I purposely chose not to blog my last month of service, so for anyone who anxiously awaits new installments 1) I applaud your dedication and 2) I apologize. That last month was exhausting in ways I couldn't have prepared myself for. Every day was a new goodbye to someone or to something. Every day was filled with feelings of "ugh, I really should ______." Every day got a little more emotional. I wanted to really spend this last month out and about, present in the community in a way I couldn't have been if I'd taken the moment to glance back at America. This last month was difficult, but it was the culmination of service that made me realize just what a fulfilling experience it's been. Many thanks to all of my technology for frying/disappearing during this time period and making it doubly possible for me to actually live in the moment--my phone was robbed, my electricity regulator experienced a long painful death, electricity in my house got blown out during a storm, and my computer cord fried...for the second time during my service. La vie c'est comme ca.
During the last month of service, I feel like I accomplished a lot of the personal and professional wrap-up experiences that I needed in order to feel okay about leaving the community. The East region volunteers completed another HIV/AIDS education mural, leading to positive accolades from Peace Corps leadership and to other volunteers in other areas of the country expressing interest in copying the project. We had Feast of the Sacrifice, complete with sifa (Muslim-style Henna), multiple meals of sheep, and lots of good time with friends. I taught Life Skills classes, had a birthday party, and went out to Kentzou/Ndelele to do monitor how the our women's rights groups had been working over the last few months. A few volunteers came out to visit, I went to visit the Sacred Rock for the last time, celebrated Halloween, had a going away party, and packed up my house. I closed my bank account, did all my medical exams, finished all my Peace Corps paperwork, and officially transitioned to being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. The time passed by quickly.
Now that I'm here, people keep asking a handful of the same questions. How was Peace Corps? What did you do there? Are you glad to be home? Did you have a good time?
I get the feeling that my answers have been disappointingly short. But, how can you boil down two years of your life into responses of those four very, very generic questions? I've traveled, but I've not been a tourist. I haven't seen elephants or giraffes or hippos. I've worked "over there," but I haven't lived like an expatriate. I've made best friends that have gotten me through the worst of times, and the majority of them aren't Americans. I've lived in less than glamorous conditions, but certainly not in poverty. I've eaten, and usually really enjoyed Cameroonian food. I've had lots of good times, but I've also had the most personally challenging experiences I've ever experienced. After two years, I'm glad to be back, but I'm not glad to be gone. These are things you can't really talk about, because they're not what people want to hear.
So, instead: Peace Corps was a great experience. I worked with youth and did some work on nutrition. I'm glad to be home. And, yes, I did have a good time. Please pass the salad.
I don't mean to sound pompous or dramatic, but I think, unfortunately, a lot of that tends to come with the territory of being a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. People ask questions because they care, and I'm trying to remember this as I navigate through the various semi-true responses to these questions. But, at least I'm lucky enough to have friends and family on both sides of the ocean ready to support me and give me a few much needed reality checks. These next few months will be challenging. They're challenging already, but in a very different way from Peace Corps. Loss of independence, personal relationships, bananas, hot weather, and easy personal transportation. These next few months are about finding the new normal. As it turns out, going to bed at 8:30 isn't quite acceptable before the age of retirees, and there's no longer sunlight dancing through my curtains in the early morning. Changes are in store, but at least if Peace Corps prepares you for one thing: it's change, equipping you with the patience, bull-headedness, and flexibility to get through to...somewhere. Where that somewhere is, however, only time will tell.
Dora (Youth Development Assistant Director), Geoff, myself, Shane, Jacky (PC Cameroon Country Director), Maureen (Health Assistant), and Sylvie (Health Director): Thanks, Peace Corps Admin, for being so supportive in the we three volunteers' last week of country!