Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Waving goodbye, Wandering the World, and Welcoming Home!

Happy New Year! I hope that 2013 found you all happy, healthy, and safe. I rang in the New Year in my home town, something I had been looking forward to since leaving in 2010. Yes, my Peace Corps adventure officially came to a close, and as I sit back on my home side of the world, I think it’s only fitting to write one last blog entry to summarize “the end.”

I left off before Thanksgiving. While the holiday didn’t exactly work out as planned, I did have a wonderful day with Ian at my site. Just plain overwhelmed with all the traveling we had ahead for our big trip, we decided to tackle the dinner on our own. We decided this a little too late, though, and didn’t have any time to get into the City to get any ingredients. Looking at what we had (some potatoes, garlic, flour, and spices), we realized we were going to have to be creative. 2 years into our service, though, we were not novice volunteers. So, we found a student to ride his bike up to the next village to buy us a chicken, borrowed a roaster from my friend Veronica, and got to work. When dinner time rolled around, we set the table and served up a nice roasted chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, and a cake that resembled a large krispy kreme donut. And it was delicious! The day was topped off by receiving the much anticipated news that my first niece, Miss Annie Lewis, was born that morning back in Portland, OR (but early evening our time). It was a Thanksgiving I will be sure to remember!

After Thanksgiving, Ian headed back down to get ready to leave from Chimoio, and I was left to pack up, deep clean, and say my goodbyes. My last weekend could not have gone any better. People were SO NICE to me. Compliments do not come easily in Moz… until you are leaving! Colleagues and friends were constantly stopping by and showering me with kind words. Due to limited space in my bags, I gave away nearly all my clothes, a billion extra pencils, and all my broken electronics – giving my last weekend an interesting combination of sadness, nostalgia… and extreme annoyance at all the random people showing up at my door asking for things once they saw I was giving stuff away. But, Monday morning arrived, and Veronica and Celsa, along with my favorite girl from year one, Madalena, all showed up to help me close up my house. Veronica and Celsa acted like my mother hens, making sure I got everything, and then carried all my luggage out to the road and plopped down to wait with me for a ride. 

An hour later, an open back truck stopped to let me get in the back (much preferred to a chapa with all my bags!), I hugged them goodbye… and then I was gone. I watched Kaunda disappear in a blink, and the reality set in that I would most likely never see it again, at least not as it is today. And I was feeling okay with that. I loved my time in Kaunda. I will never forget the people there and the home I found. The time had come to move on, though, and I knew in just 2 short weeks another volunteer would move into her house (it was no longer mine) and continue the projects I began and start her own amazing work in Kaunda. 

Once my town was out of site, the long journey home began! After a week of closing business in Maputo, Ian and I took an overnight bus to Joburg, and then boarded the first of many planes.

First stop: Abu Dhabi! We chose a flight with a full day layover in the hopes that we could get out and see the city. Transport proved to be easy, and we spent the day wandering the streets, looking up in awe at the hundreds of sky scrapers either finished or being built, and finally toured a beautiful giant mosque. We made it back to the airport with time to spare, and boarded our plane to India.

Second stop: India! We arrived in New Delhi after 3 consecutive nights of travel (one overnight bus, and then back to back overnight flights). Basically, we were zombies. We had tried unsuccessfully to book train tickets for travel within India online from Moz, so decided to head straight to the train station to try to book in person. HUGE MISTAKE. There we were, basically sleepwalking, in a chaotic train station with huge bags on our backs with absolutely no knowledge on how to book tickets – and no one spoke English well enough to help us. We decided to throw in the towel until we had gotten a shower and a nap, and through a flurry of confusion and tuk-tuk rides, found ourselves not in our hotel but instead in a tourist help station. We walked out an hour later a little poorer, but did have train tickets for the next 2 weeks, so we were happy campers.

The 2 weeks in India were a combination of beautiful sites, hectic travel, fabulous food, and not so good smells, but overall a wonderful experience. We stopped in Agra, where we visited the beautiful Taj Mahal and fascinating Agra Fort. After that, we headed to Jaipur, the biggest city in the state of Rajasthan, where we market shopped in the old city, saw more palaces and forts, and had a fun date night with Indian McDonald’s (I know… but they have the “Maharaja Mac,” how cool is that?!) and a Bollywood movie in a beautiful theater. After Jaipur, we took another train to Udaipur, a city on a lake where James Bond’s Octopussy was filmed (and you won’t forget it… they have showings of the movie every night in several hostels). Our backpacker’s hotel had a beautiful rooftop lounge overlooking the lake, and in between more palaces, temples, and even a cooking class, we were finally able to relax a bit and just enjoy the beauty of the city. Next, we headed to Jodhpur, the “blue city,” build at the base of a mountain with a gigantic fort protruding out of the rocks. Our final stop was Jaisalmer, the “golden city,” and the gateway to the desert. We toured ANOTHER fort, and spent one evening on a camel safari out into the dunes. After that, it was time to head back to Delhi, and, after a less than peaceful 18 hour train ride back to the capital, we were back at the airport to continue our journey home.

Overall, I am extremely glad to have gotten to see just a small slice of India. Although it was a little dirtier and smellier than I was expecting, the culture was fascinating. It was also really interesting to see a different type of “developing nation.” While India is miles ahead of Moz in several aspects of development, I found myself missing the clean air and slow pace of Mozambique. There are just so many people in India! It would have been great to have time to see more of the country, including more  rural areas, but I still feel like I got a good taste of India, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to visit.  

Third stop: Thailand! With only a week in a country with THOUSANDS of sites to see, we had to make some tough decisions. After discussing our priorities and taking into account that we’d probably be pretty exhausted after India, we limited our visit to only 2 things: the beach, and Bangkok. We landed at the airport Sunday morning, and headed straight to Ko Samet, an island off the southeast seaboard of Thailand. Transport, once again, proved to be a breeze compared to what we were used to in Mozambique, and we landed at our backpacker’s with 3 relaxing days ahead of us. The island was beautiful – we spent our first day walking up and down the coast of the island from pristine beach to crowded resorts and back again, eventually finding our own chairs and cocktails on the sand. The next day was more focused on catching some serious rays and people watching. Wednesday, we headed back up to Bangkok, where we both marveled at the modern world, and took a short day trip up to some ruins to marvel at the ancient world. Saturday, too soon, it was time to go.

Fourth stop: Tokyo! This wasn’t actually a stop, just another layover. Despite being tired (why did we have all overnight flights?!), we knew we would regret not taking the opportunity to glimpse another country, so we headed into downtown and just walked around for a couple hours. That evening, I boarded my flight to Portland and Ian got on his to Chicago. 3 weeks and 6 countries later, it was time to go home.

Fifth stop: USA! I landed Dec. 23rd in Portland, where I met my adorable little niece, and spent a fabulous Christmas with almost all of my family. After a week there, I finally got home, which brings me to where I am sitting today.

So what comes next? The nanny hopping begins this weekend, when I head out to Colorado to stay with my sister Norah and start nannying for my cute-as-a-button nephew, Henry. In March, I’ll do the same for Molly and Annie out in Portland, and start taking prerequisite classes as I have decided to apply for nursing school next year to eventually become a midwife. At least that’s the plan for now!

I guess that is where this blog comes to a close. I have really enjoyed being able to share my journey in this way, and I hope you have enjoyed reading it. The support I received from so many people back home (and in Moz) was absolutely necessary for my success in the Peace Corps. Thank you!!

My last song will be a repeat – one that I was listening pretty much nonstop as I was getting ready to leave: “Home” by Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeroes.

Thanks for reading!!!