My Close Of Service Conference was this week and the remaining 45 of us headed to Adulala Resort in Debre Zeit. It was four days of post-PC prep focusing on the future and, overall, it was the last time that Group 11 [G11] would be together before we would head out into the world as full-pledged adults. During COS, I felt relieved for having made it. It hadn’t been an easy road but if I could do this, what else could I do?
When I arrived in D.C. for staging on June 30, 2014, I had the comfort of knowing my sister-in-law was in the next room facilitaing the other half of our group and my brother was in the hotel with her. They were the last loved ones I said goodbye to before I got on the bus to leave for Ethiopia. Earlier that day, I had said goodbye to my mom and my boyfriend Eddie. When I arrived in Ethiopia on July 2, I was excited for the next journey in my life. I wanted to continue the Peace Corps legacy that my dad, John had started.
After the first day of staging, I sat down and wrote down my thoughts. This is from my first journal entry.
“Just finished training for Peace Corps at the Washington Plaza. It really wasn’t that intense as I thought. If anything, towards the end it was very emotional. Overall, it was very informative and helped to calm my nerves. Scott Kumis, my staging facilitator asked this question “why are you here? Why Peace Corps?” This is what I came up with… I am here to learn more about myself than I have with any other job. I am here because the career possibilities after Peace Corps are endless. I am here on my way to Ethiopia to grow and learn as little old Delaware has nothing to show me anymore. I cannot grow into the person I will be by staying stagnant. I am a traveler and I need to be on my own. Yes, it is scary leaving everything and everyone I love behind, but they will always be there… possibilities to travel won’t always be around; especially to Africa. This feels like once in a lifetime opportunity for me and I must make the best of this. I fought hard for placement in Africa for a reason. I didn’t want easy. I could have gone to South America or Central America because I knew the language but I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to prove to myself I could go anywhere in the world and succeed. I know I will get down and feel depressed during my time, but I want to refer back to this when I do. I fought to be with the Peace Corps, I fought to go to Africa and I fought to be here. I’m not going anywhere. This is the time for me to show myself and others just how far I can fly. I CAN AND I WILL.”
Now, two years later to the date, I am here finishing my service. How did I know that when I signed up and accepted my invitation to Ethiopia that I would learn to love injera? How was I supposed to know that Ethiopians would be so hospitable? How was I supposed to know that as much as I would love my service, I would also come to hate, even resent it at times? But something would always bring me back to why I joined Peace Corps in the first place.
Talking to people during COS, it was obvious that we were all looking forward to the future, but also a little terrified of it. Most people don’t know where they’re going right now, and some of us have half of it figured out, but Peace Corps has taught the majority of us to not be too concerned with the details. Peace Corps has taught us to laugh past the pooping our pants, past the terrible bus ride and past the discomfort of being in a fish bowl. Peace Corps has taught me to laugh past my insecurities and keep moving forward because everyone feels like they are not good enough at times but by reaching out to others, we can be reminded of just how much of an impact we really make and honestly, that is a lesson we all need to be reminded of.
Our Program Manager [PM] Dan O.gave us an option to write a welcome letter to new volunteers a year into our service about what we felt was important to tell them. This is it.
Ininja! That’s my favorite Amharic word and it might be yours one day. Welcome to the 13 months of sunshine, flies and to the place where you pretend you know what you’re doing daily. Having already served a year as a teacher, I can honestly say it’s been the most overwhelming, amazing, tiring, exciting and toughest job I’ve ever had. There are so many challenges both in and outside of the classroom: from the miscommunications, to the lack of basic amenities, to the dirt and mud and even to the deficiency of materials in schools. There have been some really terrible days, days that make anybody want to quit but know something? There are always days that makes you so thankful for being here. Whether you joined to make a difference, because you needed to change your circumstances or because you wanted to travel, serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia will change you both for the better.
Being at my site for a year, I’ve had to learn about patience when trainings never start on time. I’ve learned about learning to communicate thoroughly and not assume. There have been a lot of circumstances where I think one thing and I think I’m being clear enough, but people look confused. In the beginning especially, your expressions and broken language will get you by and you have to be okay with looking a fool. Practice, practice, practice! In addition to practice, make time out for you. Treat yo self! Your first 3 months of training are hectic and compact – don’t spend too much time being lazy – go out and explore your training town! Spend time with your family because you may only visit them two or three times after you swear in, but they really make the difference to help you assimilate your first three months.
Most importantly, have a sense of humor because you’re going to need it. Life doesn’t go according to plan and even more so when you’re at a remote or isolated site that may or may not have basic amenities. People are often late, you will always be dirty, you’ll be tired from a load of laundry, there may not be power or network for a few days and so you won’t be able to get in touch with your friends. During those moments, find whatever it is that keeps you sane. Make friends with the locals and I hope you have an external hard drive with a high capacity. Good luck and take deep breaths when you’re feeling down. You’re going to go through so many emotions and see yourself change over time. The rollercoaster ride of being a Peace Corps Volunteer has its ups and downs but ultimately, it’s worth it.
While there were many things that I wanted to do but ultimately never got around to it, I am satisfied with my Peace Corps experience. When I first arrived in country, I thought I would be able to build a school library, and work on the English program, but Ethiopia had different plans for me. I was in for the ride of my life and I was going to learn about cultures a lot more than people were going to learn from me. My students and my compound family made my service and I would not have been able to make it without them. The moments and laughter we shared… that’s what I leave behind. THAT is my Peace Corps legacy.