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  • Writer's pictureMichael Roman

A new world

Returning from Peace Corps service was harder than leaving. My American family knew nothing about my final days, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell them I was kicked out of the country.

I no longer saw the world the same way I did before leaving. I didn’t know if I ever would again. It pained my family to not be able to relate to me the way they did before. It pained me too. Everything here was too big, too loud, too crowded, too scary. I would hide in my room, close the door, lay on the floor, and listen to my Kiribati mixtape. With eyes shut, I imagined I was back in Tamana.

Embarrassed by the way I reacted to everyday life in America and how I couldn’t let go of Kiribati, I stayed in the house. After a few days, my dad forced me to step out. My one departing gift from Kiribati came from Rubenang. It was a small handicraft. The size of my hand, the canoe she gave me broke in transit. I treasured my canoe. To me, it represented a bond I had with her family and the country. My dad saw how sad I was that it broke and decided to help me fix it.

“Let’s go. You’ve been in the same room for four days straight, it’s time to get out.” He took me to Wal-mart for wood glue. This was helpful, but a disaster in waiting. When I found the glue aisle, I was shocked; there was wood glue, wallpaper glue, stained glue, fabric glue; so many glues! Moreover, the glue was stacked so high and filled an entire row of shelves. “Pick one and meet me upfront when you have what you need. I’m going to get oil for the garage door.” I stared at the number of choices. How the hell was I to pick one? There were hundreds! The pressure was overwhelming. I couldn’t do it, so I decided to wander the store, not looking to purchase anything. I was just taking it all in. Until, I heard, “Michael Roman, please come to the front of the store, your father is waiting for you.”

I walked to the front of the store, with tears in my eyes and no glue in hand. He smiled, put his arm around me, laughed, and walked me out of the store. In the car, it was decided that we would go to one more store before returning home. “Stay here, don’t touch anything. I will be right back.” I happily obliged.

To cope with this loneliness, I did what any right-minded person would do. I googled “I-Kiribati in the USA,” and found a virtual community of I-Kiribati living abroad. They were in New Zealand, London, Sydney, and here in the USA. Even more surprising, there was one living twenty minutes from me. When we met, I could not believe my eyes! We spoke in Kiribati, listened to Kiribati music, ate Kiribati food, and learned of others living by me. I felt as if I were almost back in Kiribati. As great as it was to find a small community close to me, I only had a few days before my next assignment in Iowa as an AmeriCorps volunteer began. Though I had a new assignment, in a new world something about Kiribati stayed in my heart and mind.

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