Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Holidays Alone

It's looking like I'm going to be spending Christmas by myself again, and I think I'm actually perfectly OK with that. A big group of volunteers is hanging out on the beach this holiday season, but since I'm using all of my vacation and more for my trip back to the US, I can't join them. Anyway, I really need to get all of these exams taken care of before January, which I can't do if I'm running around the country. Beyond that, although I think it could be fun, large volunteer gatherings (particularly when I don't know most of the volunteers) have their stresses as well.

As a whole, I think that spending holidays alone while out of the country is somehow a lot less unpleasant than spending them alone in the US. I'm not going to lie – there is a nagging little part of me that thinks I must be a huge loser if I'm spending Christmas alone under any circumstances. This is especially true because it brings out my worst insecurities about being here – I still feel as though I'm a failure, to some extent, because I don't really have any Liberian friends here (or at least any over the age of fourteen). But I guess I feel like less of a loser knowing that there are a lot of other expatriots around who are also far away from their homes and families, and are also having to spend the holidays either alone or with relative strangers.

So in that sense, holidays alone in Atlanta were definitely much more unpleasant. In part that is because, in Atlanta, I seemed to be the only person I knew who had to struggle to find someone else to spend a holiday with. For that reason, the smaller family holidays (Fourth of July, Easter, Memorial Day, birthdays), which never seemed like a big deal when I was near my family, and which certainly weren't worth special trips all the way back up to the Northeast, became sources of stress and unhappiness.

Another difference between holidays at home and holidays abroad is that, in Peace Corps, I find myself with a lot of other people like me – in their 20s or 30s, single, and transitioning from something to something else, although the “somethings” are not always clear. But what seems like a natural and acceptable period of change here feels more like an awkward in-between stage at home. Many of my friends in the US have or are starting families of their own, and family holidays remind me painfully that I'm getting to an age at which I should be doing the same thing – only, as things stand now, I don't see that happening anywhere in the near future.

Most of the time, I feel as though the fact that I often seem to be by myself when others are not is reflective of the fact that I've chosen to do things that have moved me around a lot, and taken me far away from family and the friends that I've made. Although I would definitely make the same decisions again (I wouldn't hesitate to up and move to Kenya, Atlanta, or Liberia), one of the prices to pay for the rewarding experiences I've had is having to spend a lot of time by myself, including during holidays. Which is one of the reasons I wanted to do these things in the first place – I figure that, in my lifetime, I'll spend more time with myself than with any other person, and so I should at least make an effort to make “myself” a person that I like (and one of the ways I can do that is by living in new and different places).

Still, it's hard not to feel as though those are just excuses, that the real reason I am alone for the holidays, when everyone else is with someone, is that I'm defective, a loser, a social outcast. But I try to silence those thoughts when I have them. From a purely practical standpoint, I made no effort to join up with other volunteers over the holidays, for the reasons I've given, and I will be spending time with friends and family in the US in very short order. So for the most part, I'm content to see Christmas as just another day, and to look past it to my upcoming trip home.

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