Peace Corps Volunteer Evacuation: Self Quarantine

Four days to go and then my two weeks of self quarantine will be done. Honolulu is under a Stay at Home order, until April 30. So, I’m not out of the woods (or condo) just yet.

So far, I’ve been eating my fair share of ramen noodles, sweet corn, and Spam. It’s funny to be back, in the USA, and yet still eating like a Peace Corps volunteer. In many ways, PCV eating is one of the few memories that I have from Ethiopia.

Maybe it’s because Ethiopia was my third country, with the Peace Corps, or because I was evacuated, after just nine months, but when I think about my Peace Corps service, now that I’m back home, I think (and dream) about Armenia. I’ve been spending a great deal of time, on social media, with my two Armenian (PST and permanent site) families.

On the other hand, when I think about Ethiopia, it’s almost always scenic. For example, I miss walking out of my compound, unlatching the gate, stepping over the door frame, and looking left, (see above image). I really wanted to walk up that hill. Always thought that I would have the time to do it. But, like all my plans, for serving in Ethiopia, I was wrong.

My oldest Peace Corps memories are from Kenya. The mid 1980s was an amazing time to serve there. The film Out of Africa had just been released and I packed a cassette tape of the movie soundtrack. At site, I was the only person living on the school’s compound. I had a 5k walk, through the hills, to the nearest shopping village. Some evenings, before it was too dark, I would open my door (see image above), pop in the soundtrack, and wonder how I could be so lucky.

Honolulu, Hawaii was my Home of Record, long before Peace Corps Ethiopia. In 2017, I retired from Duke University, gave up my apartment, and gave away almost everything that I owned. The plan was, if anything went wrong, I would come to Hawaii. I have a friend, RPCV Kenya and old University of Michigan grad school roommate, who grew up here.

Honolulu has been a great place for an evacuated Peace Corps volunteer, especially one doing a fourteen day self quarantine. First off, the city is familiar. My first visit was in 1979, a stopover, on my way to Okinawa, Japan, with the United States Air Force. It took me thirty five years to return. I came back, in 2014, on a birthday “vacation” visit.

That being said… nothing here is too familiar. There are no friends wanting to see me, no restaurants or familiar places to (re)visit, and no real memories, of my world, before leaving for Peace Corps, in 2017. I don’t really know Honolulu. I only know a world inside this two bedroom condo, in Honolulu.

And so, when I finally step outside, this coming Sunday, Honolulu will be as unfamiliar to me as any of my former Peace Corps sites, in Kenya, Armenia, or Ethiopia. That first step will be the same as getting out of a matatu, Peace Corps vehicle (yes, Armenia was a “tad” Posh Corps), or crowded van, post swearing-in, that felt kind of familiar, but not quite home. –GGT

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