When you join Peace Corps, you sign on for service in a developing country for two years of your life. Peace Corps has goals and missions it wants us to pursue, and to best help us meet these goals, they provide us with on-going training. These training sessions happen every few months and involves us traveling to a central location and staying for a week or so.
Most of the training sessions are mandatory and are usually the only times we see each other on a regular basis, as since once sworn-in, we’re dispersed to different locations all over South Africa.
To perhaps help us remember, Peace Corps training names involve a T (for Training): pre-service Training, in-service Training, life skills Training… Peace Corps, like South Africa, likes acronyms. So, usually we refer to our trainings as PST, IST, and most recently, LST. Since acronyms are like a foreign language to me (in that they don’t “stick” in my brain), I’m usually referring to our most recent training by saying, “which ever T we just attended.” :-)
At our most recent T, I observed a new and sad phenomenon among us: Since some of us are deciding to return home, we are using the training sessions as an avenue to say, “goodbye.”
Since serving in Peace Corps is a volunteer opportunity, we are free to return home at any point in our service. Peace Corps has a term for it: Early Termination and of course, it has an acronym: ET. So, we say among ourselves that “so and so is ETing.”
When one of us decides to terminate our service, a formal resignation is made to the Country Director and Peace Corps processes you out rather quickly and usually within three business days. So, losing two of ours was whispered about at our last training because my friends hadn’t yet formally resigned.
It is a bittersweet feeling, to lose another volunteer. On the one hand, I’m tremendously proud and happy for my friends who are returning home, as it is a courageous decision to do so. And I feel a bit jealous: I wish I were going home too! I feel deep sadness, because, well, we tend to like each other and hate to lose a part of our Peace Corps South African family.
Because, for better or worse, (or better AND worse), family we have become.
At our latest “T,” I said goodbye to my two good Peace Corps family members: Andy and Rachelle.
I’ll start with Andy first because I knew he was leaving first.
I hold a special place in my heart for Andy. Andy is married to Lauren and the two of them are one of our “couples.” (We have six married couples among us.) During PST (see, a “T” again! Pre-service training), we all lived near one another in our village. Andy, Lauren, and a few others of us lived somewhat farther out than the others so we had a 40 minute van ride to and from the training site every day.
Lauren, Andy, and I always found ourselves moving to the rear of the bus. In this way, we found ourselves, depending on how loudly the music was played, able to have regular conversations on our rides to and from training. No matter how many scorpions had fallen on me in the night, no matter how severe the threat of swine flu in my host family, no matter how many roaches I had cringed at in my pit toilet, Andy and Lauren would have me in peals of laughter every morning. When Andy had my sides especially splitting, Lauren would admonish, “Don’t encourage him.”
Although I rarely see or speak to Andy and Lauren anymore due to the physical distance between our sites, I always look forward to seeing them at trainings. Now I’ll only get to see one of them on a regular basis—Lauren, as Andy has safely returned to the U.S.
(I love this picture of Andy and I; I had tried all morning to get a “good” shot of him and was unable to. His wife, fortunately, was!)
Also at this last training, I sadly bid farewell of another of us: Rachelle.
Rachelle is a very bright soul who lightens up the room every time she enters it. I like her especially well because she is a true neighbor back home—she hails from St. Louis, practically right down the street—and because her soul and mine share the same wave length. What I like about her most, however, is that she is honest with her thoughts and feelings. I’ve learned in life that true intimacy—and therefore connection with other people—comes only when people are honest with their thoughts and feelings. I’ve also learned in life that these people are few and far in between.
Although I’m very, very happy that Rachelle has decided to return home, I’m very sad to be losing her here.
I’m not too sad, however, as I feel truly in my heart that we’ll meet again.
(You too Andy! You’d better let me come crash when you’re living on millionaire’s row!!)
Lucky for us, however, there is only one more mandatory training at which I might dread discovering who else we’re losing, the Mid-service training--MST, which comes in September.
(Actually, we have one more mandatory training after that, our Close-of-service training, but at that time, we’re ALL preparing to return home!)
Many of us are actually returning to the States for a visit as the June/July holiday— and World Cup! —approaches. I worry a bit too, who might not come back?
I’m not so sure I could come back to South Africa after a trip home! Not so sure at all!