The First Days – A New Life Begins

Saturday, June 11. My sister drove me to D.C. I had nothing but two suitcases and a backpack containing all of my possessions for the next two years.
The last few weeks have been so full of goodbyes I can’t even count them anymore and they all sort of blend together. The last goodbye seemed so very final though. This final goodbye was the end of life as I knew it, the last remnant of a life I loved deeply for the past 26 years.
And then there was just me, my bags and a group of strangers I was about to fly around the world with.
The trip was 30 hours of grueling exhaustion. Thirteen hours to Ethiopia, another flight to Kenya and finally our last flight to Comoros. We arrived disheveled, without our bags, which were lost somewhere in Kenya, and totally unsure of what we were walking into.
The drive from the airport to our hotel where we would spend the first 5 days was stunning. The sun was setting into the bluest ocean. What wasn’t ocean was covered in deep green foliage.
We arrived at the hotel hours later than the Peace Corps had planned so crammed several hours worth of admin details into one hour before dinner. Instructions were called over the group of 20 and confusion, reorganization, more instructions and more confusion ensued. We set up our phones, filled out visa paperwork, got our spending money and took our first malaria pills.
Dehydrated, hungry, and exhausted that malaria pill was the last thing my body was able to handle. I was feeling nauseous as the hotel staff set up dinner for us on a patio with an ocean view. Two bites into dinner and I was running for the balcony railing, sicker than I’ve been in a very long time and several others were in the same condition.
That first night was rough. That first night made me question if this had been a huge mistake. I wondered if this was what the next two years were going to feel like. Thankfully, I was too tired to stay awake for long and worry about it. Despite a bed that was as hard as the floor I fell asleep within minutes of falling into bed.
The next five days we spent at the hotel, beginning our training, learning our first few phrases of the local language and getting really close as a group. My fears from the first night melted. I made friends, I focused on the classes, I got up early every day, I got comfortable quickly.
The real experience hadn’t begun yet though. We were existing in an oasis, a safe haven that was not America and not Comoros. It couldn’t last forever, as much as I wanted it to.
Our host families came to pick us up the Friday after we arrived. The day they came to get us an elder of the village had died, throwing off the entire plan for how the pickups were supposed to work. They came early and we had no time to make introduction and get to know each other a little at the hotel.
My host father came to pick me up and I was whisked away with a stranger who spoke almost no English to home packed in tightly with many other houses. I tried to count turn and remember my way back to the hotel, but I was completely lost by the time we arrived at the house.
I was shown a room that held a bed, a small table and a chest freezer that clearly hasn’t worked in years. The room had one window with bars across it, but no glass or screen. It was partially covered by a board and curtain so the room is never fully lit.
My first weekend at home consisted of watching my host mother do a lot of cooking, giving my host father English lessons, at his request, and going “visiting.” Going visiting consisted of going for long walks with my host father and greeting everyone who was also outside. By far my favorite part of the weekend.
Everyone in the neighborhood somehow knew I was coming and they all wanted to stop by and meet me. And they all wanted to greet me in Shikamorie. The weekend felt like a 48-hour long language lesson, of which I remember almost nothing.
Comorians are undaunted by language barriers though and will keep asking questions and talking whether you can understand them or not. They say kindness is a universal language, and I have found that to be true. Though everyone uses the same phrases to greet me, some of those greetings were accompanied by deep smiles and looks that meant they truly wanted to know how I was.
Among my favorites of the many neighborhood visitors is an elderly woman, I’m guessing in her 80s. I haven’t worked out yet if she is a family member or just a friend, but she comes to visit at least once a night. She always seems thrilled to see me and grab my hands and squeeze them warmly while we greet each other. My grasp of the local language ends after basic greetings, but she is undeterred by that. She’ll look me square in the eye fire off some questions or tell me something that seems like it must be important. When nodding and smiling no linger works I’ll tell her in English that I can’t understand anymore.
This always makes her laugh, a deep, full appreciative laugh that always makes me laugh too. And when she sees me laughing she laughs harder, which makes me laugh more. And so we sit and laugh together, neither one knowing exactly what the joke is but both enjoying ourselves.
It feels hard to settle in and start to feel at home because I know that I will be transferring to another island at the end of training. The last eight months of my life have included so much uprooting and relocating that it almost feels normal at this point to be on the verge of yet another move. I’m excited to see my new home for the next two years though. We get to visit some time next month. Until then, I’ll be here on Grande Comore working through the challenges, waiting out the hard days, and enjoying the good moments.

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4 thoughts on “The First Days – A New Life Begins

Add yours

  1. You’re doing an amazing thing, my intrepid niece! Your sacrifice will be rewarded in unique and intense ways, I think. Record it. Keep your eyes and mind open!

    1. Thank you! Doing my best to record and rember everything, it’s all going by very fast already! Hope to see you and Baroness out here for a visit before the two years are over!

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