Note: this was originally written a few months before the end of my Peace Corps service in spring 2014. It was edited and posted in 2015.
Naturally over time we all change into different people. The abrupt transition from Albania to America I faced at the end of Peace Corps service is however not gradual or imperceptible. It happened all at once and changed my life dramatically. The Peace Corps experience may be only two years but for the psyche it has an analogue to every stage of one’s life, including childhood, adulthood, and death.
I’ve been trying to put into words what it is like to end my two years in Albania. My best attempt goes something like this: Every bit of Albanian I have learned to be has been the conscious act of an adult. I was simply born and raised American and wasn’t even conscious of the fact there even was an American culture. My Albanian self is something I consciously created over two years. This person I have become is now to be removed from his natural environment. This Albanian identity, defined as me at the end of service minus me at the first day of service, will now atrophy like an unused muscle and become a kind of memory of a past life.
Now one year later after leaving, the ghost of this past self still lingers: When I close my eyes, I see Albania.
I’m reminded of the patented Peace Corps aphorism: “The hardest part is leaving”. It could be argued that the hardest aspect of Peace Corps is in fact the stomach problems, the loneliness, winters without heating, or learning a new language… but leaving definitely ranks highly for me. I may never know a landscape like I know the mountains from Milot to Peshkopi, I may never know a community like I’ve known the people of Diber.
When I think of the people I miss, I overlook someone important: the adventurous, naive, and enthusiastic guy with a sense of purpose that I was at the start of Peace Corps service. As I become just another American with a boring job, perhaps he is the person I will want to remember the most.