Peace Corps Writers
I Returned (page 3)
I Returned
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     It was two days until the funeral and preparations were well under way. I hugged my son’s grandmother and spoke to her in a very insecure Patois. She understood and replied in equally insecure English. We laughed. My daughter almost fainted from the sight and smell of a skinned goat lying on the table next to a dishpan full of blood (soon to be made into a delicious pudding) but she pulled through and seemed to make acquaintances easily. As we drove back to Castries late that night (too many relatives had arrived for the facilities in Belle Vue to sleep everyone and anyway it is now so easy to get to Castries) she laid her head on my shoulder and asked, with anguish in her voice, what culture shock was. We had a nice talk.
     I quickly got used to saying that it had been too long to remember peoples names but I never got over feeling guilty about it. I was approached by one big strapping man after another asking if I remembered them. Most of them turned out to remember me as their teacher in one of the times I tried to teach in the third form at the local school or as their mentor with a chicken raising project (none of which were in evidence anywhere I went. I didn’t ask.) or as a neighbors kid. It felt very good. I was back home.
     His mother’s siblings had all made good in one way or another. They came from England and Scotland and Brooklyn and St. Croix and also just from Belle Vue. They were professionals and we reconnected and it felt very good. I felt at home.
     The funeral happened and “everybody” came and I had to feel guilty all day. I was astonished that I could still conjure up a coherent sentence in Patois (well, one or two anyway) and was happily congratulated on my effort.
     The next few days were a whirl and suddenly, I realized that I had seen only a very few areas of the island so I rented a car and took my kids on a day long tour of my former haunts. Memories and acquaintances washed by and over me. Langostina and plantain in the market. Heineken beer everywhere, some of it cold even. Many more radios sending out the beat from those thatched houses than “before.” The stunning beauty of the sea and mountains and lush and wild tropical flora. I realized that I was weaving back and forth between being a tourist and feeling myself at home. It spooked me more than once that day.
     Driving on the left side of the road was interesting. I had to keep consciously reminding myself not to get too confident because the “familiarity” was not of the present reality. My reflexes were still well trained to right side driving. That disorienting need to keep a distinction between the world of St. Lucia inside me from 26 years before and the one outside of me at the moment left me wondering about that elusive definition of “reality.” I went on. The car broke down and we would have to get a replacement. I was unsure of whether that could happen in St. Lucia. Then I snapped back to the present and realized that I had rented it from Avis and, of course they would replace it. But, that meant hitchhiking through some back country to get to Vigie and again, I felt at home. I was picked up by someone who knew me and we had a great talk and he went out of his way to get me where I needed to go.
     We eventually had to leave. My kids were ready, I wasn’t. Or at least it seemed like I wasn’t, but I was very mixed up. I had visions of moving back and making my living via modem. It was going to be hard to come back to the present. I got on the plane and have not returned since. The ties are there in the heart and in the reflexes and in the blood line. I am a St. Lucian in some way I can’t now put into words. Maybe I never will.

Jac Conaway was an agriculture extension agent as a Volunteer. After several degrees in Agricultural Sciences and five years with NASA’s Earth Resources Program, he changed careers and is now a psychotherapist, financial consultant and spiritual counselor in upstate New York. He is the director of a small non-profit educational organization and on the faculty of the NY CoreEnergetics Institute and the NY Region Pathwork. He is also the treasurer of both Friends of the Eastern Caribbean and The Rondout-Esopus Land Conservancy Inc.

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