Friday, April 24, 2009

On Our Way Home - July 1970

Our two year stint as Peace Corps in Sierra Leone went by very fast.  I remember leaving Susan's folks on our way to staging in Philadelphia - Susan's father held back tears and turned away as Susan got on the plane.  Susan's mother was a bit more stoic - but not much more.  They wished us the best - I am sure they worried about us being so far away.  It was not an easy decision to leave Kenema and the country.  In fact we made several different plans before deciding to return home. We toyed with extending our tour for another year or two but in the end we decided to head home.  Our plan was to head to the UK for a month on our way home.  We left our friends in Kenema after saying many goodbyes.  This was hard for us.  During our last few days many folks came by to wish us well and say their goodbyes.  Our friend, Patrick was very troubled.  I felt guilty.  We had given our best for the two years - whether we made a dent in the Peace Corps purpose was a good question.  I had made many friends - I realized that I might never see them again.  We, as Peace Corps, had the luxury of leaving, of heading back to the luxury of the U.S.  My friends did not.  It was not that life was so hard in those days - the horror of Civil War had not yet begun - and life there in Kenema and Sierra Leone was decent even if people managed without much of what we take for granted in the U.S.  We had gotten used to life in Sierra Leone. Our two years of learning, of living in upcountry Sierra Leone had been   priceless.  We had become accustomed to the heat and humidity, I became used to the hot pepper and food.  There was rarely a day in which I did not learn something. I only hoped that a few of my students felt as if we had been helpful - but given my limitation in this regard I wondered.   So in early July, the sisters (from HRSS) drove us to the nearby Kenema airport, here we hopped on a Sierra Leone Airway plane, said our last sad goodbyes, and headed on our first leg home.  We had mixed feelings.  We had not seen any family in two years. We had not talked to anyone from home in two years.  We had received letters but even airmails took an undue amount of time to get to us.  From Freetown we headed on from Lungi Airport first to Franfurt (briefly) and then on to Amsterdam where we stayed overnight before heading on to London.  Here it was in July (1970) and London was rainy and we were freezing.  We got a place to stay in London (we shared a bathroom) and called Susan's folks. Susan's father wanted us to get a private bath.  Susan' family friends from London invited us to their home - we shivered as we traveled about.  We visited the British Museum and there visited the West African collection - I remember marveling at the Sherbro Ivory carvings made for Portuguese traders. I also remember their Nomoli collection.  But the weather was terrible, and for us, the climate change was too much.  After giving it some thought we changed plans, made new plane reservations, and headed home.  Susan's folks were ecstatic as was my mother and sister. We had shipped our African dog (Named Wiggle) back earlier to my mother's house and picked her up.   Although it was good to be home the change back to life at home was hard for me.  I remember however - wanting ice cream.  Food seemed rather bland and tastelsss.  We checked all the things we had shipped home and even went to New York City with a PCV friend of ours (Richard Horovitz) who had been in the Ivory Coast - to pickup a late shipment sitting in New York City and Port Authority.  All that we shipped eventually arrived. We made plans to move to Vermont where we had jobs at the Putney School.  We bought a car (a light blue Saab) thanks to help from Susan's father. We drove to Montpelier to get license plates for the car - we slept over night in Montpelier at a B&B near the state house.   And reverse culture shock set in for me (less for Susan).........

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