30 Days

The idea first came as a college sophomore, scanning the agency website fresh off my first heartbreak. Maybe my life could be bigger than ever previously indicated, I wildly dreamed.

It was later pushed away to pursue a journalism career and then floated back up to a real possibility after I quit my first job seven months into it. Then a friend of a friend casually mentioned he was applying. I was in a new position, one I truly enjoyed, but this aspiration wouldn’t quite die.

The questions answered and the references written, I submitted my application and unleashed anticipations of my upcoming adventure. A recruiter called in the afternoon. There had been recent budget cuts and they could only accept the most qualified candidates. I was not one of them. Let it go, I forced. Find a new dream.

Not quite a year later, there was a meeting for potential applicants at a university two hours from where I lived. I went because I needed more proof that this wasn’t for me. Although I had graduated from a rival university two yeas prior, I signed in as a sophomore biology major. As the presenter shared stories from his service, I wrote only one thing in my notebook: I want this.

My application was reactivated and I proceed through to the interview, medical and then placement. The package came on a Friday afternoon but the delivery service was already closed for the weekend when I arrived, so I waited. Wondering. When I did finally receive the package, I couldn’t open it right away, not in the car, not like that. I drove home and carefully unfolded the envelope while sipping a beer.

Two months later I went to Niger and everything I struggled through seemed worth it. The Sahara Desert was my magic kingdom and each new experience felt perfectly crafted for me. But I woke up. The evacuation. The end to an experience I’d only begun. Moving home. Trying to figure out what was next. I could move on, consider my attempt enough and that it just wasn’t in the cards for me, but this notion had been with me far too long to go unfulfilled.

Seemingly pointless medical hang ups and more budget issues delayed my re-enrollment process, but another blue envelope did come. I was somewhere between Tennessee and Kansas, sitting in the passenger seat of my friend’s Taurus, when my mother called to reveal my next assignment. “Lesotho. Lesotho. Lesotho,” I repeated over and over to make an unknown place real.

Two years ago, I arrived in Lesotho and started over. There were times I wanted to quit. There were days I doubted if I truly belong. There were moments when I didn’t recognize myself anymore. My service was threatened twice in one month with a school strike and medical evacuation. Projects failed. I made mistakes. I hurt people

I applied when I was 23, invited to Niger at 25, evacuated at 26, sworn-in in Lesotho at 27 and will end my service at 29. While others spent their 20s drifting between relationships and jobs, I dedicated most of mine to this one dream with an expiration date.

But the glow in my voice that arises when I say, “I am a Peace Corps Volunteer” has never subsided. It a plan that had many exit signs but I stared straight ahead. I never imagined I would have had to work this hard to be a volunteer, but I am glad I did. I am a better person for it.

It has come down to this – 30 days. In one month’s time, I will receive the ‘R’ and will drift to an on-ramp of some other desire, one not yet determined. Endings can be sad, and this one is, but, when on a destined path, they will come at the right time, and this one is.

Thirty days left to be a volunteer. To be awed by the Kingdom in the Sky. To live a wild dream.

3 thoughts on “30 Days

  1. Congratulations Heather, we are so proud of you for following your dream, even through all the obstacles! What an experience you have had!

  2. Heather, I find I am so drawn to your stories and comments these last few weeks. My brother was a Peace Corps Volunteer years ago, and he had a similar experience being evacuated in the middle of his first posting. He re-applied; I think the experience also felt so incomplete for him. After a fair amount of waiting and red tape, he was re-posted and completed a full two years where he met the woman who became his wife – she was also in the Peace Corps. I remember talking and talking to them about their reentry and transition back to life in the state, but your stories add wonderful insights as well.

    I live in Pierre. Look me up when you get back, and maybe we can have coffee. I’d love to help you continue to debrief. Good luck! My email is missy@pie.midco.net.

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