Peace Corps Days: Reminiscing

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan volunteers - 2001.

Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan memories.

Ah, life as a Peace Corps volunteer. Sure, it’s romantic – going out to save the the world by living and volunteering in a developing country, learning a new language, immersing oneself in a different culture and seeing parts of the globe one never thought they’d see.

But as I was looking through various Peace Corps Volunteer blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was reminded of the other side of the adventure: The challenges of learning a new language, surviving the intense pre-service training, competition among other volunteers in terms of who accomplished what and feelings of frustration as a result, being a woman in a culture where gender equality is still developing, battling (sometimes constant) illness and other struggles – enough to write a book on depending on your mood. As a volunteer, these are things you are prepared for in the back of your enthusiastic little mind before you venture off into the field, but they are nevertheless the very same things you are unprepared for when they become a reality.

Still, it’s all part of the journey, right? And at least you get bragging rights. How many people can say, “I had giardia, intestinal worms and a bacterial infection all at the same time?” [See last link.] No kidding, such conversations were normal among those in my group during our time in Kyrgyzstan, so much that it became a joke despite the potential severity of the situation.

But despite the challenges and moments of frustration, I can recall some pretty awesome times as well. Like the moment you realize your language skills are starting to come together, or when you realize you are actually accomplishing a lot at your site. Also, all the Kyrgyz friends I made, the foods I ate (yes, I ate a sheep’s eyeball!), the traditional weddings, birthday parties, festivals and outings I attended and workshops I participated in or led.

I’m especially reminded of all this as I read about Rwanda’s first group of Peace Corps volunteers since 1994, and I know they are going to come back from their service completely different people – most likely for the better. (Also, I’m a bit jealous – I would have loved to have served in Rwanda as it’s a place I’ve read a lot about.) Anyway, as I read about this newly sworn-in group, I am reminded of my swearing-in day in Kyrgyzstan, the day that recognized the completion of our group’s pre-service training with the next step of being dispatched to our permanent sites. Some, like myself, were going to be the only Peace Corps volunteer/American for miles around. I remember the excitement, anxiety, camaraderie and sudden loneliness I felt all at the same time. And as I looked through various blogs on the Peace Corps Journals site, I was also reminded of the friends I made, the crazy times we shared, the adventures we experienced and just a lot of laughter.

Although my Peace Corps experience did not end on a happy note (we were evacuated from the area in light of the 9/11 events which brought our neighbor Afghanistan into the picture), the experience was an unforgetful one for me. I started off thinking that I was going to give myself to the world, but in the end, it was the the world that actually gave itself to me. And it’s still giving.

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