I thought that coming back from the States was going to be hard. Returning to site after Early in-Service Training (EIST) was a nightmare. For all of us, I think. A full week of depression, malaise. Couldn’t get work done, couldn’t write, couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to see people in town. But the States has been easy. Leaving friends and folks was tough. Both times, riding the metro out to Reagan from DC and letting my parents go and checking in at Detroit International, all the way through to getting on the bus in the city to come back here, like I was toting a sackful of rocks behind my navel. But once I hit my house, my stifling room, and my sopping bed, not a pang.
It might be that during EIST you’re with people who so well understand your situation, or that you’re still it Mexico when it happens, that it’s part of service and so more keenly felt when you’re back in site, in service. Being in the US was another world. Something apart enough that it couldn’t touch me here. Not in the sense of reverse culture shock. The Peace Corps and volunteers will go on about that, and maybe when I haven’t been back for more than a year it will hit me too. But Mexico is too developed, too unlike a regular site for service to present a totally different culture. What I felt there was something subtler.
Part of it was coming back to college for a little while. I stayed with my uncle and aunt in Virginia for a spell, like I did every weekend the summer before I shipped out, and I stayed with all the guys I lived with that summer too. The people I saw in DC were all college friends, from the year before, my year, and the one after. Because my buddy Eric’s dating a year younger, I ended up going to her awards ceremony and through their largesse (and that Brian Baum had a spare suit) I went to Senior Ball a second time.
So a real repeat of what should have been an uncapturable past.
There are things, intangible things, that are in the US and are not here for me. It might come down to my age or to college again, but take women. There is a feeling, when you can meet someone you haven’t seen in a year or in four and you can sit down and fall into the easiest conversation, laughing and reveling in your youth and the soft edge of flirtation that hovers on the outskirts because you’re fine people having a fine time and why shouldn’t there be. Here, not so; whether it be concerns about nationality or skin tone or papers or language or background and education, something robs conversation, interaction, of that easiness, that air of simple possibility. I know I sat in the Tombs exactly a year ago explaining to the same friend Eric that that feeling of ease is what defined college for me and what at the time I thought I could already feel slipping away from us. I spoke too soon then, and I think it would be too soon now, but only when I’m home. In terms of my service and my site, it’s not here, not in Jalpan.
There’s other stuff. Texting on a real phone, not worrying about your remaining pesos or finding a store for a recarga. Hearing American music in bar. Seeing a friendly face. Sharing the English language, American tobacco.
It may all come down to ease in the end. Everything is easy back home. Drink tap water, showers come hot when you want them. Public transit is straightforward and I’ve already got the card. You can drive on roads you know in an insured car and reasonable expectation that everyone is as sober as you.
I don’t know if I’d ever like to live in the States again, but God do I want to keep visiting.