September 7 – 11, 2015
“We’re all a bit blind, and now how do we share what we’ve seen?”
I don’t know if I have ever been bombarded with so many swirling emotions and feelings in such a short span of time. After the night bus ride from Kisoro, I met up with some other Peace Corps Volunteers in Kampala before we boarded private hire vehicles to the Speke Munyonyo Resort near the shores of Lake Victoria. We all collectively gasped as our vehicle pulled into the driveway of one of the nicest hotels that I have ever stayed. The manicured lawns bounded tarmac pathways surrounded by landscaped foliage of bamboos, banana trees, and water lilies. Behind the hotel, one could bound across an open expanse of grass with the gentle waves of Lake Victoria lapping by a small, manmade boardwalk and pier marina. Every room had its own air condition unit and hot shower that I literally have not felt since I left Philadelphia almost two years ago. The beds had spring mattresses, every meal had cheese platters, meat dishes, salad bars, and cheese cake for dessert.
Even weirder was having legitimate sessions presented to us as a cohort concerning marketing ourselves as viable job candidates, updating our resumes/CV’s, practicing for interviews, preparing for the shittiness of reverse culture shock, how to get our readjustment allowance, non-competitive eligibility, and dealing with our collective emotions as a family that has undergone indescribable experiences that only we truly will understand. It felt as just as I had finally mastered “Peace Corps Life”, COS (Close of Service) Conference happened and derailed my entire outlook. My Peace Corps experience has an expiration date now: December 9, 2015. After that day, I will no longer be a Peace Corps Volunteer. Whereas other trainings focused on skills to live in Uganda and accomplish our goals here, this conference focused on transitioning back to the United States.
I felt blindsided with conflicting emotions of excitement, sadness, joy, and frustration during one of the RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteers) Panel who gave us advice on transitioning:
“We can see the world that we describe.”
“The cure is to keep coming back.”
“A lot of people wanted us to confirm their preconceived perceptions.”
“Envision your dream job a lot.”
“You don’t have to decide on a career ever.”
“The unfairness of life and seeing that will soften, but as you are able to move up, ypu will be able to actively affect policy.”
“We are able to discern social nuances.”
“At the end of it all, we’re just friends spending two years together.”
“Never life about your qualifications unless you can get away with it.”
“We all have a chance to step back and develop ourselves.”
“Do you wanna change from within or change your community?”
What was reassuring was that all of these RPCV’s were higher ups in the foreign service working on ethical mining practices, CDC (Center for Disease Control) regulations, the 2nd in command to the US Ambassador, and other impressive job titles. However, they all spoke in a language that only Peace Corps Volunteers could understand. There was a kinship and understanding of what we were going through and tangible ways to cope with finishing Peace Corps. One of the RPCV’s had received an award from the president of her host country due to her contributions in the medical sector during her service, and then had to work a temp job in a post office in her small town in the US because she couldn’t find a job. Another Peace Corps Volunteer told us that if he could have redone his last three months in-country then he would have just spent that time drinking coffee on his porch, walking around his village, and looking at the stars while he still had the chance to live life in this way.
I started getting emotional due to the realization that this would be one of the last times that this dream of mine would be coming to an end so soon. After sessions ended we played ultimate Frisbee on the grassy field by the lake, drank during Late Night Art and danced to “Trumpets” by Jason Derulo, played LAN Party games, and walked around the gorgeous grounds. At the beginning of the conference, we all wrote our names and put them into a bag, then we had to pick out a name so that we could share with the group a small story about that person.
I also premiered the slideshow for our group which was over 40 minutes long and showcased video clips and pictures starting all the way back in Philadelphia for our staging at the Hampton Inn in November 2013 and chronicling our service up until the present day. The slideshow made so many people cry, and even I couldn’t deal with all of the emotions that had been welling up inside of me. By the end of the conference, I was exhausted and didn’t know what to do with myself. One part of me felt as if I could just go back to normal life in the village for the next three months, but another part of me understands that my Peace Corps life will never be the same again. I have been in this weird stasis and limbo for the past two days since the conference ended where swing from intense joy to apathy and then depression. I have one of three desires right now:
- Jump on a plane and fly to my new home in Baltimore and get a head start on dealing with reverse culture shock.
- Go back to the Speke Resort with all of my PCV friends.
- Teleport to my village bedroom and watch tv shows and sleep for a week.
What kills me is that I don’t know when will be the last time that I say goodbye to someone in my group. There are so many last things that I will experience and people whom I may never see again. Also Peace Corps farewells suck because they happen in moments and then you’re off on public transportation or back to your site and you may never see that friend again. I am emotionally, physically, and mentally exhausted to the point where I just want to cry and sleep for the entire day. I don’t know why I am affected by this close of service conference so much. I think that right now I am in this in-between world where my heart and mind are torn between this life that I love so much, and a future life stateside that excites me so much too. I also get worried by the societal pressures that I will face stateside and how I will forever want to wander and explore this vast world. However, I know one thing, and that is I will never have to start sentences with “I should’ve.”