to be forgotten, even just seeing what goes on to get the flying public to and from their destinations! Sometimes I wonder if you can know too much! I am happy to have guided planes into gates, less so about pushing my one plane back, telling the fuel-guy how much gas to put into the plane, walking the wing, and to have built my arms tight and strong loading and unloading baggage and cargo! And what about those baggage loader belts, pushback tractors, and baggage cart tugs that I drove! Macho and I loved it! Keeping up with the 20-something year olds and I loved it!
A memory among my best memories is of arriving at the airport at 4AM and the night sky is brilliantly lit by an array of twinkling stars. A stillness and calm lay across the atmosphere and envelope what is sure to be a momentary awakening. I walk across the tarmac, catching the first glimpses of the rising sun. I am headed to wake up my planes, to ensure that they slept safely and un-tampered with through the night and that they are ready to greet their passengers!
JOB #3 PROJECT MANAGER, INTAKE COUNSELOR AND CASE MANAGER
Thanks to another friend, I am working for a non-profit organization that provides services to chronically homeless people.
This journey began as a short-tem project conducting environmental reviews of the leased properties the organization uses to place chronically homeless men, women and families who qualify for permanent supportive housing.
What an experience! The government lingo and exaggerated request for documentation was enormously frustrating! Plus, I was simply in unfamiliar territory, as I was required to work with coastal barrier resources, floodplain management, coastal zone management, contamination and toxic substances, and environmental justice issues! I had to search, retrieve and mark so many maps; and trust me, and maps are not my forte. Happily, I know a great deal more about maps and environmental justice, now!
I was also working 6-10 hours per week (7-10pm) in weekly rotating shelters for the homeless. Each week the shelter was housed and hosted by a different church. I was an Intake Counselor. This meant I spent 20-30 minutes with each guest if it was the first time they were staying in shelter for the season. I think we had 400 guest this past winter and Hampton is just one of the seven cities that make up the Tidewater area. I struggled with this work for many reasons, but my gratitude soared! Many of these people were at one time working and living fairly routine lives, and now they live on he street: young people, old people, families, African American, Caucasian, and varied other ethnicities.
Each night I couldn’t wait to get home and shower and drink wine! I think I was afraid I might end up homeless and on the street! And it was difficult! This experience exposed me to aspects of life from which I had been sheltered! I was reminded of my Peace Corps mission, had I remained in Botswana! So many of our guests are HIV positive, substance abusers or former substance abusers, and/or suffering a variety of mental illnesses. It tugged so savagely at my heartstrings to see young women with young children and infants living on the streets and in and out of the shelter.
The intake process required asking some of THE most personal questions related to past sexual history and drug use. It didn’t matter if it was a 19- year old male or a 79-year old female. I remember conducting an intake on the most amazing 79-year old African American woman and having to ask her these questions. This woman had to make a choice between medicine and shelter. She chose medicine and that put her on the street, even though she was working as a home care provider a few hours per week! She reminded me of my grandmother! Asking her those questions and seeing her on her mat each night that I was at the shelter was so difficult! The good news! She has been placed in permanent supportive housing! There are rewards, few perhaps, but there are rewards in this work and her placement is certainly one of them!
A full time opportunity recently became available and I have been hired to fill it! I have a caseload of 22 people who have been placed in permanent supportive housing. These folks have all been chronically homeless at some point in their lives and are truly a cast of characters!
This is the end of my sixth week in this full time job that I wanted, well kind of wanted! And yes, I am counting the weeks as I continue to operate outside of my comfort zone!
I am still seeking the purpose of my life. Even as I seek, I am dancing the sacred dance that Michael Tamura described in his book. He said when we respond to the call of purpose, we dance life’s sacred dance! Maybe we respond to the call of purpose over and over again. Maybe what’s sacred is the exploration itself. I don’t know! What I do know is that I am GRATFUL for all these many and varied experiences, for friends and family, for the love of one very special person and for health and wellness as 61 is gently tapping on my door!
As Bots 14is moving toward the end of their Peace Corps service and preparing for the next adventure, I also am moving on and closing the Peace Corps/Botswana chapter of my life! Full circle reflection has taken me 21 months, but it has been well worth it! Thanks everybody! Stay turned for a new Blog-Theme sometime over the next couple of months!