Saturday, April 28, 2012

I know when I leave the US and come back after time away that there will be some small changes, slight cultural things, new popular songs and shows and “stars”, new technological stuff, and friends and family with new situations in their lives. And I know I’ll be different from who I was when I left. Exposure to new people and experiences and ways will do that. It’s usually just a matter of balancing it out. Often getting started on something and keeping busy helps – like having a full-time and a couple of part-time jobs after Peace Corps while making sure I could live and work in the US (since Peace Corps was the first thing I did after school).

But coming back to the US this time was different for me than it has been in the past. I came back without any big (or otherwise) personal goals. My main thought was that I’d been with SMA for so many years in W. Africa, so it was time to stay in the States and help make the possibility of having this kind of life experience an option for others. Another reason was that I wanted to be closer and more accessible to family. After more than 7 years away, like I said above, they had new situations in their lives. There were other side-plans, too, like taking violin lessons, learning another language, getting my body healthy, and having distance from Africa to see what’s next.

Being back in the US and with SMA seemed like it would be a good way to meet these goals while staying very connected to Africa and to people who also have Africa as a part of their lives. I had hopes that any bizarre behaviors I exhibit would be understood by the people around me because they were all familiar with where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing. I thought this would be a good way to settle in with life here, while still being connected to life in Africa.

So, I returned to the US in October. I haven't been writing much on the blog these days. Two of the three times I updated it since I've been back the stories were about Africa. The other time was about leaving Ghana and what I’m hoping my life will be now. I’ve just been trying to get thoughts together, get a little settled in mind, spirit and body. Also, I feel there's not much to write about. I go to some meetings, I browse online, I do a few things around the SMA house – but it just seems there’s been nothing that I really care about enough to write about. It’s strange – of course I care about the times I’ve had with family and friends.  But, I don’t want to write about that – the blog hasn’t been about that, it's always been more about experiences in Africa, thoughts and reactions to those experiences, and stories from and about people who have been important to me and who have influenced me.

Back in November I was at one of the meetings we go to, and a woman gave a small talk about what she (and the organization she's with - From Mission to Mission) does - 'workshops" for people who have had cross-cultural experiences and are now back in the States. I talked with her afterwards and she could see I was interested, also told me that if I attended one of the workshops, it could help explain all the thoughts and feelings I was having. She stayed in touch and there was a 10-day workshop in Texas - but that wasn’t possible for me. Happily, she continued to stay in touch and there was another one - from Thurs night til Sun noon a couple of weekends ago. SMA agreed I could go to it.

I feared it a little. Yet, I was also very very much looking foward to it. And I knew I needed, wanted and was ready for it.

We ended up with 10 people (counting the facilitator and another person who also took the workshop 5 years ago when she had first returned from her assignment). It was a chance to talk about our experiences, but more than that - about the feelings, about how it feels now that we're away, about still honoring the experience, the people we connected with, the values we have, the changes we have inside of us - and how to make that all relevant to our lives now. It was about how to still live it – to be honest to who we are now.

We were together as a group for a lot of the workshop, but also a couple of times with just one other person. It was a relief to me to hear that other people were feeling and thinking the same thoughts I was. It's hard to explain - like a sigh of recognition or something. And to be free to talk about it all with people who are in the same place, who understand. Other people are also feeling empty inside, feeling no interest in anything, struggling to find some way to feel alive again, suffering from the loss of good friendships and a passionate way of life, caring about what we were doing, about people around us, etc. Emotions were on edge the entire time - some people cried at times, my eyes got watery a couple of times, and we laughed a lot (it wasn't all touchy-feely tear-jerking stuff, but it was an emotion-releasing experience).

For our final session we were to talk of an accomplishment, something we were proud to have done. I ended up being the last to go -phew - not easy. Everyone else ended up their talk pretty much happy, with a positive thing, smiling, etc. I didn't expect mine to go the way it did. I started off and suddenly could barely talk. I was talking about being proud of the connections I had made between people (like between some of the people I worked with there and people here in the US, or between Ghanaians and Liberians, or between people with disabilities and those without) and also deeply felt connections that I had with other people. But I could barely talk. Ai yai yai. Between great pauses, with me trying to get control - but completely failing, I gradually got the idea out. By the time I finished, everyone ended up crying - we were all missing the same thing, and we were all proud of the same thing - of touching lives and of allowing our lives to have been touched so deeply. I feel it now, writing about it.

Anyway - that's kind of where I've been at lately. Out of touch, empty, afraid to get in touch. The weekend was what I was afraid it was going to be -and also what I needed - a chance to feel more than frustration again, a chance to be with others who were looking for the same thing – some kind of feeling to be back in their lives.

I left the weekend feeling more alive again, feeling hopeful again, feeling motivated (not sure about what, but just in general). I hope to strengthen this, and to feel motivated to be alive in all ways. I wish it could happen now, but it'll take some active effort. The weekend was a good start. Maybe writing about it in my blog is therapy for me. The weekend was therapeutic. I never envisioned doing something like group therapy, but that's pretty much what this was.

Just a random picture, just to have a picture - - cherry blossoms here in DC


At 5:37 AM, Blogger Ineke Bosman said...

Steve this is an important blog entry. The story of being lost and empty and not really interested in anything much. Till one day you start telling a story, the story of your achievements. They are all in the interpersonal field and that happens to be the field where real positive change can take place(who said that? Positive change? Obama or Kuffour or both?)That is the real developmentwork I think, loving other people. You have inspired me with your blog today. And I wish I was that advanced in coping with feelings of inner emptyness. Well done and thank you. Ineke

At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steve, thank you for sharing what you are going through. My awareness of my surroundings are heightened from your blog. It is never easy to figure out what one's purpose in life is (Monty Python's The Meaning of Life helped me to put that in perspective some time ago). It's always ongoing and changes according to your experiences. There is a great varied lack of understanding in the world about what's important in life. But please know that things do become clearer as you follow your heart. My heart is with the students and I am fortunate enough to recognize them as my north star. Everyone has something different to guide them.

It was nice to see your picture. Ta

At 3:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Steve, I really enjoyed reading your blog entry. You have such a great writing style! Sorry you're going through this period but it sounds like it's also a great period of reflection and growth. It was also very thought-provoking for me and about what's going on in my life - so thanks for sharing! Also, great to see the picture of you and the cherry blossoms. I love spring in DC!

At 7:13 PM, Blogger MJ said...

Steve, I'm so glad to see that you were able to connect with this group and go to one of their workshops. It sounds like it really made a big difference in things not only for you but you also helped others who were there---from reading this, it sounded to me like they were still kind just trying to say what they were expecting to be saying but you were able to come out and say exactly what you were feeling which got them to realize that they were not alone in some of the things that they were really experiencing and you were all able to really get all those feelings out in the open which is so important.

At 4:02 AM, Blogger steve said...

Sorry, I explained badly, then. We were all saying what we needed to say, and we all felt the same pride in each others' things. Everyone was speaking from their hearts, and we all felt what others said in our own hearts as though it was our own statement. No outside expectations of what to say. I didn't mean to build my reply up or make it better. Like I had said, the weekend was an emotional release for all of us - we felt each others' laughter, pride and tears. We understood and felt what each other said they were proud of because we were all proud of similar things. By applauding the others, I was also applauding myself. I was happy when someone mentioned a specific person they helped, because I wanted to say the same thing. So, actually, by one of us saying something we were proud of, it was all 10 of us saying it. Instead of me saying just the one thing - the connections -I was proud of making, I actually said a total of 10 things.


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