Saturday, May 12, 2012

My First Two Years: A Retrospection

I feel like the title of this blog should be 'my busy month.'

It's not, of course; I like to think I'm more subtle than that (LIKE A FOX), but it wouldn't be an exaggeration. I won't bore you with details, but if this month has been anything, it's been damn busy. I haven't even been writing (which, considering the number of emotions tumbling around in my head, is a feat in and of itself).

For the sake of efficiency, I'll try to sum up AllVol in a few choice sentences:
There wasn't a pool, but there were late nights, dance parties, and lots of laughter. New friends were found, old friendships strengthened, and a lot of volunteers said youtube-worthy, quotable sh*t ( For many of us it meant something else entirely - our closing of service and its fast approach.

Last week it came and went, our COS conference like the blink of an eye. It hardly seemed real, staring at faces I knew would start leaving within the month. 62 friends, colleagues, and comrades; we'd really done it: two years in Ghana. Two years older, two years stronger, two years different. Pinch me, we say, slightly shell-shocked, as we start to reflect ...

Do you remember the day you got your letter?

 It's strange for me; that day seems so far away and yet I remember it like it was yesterday.
When I took my interview over the phone, I actually called back to confirm (in hopeful, elated, quiet disbelief) that I could actually start telling people I was, in fact, going to Africa. "Yes," the man replied, "you can expect your invitation letter within the week." I proceeded to stalk the UPS man.

When it finally found its way into my hands, my stomach dropped into my pelvis and my heart flew up next to my eardrums (which is an awkward place for either to be). I don't think there's ever been a moment in my life I was more terrified, excited, or proud - this was something I'd legitimately achieved on my own. Peace Corps was like my baby and I was proud of my baby.

And then they hand us our Aspiration Statements ...

Well, this is embarrassing ... I was clearly trying to kiss major Peace Corps ass. In fact, I kind of wish I could still write like this; so professional (and slightly pompous) and sweetly naive. I really don't even remember writing any of it. What I do remember is spending all night with Morgan trying to figure out what I wanted to say (Thanks, Morgan); I was so afraid of saying the wrong thing (the remedy for which was apparently a Thesaurus).

I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but I certainly faked it well (*pats past-self on back*). I even make a lot of really good points that still apply (thanks, Morgan), but two years puts a lot of miles between me and the girl who wrote this. If anything, seeing it now is a clear reminder of that. A slightly embarrassing, thesaurus-aided reminder that the Peace Corps is never what you expect.

What are your accomplishments and achievements?

These are hard to gauge because, in the Peace Corps, the word 'achievements' covers a spectrum as broad as the color wheel.  I could make a list (and probably need to), but many of them are personal: being able to speak and understand a second language; building something successful from the ground up; living independently in a foriegn country for two years; mastering the transportation system (and thus patience) ... once I start naming things, they just keep coming - rolling out into the universe like a ribbon of light.

In creating a list, I start to realize just how significant this all was; that people who think volunteers are running away from life to bullsh*t for two years have no idea what they're talking about. This is, in fact, a pretty big deal. It's a giant accomplishment made up of other accomplishments; an achievement cuddle-puddle, if you will. (Feel free to steal and use that tag-line in future advertisements, Peace Corps.) I have a lot of pride.

How have you changed?

Wow. That's a doozy ... Um, I got fatter, I got skinner, I got blonder, I'm a better writer, I stopped journaling, I started free-styling, I gained a pen-pal, I got better at dancing ...

... but, really, I guess a lot of my accomplishments can serve as personal changes; being capable, confident, and knowledgeable in a field I was passionate (but clueless) about are all things changed in me. I'm older in more ways than one and I'm happy; I'm a much better person, as a whole. I've always been social and optimistic, open and appreciative, but in small doses (the way only very young people, green as spring grass, can be). Now I feel like I am those things: a capable, willing, confident adult.

Seriously, I may have my bad days, but I send off so much genuine love into the world on a daily basis that my cheeks hurt by the time I fall back into bed. That feeling, that pure goodness right there, is the biggest change I've experienced. And I owe it all to Ghana, for helping me feel purposeful and successful and just plain grateful.