30 June 2013, Sunday
“The thing to remember is, if we’re all alone, then we’re all together in that too.” – P.S. I Love You
There’s one aspect of Peace Corps service that I don’t think I have emphasized enough in this blog, and I would like to rectify that right now. There is a portion of Peace Corps that isn’t usually mentioned on any website or Peace Corps literature. When most people think of Peace Corps, they often picture an American living in some village somewhere in the world (you’re probably picturing a straw hut) and completely surrounded by the local people of whatever country. What everyone fails to mention is the group of Americans who are also in the same country and in the same boat. When life gets tough, there are other people around who know exactly what you are going through. It’s an interesting group of people to be sure. Being here, I’ve seen people come and people go. It takes a different kind of person to up and move to Africa for two years. Yeah, we all have our quirks, but we are all here for each other.
About 22 months ago, I traveled to Namibia with 37 other Americans from all across the United States. The only time I ever felt alone on this adventure was the plane ride from Minnesota to Pennsylvania. I had just left my family and friends behind at the MSP airport and I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. When I got off the plane in Philadelphia, I got into a shuttle to take me from the airport to the hotel where PC Namibia group 34 was supposed to gather. In that shuttle, I met the first member of group 34, and the rest is history. We spent an intense 24 hours getting to know each other at that hotel before the 38 of us were given plane tickets and dropped off at the airport. The 38 of us traveled together to Germany, spent about 8 hours sitting around the airport with these people we had known for less than 48 hours, and then boarded a plane bound for Namibia. We rubbed the sleep from our eyes as we disembarked in -1°C weather at 4 am in the morning and headed for our first full day of Peace Corps training. Nothing bonds people together like two days of travel at the end of which you’re in a foreign country none of us had been to before.
Now, almost two years later, we are living all over Namibia. We’ve made friends with our counterparts, neighbors, and so many children. We have made lives for ourselves in villages and towns all across the country. We’ve set up our houses, classrooms, computer labs, and libraries. We’ve left our mark. We’ve met volunteers who were already in the country and have since left Namibia, and we have welcomed new groups of volunteers to Namibia. No matter where we are or what we are doing, our group 34 is only a text message away. As wonderful as it is to have the support of family and friends back in the States, the people I really rely on to get me through the day to day are the people who understand exactly what it’s like to live and work in Namibia. I love you all back home and you will probably never really understand how much it means to me to get your letters and phone calls and packages, but there are just some parts of this experience that I will never be able to fully describe to you.
I feel truly blessed to be located in a town that can be a central meeting point for so many volunteers. Over the past 20 months, I’ve hosted Christmas, Thanksgiving, committee meetings, movie nights, St. Patrick’s Day parties, birthday parties, volunteers just looking for a place to crash for the night, and more. I’ve met nearly ever volunteer in Namibia (just over 100 people), and I love them all. In all fairness, I like some more than others, but like I said before, this shared experience bonds us all together.
This weekend a group of 8 amazing people from three different groups and villages all across Namibia gathered at my house to celebrate the Fourth of July. Come Thursday when you are all getting out the grills and preparing for barbeques and fireworks, those of us Americans in Namibia will be going about business as usual because it is a normal work day for us. We may dress in red, white, and blue that day, do a special activity with our learners, or make a special dinner but you can bet there won’t be any big gatherings of family and friends and fireworks. It might be kind of a depressing day if it weren’t for the fact that we’re not alone over here. Even though we can’t celebrate on the actual 4th of July, we were able to gather a substantial group of Americans together for some good old American fun. We grilled hamburgers, steaks (from who knows what kind of animal), made French fries and salad, and of course there was apple pie and ice cream. I hung American flags around the house and we had a really nice day playing games, Baseball, and True American.
Whenever a group of volunteers get together, there are several conversations you can count on having. There is always talk of work; what have the little buggers done this week; what ridiculous event happened at the school; how frustrated we are by other people’s work ethics or lack thereof, etc. Once we’ve got all the grumbling out of the way and we are all feeling a little better that we are not alone in our struggles, we will throw in some stories of the kids or colleagues that really surprised us and did something great. Then the conversation will turn to what date are you planning to leave Namibia and what will your COS (close of service) trip be before you go home. Our two years are technically up on October 20, 2013, but we are allowed to leave within a month before or after that date. Some of us will even ask for permission to extend a month to finish out the school year. My group will find out the specific dates we will board the airplane in two weeks when we have our COS conference. Most volunteers are planning to leave in October and will then travel around the world for a month or two before heading back to the States. Once all the travel plans are covered, we usually talk about what we are going to do when we get back to the States. In my group it’s pretty split between people who want to go to grad school and those who will get a job. We discuss what state we will go back to, who we will try to move in with until we have some money, and how long we will take to acclimate ourselves back to an American way of life before we go back to work or school. It’s clear that after we leave here, many of us will probably never see each other again. Thanks to the social media sites, we will probably keep in touch with Facebook or whatever comes along next. These wonderful people are a big part of the reason I made it through so much time away from my family and friends. I will treasure them for years to come.
Happy Fourth of July! Have a hamburger for me and enjoy the fireworks.