One of the hardest things about being in Peace Corps is being so far removed.
From your routine, your loved ones, your identity, your life.
No one really explains the magnitude of how you feel watching people’s lives unfold back home from afar. At least, no one did for me. I had taught abroad for two year stints before, but never under the auspices of this program and never this far away.
So I didn’t think twice of it. Until recently.
marriages, pregnancy announcements, births, new jobs
…and the lows…
job loss, financial stress, sickness, death
…hit me like a packed bus on a holiday weekend. (And if you know anything about my Sāmoan bus experiences, I despise pe a kumu le pasi).
The gravity of watching the highs and lows all continue to unfold while I am here, on a tiny island across the world, powerless to pause the ebb and flow of life’s journey, is as disheartening as it is frustrating because all I want to do is be a part of it.
FOMO: one ailment that definitely cannot be treated by the generic PCMO remedy of two ibuprofens every four hours.
I took this photo with my grandparents during my last visit to Raleigh in June 2017 before coming to Sāmoa. I had been crying as I was coming to terms with the possibility of this being the last time I see them knowing the extent of their ailing health. And, my worst nightmare became a reality this week when my 90-year-old grandfather passed away.
This has probably been one of my most vulnerable times in my Peace Corps service and it’s an experience that I don’t wish upon anyone. However, it’s been especially rattling knowing that I couldn’t be there to grieve alongside my family (mostly due to leave day restrictions and unspeakably expensive ticket prices).
Death can be a difficult and sometimes incomprehensible concept to digest —I spoke of my student’s passing last year here— sadness, shock, numbness, guilt and pain can all be expected, as well as “okay” days. The fluidity and range between emotions is a part of the process.
But recognizing my emotions, which are all valid, to flow freely is difficult in this culture. I was fortunate to be around friends (and fellow volunteers) when I heard the news and having their support was extremely beneficial. I can’t imagine how different my processing would’ve been had I been at my site. It’s so hard to express my emotional range with such a constricted Sāmoan vocabulary.
Sad = faanoanoa
Grief = faanoanoaga
Depressed = faanoanoa
Upset = ita
Angry = ita
Irritated = ita
However, when I did get to explain the situation to my host family, I appreciated their willingness to support me in their own way. They’ve given me my space and have shared extra amounts of Koko Sāmoa and didn’t make me feel guilty because I missed Easter celebrations. Instead, they’ve let me cuddle my new host nephew, JB, a little extra!
I’m coming to terms with the new reality for my family (albeit from afar). And while I wish I could be home to process this with them, I pray they are coming to terms and handling their grief healthily. All I can do is remind them that there’s no set time restriction for each emotion. We can feel as sad, angry or upset as long as we want and need to feel them. Each person’s grieving process is unique and does not follow a script. There is no script! So don’t feel you need to justify your emotions because there is no “one size fits all”.
I love you. I miss you. I’ll be home soon.
Whenever I would call him on the phone, my grandfather would always ask,
هترجعي امتى؟ وحشتيني مووووت
(“When are you coming back? I miss you to death.”)
I’ll miss you forever. Rest in Paradise, Jedo. Allah yer7amak habibi. 🙏🏽✨
(Hot Tip: If you do want to be caught all up in your feelings and REALLY embrace your grief and ugly cry, binge watch a whole season of “This Is Us” as an outlet)