There is an open window somewhere. An open window & hard goodbyes.
As I sit here one month away from my departure back home I am filled with more emotions than I know what to do with. While my heart still aches from the goodbyes I said over two years ago, I know I will see everyone again so soon, & that brings me so much joy, like an unbelievable amount of joy. I dream of hugs, exchanging stories, laughter and so much love to be shared and I can’t even sleep at night because I’m so excited. But that’s not the only thing that keeps me up at night… I also think about the tough goodbyes I will have “this side”. I think about the stories I’ve created, the laughter and love that I shared, and how quite possibly, these hugs will be our last.
Peace Corps is funny. It’s an experience unlike any other, incomparable to any other. It’s a program that takes you out of everything you know & puts you somewhere where you know nothing. I guess it’s not surprising why so many people are like, “so why did you do this…?” But somehow, you take this place you know nothing about & you make it home. You establish routines, you learn the culture, you learn to make-do, & you create relationships, bonds, with people you often have little to nothing in common with.
A lot of Peace Corps that is publicized is the amazing projects that volunteers do all over the world, as they should be because well, they’re amazing! In my service I had a few successful projects, yes, but my favorite part, the most rewarding and influential part, has been the relationships I have created.
So here I am at the end of my service, excited beyond belief for the reunions, the running water & all the food that awaits me, but I’m also a little heartbroken. I despise goodbyes, my stomach turns to knots, my palms get all sweaty, & I try to think of the right thing to say but it never comes out like I hoped. When I said goodbye two years ago, it was terrible, yes, but I knew I would see you all again. This time, that is not a given circumstance.
Funnily enough, the bonds I created have been with people half my age. People who don’t have What’sApp or Facebook. People who can’t afford stamps to send letters or airtime to make international phone calls. People who can’t write, who can hardly speak English. So I worry, because these are relationships that mean so much to me, that have kept me alive these past two years, these are relationships I don’t want to lose.
Last week during PACT Club one of my favorite girls (yes, teachers totally have favorites) was really quiet throughout the whole meeting. She’s usually very vibrant, contributing great ideas and comments, but Thursday she just sat in the back. Afterwards I went & sat next to her & I said, hey you’re quiet today, everything okay? She looked at me & said she was very sad. I asked why and her sweet eyes filled with tears and she looked away & quietly said, “I can’t imagine a day when you’re not here, I don’t want you to leave”. I swallowed my own tears, hugged her, but words escaped me, because I am leaving, and I can’t promise to stay in touch because she’s not online, because not even her mother has a phone.
This is the part where faith comes in, & I have to keep reminding myself of that. I have to have faith that the relationships that mean so much to me, also mean as much to them. That maybe my students will continue to excel in school and apply for the scholarship I keep telling them about to study in the states, and then they’ll look me up and we’ll be reunited. Or maybe years from now, when they’re grown, they’ll look me up on Facebook or whatever we’ll be using then, and say, hey! Remember me? I’m a big fancy doctor, lawyer, teacher, pilot… I have to have faith that even if we never get the opportunity to speak again, they’ll hear my voice when someone offers them drugs, when they’re pressured to ditch school, when they’re being asked to have unprotected sex in exchange for money, clothes, airtime, whatever. I hope they think of me when they pass Form 3 or when they get their first job & know how proud I would be of them. I hope they already know how proud I am of them, how much I love them, & what they mean to me. I’m going to spend this last month making sure of that.
To all the people that question why Peace Corps? Why did you do it? This is why. Because although it hasn’t been easy, I have met people, created relationships that changed my life and the gratitude I feel for this experience is in unexplainable.
I’m not exactly sure what’s next for me. I’m going to get home, visit my family, move back to Pensacola, and start applying for grad schools. I’ll be applying to schools all over the country in hopes of pursuing a Masters in School Counseling. I don’t know what school I will end up in, what state I’ll build a life in, but one thing I know for certain is that no matter what or where, I’ll always carry a little of Botswana with me. I’ll always have Kelebogile, Lentle, Thati, Maatla, Keletso, Gontle, and the rest of the students/children that touched my life, near & dear to my heart.