Big benchmarks in service are a great time for reflecting and reminiscing, so I will do just that.
I had the opportunity to be with a lot of friends from my intake group this past weekend. Since we often go months without seeing each other, it was nice to reconnect and celebrate. A year has gone by since we first met each other and began this experience together. I have a lot of thoughts on the process, and I think it will be interesting to see the contrast another year brings. My intake group has had a large number of ETs (early terminations), so there’s a small badge of pride that accompanies sticking through this long. I’ve learned how to survive here, whether through changing my habits and lifestyle or adjusting my expectations. I’ve had good times and some stressful ones, and I know I’m miles more patient now than I was when I started.
One thing I’ve concluded about this experience is the inherent necessity for selfish reasons for serving. In the beginning of service, I found myself sitting in a fog about what challenges and successes lay before me; the one thing that remained consistent was the desire to invoke some positive change. Saving the world isn’t an option, but the possibility to influence a handful of people is.
Pre-Service Training was probably the most taxing part of this experience, involving a more rigid schedule than anything I’ve had to endure otherwise. The 2 months of theoretical preparation were a harsh deception about the current realities of my daily life at site. Throughout that time, a trainee is never fully able to settle in – he or she has to live with a host family and then be prepared to move at the end of training. When the end finally came and I moved 9 hours away from Kanye, the real adjustment anxiety set in. I found myself in the situation I feared most by being fairly isolated from other PCVs and living without electricity or indoor water. I began to store water and cater my shopping. I once went 2 months without water and had to carry it from a public tap. I finally got electricity installed in November.
Survival in that regard was both easy and very frustrating. But living isn’t the accomplishment we outline in results-oriented assessments. The terms of success had to change in my mind. The first time I realized how long the uphill climb toward most of my real goals was going to take, I had a small crisis. I remember my first real hurdle of getting a delivery of wooden poles for the garden at my support group and how amazed I was by its difficulty. If the simplest tasks were going to take that much effort, how was I going to tackle the real problems before me?
I recall sitting back during my first few months at site, forcing myself into a calm and giving in to the process. I’m glad I did. There’s a balance of how much pressure you can put on projects to have them go your way without exhausting yourself from constant disappointment. At the other end of the spectrum is the work of making your face known and earning trust among the community – it takes prolonged time but doesn’t consume 40 hours each week. My point is that I used a lot of the down time in my first few months to work on my personal goals. I have read and wrote a lot and gotten very good at spending time with myself. My fear of isolation has been all but conquered.
Without my own reasons for being here, I don’t how compelled I would have been to stick through to this point where I am starting to see results. The process takes a long time, and the first half of service can be unbearable if your only goal is to make a difference.
In the interest of nostalgia, I reminded myself of the goals I set 10 months ago when I arrived at site. I have accomplished a lot on this list, probably because it’s so vague. I have at least progressed on each of my goals; I can see the realities developing and the relationships that are at play with them. There have been small steps involved with each along the way and situations are constantly changing.
I’m happy with this anniversary because it reminds me of where I began and how far I’ve come. It’s just another reminder, however, of how soon this part of my life will be over. I guess I’d better moving on year two.