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It’s harder returning than preparing to leave

This is Jodie’s story about leaving Ireland for nearly two years and what it was like when she returned from the Bolivian jungle.

As I waited to board the plane to come back home to Ireland, I couldn’t wait. By the end of my stay in Bolivia I had a confidence I never thought I would have.

Learned life skills

I had survived Bolivia and I was going to share that new-found confidence with everyone at home. I had learned to ride a motorcycle, build a transport business, start a small English school. I worked for a year in an NGO teaching English and doing projects for the organisation.

I went on jungle trips for weeks at a time, catching my food and sleeping in makeshift camps, I learned to drive a boat, and build one too, use a bow and arrow, make medicine from jungle plants, navigate through the jungle, accompanying local Indigenous men on hunting trips.

I learned to cook for myself, wash clothes by hand, fish, sell jungle tours to difficult tourists, negotiate business and stand my ground to macho Bolivian men and do it all in another language, Spanish.

I had survived the darker side of Bolivia too, the poverty, seeing women suffer twice from it, women who were now my friends, my family, the hurt in knowing that for some their potential will never be fulfilled because their country was their destiny. And the very fact that I say I survived Bolivia and they call it life. These things were hard to reconcile. I thought Ireland would be easy in comparison and so I was coming home believing that nothing could ever bring me down.

Coming home

I touched down in Dublin Airport on a Tuesday morning, and saw my confidence shattered by that afternoon. I didn’t recognise anything. There were no motorbikes, or harsh sun, hatata huts, palm leaves and heat, humidity and Spanish, Cumbia or Salsa music, wild dogs, fried banana, platano and yuka, ‘chiquita’ or ‘chao’. There was nothing recognisable to which I could transfer the confidence I had gained from another world. Things were familiar but I couldn’t remember how I had come to know this world before. I was disorientated. The realisation I had to start again shattered me and I felt all the more fooled for thinking I could be so sure of myself on my return.

And so another journey begins. I had been through many, but this was quite destabilizing. I was trying to cope with my past experiences, some traumatic, some beautiful, coping with my return home and adapting to Ireland again all the while having to think about my future.  At the same time I was so exhausted from everything I really didn’t have patience to take care of my mental health. But I was forced to. I had to reconcile myself with the questions that Bolivia left in my mind, my own notions of becoming Irish again, being frustrated financially, and getting started on a career in overseas development. I was starting to get restless, there was more work to do, more questions to answer, and most importantly more confidence to regain. I had to believe I could survive this world too.

Regaining confidence

And I am surviving. Little by little I am regaining the confidence I once had. The start of this process came in the realisation that this is normal, and that it was not easy for anyone returning home. I went to the Comlamh Coming

Home weekend for overseas developers returning home. I had begun working for a Senator in Leinster House and had noticed I had problems with the little tasks. If I didn’t do something correctly I would give out to myself which started a cycle of negativity and a further loss in confidence.

At the Comlamh Coming Home weekend, I realized that everyone else was experiencing the same symptoms; trouble multitasking, retaining information or data, fear of answering the phone, anxiety and disorientation. But having listened to other people experiencing the same problems I had a big sigh of relief.

Since then things have been easier. I started to pick up the phone despite my fear, begin multitasking by starting small, and concentrate on pieces of data like times, dates and peoples’ names. I realised that when I didn’t do something correctly or as hoped, I was the only one disappointed in me.

Then I knew I had to be fair on myself. The most important part was congratulating myself when I succeeded and becoming encouraged by the tasks I completed.  This helped me in breaking the cycle of how I speak to myself. I’m hoping now that in the coming weeks

I will be able to break this cycle and regain the same confidence as I had leaving Bolivia, but this time in Ireland.

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