A Writer Writes

    Bringing the Peace Corps Back Home

    by Meghan Maguire (Honduras 2001–03)

    NOW THAT I’M BACK in the U.S., I love smelling like a girl again. I love reading The New York Times on Sunday mornings. I love being able to call my best friend just to make a joke. I love drinking Steak n’ Shake chocolate malts whenever I want. I love, and I mean love “Law and Order: SVU.”
         Now that I’m back in the U.S., I don’t miss finding mystery bug bites on my inner thighs. I don’t miss the pervasive smell of hot, mouldering trash. I don’t miss having to fight for respect as a North American woman in a Central American town. I don’t miss missing loved ones back home.
         As the last few months have disappeared however, I do find myself missing countless aspects of my time in Honduras. This morning I was sitting in front of my computer at work when it suddenly hit me that this is my favorite time of year in Honduras: when the mornings and evenings are cool and clear, and the blooming bougainvillea signals the start of the dry season. I had to put my face in my hands for a moment to be okay with where I was.
         I am not alone in this returned Volunteer nostalgia. It is the final and perhaps most bittersweet rite of passage in any Peace Corps Volunteer’s completion of service. My friend Heather misses cheap African beer. Janet, who served as a 1963 Volunteer in Senegal says she longs for the sounds nighttime drums and dancing. Janet’s husband John, who also served in Senegal, says he misses never having to deal with telephone calls. My friend Justin who is well into his first year in Ukraine says he’s sure he’ll miss the daily family meals.
         Before I started Peace Corps in 2001 and I heard returned Volunteers wax nostalgic about their countries of service, I thought they were out of their minds. I thought they’d really lost it, gone native, broken some sort of anthropological code about distance and emotional attachment. I was excited about getting to know my host culture, but I also secretly believed that I would never love that culture; I was so certain that I would return to the U.S. with nothing but open arms and a passionate respect for pasteurized dairy products. It wasn’t that I thought the U.S. was better than what I thought Honduras would be — it just didn’t seem possible that I would ever think of Honduras as my home.
         Yet here I am, exactly where an enormous part of me wanted to be on wet, lonely Honduran Sundays or long, sleepless, Honduran nights and I am simply filled up with memories of a far away place I couldn’t have imagined loving. I am stunned by my overwhelming love for a place I often hated. Suddenly there are smells, songs, articles of clothing I cannot physically bear because it’s like running across memorabilia from a past lover — that one great love that changes you forever.
         Friends and aquaintances frequently ask me what I think I’ve learned from Peace Corps. This is an enormously difficult question to answer at this point because my Peace Corps service is wrapped in so many layers of discoveries that I’m still processing. Some of those discoveries are just little blips, slight quirks — I now know that I really love fried chicken — and some of those discoveries are more complex. I’ve learned for example, that nothing is immutable and seemingly forever circumstances disappear before we’ve had time to say proper goodbyes.
         I knew that my service would last exactly twenty-seven months — I had the dates memorized — but I experienced my time in Honduras as an eternity. I was routinely frustrated and maddened and disheartened by the seeming elasticity of my time in Honduras. And yet the ultimate irony of fighting Honduran time and missing everything back home was that I couldn’t conceive of a point in my life when I would not be a Peace Corps Volunteer. My head knew that my completion of service date was October 19, 2003, but my heart never caught on; without reason or thought, I felt I would always be a Peace Corps Volunteer. My life in Honduras was like watching a bathtub drain: When it’s full you can’t see the water funneling away but before you know what’s happening, it empties out very all-of-a-sudden.
         Now that my Peace Corps service is over, I find it difficult to grasp the new reality of where I am. I can’t believe that I no longer wake up to my neighbor Carmen sweeping the dirt outside my windows. I don’t recognize the pale, white girl in the mirror and I mourn the loss of my freckles and the peeling sunburn on the bridge of my nose. My bed feels very cold and exposed without my mosquito net and I’m never warm enough no matter how many layers of clothing I wear.
         This sense of loss — of daily, quiet, grief — has produced my most profound, personal lesson and this final lesson is Peace Corps’ greatest legacy to me: my Peace Corps, my Honduras, my service are gone forever. My Honduran present has passed and what was my wished-for future is now all around me. As a result, for the first time in my life, I am trying to understand the difficult balance of living with time — of remembering and respecting what is no longer and having hopes for the future, but trusting that there is much to appreciate about the present as well. I finally “get” that my present circircumstances will soon become pasts worth missing. I finally know in my heart that if I don’t start experiencing each moment ferociously, I will find myself sitting in front of other computers in other places with my face in my hands, trying not to grieve for a past I’m not sure I fully appreciated when it was mine to cling to.

    Meghan Maguire lived in Danlí, Honduras for 27 months, working as a Municipal Development Volunteer. She taught computer and basic writing skills to women, girls, and local government employees. She also worked on a variety of community pride cultural events. Meghan has a B.A. in Anthropology and French from Colby College, and an M.A. in French and Cultural Studies from Columbia University. She is currently employed as a World Languages Editor/Producer at McGraw-Hill Educational Publishing.