When I worked at the Foundation, it was my habit to drink nearly six cups of tea a day. I could lie and say that it was in preparation for all the tea I would eventually drink in Africa while discussing the U.S. education system and why I am not married. But, rather, it was to still my shaking cold hands.
One of my desk drawers, the food drawer, was stocked with three to four boxes of tea, ranging from generic to the hoity-toity yoga organic. The latter usually came with some inspiring quote, which I admittedly soaked up.
While I was deciding whether or not to pursue The Post, this quote came tied to a bag of white tea.
It seemed like an omen, like a higher power was telling that this new venture would be hard but worth it. I ripped it from the string and taped it to my computer as reminder to continue to fight.
In fact, I used a lot of sappy quotes and songs about perseverance to encourage myself to hang on when I didn’t think I could anymore. Foolishly, I thought that I’d only have one big obstacle in my life where I’d have to continually to prove to others and myself that it is worth it. The Post was a creative adventure and it made sense that it was that hard.
I expected it, and I expected the Peace Corps to be hard, but not in the way it has been.
The first time I applied, I was told that funding had just been cut and they would take only exceptional applicants. I wasn’t one, so I needed more experience. A year later, with more volunteer work, I reactivated my application and slowly was cleared through each stage. Almost two years from my original submission, I was finally leaving to become a volunteer.
Some days in Niger this feeling rattled through my entire body. It would come when I was teaching a class, visiting with neighbors or eating millet mush under a gorgeous canopy of stars. It was reality; I was finally a volunteer. And I couldn’t quit smiling. Sure, it was tough at times, but it way better than I ever imagined.
Then, the evacuation. It shattered my heart, but then the sun peaked out of the clouds when I was selected to go to Namibia. My dream could continue. But as soon as that opportunity rose, it fell, like the evacuation, for reasons beyond my control.
There are no “evacuation” titles in the self-help section of a bookstore. There is “How to cope with a breakup,” “How to cope with a death,” and “How to cope with loss of employment” but not “How to cope when you are kicked out of a Peace Corps country because of al-Qaeda.” So, I must improvise in trying to rebuild after what, at least I consider, is a tragic event.
Since leaving Niger, I’ve aligned my evacuation to a breakup and a death and, technically, it is loss of employment. I desperately want to put this thing into something I can understand, something other people can understand. Then, I can find a roadmap to healing, or at least I let myself believe there is one.
I’ve tried my usual methods of healing to hurdle myself over this pit of anxiety and unknown so I can be in blue skies and remember this time of hardship as one of strengthening. I spend time with family and friends, trying to draw direction from their statements even though they are unaware of the weight I am placing on them. I pull inspiration from every book, quote or movie I come across. I write and run because those are the two things I’ve always done. I look for an answer at any and every moment.
In Morocco they told us to hug our family and friends, eat our favorite foods and enjoy life at home before we really decide to re-enroll in Peace Corps or not. I didn’t think I needed that. I assumed I would know what I wanted when the conference ended and we officially became RPCVs.
That term, RPCV, as my friend Julia explained, is a really ugly one when you would rather just be a PCV. It is this piece of me that I don’t really want. I do at some point, but not right now.
As I traveled and settled back into American life, I’ve kept re-enrollment as an option, but kind of on the back burner. There is a piece of me that feels like I need to be an adult now and get a job, car, apartment and normal life. So, I tried. I applied for jobs, none of which I wanted to be at more than year or two, but I did because I thought that was what I supposed to do. I envisioned a new life, one with groceries, hobbies and, if I was lucky, passionate work.
With each rejection email, I fell harder than any person should when told, “we are continuing with other candidates.” I started to doubt my skills and my aspirations until I had to wonder what those aspirations really are. I needed to find my dream and then go after it.
So, I read quotes, wrote in my journal and watched up lifting movies. I’ve sought advice from old friends, Peace Corps friends and pretty much anyone willing to list. But what I realized was that I can’t follow another dream because I am not done with this one.
I am not ready to be an RPCV.
Peace Corps is something I dreamt about for so long and I refuse to claim six months as a valid service. I am scared to go back because I know it will be different. It will be, in good and bad ways, but that shouldn’t stop me.
The roadblocks in this journey keep arising, but I refuse to call this good and step to the sidelines. When I think about what else I could do, there is nothing that compares to being a volunteer. Wherever I go and every person I talk, a longing to be a volunteer floats through me. The Peace Corps is where I belong.
Last week, I encountered another hiccup (a friend says that it’s classic Heather Mangan optimism to give the latest hurdle this term; “hiccups go away,” he said), which would pause my re-enrollment for six months. That was like the 10th punch in the stomach but as friend pointed out “When you’re meant to do something, what is six more months?” She’s right. I’ve chased this dream this far and it would seem immature to give up now.
I am continuing to work on my re-enrollment and hope to be leaving this fall after my brother’s wedding. I’ve caught a lot of hell in the last two and half years but it will be worthwhile. It already is.