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Irene Harvley-Felder grew up in Sanford and graduated from Elon University in 2005 with a degree in English/Creative Writing. After graduation she worked briefly as a copy editor for The Education Center in Greensboro before joining the Peace Corps. She arrived in Namibia in November 2005, completed training in the town of Omaruru, and was sworn in as a Volunteer in January 2006. She is currently teaching at a primary school called Baumgartsbrunn, which is located 45km south of Windhoek. She will complete her Peace Corps Service in December of 2007. Irene can be contacted at: irenefelder@gmail.com

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December 11, 2006

My brain has been so scattered the past few weeks that I haven’t been able to write anything cohesive enough to post. I’ve written a lot of scraps but none of them fit together, so I’m just posting the longest piece. The Christmas play went well, complete with my favorite lines: “How can I be pregnant, I don’t even have a husband?” because I like to do my part for sex education, and “I have brought you the gift of mire,” even though I spent all term stopping practice to say, “Ligion, it’s MYRRH. It rhymes with FUR.” Exams were completed and marked, and grade 7 had a rocking dance party in the dining hall. My 24th birthday was marked not with the slaughtering of a goat but rather with dinner and too much wine at an Indian restaurant. I attended the Namibian Music Awards at the Safari Court Hotel with some of the other volunteers. It was fun—everyone was dressed up to the nines, and we got to see almost all of the popular Namibian singers, and their entourages, with the exception of Sunny Boy, who we later heard is “getting a big head.” I got home late last Wednesday.

And now for something completely different…

In the New York airport, I have a 7 hour layover until my flight leaves for Raleigh. I have just spent 18 hours on a plane from Joburg, and before that there was a flight from Windhoek to Joburg and another layover, so before I get home I will have spent 23 hours traveling. My body is confused, the airport is overwhelming, and I have a credit card. I buy a muffin and an enormous coffee at Starbucks. I buy a bottle of water, a pack of gum, a New Yorker, and a book. At a store that sells kitschy NYC memorabilia, I select a pen that sparkles. In the bathroom, I stare at myself in the many floor length mirrors. I have the strange feeling that I have been gone for a very long time, combined with the feeling that I never left at all, that this whole year has been a dream of heat and loneliness and joy. I would like my return to be like Audrey Hepburn’s in Sabrina: standing at the train station with a chic new haircut, an air of sophistication, a very small dog. But in the unforgiving fluorescent light of the New York City airport bathroom, I appear disheveled, unbathed, and sunburned. The combined forces of too much coffee and no sleep have left me looking a tad crazed, and later, when I look at the receipts for my purchases, I will realize that in less than half an hour, I spent N$400, enough Namibian money to purchase 90 plates of chips, 800 fat cakes, or 40,000 sweets. Everywhere people are speaking English, moving quickly, expecting efficiency. No one is staring at me. No one is proposing marriage.

In the New Yorker, there is a poem by Maxine Kumin called “Looking back from my 81st year.” It’s about her choice to stay home and marry her lover rather than go abroad after college. She felt pulled into her destiny and is grateful now that she didn’t fight it. Maybe it’s possible to find regret in the poem if you’re really set on it, but I find only feigned regret, more relief than anything else that she didn’t try to become someone she wasn’t. She acknowledges that her life could have been different without saying it could have been better. I admit I’ve spent a year arrogantly believing I chose a more adventurous path than many people choose, but that’s not really true. It takes a different kind of strength to run toward the familiar. Outside the glass, a bird rises above the south terminal, its wings stiff and unmoving as a planes’ as they catch the wind, and behind it, an actual plane appears, so far away it’s smaller than the bird, and nothing is as it seems.

(NOTE: The contents of these e-mails are mine personally and do not reflect the opinions, policies, or positions of any institution or individual mentioned, including the U.S. Government, U.S. Peace Corps, the Government of Namibia, or its citizens. - Irene Harvley-Felder)