Panic. Or sadness. Or both. Or maybe it didn’t matter what exact emotion flooded through me when I realized it was gone. This was a final tipping point, and I knew it was coming. Some squiggly little thought in the back of my head kept whispering, warning that this could happen. I suppressed it, put my fingers in my ears, and did my best to ignore this innate foreboding. But, even as my hand dug deep into the crevasses of my bag searching, I knew the burden of finality. Deep Breath.
I traced back over each step I had taken that day. Somewhere between the hotel room filled to the brim with my worldly possessions and the office where I was headed to resign my Peace Corps service, I parted with one last piece of myself. Even now, it’s probably lying lost in a dusty alley or crumbling street, waiting to be found. This was the loss of my compass pendant: a final sign from the universe that it was now over.
This necklace was my favorite; even that undercharacterizes its significance. I had donned it every single day for more than a year. There are few pictures from my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer where the chain isn’t slumbering around my neck. The silver had tarnished, turning a lovely patina from being worn too often. No matter the occasion, this necklace was with me. I had worn it when I walked out of Apple for the last time, when I said goodbye to my family and when I boarded airplanes on three different continents. I had worn it in the ocean of Senegal and the spray of Victoria Falls. It washed itself in sweat and dust and more than a few tears. It was there at my sister’s wedding and my swearing-in ceremony. It felt like comfort and contemplation around my collar. The ratcheting of the compass up and down its chain sounded like security and calm. Until that day, at the end of October when the clasp finally gave way and my compass slipped away somewhere in the streets of Gaborone. Only a day or two later, I flew home.
This all took place six months ago. Six months have passed since my compass slid off its chain and into the street, closing my service with metaphorical adieu. Six months since I left Botswana and started again.
More than my compass stayed behind me. There are small pieces of me strewn all over the Kalahari. Books that I read and loved passed along to new volunteers. Friendships and memories locked in braai stands and spreadsheets. Even more ethereal objects still: extraordinary conversations, unbounded self-discovery, and a life time of introspection. Only their shadows followed me home, drowned out in the daily imperative, but I can look back and see them still.
There are days when the desert sun still burns. I’m reminded of my privilege and my luck. I’m reminded of my selfishness and my limitations. I’m reminded of how lost I was. And how lost I still am. But, happily, I’m reminded of all the joy and laughter too. I see the triumphs of my fellow Bots15’s, their growth and their struggles. Just as wonderful, I see the success and healing of my friends, who like me, ended their services early. I share their happinesses over unknowable distance and untraveled silences. It fuels me everyday.
Today I prepare to move for a third time in these six months – this time to an optimistic resolution. Each day waiting has been a trial filled with uncertainty. Where do I go from here? How do I move forward? It eased as Find a Job relinquished the top of my to-do list. Uncertainty will always occupy life’s empty seconds, but for now it is held at bay.
This is not, in reality, a story of a lost compass. It is the story of finding one – a new pendant restored to a chain around my neck. Each compass has a singular purpose: to act as a guide. My first compass guided me through the rough waters of Botswana, leaving me a junction where north was no longer true. Here I am, six months later finally ready to stop wandering. The next journey is just beginning – and I’ll find my way.