Category Archives: After the R

After the R: Travel and the Transition


Within the last few days of a 9-week trip around Southeast Asia, on our last long journey on public transportation for a good long while, I wrote the bulk of this post as I reflected on how far we had come-geographically, emotionally, and mentally- since finishing Peace Corps service and leaving Mozambique at the end of November. Alex and I made the choice to take a long trip between the end of service and returning home, and I’d like to share with you a few Smiles and Struggles of travelling as part of our transition.


Re-energizing: When we left Mozambique I truly felt exhausted to my core. Mentally, emotionally, and even physically. Our last two weeks in-country were a blur of grading, packing, goodbyes, paperwork, medical tests…and who knows what else. Oh yeah, and Alex’s bout with malaria ten days before leaving our site. I remember saying at the beginning of our trip that I was glad we chose to travel before going home because I felt like I had nothing to give, emotionally, to people back home right after we left Moz. Although traveling can be tiring, my reserves of energy got refilled during our trip, and I got on the plane home feeling much more ready mentally and emotionally.

Re-connecting: One of the challenges of Peace Corps as a married couple is that, after a while, there is no news. Every day we saw the same students as each other, the same colleagues as each other, and functioned on almost the exact same schedule as each other. In short, by the end of service there were very few experiences that were noteworthy to share with each other. Needless to say, sometimes things like ‘I cut my nails while you were at the market’ constituted as news. Taking a trip was a great way for Alex and I to reconnect over some still shared but new experiences, see a new part of the world together, and ultimately remember how much we love adventuring together.

Gaining mental and emotional distance: This has to be one of the biggest benefits of a long trip right after service, and over a quick chat in Ho Chi Minh City with a couple other volunteers from our Peace Corps group, we discovered the same to be true for them. Comparisons to Peace Corps life and post-Peace Corps life are inevitable as things change in a huge way. Now, we have something in between, a kind of pause, between our Peace Corps chapter of life and our U.S., post-Peace Corps chapter While the comparisons still seem inevitable, things aren’t so stark: Mozambique vs. the U.S ; Peace Corps vs. post Peace Corps. Having gained a whole lot of new experiences during our pause reminds us of the broader perspective that life is a flow, not a ladder, and that our lives and our world are extremely dynamic things. In addition, having some time away from Moz before having to explain the experience to people at home allows for better clarity; two months out, while still a short time, I can ask ‘what’s sticking the most from Moz for me at this point?’ And then I can move from that place when chatting with friends and family at home. Right after service I felt much more overwhelmed at the thought of trying to sift through the details of Moz life in conversations back home. While Mozambique is just as dear to my heart-if not more- as it was 2 months ago, I know that I am speaking from a less emotionally cloudy and confused place after having some time to sift through some of my own feelings on my experience before trying to articulate it to others.


The Culture Cup: One of the things that felt like a challenge during the first couple weeks of our trip was feeling unready to embrace a new culture. This may sound insensitive, and I didn’t expect it to be a challenge. Even though Moz came to feel like home and we had become comfortable with it’s oddities and challenges and joys, I realized when we arrived in Vietnam that my capacity to be excited about a culture I didn’t understand was very low. I kept thinking ‘I just spent 2 years trying to understand a culture that isn’t my own. I just don’t have it in me to try to do it in another place right now. My culture cup is full to the brim and there’s no space for more.’ After time, after I became more generally re-energized, this feeling faded and I became more excited about experiencing more of the culture where we were travelling. Another thing that happened over time was that I let go of the idea that because this culture was foreign it was on the same plane as Moz in terms of what I should know and understand. It took me a while to realize that I wasn’t here to get to know a culture deeply and that that was not even possible in the amount of time we had. The kind of sad truth is that I will probably never do that again. Travel provides us with the chance to catch glimpses of a culture, but it only takes us so far. Once I adjusted my expectation and accepted this fact, I was able to be receptive to any bits of culture that we found along the way.

Staying away from home for longer: While I strongly believe that we made the right choice by traveling for a couple of months post-service, it meant that we were away from most of our family for 2 months longer, that we missed a third holiday season, and a host of other events. While we were lucky to meet up with some family for portions of the trip, the anxious feeling to see others and the somewhat guilty feeling for choosing to stay away longer was a challenge at points during our trip. The fact that everybody in our family was supportive of our decision even if it was challenging for them to wait longer to see us was a huge factor in helping me work through my own hesitations about being away for longer.

Self-care and feeling okay: I knew that this would probably be a struggle going into the trip, because a big part of me feeling ‘okay’ has to do with feeling stable. So, it goes without saying that living out of a backpack for 2 months, at a time that already felt emotionally tumultuous, had its challenges. Again, working through this struggle came mostly with adjusting my expectations. When we left Moz I was holding onto my self-care routine tightly, afraid to let any of it go for fear of feeling totally out of control through this change. After some time, I loosened my grip a little and realized that we were, after all, on vacation and that no matter my routine on the trip, it wouldn’t be the same afterwards as it was beforehand because we weren’t going back into the same day-to-day routines as it was. I was able to find a balance that mostly worked, that included the most vital parts of my self-care practice and still allowed me to enjoy the freedom and flexibility of travel.

Now, after 868 days abroad, we’re back home in Colorado, working through this change one step at a time, realizing that 50 degrees no longer means what it once did, and starting to catch up with all the people we’ve missed.

Until next time!


Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.



After the R: Home(s)sick


If you’ve been following along with Happily Lost, you know by now that I am writing to you from Southeast Asia, where Alex and I decided to do some post-Peace Corps traveling.  A lot of Peace Corps Volunteers decide to take a trip after their service ends, or at least that’s the way it seems for Peace Corps Mozambique. Traveling before going back to the U.S. serves a variety of purposes: decompressing, processing Peace Corps service, providing physical and mental distance, and re-energizing before heading home to start anew.

I plan to write more about traveling through this transition, but for now I want to focus on a strange recurrence I have noticed while traveling for the past month or so: a dual homesickness.

When Alex and I travel, we tend to travel slowly. We usually take close to two months for a trip and like to stick to just a couple countries per trip. Each trip brings with it moments of homesickness, and this trip is no different in that sense.

What’s different about this homesickness, though, is that as we work our way through Southeast Asia, I feel certain moments of homesickness for Mozambique and other moments of homesickness for the U.S.

Undoubtedly, the biggest ‘missing’ that is shared between both places is missing people. In a messy, swirling place in my mind there are unsettling blips like thinking I need to go visit my good friend Marcia at her shop in Mapinhane but then realizing I can’t, and realizing how odd it is to see my oldest nephew with new braces, like some sort of big kid.

But the majority of these homesick feelings are distinct and unique to only one of the two places that my brain currently considers home.

When I crave the type of comfort that comes with familiarity and normality, I am thinking of Mozambique.

When I miss my physical home, that traveler’s feeling of ‘I just want to sleep in my own bed and cook my own food,’  I am thinking of Mozambique: our bright, sunny bedroom, our neighbors, our garden, cooking and sharing clean, simple meals around our big kitchen table.

When I miss day-to-day stuff, that travelers feeling of ‘it’s been nice to get out of my routine but it will be nice to get back into it,’ I am thinking of Mozambique: seeing friends every day, our outdoor market, slow mornings, afternoon yoga, the flow of students and colleagues, and the routines that were different depending on the day.

Of course, these two ‘traveler’s feelings’ will not be satisfied for a good long while, no matter where we go; I no longer have my own physical home anywhere and I certainly no longer have any semblance of daily routine.

When I crave stability as we are on the move, I am thinking of the U.S.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the other things that I am homesick for in the U.S. aren’t much different than they have been for the past two years: seeing family and friends, amenities, cleanliness, elevation change, waffles, and the type of comfort that can only come from the place where your roots first grew.

Of course, these things will be satisfied before too long, and it’s been a long time coming. I’m pretty pumped for reliably scalding hot showers, snow, and breakfast food.

The choice we’ve made to travel through this transition allows me to reside in this strange ‘no man’s land,’ taking a two-month pause between two very different but familiar cultures, between two sets of people that are so important in my life, between the immediate past and the immediate future, between two homes, after saying goodbye to one and before saying hello to the other.

Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.


After the R: How was Leaving?



Meant to fill a void I have observed in the Peace Corps blogosphere, this series will address personal elements of life after earning my ‘R,’ a designation that changes a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV), after 27 months of service. Look for posts that answer common questions, address elements of transitioning back to life in the U.S., and reflect on Peace Corps service.

Feeling still in very emotionally close proximity to Mozambique and Peace Corps Service, I want to start this series in the most objective way that I can think of: by addressing a question that has come up a few times already in the ten days since we left Mapinhane, our Peace Corps site for the past two years. It’s only appropriate that this post comes exactly 2 years to the day since we arrived in that little town in southern Moz, sweaty, naive, and maybe even ready to change the world.

The question is: How was leaving?

Pause. Let me first apologize for how melodramatic the short answer will sound. If you take away anything from this blog series, let it be that the short answer is difficult to formulate and sufficient mostly for a moment of small talk, but will probably bring very little understanding. But here it is.

The short answer: The most similar feeling I have had to this was the feeling I have had after someone I knew has passed away.

The next question then becomes: So, why do I say that leaving Mapinhane felt similar to how I have felt after someone I knew had passed away?

The short answer: Because of the realization that I will never ever have that again in any form.

But to contradict that: That statement seems obvious enough, and even similar to how other moments of change might feel:

‘I am moving houses; I realize that I will never have this house, this view, these neighborhood sounds again.’

‘I am changing jobs; I realize I will never have these coworkers, work environment, schedule, students again.’

‘I am moving cities; I realize I will never have these restaurants, views, vibes, friends on the day-to-day again.’

So, this feeling of something never being the same as it was in that exact time in life is starkly universal; everyone has faced big changes.

To elaborate,

I had those above-mentioned realizations about leaving the physical house: I will never again wake up to the sound of women raking dirt outside our window pre-dawn. I will never again open my eyes to the early-morning sun shimmering through the little holes of our mosquito net. I may never again feel the near-constant presence of students all around the neighborhood and I will never again see my students 7 days a week, at any time of day, in any dress, for any reason that arises in their life-including but not limited to: charging their phone, asking for water, needing advice, oh, and schoolwork occasionally. I will never again open the front door and say ‘Bom dia’ to our nieghbor Cristovao across the way, watering his garden at 6 a.m. as he blasts the morning news from his TV inside. I will never again deal with bats falling from the ceiling. I WILL NEVER AGAIN visit the dreaded communal bathroom. I will never again find solace in the coolness of the cement floor on a 100+ degree day. I will never again walk out my front door to get mangoes from the tree, and out my back door for limes. I will never again brush my teeth under the stars every night.

I had those realizations about leaving the job: I will never again have the stimulating challenge of working with no more than chalk and a chalkboard. I will never again reside in the place between the blurred lines of teacher/mother/big sister/friend/ counselor to my students. I will never again read books to 3rd graders in Portuguese. I may never again encounter 3rd graders who can’t read, or hold a pencil. I will never again have a class size of 50. I will never again (hopefully) storm out of a classroom in a moment of complete rage about the chaos surrounding me. I may never again work with girls so under-served that speaking quietly to the floor is the norm. I may never again work with girls that have such a unique combo of toughness and lightness in their spirits. I may never again teach English to a uniquely dedicated group of rural adults, or see these people that came to be our closest friends.

I had those realizations about leaving the town: I will never again walk a sandy path between peanut fields to go to my outdoor market. I will never again sit in Marcia’s storefront, sharing stories, seeking advice, peeling the spines off pumpkin leaves. I will never again see the same form constant life, colors, and movement along the side of a two-lane highway. I will never again walk around to shouts of ‘Teacher Cecelia’ from inside tin buildings, the shouter obscured by shadows. I will never again buy beer and soda by the bottle, and be trusted to return the empty the next day. I will never again have a bread lady. I will never again eat really quality grilled chicken at a truck stop/the only restaurant in town. Let me be straightforward, as a Coloradoan, I will never again see so much black skin on a daily basis.

Let’s dig deeper than saying tchau to a house, a town, a job, those things that were the threads of daily life. Let’s talk about saying tchau to the fabric those things were all woven into.

I had realizations about leaving the culture: I will never again be told to ‘help myself’ from any plate a person is eating from. I will never again be asked by someone I don’t know for money, my clothes, that banana they just saw me buy, an egg, water, gum…or anything else. I will never again turn a ten minute grocery shop into a 2-hour-long opportunity to catch up on the news of everyone I know, daily. I will never again receive an extra tomato or handful of peanuts for free, just because. I will never again be considered ‘disappeared’ if I don’t see someone for 1 day. I may never again wear a capulana, wrapped perfectly snug around my waist. I will never again be met with shouts of pure joy and disbelief for greeting someone in their local language. I will never again be referred to as ‘big sister’ Cecelia. I will never again function in at least 2 and up to 3 languages on a daily basis. I will never again (hopefully) be so unable to express anything more than thoughts on the weather as I was in the beginning. I will never again have the strangely wonderful feeling of constantly hearing a local language, and revel in the freedom of not understanding what is being said around me. I will never again pilao peanuts, ralar coconut, or make true Matapa. I will never again be surrounded by women always singing softly, children so wild that if I can only hear them I often mistake them for animals by the sounds they make, and men- the ones that were what I was told to expect, with their relentless harassment, and the ones that, sadly, weren’t what I expected with their unending kind spirits, forward-thinking, and bottomless work ethic. It will never again be appropriate to spend hours chatting under a tree, in the middle of a workday. I may never again have people that knock on the front door just to say hello, or to offer me things from their garden.

Are you still able to draw connections between this move and any other? Are you still able to feel like you’ve experienced these ‘never agains’ as well, albeit with different details? This is a good thing, a way for you as a reader to understand, a way for me as a writer to normalize it for myself and for you. I hope you can draw connections between this change and changes you’ve had; that’s how understanding starts.

But what I want to do now is get into an uncomfortable space, a space where those connections may not reach.

This change is different because of the sheer quantity of individual elements involved; Picture this: if house, town, job, day-to-day stuff, sensory stimulus are the threads and culture is the fabric then leaving is grabbing a frayed edge and pulling until it all unravels, and what’s left are two threads, 2 elements still in place.

I can think of only one other moment of change even close to- but still less- the level of intensity of this change, and where the only things that remained the same were the presence of one person (my lovely husband Alex) and my ability to do things to take care of myself.

That moment of change was when we came to Moz. So why was leaving so different than coming? For the sake of not getting too much into that, let me give you the short answer: in coming to Moz, life in the U.S. was put on hold, in a way. What I mean is that leaving the U.S. came with knowing that we would one day be back and that our life would once again contain some elements of what it contained pre-Moz. Leaving Moz is much more final; life will never again contain tmost of the elements of life in Moz.

This is why leaving Mapinhane was followed by a certain type of grief, an uncomfortable feeling of irreversible finality, the unraveling of a tapestry that can never be recreated to look exactly how it looked, even if some of the threads come back into our lives someday. In this way, there are parallels to how I usually feel right after someone I know has passed away: I feel a huge loss in my life, but at the same time a gratitude for what I had. I feel a flatness, a difficulty in being excited about what’s in front of me without feeling like it’s a strange form of betrayal to what’s just passed. I trust that something will remain, but I don’t know yet what it is.

Whether or not this resonates with other Peace Corps Volunteers, or other readers, I can’t be sure, but for me, this change can’t be processed with only the tools used to process change. It has to be processed with the tools used to process loss too.

Based off of past experiences of change and past experiences of loss, I know that this specific form of discomfort will pass, or will maybe come and go in waves. Lucky for me, Peace Corps taught me how to sit with pretty extreme discomfort, and how to view it as a sign of impending growth.

So, the question now becomes: What remains? When a person changes their hemisphere, time zone, continent, country, town, home, language, diet, routines, habits, job, and friends all at once, what remains?