Sunday, September 15, 2013

Addis --> Kerala --> Chicago

It’s been a long time since I updated the blog, partly because I’ve been busy since leaving Addis Ababa and partly because I needed a vacation at least once this summer.  In the past few weeks I’ve been to India, Missouri, and Chicago; I’ve finally unpacked and have some feeling of permanence! 
My friend Tsiyon and me my last week in Addis
Leaving Addis was difficult; I had made several friends, made a lot of really good connections, and found the work invigorating.  I knew that in a little over a month, I would be taking classes at SSA and McCormick, doing community organizing at my field site, coordinating events and meetings for the UCC’s Radical Peacemaking Initiative, organizing faith communities around the Trauma Center campaign, and somehow finding time to get all of my homework done.  This internship gave me the opportunity to focus on one project, to really do my best work and to do it at my own pace, which is my preferred working conditions.  Once I returned to Chicago, I would be pulled in many different directions instead of focusing on one project. On the other hand, I felt that I had accomplished the tasks that had been set for me, there was nothing keeping me in the city at that point.  I also knew that the friendships I made in Addis would probably not survive the long distance and the 8-hour time difference between Ethiopia and the United States.  These relationships gave me the emotional and spiritual support that I so desperately needed so far from home, and I was sad to say goodbye to the amazing people I had met.  However, my previous experience in India had prepared me for this situation, and I began these relationships knowing that they would have a very short life.  So when I left, it wasn’t nearly as emotionally devastating as my departure from India was three years ago. 

The termination of my Addis experience was sweetened by the next stop on my summer travels:  Kerala!  Rev. Thomas John, who was the site coordinator for the India YAV program, had invited all the previous volunteers to the wedding of his son.  Since I was already going to be halfway around the world this summer, I felt there was no excuse for me not to go back.  I planned to stay in Kerala for a week, in which I would visit Buchanan Institute Girl’s Higher Secondary school (where I lived and served during my YAV year) and see all of my teacher friends.  I had been looking forward to this visit all summer, but was a little anxious as well.  Had I romanticized my India experience in the three years since I left?  Was my nostalgia based on a fantasy?  Would I still be able to connect with the people that meant so much to me, who were integral parts of the most transformative experience of my life?  Did I remember enough to independently navigate the city and interact with the locals?  Would I revert to the emotional wreck that I was when I returned to the US?  Would I have the opportunity to eat all of the delicious food that I miss so much?
Let's be honest:  Kappa and Meen Curry was a big reason
that I came back to Kerala

I shouldn’t have worried; my visit couldn’t have been more perfect.  I stepped off the plane in Cochin and immediately felt like I had come home.  The smells, the sounds, the air, everything was so familiar.  I was still able to take the trains and buses, converse in Malayalam (though not nearly so well or easily), walk around the cities and towns, and connect with many of my friends.  Madison Muñoz, who was the YAV at Buchanan after me, was also in country for the wedding and we visited the school together.  We were able to see the teachers, the old warden from our hostel, and even some of our former students!  It seemed as if nothing had changed in the past three years, except that there had been some staff turnover and the students had shot up like beanstalks.  In a way, it was comforting to know that life had gone on without us.  I was also relieved to find out that I had (finally) processed and integrated my YAV year experience into my understanding of myself and my life’s journey.  Of course I got emotional during the visit, but only in good (healthy) ways.  The week in Kerala provided me with an opportunity to see just how my YAV year has formed the person I am today and I was able to appreciate Kerala in a different way.  I took long walks every morning and afternoon to take in as much of the natural beauty as possible, I spoke in Malayalam as much as I could so that I could remember it, and I ate SO MUCH FOOD.  I did it all as a visitor, but one totally comfortable with my surroundings.  Like I said, I felt like I was coming home. 
Madison, me, our site supervisor Jaimol Kochamma, and her son
who is SO BIG now!

Alas, the week went by too quickly and I soon had to fly back to the United States.  I was glad to finally come home, give my clothes a good run through the washing machine, and finally relax for a little while.  I spent a few days in Missouri, breaking in my parents’ new house, and then returned to Chicago where I’ve hit the ground running:  I’ve already started work at my internship, facilitated an event for the UCC’s Radical Peacemaking Initiative, am in the process of writing a report for the International Organization for Adolescents, and taking a class at McCormick.  Thank goodness I have a couple of weeks before classes at SSA start!

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