A Minute with Mike-
Return from tropics easier this time

This column submitted by Michael Jacobson on 11/15/00.

The million-dollar question rattled around my head as I traversed the Pacific Ocean again on a 36-hour airplane voyage back to Papua New Guinea.

Why are you going back?

Why spend a good chunk of change for a "vacation" to an obscure corner of one of the most remote countries in the world?

Maybe it was just to prove that it could be done.

Two years ago, when I left Lumi, where I had been stationed for two and a half years as a Peace Corps teacher, I wasn't ready to go. In hindsight, I should have considered extending my service for longer.

Upon returning to the states, I was happy to see my family and friends and my hometown, but I was distraught at leaving my home in a South Pacific paradise. It seemed like a permanent separation. As one of my students wrote, "Minnesota and PNG are too far away."

Going back bridged that gap.

From my first welcome by two former students of mine who currently attend the University of Papua New Guinea, the electric receptions to my visit erased all my doubts.

The trip earned every penny in providing closure to my experience as a Peace Corps volunteer.

In 1998, I cried on all five flights that were needed to bring me home, as I despaired on each one about distancing myself from PNG.

I was ready to come home this time.

I did cry during some departures and farewells, but instances where I shed tears of joy at a reunion outnumbered, and overshadowed, the goodbyes. To meet someone else, to renew another friendship, to see as much of the country as I could in a month, I was forced to say goodbye frequently.

Part of the closure was the realization that I am no longer "Peace Corps Mike," which was obvious to all my friends there. The difference was evident in my girth. I've gained 25 pounds since leaving PNG.

I have grown softer in two years, while Niuginians have grown harder, more resilient in the face of continuing financial hardship and the increasing devaluation of their currency. In my current state, I'm neither as able nor as inclined to reside in the rain forest of the Torricelli Mountains.

I needed to feel frustration again, needed to wait for simple things that we take for granted in our busy lives here, needed to feel hunger pains, needed to walk in the mud, and needed to worry about daily necessities like food, water, and shelter.

After a month, after 21 takeoffs and landings, after seeing hundreds of friends, I satiated my PNG fix for a while, and I was ready to come home.

However, I could have done without the snow, winter coats, and darkness at five o'clock that greeted my arrival in Minnesota. I didn't need such stark reminders of the differences between the frigid winters here and the continual summer of the tropics.

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