Friday, September 5, 2008

What it's like to come home ...

(Above: A few of the many goodbye letters that we received from the children on our last night in Banta.)

It’s been about two weeks since we boarded the plane in Sierra Leone to make the long journey home to the United States. Two weeks since we’ve taken bucket baths or slept with mosquito nets. Two weeks since we’ve wandered through the African jungle. Two weeks since we’ve greeted the Sierra Leone children whom we grew to love so much.

Two weeks, in this case, has flown by almost as quickly as our two and a half months did in Sierra Leone. I know that neither Scott nor I were mentally prepared to come back so quickly and the thought of jumping right back into American life seemed a bit daunting. Maybe that’s why the process has been slow for us. And its not that we didn’t want to come home, it was that we just could have stayed a bit longer. After two months, we knew almost every child by name, we had made friends in various surrounding villages and we saw how much work and how many projects there were to be done – to continue to better the COTN program. When you’ve got the most important person in your life there by your side, working with you, what exactly is the reason to leave? And yet, we did leave and life back home has been good to come back to.
The most difficult thing about coming home has unfortunately not been getting used to the luxuries we have here – the instantly hot showers, the cool and breezy air conditioner, the large amount – and choice – of food, my car, my house, my everything. As much as we would have liked for all these comforts to be fresh -- forcing us to really appreciate them -- they became normal once again after a day or two. On the second day home, Scott said to me, “How are we going to remember to really appreciate what we have after how we lived this summer? A hot shower is already just a hot shower to me.”
It’s amazing how easy it is to get back into our routines as the summer filled with skinny children who work so very hard and have so very little begins to get farther and farther away in our minds. We struggle to cling to it and the emotions we experienced there. We cling to them so we can try, in some way, to explain it to everyone here at home – so they can have a taste of what its like.

Which brings me to the most difficult part of coming home after spending two-and-a-half months in the bush of Sierra Leone: telling others about it. We know that one of the most important parts of going overseas and spending time in a Third World country is coming home and making the people and the situation there real to people here. Not only so they will hopefully desire to help, but also so they will simply be aware of the world outside of our safe borders.
So, why, then, when people ask us, “So, how was it?” do we stutter and give some general answer like, “It was amazing.” Or “It really changed our perspective on things.” I cringe as the words come out for lack of something better. How can I sum up an experience that challenged me like I’ve never been challenged before, that whipped me down to my knees so that I was forced to pray and ask God for help because I had no idea what else to do, that made me have tears of sadness and tears of joy? How can I tell people about living next to children who saw their parents killed or whose family didn’t want them? How can I explain feeling inadequate to be there, or watching a dying woman in a village cry out in pain at my feet and knowing that I probably could do nothing for her? How can I describe the feelings of anger towards injustice or the absolute love for someone I can barely communicate with? Oh, it’s a world that seemed so very far away before – was it even real? Those photos in National Geographic and those documentary films about distant African wars? I can now say yes, it is all real – the people, the lives, the wars, the places. So, now how do I prove that, how do I explain such emotions to those here who are willing to listen? And how do I give just one sentence to those who don’t want more than a sugarcoated answer?
This is what Scott and I wrestle with now. We must work at putting our emotions and our moments of experience into words so our time will be real to you. We will try our absolute best.

Due to lack of time and ability to use the internet in Sierra Leone, we will be posting blog entries that were written while we were there, but did not make it up on the blog during our stay in Africa. We hope you enjoy them.


Sarah Saunier said...

That is such a perfect way to describe feelings of coming home. And those letters. Man they just make it harder to leave. Thanks for writing and sharing those thoughts.

Julie said...

I've been checking your blog waiting to see how the rest of the summer went...

You've really captured what it is like to come home, how frustrating it can be to try to share it and how the brokenness of being there really carries through despite how easy it is to get "back to life".

Looking forward to more!