From There to Here

In a few short days I begin the next phase of my adventure with the  AmeriCorps St. Louis Emergency Response Team (AC STL ERT).  It’s always a little nerve wracking to arrive in a place where you know nobody, but have committed yourself to see it through for a period of time, and although I have done this several times throughout my journey, it never gets any easier.  So, I arrived in St. Louis, Missouri a couple nights ago, concluding my road trip that took me across the Southern States to see “long lost” friends, professors, new sights, and to prepare myself mentally for this next year of service.

I left Edisto Beach, SC after spending an amazing week with my family.  Between the crashing waves of the ocean and time with cousins, grandparents and my niece and nephew, there were adventures every day.  Playing in the sand.  Kayaking in the waves.  Storms over the ocean.  Dolphins.  While it was chaotic at times, it was a relaxing way to spend the last remaining week with family.

From Edisto I traveled across to the Upstate where my old stomping grounds of my Alma Mater, Anderson University, reside.  While I have continuously traveled non-stop over the years, Anderson, SC will always hold a special place in my heart as some sort of “home”.

While there, I stopped by to visit the Campus Ministries Staff, sharing my adventures with the individuals who have helped me to develop in my faith and challenged me to step out and live a life full of happiness.

I also dropped in to visit several of my professors and after leaving several messages back and forth I was able to catch a majority of them.  While our meetings were short due to classes, meetings, and family obligations, it was good to share words of encouragement and catch up for a moment.

While in town, I got the opportunity to catch up with several good friends that I had lost touch with over the years due to my travels.  After a couple short awkward moments of not seeing each other since graduation over three years ago, we were able to pick up almost where we left off and catch up over dinner.

That evening I stayed with my cousin in Clemson, where she invited me over for game night with a group of grad students.  It was slightly awkward when we started playing Cards Against Humanity (a dirty, adult version of Apples to Apples), mainly because I didn’t know any of them and they didn’t know me.

I left the next morning as game day traffic started to pile into Clemson and I joined the throngs of red that descended onto Athens for the UGA – USC game as I made my way past the frat and sorority houses to my grandparents house.  There I joined my sister, niece and nephew, and my Aunt and Uncle who had come in for the game.  While everyone was tuned into the game, I visited with my sister and grandparents for the evening before crashing on the couch.

As my sister and my Aunt prepared to depart for Shreveport, LA the following morning, I headed in the same direction towards Vicksburg, MS.  After stopping together for lunch, I found myself in the small city  that I was based out of for my year with FEMA Corps where I crashed with several of the campus staff that rent a house a few miles from campus.

The following morning, I followed them up to campus where I participated in the Monday morning Community Meeting, visited with several staff members, caught lunch at the Tomato Place down the road, and assisted in the Member Development Training, answering several questions about FEMA’s online training courses through EMI and FEKC behind the firewall.

While several staff members were not there for various reasons, I enjoyed the visit and was glad to see the changes to the FEMA Corps program.  From the looks of it, there is more information, better expectations, and an excitement about the program that was refreshing to see in just a few short months since I graduated from the program.  While there are still some frustrations with FEMA, I believe there is potential for growth and development into an amazing program.

That afternoon I departed campus and made my way down to NOLA where I spent the following day visiting the sites and hanging out with one of the Team Leaders who is now working for the American Red Cross out of New Orleans.  We visited the St. Louis 1 and 2 cemeteries (the oldest in NOLA), the French Quarters and the outdoor market, and made our way across the city to get tattoos.

While the tattoo artist that we went to visit was not there, we stopped in to Hell or High Water Tattoo where I received my first tattoo.  In remembrance of my time in Uganda, I got the “we live, we love” design and motto that has come to define how I live tattooed onto my wrist.  While it stung at times, I now have a constant reminder of my experiences at the Agule Community Health Center and with Akia-Ashianut.

Later that evening we joined another fellow TL for dinner where we shared what we have been up to since departing Vicksburg and gossiped about friends that we shared.  It was good to catch up with them and to share stories and remember that there actually is Life After AmeriCorps.

After a quick visit to the ARC offices, I departed NOLA and made my way across Lake Pontchartrain before heading up to Shreveport, LA to help my sister move into her new house.  Mainly, my job was to entertain my two year old niece and nephew while she unpacked, painted and got the house completely livable.

A week after departing Edisto, I headed out on my last and longest day of travel.  Traveling North through Arkansas on my way to visit Joplin, MO, I passed more road kill than other people on the road.

The last time that I saw Joplin was 13 days after the storm had swept through, cutting a six mile path a mile wide through the heart of the town.  I was lost, for after two and a half years, all the landmarks that I remembered (St. John’s Hospital, Joplin “Hope” High School, and the ruins of homes that rose from the ruins) were no longer present.  New homes filled streets that once held debris and scattered memories of lives.

I made my way to the Memorial Park that held a monument to those 160+ individuals who lost there lives that evening and to the outpouring of volunteers who made up “The Miracle of the Human Spirit”.  It was a special, silent moment to stand there after all this time and reflect on where I was and how much those 13 days changed who I once was.

I met up with one of the CMs who survived the storm and she showed me where the hospital and high school once stood and where they are rebuilding the new ones.  We talked about how much had changed over the years since as she showed me where she was that fateful night and where her mother met her as she made her way home through the wreckage.  Over an early dinner, we talked about our experiences in FEMA Corps and how the city wasn’t the only thing that has changed.

As I departed and made my way across Missouri to St. Louis, I couldn’t help but think of the countless trees that still dotted the landscape.  The last time I saw them, they were like broken bones emerging from the corpse of a dying beast, but just a few short years later, signs of life were emerging through the green sprouts of leaves.  I smiled as Mother Nature revealed the spirit of Joplin, once broken but slowly coming back to life.

After a week of traveling, I made it safely to St. Louis, ending another road trip.  Life with me is always an adventure…

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