It’s less than two months before I leave Papua.
LESS. THAN. TWO. MONTHS.
This both excites me and terrifies me.
I am so excited about going home! I can’t wait to see my family and friends again! I am thrilled about going back to a place of convenience, familiarity, ease and variety. I am also devastated at the thought of leaving this place and the people who have my heart. Leaving my students is going to destroy me. Leaving my friends is going to make me bawl my eyes out.
It is quite the conundrum, living in such a state of dichotomy.
I am trying to insert myself mentally back into Australian life; I need to prepare for the future, and work out what my life is going to look like there. I need to reengage in relationships that I value. I need to think about the ways I want to fill my days. I need to think about practicalities (where do I live, where do I work, how do I afford a car, etc). I also don’t want to disengage from relationships here; I want to make the most of my time left, and live my life to its fullest extent.
That is a challenging tension to live with.
My relationships here have meant everything to me. They have sustained me, challenged me, grown me, strengthened me, calmed me, and changed me in inexplicable ways. How do you leave such an experience? How do you move on, yet remain changed? How do you go back to a place you know and love, yet still be the changed person you have become?
How do I go home to the people I love, who haven’t really known my character in 3.5 years, and expect them to understand who I am now? I know they care, but given that they haven’t gone through this change with me, it’s understandable that they’ll expect me to be who I was when I left. I’m unsure of how to deal with that gap in expectation.
It doesn’t matter how much you love someone, you can’t understand a formative experience without having been there, and that’s ok. I know I shouldn’t expect my family and friends to get what my life has been like for the last few years, but I also know that it’s going to be hard to transition back to a place that doesn’t get it. How do I go back to my old life, when I know what this life is? How do I go back to a cushy, blessed, comfortable life, and help people understand what I’ve lived through? I know I haven’t been deathly persecuted, but life hasn’t been easy.
I’ve lived in a third world place, I’ve been sexually assaulted, I’ve lived with financial difficulty, I’ve lived without constant access to power, water & gas, I’ve lived with social violence, I’ve lived without good health care, I’ve lived without reliable or safe law enforcement, I’ve lived without political freedom, and so many other things. Those things are important in the abstract, but they are quite another in reality.
Of course there are wonderful things about my life here, that’s why I’m going to miss it desperately. Actually that’s not entirely true; the people are mainly why I’m going to miss it so much.
I strongly feel the need to acknowledge what life has really been like, and what the transition is going to be like. I want to ‘do’ my transition back home as well as I can. It’s going to be hard, and I know that people who haven’t transitioned between cultures will find this hard to understand; I know I did before I had really lived here.
After I’d been here about six months I heard stories of people who had gone back to their passport countries and had trouble settling back in.
I didn’t get it.
I though they were being kind of ridiculous and maybe a little dramatic. I mean really, how hard can it be to go back to an easy place that you know?! It’s your freaking home!
I was very wrong.
It is surprisingly difficult. The last time I went back to Australia I experienced a mildly difficult transition, and that was ages ago. I haven’t been back to Oz in about 18 months, and I still have about two months to go.
I am prepared for life not to be simple (even though I’ll be going to an easy place to live in). Please don’t expect me to be fine. Be gentle with me. I might not cope as well as I should to begin with. I might cry unexpectedly.
Last time I was in Oz I cried in a supermarket.
Be gentle with me.
I want to do this transition well, but at the moment I’m struggling with how to both stay engaged here, and allow myself to reengage with my future back home. I know that I love my family and friends, but I don’t know what my life with look like.
I’m going to go through a grieving process for my life here, both the place and the people. Please don’t expect me to be ok in a week, I’ll need time.
Be gentle with me.