Readjustment

Hey, remember when I was in Mongolia for two years? Yeah, me neither.

When I first arrived home, on August 5, Mongolia was at the forefront of my mind. Everything I was experiencing was through the filter of having spent the previous 2 years in Mongolia. Literally everything had a “this one time, in Mongolia…” story, which I didn’t always share, but couldn’t help but think of. I remember constantly having to refocus on the here-and-now, bringing my thoughts from Mongolia to Boston. Until, at some point, maybe about two months in, I realized that it wasn’t effortless and automatic anymore but required a conscious decision on my part to recall an experience or translate a word. Bringing my thoughts from Boston to Mongolia. Thinking about it now makes me sad because I expected to hold onto Mongolia, well, forever. I wasn’t prepared for this. I’m not prepared for this. I’m more grateful than ever to have written this blog.

So, missing Mongolia definitely tops the list of my observations of readjusting to life in America. It is the thing I care the most about and what I would “warn” other PCVs of as they journey toward becoming RPCVs. But, since there are some other observations on that list, I thought you might be interested in reading about them.

Comprehension
If I thought about it, I would have thought that returning to America, where business is conducted in my mother tongue, could only be easy. Which is probably why I didn’t think to think about it. And then I went to reactivate my old (non-smart) phone and get a new phone number. Remember that story I told about not understanding the Starbucks barista in Scotland? Well, it was like that, except that it was in Boston. On three distinct occasions (getting phone service, joining a gym, setting up a bank account), I found myself pretty slow on uptake, having to ask the customer service representative to repeat, simplify, clarify, slow down, start over… It was so strange feeling like a fish out of water in my hometown. Why do people talk so fast? What’s the hurry?

Sense of time
What’s the hurry, indeed. Remember how I said that making plans in Mongolia was kind of difficult because quite often people didn’t show up or else expected you to drop everything and go NOW? Or how, because the roads were so bad, it took literally twice as long (minimum) to drive the same distance there as here? I don’t know that I can attribute this next part to those classic Mongolia experiences but it may give a frame of reference… For nearly 4 months, I was commuting to my job from where I was living with my brother’s family. Using public transportation, it was about 2 hours each way. And I know that should have bothered me a LOT more than it did. I know that because when I mentioned to people how long my commute was, I could read the pain they felt for me in their expressions. And of course they said how much that much suck. Ultimately, it wasn’t the length of the commute that was starting to get to me, but the crowded trains and those things I’d forgo to make sure I caught the next bus.

Traveling unphased
This is along the same lines as the “sense of time” above, but it is worth it’s own entry because, by it’s very nature, traveling is time sensitive. During last summer’s Europe trip with my two RPCV friends, there were 3 travel mishaps that could have been our undoing. 1) Upon learning that we missed our train stop in Venice and would have to get off, wait for the next train, pay another fare, arriving two hours later than scheduled… we just kind of shrugged it off. 2) Arriving at the Munich train station… with bus tickets. “Huh, would you look at that.” 3) Trying to leave Berlin from the same bus station we arrived at, instead of where the buses departed from across town. Missed bus. New tickets. Delayed arrival in Hamburg and our only reaction, “Let’s get dinner while we wait.” I can’t say, definitively, whether it was the PC experience that made us this way, or if, perhaps, PC is likely to recruit folks who are already super flexible. Feel free to weigh in if you would have reacted the same way, which is to say if you would have had no reaction at all.

The clenched fist
The few times I have truly experienced stress have made me super grateful that I am typically a very relaxed person. Like, physically relaxed. I think of it as my most “Pisces” trait, that go-with-the-flow, carefree persona. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself, on one of what turned out to be many occasions since coming home, with a clenched fist. I first noticed it at the dinner table. I looked down and saw my left hand, in a fist, resting on the table. At first, it was just, “that’s weird,” unclench fist. But after a handful of times, I started to get worried about it. That I wasn’t being as honest with myself about how I was “readjusting” to being back. That my body knew better than I did and, on some level, it wasn’t happy. I still notice it, but not nearly as often. Or, maybe I’m so conscious of the possibility now that I’m constantly relaxing my left hand, preemptively unclenching. I’ll keep an eye on that.

Impervious to the (freezing) cold
While I was experiencing Mongolia’s winters, and later, as Boston’s winter was getting underway, several people pondered whether my acclimating to the Mongolian winter would make me impervious to cold. So, here is an interesting observation: apparently, there is a weather-window where my physical response doesn’t really correlate to the temperature. I have recently figured it to be anywhere between 40-60 degrees; get me outside then and I’m a shivering, quivering mess. But, take it colder, like today’s 11, and I’m actually using friendly words like “brisk” to describe it. This is the view outside my window yesterday. I went for a walk.

snow

In closing, it’s nearly 8 months since Mongolia. I’m still studying my vocabulary every day! But I called my Mongolian Mom for New Year’s Eve and it was a struggle for me. I left Mongolia thinking I’d be back in 3-5 years… now, I’m thinking 2-3. Which I just realized, is now 1-2! Wow, that makes me happy!

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5 Responses to Readjustment

  1. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    What a delight to read this post! Honestly thought they were all over; whew, glad that’s not the case. Lots of interesting points to ponder in this one. I’ll tackle one: “Traveling Unphased” – I def know that I am one that would cringe, fret, sweat and worry if I showed up for a TRAIN ride holding a BUS ticket, or if I missed a connection that was going to cost me hours, etc. Why? Maybe because like you say Love, to begin with, I’m probably not quite the super flexible-type the PC likes to recruit, I like order and predictability and dependability. On the other hand though, if I lived for 2 years in a place that I had to go w/the flow and accept (and hopefully embrace) some of those things, like you, I hope they would soften me, change me, stay with me, so that when encountering a moment like your #3 of being in the wrong place for a bus out of Berlin meaning missed bus, new ticket, lost time, my only thought and reaction would be, “Let’s get dinner while we wait,” that would be awesome. I hope you don’t lose that. In our society, that’s probably impossible but hopefully you don’t lose it entirely.

  2. ~ellen says:

    PAA thanks for posting this on Facebook and leading me to another wonderful post from Love. I would love to see this entire blog made into a book. I haven’t been a faithful reader but would love to read the entire journey with photos cover to cover. Love, you truly are an amazing writer. Thanks for sharing your stories with all of us.

    I think I too am pretty flexible and always have been. The test for many is to adapt to change. I would love to see our society be more relaxed and carefree.

    No matter how long it takes you to return to your Mongolian home it is now part of who you are. Maybe To Mongolia with Love is just the beginning :).

  3. Kathy P. Willis says:

    I’ve always considered myself to be fairly patient. I remember praying for patience, then saying, “But Lord, not too much!” Because I know that with that comes frustration at times. You, Love, on the other hand, seem to be the epitome of patience. With all that you went through with the cold & the frostbite; & even the trip mishaps – it’s amazing & yet we can look back at your life & say, “Yup, but that’s Love, she takes everything in her stride.”

    I’m so glad you’re keeping up with your blog &, agreeing with Ellen, hopefully someday it will be in book form.

    The view from your window is breathtaking! Wish you all the best in your new apartment. Much love to you, little niece. ~Auntie~

  4. Ally says:

    Awesome, transparent…thank you so much for sharing!! As far as traveling unphased, for some a reaction like yours might be natural…but I totally think the degree you had is usually from people who have had training to travel internationally. I was in line at CVS the other day and a woman kept rolling her eyes because of the wait. I watched the clock on my cell phone. She literally stood there for 5 minutes…no longer. She really was having a fit!!! Our culture!! I texted EJ during the wait asking him how long people stood in line to see the doctor in Nicaragua with their little babies who had no access to health care…he said some waited 8 hours just to get vitamins!! UGH!! Anyway, I think because of some of the travel I have done I’m prone to be flexible…but it would be pretty exciting to experience something that would stretch me a bit more!! Blessings to you girl!! Praying you know the EXACT time you should return!! Love you!

  5. Rich says:

    I don’t know how you survived the winters. Being from California and all. well, I just wanted to see what others thought of Mongolia since I was there for but a few days. Here was adventure filled nearly illegal journey across the Russian/Mongolian border. http://www.richtrek.com/2014/11/crazy-journey-to-and-across.html hope you enjoy, and thanks your write-up. I read about the “clenched fist” here is my version …

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