As seen on the Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs Facebook page —
To the friends and family of recently evacuated Peace Corps volunteers
by Katie Hamlin (Madagascar)
Midwest to Madagascar.blogspot
As most people know, this week Peace Corps worldwide made the difficult decision to evacuate and early COS (close of service) all volunteers around the world. Many of us only had a couple days to say our goodbyes while some didn’t even get the chance at all. The evacuation process isn’t easy and the processing of returning to America so abruptly is even harder. So many feelings and emotions are happening all at once along with the upcoming reverse culture shock. In general reverse culture shock is often the hardest part of people’s services and that is even when they have had time to prepare. This new group of volunteers were abruptly sent home and now we don’t know what’s up and what’s down.
With that being said, sometimes unknowingly our loved ones can also make this process more difficult. We know you all are excited to see us and I get that. We love you and miss you but we still had mentally prepared to be gone for much longer. So if we’re sad, let us be sad. If we’re angry, let us be angry. It’s not at you just at the circumstances. And as much as I know you want to help us in this transition, try to avoid projecting your own thoughts or feelings onto us for the way you think we should feel. For example, phrases like, “well at least now you can eat all the American food you’ve been missing, or aren’t you happy you now have xyz…?” don’t help us. You’re right, we had missed stuff, but right now most of us would rather still be back eating our traditional meals or using squatty potties because that means we’re still where we want to be, so those really are not comforting statements and can in truth be hurtful because it feels like you assume life must be better in the states than the places we served. And that’s a disrespectful belief.
Also, avoid asking us what comes next. We’ve literally been through the hardest, most exhausting week of our lives where all we could think about was putting one foot in front of the other as we make our way back to the states which has not been an easy route due to this pandemic. We don’t know what comes next. We are leaving what was supposed to be a set job for two years to now entering foreign territory. Give us time to adjust. Give us time to recover. Give us time to feel what we need to feel before moving on.
We know you’re happy to see us, and we wish we could be equally as happy to be back, but as a volunteer we developed a new home, new friends, new family, new ways of life, and we’ve just left that all behind uncertain if or when we will return. Be patient with us. We’re sleep deprived, emotionally and physically drained and completely out of sorts. Ask us how we can be supported. We all handle things differently so ask first what you can do to best support us. Give us time and space to process but also ask meaningful questions. Remember this was not a vacation or just some trip we took. We completely immersed ourselves into our new country and culture and constructed a new life there. Which also means don’t expect us to be the same person we were when we left. Get to know this new person returning and don’t make assumptions about who we are now. We most likely see the world much differently than we did before we left.
We’re sorry we can’t feel all the same emotions our loved ones are probably feeling with having us back, but remember we love you and care about you but right now many of us are broken and will need some time to repair and for each of us this process could look and feel differently. Be patient. This evacuation came as a surprise for all of us and so now we must learn how to adjust.