It was a warm July day in the Sahara Desert, but not as warm as I imagined it would be for parched Africa. My thirty new friends and I sat underneath a straw hangar and directed our attention to three current Peace Corps Volunteers. We had only arrived in Niger a few weeks prior and everything was still new, exciting and slightly scary. This was the beginning of what should be a 27-month adventure to the unknown and I had never been around a group so passionate, so committed to serving others.
One of the presenters began to introduce herself and before she could say she was a volunteer she paused, sighed and said, “As of this morning, I am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer.”
I can’t remember much of what she said after that because I was trying to imagine what that felt like, to be on the other side of two years in Africa. All of our volunteer trainers seemed a great deal wiser than my colleagues and I, no matter if they were younger or older or how long they had had in country. They knew this life better than we did and that meant they could stand on a higher podium. To be that far into it, I wondered, must feel incredible.
This admiration only grew when I was forced to restart my service in Lesotho. Because of a tragic incident, the group of volunteers schedule to come the year before my group was reassigned to another country so our trainers were second-year volunteers who were weeks from closing their service. It seemed like I was forever a newbie, despite having a few Peace Corps months under my belt, and I longed for that day when I could be over the hump and finally classified as a veteran volunteer.
A year later, when I was talking with a group of trainees who had recently arrived, one made a comment about how they were the freshmen and we were the seniors, and it felt like that. They didn’t know anything and it was our job to help them acclimate. We answered questions, gave anecdotes to potential problems and served as guides. Being with the trainees, I was reassured in my service and that I had accomplished something during my first year.
Last week, I went to training for the newest education group and I truly was a senior. While the ED 13s could prepare them for their first year, I could offer an entire service worth of perspective. As the one closest to the finish, I had seen it all.
Today Caitlin, one of my fellow group members, and I were having lunch with Philip at a Chinese restaurant in Maseru. As we were discussing COS, Philip, who came to Lesotho eight months after we did, asked, “How does it feel to be this close to the end?”
Here it is. After watching several groups of volunteers leave and always wondering how they were feeling and what they were thinking, it’s my turn, and the feelings aren’t really what I expected.
Some days, December 4 feels months away and the days slowly tick as if there is no hurry. I am doubtful of my contribution and the broken parts of development, things I could never change, stare at me as if to say, “What exactly is it that you did here?” Guilt shames me for the things I didn’t do and the relationships I didn’t make.
Then there are the days when I am shocked at what little time remains. Wasn’t it just April? I think back to what I did here and the friends I’ve made and I am assured and confident. There are no regrets and I truly gave it my all.
Lately, or at least this week, it’s been the latter scenario. As picturesque landscape will stop me for a second and I’ll sigh happily. A young man and I will talk on the taxi and I feel like just another Mosotho taking the nightly ride home.
Looking into the faces of the new trainees, I was a bit envious that they are at the beginning of the road. Although they will have challenges, they are so many magical experiences yet to come and I long to live those again. But my time has come and I am proud of the work I’ve done and the person I’ve become. I am ready to go and to be so close to the finish, after all the tribulations, well, it feels incredible.