On Thursday, we YAGM in Argentina and Uruguay left our host communities in body, though perhaps not yet in Spirit. We are now in the midst of our closing retreat here in Buenos Aires, a last few days at home before our departure for . . . well, home.
A few weeks ago, our country coordinator Krystle shared with our cohort a letter written by Andrea Roske-Metcalfe. One of the previous coordinators for the YAGM Mexico country placement, her letter was a list of suggestions for helping YAGMs’ Sending Communities accompany their volunteers through their reentry into the United States. My sending community – the group of incredible people who gave me the opportunity a year ago to set out on this incredible journey, there are so many things I want to tell you, and yet they are clinging still to me, unable to free themselves. Some stories run so freely to you, while others I guard within me, mystical treasures that I feel are meant only to be shared between me and my creator. What follows is a list, not Andrea’s list, but one adapted from her words – something to help us both begin this journey of knowing one another once again face-to-face. During these final few days of our time in Buenos Aires, a metaphor came to me earlier, which I felt described well the the tenderness of this time for me as a volunteer, a missionary, a YAGM. If you’ve separated an egg, white from yolk by hand, you know the tenderness with which you ease the yolk across your fingers. Softly you roll it, and some of the white flows freely, almost on its own between your hands, but some amount of it clings to the yellow ball as you cradle it there. As we return to our sending communities, we ask that you hold us gently, letting some expressions of our experience fall from us freely, but also that you show us patience, as we hold onto some of the ether which we have lived within the last year. Some of it may never leave us fully, and that is okay, but it is for this reason that I’ve decided to share the list of items below, so that we might begin this process together ::
1). Do not ask me the question, “How was it?” For many of us YAGMs, right now those are the words we most fear. We cannot process our year in simple words or statements, any easier than you can were I to ask you the same question. If you want to hear honestly about my experience, ask me specific questions: “What was your neighborhood like?” or “What was your favorite dish to cook?” Just as one drop of egg-white tends to pull more with it, simple questions more easily allow me to share my experiences, and gives me the chance to share as much as I am comfortable sharing in that moment, without feeling pressure to offer more. And for those of you who might not be interested in hearing long stories, or about the year I’ve lived, that’s okay. I’d much rather receive a warm greeting, or a long hug, than to force a conversation.
2). “If you wish to spend time with your YAGM, let them take the lead on where to go and what to do.” I’ve been away for a year! That means that things like Wal-Mart, choosing an evening meal, or even getting behind the wheel of a car may be anxiety-inducing, exciting, or even something looked upon with horror. Though I haven’t lived with the same material simplicity of some of my fellow YAGM volunteers (Argentina and Uruguay are wealthy “Westernized” countries with many of the same amenities you can find in the States), this is still certainly a different nation and culture. I’m excited to share in many aspects of my U.S. culture, and I’m also very uncomfortable with others.
3). “Expect some feelings of jealousy and resentment, especially if your YAGM lived with a host family.” I cannot say if you will feel these dear reader, but I know I may very well feel them towards some of you. Living with El Arca meant a sometimes discomforting (at least at first) level of intimacy, but also wove tight connections between Tara, myself, and the acogidxs. When you help bathe, prepare food, and spend all day living with the same seven or eight other people, many things become normal, which may not immediately disappear when I return home. I ask for your patience, as I likely talk constantly about the Arca, because we are “mourning the loss (at least in part) of the deep, meaningful, important relationships that helped [us] to survive and to thrive during this last year. In this regard, treat [us] as you would anyone else mourning a loss.”
4). I do not have an abundance of photos from my YAGM experience. Many of those I have taken, I’ve already shared in blog posts or in newsletters, and so while I certainly have a few I’m happy to share, there will not be the albums of hundreds like I took when I studied abroad. I chose to live this experience and, with exception of my writing or sketching certain things, chose to hold story and memory as my main method for taking in the year. That being said, anyone who knows me knows that I like to talk. Rather than sitting for hours when perhaps you might not have the time, invite me for specific outings or times together when you’d like to hear of my life in Argentina. I’ll be touched and happy to share stories over a beer, coffee, or meal at home. But again, honesty on both our parts, about what we’d like to share/hear will always be the best path forward!
5). “That said, speak up when you need to! Returning YAGMs commonly assume that almost nothing has changed in your lives since they left. (This happens, in part, because you let them, figuring that their experiences are so much more exciting than yours, and therefore not sharing your own.) Be assertive enough to create the space to share what has happened in your life during the last year.” I couldn’t have said it better, and likely would have forgotten, but Andrea’s words here are very very true. I want to hear about your lives too! Living intentionally in community, and limited social energy has prevented my speaking to so many of my loved ones in my sending community, so I’m thrilled to have the change to catch up with y’all.
6). This for me is perhaps the hardest point to share. I say this with an awareness that I have lived outside of the United States for a year now, and do not know for sure what is and isn’t being said, done, and changed in my home communities. That being said . . . I am not the same person I was when I left. Of course I look and may act much the same at first, albeit with slightly more facial hair (slightly), but this experience has chewed me up. I feel an incredibly complex mix of emotion, which for me is saying something, about the United States, and what it means to return to life there. I am angry at our country, at our inaction, and our division and polarization. I am newly aware of so much of the hypocrisy in myself and the culture I came from. I am battling that, both within myself, and outside of myself as I live in this complex world. I ask, within reason, that you do not judge what may be a new and, at times, uncomfortable perspective on the ways the brokenness of the United States and the Church continue to fight strongly against a mission of equality and Christ-ly love. I know that at times I have already spoken out in hurtful ways, and want to become increasingly conscious as to how I share my feelings with my friends, family, and sending community, but also frankly. I’m pissed. And that righteous anger has a flight back to Wichita, Kansas on Wednesday morning July 3rd.
July 4th; the land of the free, and the home of the brave? Please.
7). Lastly, and most importantly, I’ll let these final words from Andrea close the list: “Go easy on yourself, and go easy on your YAGM. Understand that reverse culture shock is not an exact science, and manifests itself differently in each person. Expect good days and bad days. Don’t be afraid to ask for help (including of the pharmaceutical variety) if necessary. Pray. Laugh. Cry. This too shall pass, and in the end, you’ll both be the richer for it.”
Over the next few weeks, I’ll likely be more distant on social media (I’m planning on leaving Facebook entirely after posting my final newsletter on July 15), and as I return home, I’m so full of joy to return to you. I’m ready to go. Though my heart hurts as I leave my life and my home in Argentina, I am ready to see you, to embrace you, and to love you after our time apart.
Peace, accompaniment, and very soon face-to-face,