The other morning, while running on the brown, rocky road that leads to and out of my village, I was thinking about the year that was and realized it was a momentous year for friendships.
With the evacuation, I was forced to let go of the Nigerien friends that weren’t given enough time to bloom. Shortly after, my Peace Corps Niger family was shattered with a hammer, scattering us to new sites throughout the world. For both groups, part of my early-year depression was knowing that lifelong friends could’ve been made but the time wasn’t enough to water the seed. Yet, I did talk to my Niger host brother a few times and occasionally write letters and emails to the other volunteers with hopes of a reunion.
Coming home, I was much more selective with whom I spent time. Previously, I would make attempts to see as many as I could and would schedule back-to-back coffee, lunch, dinner and drink dates. Although I saw a lot of faces, my time was rushed trying to make the next appointment. However, when I left for Niger, the weak friendships died and the true ones became stronger. When I went to Sioux Falls, I made plans with the five or six people I cared about the most. I wanted to make up for lost time, and put in extra for future absence, with those dearest to me. A great example is my going away parties. For the Niger departure, it turned out to be a big party with lots of coming and goings and quick hellos and goodlucks. The second one, though, it was more intimate. It was a group of 10, and we all spent the night snaking on homemade pastries and sipping drinks. It was perfect. Even though I’ve left a second time, and that adds more strain, those friendships will endure. The support, both ways, is solid and will always be.
In 2011, travel was a main component in my friendships. As a newly RPCV, I traveled to Egypt with a four friends and on the white sandy beaches of the Red Sea we worked together to understood what life after Niger would mean. I needed that time with those people to really brace myself for the next step.
Back in the States, I took two road trips to music festivals with friends. Luc and I trucked down to Austin, where we met new friends and I reunited with a few PCVs. After the time spent with my old confidant, I submitted my re-enrollment papers.
Then, a few months later, Lee and I made a similar trek south to Nashville. On the way home, my mother called to tell me another invitation arrived, this time to Lesotho. He made me see that this new beginning, although scary, is what I need.
And, before I left the country, I made one last tour to visit friends in New Mexico, Nebraska and, of course, Sioux Falls. All were just as supportive the second time as the first.
Pierre, a graveyard for many of my friendships, did bloom new ones and strengthened others. I didn’t imagine myself having a very active social life there, but thanks to a few key people, I had some great times in my hometown.
I also learned this year that presence doesn’t have to be an element of a solid friendship. If it’s good it will last without it. One stop on my last American hoorah was Omaha, were I spent time with my old friend Kate and her husband Cy. They are friends from my Idaho days and I hadn’t seen them in four and a half years. Still, we kept in touch with emails and letters and the visit proved we could be good friends no matter distance and time apart.
Months before leaving for Lesotho, I found a blog from a former volunteer whose words and emotions echoed mine. She too had seen tragedy in her service, although much more intense than mine, but I felt the same things she did. So, I left a comment with my email address and eventually a beautiful correspondence flourished. Many of her PC friends were still in country when I arrived and I told them that their friend was now mine and it was an instant bond. I don’t have to have met her in person to understand that this connection is very important to me and will be throughout and after my service.
It wasn’t just my friendships that deepened and changed this year, but so did the relationships with my family. Although not many 26 year olds (at the time) admit to liking living at home, for me it was an incredible way to grow closer to my parents and let them see the person I’ve become. I also learned more about them and understand my mother and father more than I ever. Not everyone gets to work alongside a family member, but while covering the flood, I did that with both my brother and father. At some press conferences, the only media present were Mangans. And, I spent more time with my new sister-in-law, which would’ve never been possible without the evacuation.
The year is ending with the buds of new friendships. During training, I was intensely close with the seven other volunteers living in my village and, now at site, my nearest neighbor is fantastic and I look forward to two years of adventures with her. Slowly, I am also building relationships in my village and hope to make good Masotho friends.
When I think back on the year in terms of friendships, it really doesn’t seem like that awful of year. With good friends, the hardest of times are bearable.
*Sorry to use the word friendship a gajillion times. I may need a thesaurus.