I love the feeling of powerful ocean waves surging over my body. Of planting my feet, decisively, in shifting ground, only to be blasted down by the sea and shore’s crashing reunion. To be prostrate in the frothy surf afterwards, feeling no stronger than the grains of sand swirling around my soaked mass. I like to imagine where the particles on this Ghanaian beach may have come from, trending towards the lovely (Maine islands, Sahara dunes, etc.), minding the gnarly (Lagos waste water, Pacific garbage gyre, etc.), and averaging the aforementioned’s mélange somewhere in the middle. I admire the sand’s ability to rest on any shore, regardless of grime, and roll into any wave, irrespective of its fury. On my best days, I’m channeling sand.
I envisioned integration as becoming a local in Mango. In my mind, it would be like shedding my American skin and being reborn Togolese; feeling as at home fetching water and working on the farm as I ever did taking hot showers and working in a theatre. There would be moments when everyone, including myself, forgot my recent arrival. Having served over nineteen months, I haven’t experienced that calm. And, in my service’s balance, I’m not going to. And, I’m glad. I’m glad there are waves of rude locals to harass me, of African languages to drown out my best French, and of American memory induced despondency to batter my best attempts at fitting in. Because I’m not Togolese or a native French speaker or heterosexual or any of the other things I dreamed of pretending to be. I am who I am, even here, and existing outside my culture can never mean entirely existing outside of myself. I can be culturally sensitive and appropriate, I can try to understand things that would have once wrecked me, I can become a more adaptable and empathetic person. But there are aspects of my life that I can’t reconcile with here, and there’s nothing wrong with myself, Togo, or the Peace Corps as a result. Learning about Mango, shopping in our open markets, and spending time with my host family: I can be contently incomplete through everything. I can be the odd, rocky grain on our beach, blending the best it can and resting through the crashes and time between. Some days savoring it all, others waiting to wash up elsewhere. Another shore, another integration.