Wednesday, December 8, 2010


Val and I walking through a village in the Usambara Mountains circa 2008, Tanzania

"After all, when you come right down to it, how many people speak the same language even when they speak the same language?" -Roland Barthes

I ease our red toyota pick-up into a spot on the busy street, I steal a glance at the bay in front as I get out of the red engine that could, and walk toward the corner of Webster and Central Ave in Alameda, where these past friends and I agreed to meet. I'm giddy, with butterfly's brushing against my insides, excited to catch up on the news of Tanzania, eager to let down my barriers, relieved that I won't have to keep this mask I have on-the mask that says to the world I am "adjusted", "integrated", a part of this social fabric, here in the U.S. 

I hug them both, and we walk, all three with a bounce in our step, towards a cafe where we can sit and let the conversation pour. After ordering teas, we sit, sprawl actually, all three of us on this small two-person couch, so close, like we are traveling on a daladala, comforted by the closeness, comforted by the lack of personal bubbles, intruding, welcoming, in each other's space. 

Across from us is a series of images on the wall, pictures of distant places, dark skinned men and women on beaches, in streets with bustling commotion, chaotic markets, and we talk, freely, hopping from one topic to another with that emotive urgency that friends have when they reunite.

 One image is of green chairs and tables on an ordinary sidewalk, and Kate says,

"That could be anywhere."

Yeah, anywhere, we could be anywhere.  

Kristen is a month back after a three-year tour in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. She talks about the end of her service, about leaving her site, saying goodbye to students, colleagues, friends and what became family, and how she justified her uprooting to these neighbors by telling them she was going back to America to get a Masters in Chemistry. 

I ask if this is true.

"No, but it seemed like the best way to explain why I was leaving."  

We talk about other volunteers, who's doing what, where they are, how they are "adjusting", so-and-so hates this grad program they got into, but doesn't know what to do, so-in-so is in law school and continuing on their already planned path, happy to be back. 

Our words float into the air around us, hanging there, easily accessible, understandable, digestible, and it's natural. There is this bond that we have, that we will always have, and I think about how nice it is. To be able to speak a language, and have people REALLY speak the same one. I think that has been one of the hardest parts about readjusting from life in the Peace Corps, that while I have the same language as other Americans, it seems I don't always use it in a way that seems to be understandable. 

After a year being back, I'm just starting to be okay with this fact. And am learning that I don't HAVE to talk about Tanzania. But meeting up with Kate and Kristen have just unleashed all of these kept words, and it feels so freeing, like water breaking from the dam. 

And then I reflect on how important that sense of community is, how much I miss it, how I want to have it again. Peace Corps was a bond, a common thread where the language is unique, the culture is unique, and if anything, I think that's what I'll carry with me, and seek out in whatever contexts the future holds. Because language is what unites us, what connects us, and how we share our worlds, merge our paths. 

I am grateful for these people who I can speak the same language with with. 

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