"Re-Entry" is a term used when astronauts enter the atmosphere from space. I've been told that some Soviet cosmonauts had to be pulled out of their space craft after living in zero-gravity for long periods of time because their muscles had atrophied and they weren't used to the weight of earth.
When we explained the concept of "Re-Entry" to our students, sitting in the shade at Frank's Guest House in Entebbe, we told them that returning to the US was a little like astronauts returning to earth. We joked that someone might even have to pull us out of the plane because we would/could be so worked from our experiences in Africa.
But as we talked to them about culture shock and "post-project depression", I really didn't think it would apply to me. I know that I've never spent time over-seas quite like this before, but I've done a hundred heart-wrenching projects in the Inner City & Mexico, and I figured a little R&R would fix me up in no time. Well, maybe I didn't think any of this consciously, but I definitely didn't expect to be feeling the way I do now.
I thought it was strange when we showed up at the IDP camp (Internally Displaced People's Camp, a.k.a. refugee camp, a.k.a. our mud huts), saw the children with the tattered clothes & swollen bellies & flies on their faces and didn't feel much. I thought it was strange when we went to the memorial for the Lukodi Massacre, listened to first hand accounts of atrocities that had taken place right under my feet, and I still didn't feel much. It was strange hearing the child mothers' stories at Child Voice, or hearing one of them scream in terror as she was tormented by demons (and her past), and still, I felt very little. I was saddened and sobered, but I didn't cry the way I thought I would and my heart wasn't aching the way I thought it should.
I thought that maybe I had become calloused, or that it’s just different when you live life alongside suffering like that every day-- that somehow it just becomes normal, and you have to keep moving on. But now I'm not so sure...
Over the last few days, I have started feeling something bubbling up to the surface-- emotions that I didn't know were there and didn't expect. They catch me by surprise, but (thus far) haven't fully emerged yet.
Now that we are back, I can feel the strain of trying to hold everything together-- the tension of all the different dynamics & complexities of this project, and the titan effort it took to keep everything from slipping off the edge. I honestly had no idea at the time. I knew that it was hard, and I knew that I constantly felt tired-- exhausted even, sometimes-- but I had no idea that I was operating in survival mode.
That's not to say that it wasn't amazing. It was-- a truly beautiful & life changing experience. But I think I am starting to feel the toll it took on my heart, and as the days go on, I feel heavier inside, rather than more adjusted. I think that maybe those emotions from weeks and weeks ago are starting to catch up with me.
I wish that I could express them-- that I could let them out, have a good cry or punch the wall, or something-- but they seem far too tangled to make sense of, and they leave me feeling tired and mildly sad instead.
It seems that processing my experiences with people who are truly interested has been freeing. And today, Chris & I spent the afternoon lying on the bed, quietly talking, drifting off to sleep, and just feeling comforted by the closeness of someone who had been there and understood. As I listened to him napping next to me, I talked to God about everything I was feeling, and invited Him into my tangled emotions. The phrase "He restores my soul" (Psalm 23) repeated over & over in my mind, and I felt at peace.
So, I keep moving forward, one step at a time-- resting, being alone, or eating a bowl of ice cream when I need to (I definitely needed a ice cream this afternoon), trusting that God will continue providing for me, just like He did in Africa.
There are still so many stories that I want to share, and so much I have left out. I will to my best to get to it here on my blog... but until then, feel free to drop me a line. I would love to process with you. =)