Friday, February 15, 2013

Final Goodbyes

Four years ago Nate came home from an educational trip from Africa and before he was out of the shower, less than 30 mins. back home,  I had bombarded him with an idea that had been stewing in my head while he was away. I wanted to join the Peace Corps. Not surprisingly he also had started thinking of a way that we could travel and do development work in our respective fields and Peace Corps is what came to mind. So with our new somewhat "crazy" idea we began on a journey that would change us more than we ever expected.  So how do you sum up two years of the highest highs and lowest lows, two years of traveling through the jungles of South America, two years of learning a new way of living? I am not exactly sure, so I thought I would take you through our process of closure. I'll try and make it short and sweet, but forgive me if it takes me awhile to articulate my thoughts.

Our first step of closure was telling our village what day would be our last in Mabaruma. With that, the questions of when we will come back began, with which we had no answer. That was when the first realization that our time was really coming than end. We worked so hard to make Guyana really  Mabaruma our home, that it is strange to think that we may never come back, or that if we do that it will probably be vastly different. The children we have come to love, the co-workers we have learned from, our home, may very likely not be there as we once knew it.

Saying goodbye to MCH

Nate's Tobago friends carved him some gifts. 

The second stage of closure was packing our home yet again into two duffle bags and two camping packs. Two years ago we minimized our life into the same bags we took back. We sold and donated most our possessions. When I wrote that blog post I remember feeling overwhelmed and sad to have only the bags on my back, however this time it was much easier and actually quite liberating. I guess when you are throwing away the 10 shirts, 5 pants and 4 pairs of shoes you have run into the ground for two years, the tears that roll down your face are happy rather than sad that you don't have to wear that "damn ratty stained two-sizes too big, because you've hand washed your clothes for two years" shirt.  So after giving away most of our household possessions and packing mostly souvenirs to take home, we said goodbye to our home, our  haven, our  happy place. When I think back on our PC experience our home will be a highlight. We spent most nights and weekends swinging in our hammocks, reading, talking and watching endless hours of bootlegged TV shows and movies. On the worst days our humble home was our saving grace. On good days it was the location of all BBQs and parties. We hosted countless volunteers and those special individuals who made it all the way out to us. Our home on many occasions did not have electricity or water for days, didn't have screens, and invited plenty of rodents, but taught us how little we can live with and be happy, and for us Stewart's it's a stove/oven, a hammock and each other. Don't get me wrong a hot shower is always appreciated, but not necessary.

The third step of closure was attending our Close of Service conference (COS). On Jan. 16-18, 24 of the 37 volunteers we started with met for the last time. We sat around for hours talking about our experiences, how similar yet so unbelievably different they all were. Talking about what transitions we are the most excited about and the ones we fear. We reminisced  lot and yes, she'd a few tears in the process. It still boggles my mind how interesting of a social experiment Peace Corps is. To put 37 people from all over the US together and have them all on the exact same day and time start an incredibly trying and rewarding experience together and then after two years leave at different times and in some cases never see these people again. Just a really interesting social experiment.

Last night out with the other Peace Corps Region #1 volunteers.
The final step of closure came with lots of food, gifts and parties. Because Nate and I are a married couple who served in a relatively remote place, let's just say we knew a lot of people. Each group I worked with or Nate worked with or we both worked with together threw us a going away shin dig. Some were bigger than others, some just consisted of one person while others consisted of 40 people. But all were special and extremely touching in their own ways. Nate and I received more gold gifts than we know what to do with and more kind words we ever imagined or expected. We often wondered what our ending would be like. If we would see any immediate impact due to our work, if we would be sad or happy, and whether we would change  or pretty much stay the same. What we know now is that we may never really ever see the depth of our impact, that yes we have changed and that it was bitter-sweet to say goodbye. But I am interested to see how our perspective will change as we get further and further away from our time in Guyana.

Saying goodbye to our host family!
My host mom, aunt and sister! Love them all so much. 
Peace Corps was hard to say the least, but with an ending so sweet it now makes sense why returned volunteers speak so fondly about their experience. It all evens out at the end, making it truly an unforgettable experience.

Now that we are home and slowly adjusting to life back in the US, we wonder how this experience will inform our future endeavors.  Just the other night I heard a really wonderful quote from one of Nate's uncles. "If your personality is a sum of your experiences, you will forever carry these past two years." I couldn't have said it better myself.

So now you may be asking what is next. We are home for the next two months visiting friends and family and on April 3rd we fly to Rio de Janiero and start our two month South America back-packing trip through Argentina, Bolivia and Peru. This is our gift to ourselves, one that we have been planning for over a year and half.

Once we return at the end May we begin applying for jobs and seeing where the next adventure takes us. But that's too far in the future to think or stress about. So in the meantime we are thoroughly enjoying what Nate likes to term our "pre-employment retirement".

We will be keeping our blog through our South America trip, but forgive us if we don't post until then. I think we forgot how stimulating and overwhelming life in America can be.

Till next time.

1 comment:

  1. I've followed your blog for almost two years and telling both of you that you have done a great job doesn't seem enough. Thank you.