Posted by: fullandbye | August 6, 2010

compression of time identity and context

By virtue of the weirdness of the phone network here, it is actually cheaper for me to call US and Canadian numbers than it is to call my Jamaican brother across the island.

This does facilitate lovely talks with people from home now and again, including a lengthy chat I had with my friend Mackenzie yesterday afternoon. We have only known each other for three years, but these three years have been wildly dynamic ones for each of us. I met Mackenzie the weekend that separated my last week at ECO (also the week I interviewed for Peace Corps) and the week I started work at Throughout the time we have known each other I have been privileged enough to see her spend a year in Zambia on an HIV internship, graduate from medical school, and begin her residency in California. She has seen me go through the crazy transition that was summer 2007 (a watershed period of personal growth for me), get comfortable with my post-college self, ship off for Africa, and then transition once again to Jamaica.

Neither of us could believe it had only been three years and change since we met each other, but time compresses when your life is dynamic.

And there is little more dynamic time than Peace Corps.

We talked at length about the notion of context and identity and how your environment brings out parts of your personality that are in some way unique to that context. I feel like Mackenzie knows me really well because she has seen me  in such a number of different contexts.

I love my Peace Corps friends, but sometimes I wonder how well they really know me. They know me in the context of serving overseas. And this context is as intense as it is fleeting. But sometimes I doubt a little bit if the identity brought out by this moment in my life is an identity that is authentic. It must be, right? And yet, so much about me seems tied up in the Pacific Northwest that I wonder if my friends here can ever fully understand who I am without experiencing me around my hobbies, my friends, my family. I rarely feel more myself than when I am skippering a boat in waters I know well, or bombing my bike down Roosevelt, or sitting at my parent’s table, or sipping a pint with my best friends. I am still myself away from all these contexts I suppose but I still wonder if I would even be recognizable to my Peace Corps friends away from Peace Corps.

It gets even weirder.

With each passing month, my life here becomes more and more a part of the fabric of my soul too. I am beginning to wonder if my friends in Seattle will be able to understand me unless they too share a little bit of this experience with me here. And meet the friends who make this experience what it is.

I am not accustomed to being at a loss for words, but the total environment of ones life is far too rich to ever be summarized by the crude tool of language. Increasingly I am becoming resigned to the fact that because I can never fully evoke either context away from that context. The “real me” might lie somewhere between Jamaica and Seattle (Kansas I think).

When you move through this world, leaving little parts of yourself and picking up new pieces everywhere you go, “home” can start to be a really lonely place.

There is a sadness that comes with having pieces of your heart all over the world. But it is the most beautiful sadness I have ever known.



  1. As an American who has spent much of my life overseas I can relate perfectly with your sentiments. This is so true for me. Thanks Razy!

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