Home again home again...
Here's a brief rundown of the past 36 hours of my life:
I returned from Egypt on Friday morning and was whisked to the Nairobi hotel where 29 other volunteers have been staying for the past week or so. Before checking in, I stopped by the conference room Peace Corps had booked to say hello to some friends, and came out two hours later with a stackful of paperwork and a heavy heart. The other volunteers had been in a "transition conference" the past three days, having the options available to us run over in great detail, discussing plans amongst themselves, and gradually filling out paperwork and medical exams to leave the country. All flights home were scheduled for Saturday evening.
The punishment for my Egyptian refuge from this mess was that I had to make a decision and complete all the relevant exit procedures within one shell-shocked, jetlagged day. The relevant choices for me were to go home and await a possible (but not guaranteed) replacement position with Peace Corps, either as a formal Peace Corps volunteer or a relief worker; or to take cash in lieu of my ticket home and stick around. Unfortunately, the situation near my site is still very volatile and there are barriers along all the major roads, so going back to site to say goodbye, collect belongings and make arrangements for my dog was not a feasible option, even if I resigned from Peace Corps.
Being broke and exhausted from traveling with no particular job option here, I decided it made the most sense to come home for now. I fly to San Francisco tonight. It's so sudden and surreal to be going back to the States under these circumstances that the reality of it hasn't set in yet, leaving me in a state of emotional numbness that is sure to wear off as I get on the plane.
It's unclear how long I will be in the States or what the future holds. The certainties go about as far as being picked up at the airport on Sunday. I'm not ready to end my time in Africa yet - I feel a huge lack of closure and a desire to continue working in this part of the world. This feeling is of course multiplied by the sense of need considering the current situation, for both short-term and long-term solutions to the crisis that has erupted.
So, I'm applying for some jobs and volunteer work in the region, and keeping an open mind about potential Peace Corps placements. In the meantime I'll be in California, possibly with a trip out to Boston, for the next several weeks. If anyone is in the SF area please let me know - it would be great to catch up.
More importantly, the political situation here continues to, well, suck. Neither the president nor the opposition seems willing to compromise despite diplomatic interventions and aid freezes, continuing road blockages and general mayhem. Kofi Annan is coming to speak with them today, and Kenyans are hoping something will come of that, but I'm not too optimistic. Even if they were able to establish peace for the time being, it's becoming increasingly clear that the problems that led to this conflict (poor constitution and government set-up, continuing ethnic clashes and stereotyping, lack of education that means youth are used as political pawns, etc etc) are deep and long-running. I'm worried that a long-term solution is going to be elusive.
My town is returning to peace in the most simplistic sense of the word. It is still very difficult and dangerous to travel to and from it. The bank and almost all shops are closed. The post office has been looted. I can't even imagine the state of the police station. Food is hard to come by - my sister says they are living mostly on porridge. One tomato is going for 20 shillings (4x the regular price). It makes my stomach sick.
In the capital, on the other hand, it's hard to tell that anything has changed. I even went out for beers with some other volunteers last night. The only sign things had changed was a slight heightening of senses whenever a police siren went by, and an increase in the price of beer. That this is the same country as the one where my family is on house arrest and subsisting on porridge is equally surreal.