The other day, I was reading through old blog posts and I came across the goodbye post I’d written 2 years ago right before departing for Peace Corps. I was sad to say goodbye to people, nervous and apprehensive about the future, but overall excited and ready for the next step. 2 years later, with about a week left in Togo, it’s time to write about another goodbye, but this time to Peace Corps and to Togo which, for better or for worse, has been my home for the past 2 years. In many ways, I feel similar to how I felt leaving American in 2010; I’m sad to leave people behind, nervous and anxious about the big changes ahead, but overall really ready and excited to be leaving.
Of course, being at the end of an important experience like Peace Corps, I’ve been thinking back on my service and reflecting on all the ups and downs, the accomplishments and disappointments. I remember attending an event for future and returned PCVs in Ithaca my senior year. One RPCV, who had served 30 years prior, said something that has stuck with me. After introducing himself, he stated, “Peace Corps was 2 of the best…,” then he paused and chuckled to himself before continuing and saying, “okay, so not 2 of the best years, but 2 of the most important years of my life.” This statement is so true. Peace Corps hasn’t been the best years of my life. In many ways, they were the most challenging, frustrating, lonely, and physically and mentally uncomfortable years of my life. However, throughout it all, I’ve known I was learning so much and gaining so many valuable experiences that would impact me for the rest of my life. So, despite many days of homesickness, feelings of futility, and non-stop sweating and dehydration, I am so glad I joined Peace Corps and I would tell anyone interested to go for it.
Overall, I do feel very accomplished with my service. While cleaning out my house, I found a workbook that Peace Corps had given us during staging in Philadelphia. Inside, they had us write what we wanted out of Peace Corps to feel accomplished. I had written:
1. Complete at least one successful project and make some positive contribution to my community
2. Feel comfortable and integrated in my host community.
At the end of 2 years, I feel like I’ve accomplished these two things. I have completed several projects that I’m really happy with. My work with girl’s camps and girl’s scholarship programs and my big village well project were very satisfying and I definitely think had a positive impact on people’s lives. Recently, I finished a granary construction project. This project was supposed to be completed in July but almost didn’t happen. I had worked with some women’s farming groups to obtain funding for the construction of a new granary for the groups to store their grain. I received the funding, but the 3 women’s groups disagreed over the placement of the granary and didn’t pay their contribution fee until late August. Eventually, everyone did pay the equivalent of five dollars and, with the help of some respected members of the community; we figured out a location that all the women could agree upon. In my last week, the granary is finally finished and after the upcoming harvest, the women’s groups will begin to utilize the building. The project faced a lot of setbacks, but it’s finally been successful and it feels nice to leave with this final accomplishment rather than the failure it could’ve been.
Additionally, I do feel very comfortable in Magna. I still get stared at and yelled at when I walk around, but these are things that will never go away. As a white foreigner, I will always be the biggest form of entertainment to the kids in my village. However, just because I’m still gawked at by children, it doesn’t mean that I don’t feel comfortable in Magna. I love my host family, I have certain village friends, and I have created a home and a routine. So, I feel that I’m about as comfortable as possible given the fact that 2 years ago I was just dropped off in a tiny village in a foreign country and told to make it my home.
So, overall, I’m very happy with my service. It’s hard to really wrap my head around the fact that I’m leaving Magna and Togo for good, not just for a vacation. Right now, this is just my life, but I know that in a month or so, it will all seem very surreal and dreamlike. I’ve been told by other RPCVs that Peace Corps seems like a dream once you’re home. For the past 2 years, my American life has felt like a dream. I’ve had moments where I couldn’t believe I used to take hot showers daily, drive a car, get my food out of a big refrigerator, have constant electricity, and speak English 24/7. However, this will all be my reality again and the bucket baths, moto rides, open air markets, nights by candlelight, and Togolese French of my Peace Corps life will seem like the dream. I’m excited to go back to America, but, in many ways, I don’t want to fully readjust. If I could appreciate fast internet, hot showers, grocery stores, paved roads, punctuality, and being with family as much as I appreciate it right, that would be a really amazing way to live. But, of course, I will get used to things. I just hope I will always remain more appreciative of what I have, because I think one of the greatest gifts of doing Peace Corps is the new perspective and appreciation it gives you for your own life.
It’s hard to believe, but on Oct 15th, I will leave Magna for the last time and on Oct 19th, I will cross the border into Ghana as an RPCV. From there, a few PCV friends and I are taking a ten day trip to Portugal and Spain before I arrive back in Boston on October 31st!! In those first weeks and months back, I can’t wait to spend time with friends and family and rediscover America and American life. Coming home will have its own ups and downs, but, as people say here, “ça va aller.” The phrase “ça va aller” translates to “it will go” but it’s used often in Togo to mean everything will be alright/everything will work out. I hear this phrase all the time here and in many ways it has become the theme of my Peace Corps service. Throughout all the craziness of being a PCV, I’ve known that “ça va aller” and it would all work out and be fine. So, as I move forward and back to America for the next phase of my life, I know that, in the end, “ça va aller.”
So, that’s all folks! I’ve enjoyed writing this blog and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it. To everyone who has called, visited, written, and/or sent letters and packages; thank you so much, you have no idea how much it has meant to me and helped me! See you all when I’m back stateside!!!