In Kenya, Peace Corps volunteers are banned under all circumstances from using pikipikis, or motorbike taxis, as a means of personal transportation. A few weeks in the public health sector and you quickly understand why: many hospitals have whole wings devoted to drivers and passengers maimed in the near-daily crashes that occur in even the most rural of villages. Cheap motorcycles assembled from bubblegum and popsicle sticks + 70% of drivers’ licenses being fake + terrible roads = carnage of Grand Theft Auto proportions.

Still, as I stomped along on foot or waited for matatus, I’d occasionally gaze with envy at the women perched delicately sidesaddle behind the drivers of these bi-wheeled death machines. That doesn’t look so hard, I found myself thinking. If they can text, or hold conversations, or eat comically large pieces of fruit while jostling down dirt roads, I could probably do so with ease, right?

I found myself reflecting with some irony on these thoughts as I clung desperately to the shoulders of a madman motorcylist hell-bent on overtaking/cutting off a gravel truck on a blind curve at nearly 80kph, dividing brainspace between that memory and shrieking “WE’RE GOING TO DIIIIIIEEEE!!!” (either outloud or just in my head, I can’t honestly tell you) a mere week after completing the Peace Corps for good …

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Last night, I had a rather excellent dinner with a very dear friend who works for Global Health Corps. He, too, is reaching the end of his contract, and was keen on asking how the exit/post-experience acculturation process is going. I will tell you what I told him: well enough. A bit weird, but peachy. I guess? I’m not a mopey ball of memories, sifting through village photographs while “I Will Remember You” by Sarah McLachlan plays on an endless loop. But it’s definitely an adjustment, even here within the relatively familiar confines of East Africa, in stepping out of the role of policy-shackled government employee in a small village to generic private citizen in a large city. I still find myself shouting at taxi drivers in angry Swahili rather than __[insert whatever language is ACTUALLY spoken where they are here]__. I pick at my food with my hands and eat like I’m secretly worried the waitress is going to unexpectedly snatch my dish away. I wake up certain I’m late for a meeting, or dream that I never finished my paperwork and am still somehow on the hook.

I am thrilled for my ongoing traveltastic adventures, and happy also because they allow me to ease out of PCV mode and back into my “real” life beyond the prying eyes of expectant friends and family members.

It is for this reason that I bring up the motorbikes: they’re by far the easiest way to get around Kigali, Rwanda’s hilly capital, and have the bonus prize of (generally) being piloted by competent drivers who are required by law to carry a spare helmet for their passenger. (A few rides on one and you begin to realize that the helmet, rather than actually being a life-saving measure, would seem only to be a means of briefly preserving consciousness as all your organs are crushed into a fine pate beneath the aforementioned gravel truck.) Nonetheless, the first time I swing a leg over the seat, I am quick to glance over my shoulder before we lurch away from the curb, somehow convinced that one of our programming directors is going to spring from his hiding place beneath a bush with a cry of, “haHA! GOT YOU NOW, HUMPHREYS! GIVE ME BACK THAT RPCV LAPEL PIN!”

I say again: it’s … an adjustment. Finding my way in “The New Normal,” and wondering all the while how the next two years can compare to the last two years.

Everything familiar absent, everything presumed simple turning out not to be so.

And yet.

Rwanda has some of the best roads in East Africa … those motorbikes go really, really fast.

Things that were unnerving at first, take on a heady rush of unknown exhilaration.

My life is pretty awesome.

I’m going to be just fine.

Behind me: 790 days, five conferences, six schools, scores of new friends, hundreds upon hundreds of students – the youngest 7, the oldest in his 80s. Humiliation and laughter, not always together, but ultimately in equal measure. A little heartbreak, a lot of love, and a thousand thousand thousand memories. Before me: fourteen countries, over ten thousand miles of travel, an intricate web of contacts and must-sees. A new hometown. A looming pile of applications. An impossibly beautiful future. Adventures. Time. Black asphalt, cool air, and an infinite emerald horizon.

I lean forward, pressing into the solid expanse of the driver’s shoulders.

He guns the engine and we fly.

I’m ready to start.

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