Returned

By Elaine Kerry
Jan. 11, 2019

In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, in the Voyages of the Dawn Treader, to be precise, Aslan the Great Lion declares: “You have returned for a reason.  Your adventure begins now.” 

Unfortunately, such lines of wisdom were not a product of any great literary depth or sagacious memory of mine, but actually came from none other than a glossy airline magazine, 29,000 feet, about 3 hours into my final departure from Kigali, Rwanda.  Only 4 days prior, I had rung the shiny captain’s bell in the Peace Corps Rwanda office to the applause of a wonderfully supportive staff, and in the process had had an automatic acronymic shift:  PCV to RPCV.  Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.

Returned.  It is a word that at least 230,000 Americans in 141 countries currently proudly place on curriculum vitae as Peace Corps volunteers who have successfully completed their service.  But as I stare into the glossy magazine copy with the lion’s face atop my plastic tray table, I cannot help but ponder what that R really means.

Returned.  Indeed, there are a plethora of definitions out there from Webster’s to Oxford to Wiki and back - everyone’s got some say on it: To go back or go back again, the act of coming back from a place or condition, the act of going back to a particular state or situation, a profit from an investment, to revert or recur, or go back to a place or person. 

Take your pick.  There are no rules.  So I have taken the liberty of adding another into the mix: A Retuned Peace Corps Volunteer is one who certainly returns to a person: themselves.

For two years, I served in a remote Rwandan village community, and like many of my fellow Volunteers worldwide, my-730-days-in-the-life-at-site was a multi-sensory series of colorful vignettes to say the least: damn heavy bright yellow jerry cans, last rite bleats of cute little goats on their way to resto bars, mud and more mud and yet another child who was hungry.  Bare feet.  Bare faces.  Infinite verdant hills and infinite room on buses.  Infinite noise and infinite silence.  For two years, I gave but received so much more.  For two years, I taught.  I danced.  I paced. I yelled.  I lost it.  I found it.   I smiled.  I cried behind sunglasses.  I hid.  I emerged.

For two years, I planned and I did not plan.  I laughed and I did not laugh.  Sometimes I slept and sometimes I did not. Occasionally, I escaped onto buses that voyaged anywhere but here.  More often, I did not. Usually, the beer and orange soda was warm.  Sometimes, it was not.  But always I ate.  And always I was full. 

I think a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer does return for a reason; after 27 months of service, they return closer perhaps to that authentic person who resides inside them, the one who has been there all along but with whom they just have not become well-acquainted.  And when they do, it feels amazing. The one who strives to collect the experiences rather than the stuff.  The one who does not bother sweating the small stuff that we never remember the next day anyway.  The one who comes to understand that everyone we encounter in our life can be a teacher. The one who can simply handle anything this crazy world throws at them from now on.  The one who is just a bit more real than before.

Aslan was right….Let the adventure begin!

Peace Corps Rwanda Elaine Kerry

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