Leaving the Peace Corps
Close of Service (COS) is the time when your Peace Corps service comes to an end. Its precursor is the Close of Service Conference which takes place about four or five months before you leave country.
My COS was actually the last friday in July (2016) which also happened to be my birthday. A year later I’m finally able to write this post about leaving the Peace Corps.
I don’t know why.
But what I do know is that those last few weeks as a Peace Corps Volunteer were really difficult. I thought I was going to die twice, I was incredibly unhappy, and my final final project was unraveling at the seams. Joining the Peace Corps is described as:
“the toughest job you’ll ever love”.
That’s pretty accurate but you don’t actually love it during the process. A more accurate quote would be:
“the toughest job you’ll ever love, but you’ll only realize it after the fact, which may be weeks, months, or even years later”.
My role as my volunteer with the Peace Corps taught me three very valuable lessons which I will share with you now to help describe the totality of my service.
“When people show you who they are believe them!”
This lesson has always reared it’s coyish head during my travels. Shyly with hints or after the fact messages. However, in Botswana it yelled and scratched at the walls commanding attention. A few times it punched me in the gut Demanding that I listen, internalize, and remember it’s meaning. Trust me I listened.
When working with “host country nationals” or “Americans who have never traveled abroad and are adjusting to a new environment”, you will realize that people tend to bullshit (please excuse my language) a lot. Working between these two dichotomies can make one frustrated. But remembering to take the first impressions at face value saved me so much time and headache. It helped decipher between the people you will do great work with and the bullshitters. As a volunteer I pretty much had to learn to make water out of air, so eliminating unnecessary headaches with working with people who aren’t really there to help you is a major key!
Lesson # 2
“Listen to your body, it’s intuitive by nature”
My body pretty much started breaking down after being at my site for three months. But being the good volunteer, I fought through most of it and hung in there. It started with “kidney stones” (in quotes because I never passed any stones so wasn’t entirely convinced of the diagnosis) in January 2015 and then went downhill from there. My mind and sprit started to deteriorate as well. I tried to maintain a fitness regimen, continued blogging, and kept in touch with family but sometimes that wasn’t enough.
I worked really hard to put together some great programs based on the needs of my community but was often met by apathy and lack of interest from different community members. It wasn’t until my last nine months at site that I was able to meet and liaise with people who were driven to invoke change and keep the projects moving forward once I departed.
I will spare you all the details of all my ailments but after a while my body was like:
I didn’t listen for about a year and a half. However I am very thankful for the Peace Corps medical staff. They were (are) amazing and GOD sent. They really helped me through a lot of my “ish”. Even old ailments that had been put to rest years ago started to pop back up. My body was playing games. She pulled all the stops out to get me to realize I was no longer working in a healthy environment both physically and mentally. I started to be annoyed by and dislike everything and everyone one around me. All while trying to maintain my composure.
In June of 2016 I was medically evacuated to South Africa for a dental issue and stayed there for two weeks. Again my body was pulling out every rabbit trick.
The straw that broke the camels back came in July. Literally two months before I was to close my service after spending 25 months in Botswana. An old issue randomly appeared and just wouldn’t leave. I was placed on antibiotics to clear it but my body was like NOOOO! I broke out in hives all over my face, neck and various patches across my body. It was so weird. I had never experienced anything like that and it was so itchy and painful. I started to think I was going to die in my Peace Corps house. And never see my family again.
I sent the medical officer and my mother updates and pictures on my progress.
It was determined that I should return to the capital city, Gaborone, and medically separate from my service. They actually gave me a choice. Since I needed to have surgery, I could go to South Africa or return home for the procedure. If I have got to SA, I would have probably been there for a month to six weeks. Then returned to site for a month before closing my service. That didn’t make sense. So I thought I should go home and work with a familiar surgeon.
I wish I had written about this whole ordeal as I was going through it (I had stopped blogging for a while). This section probably would offer more details than this brief overview. But I really was not in a good state. And I am the type of person that does not like people to worry about me so I definitely didn’t share any of my struggles with anyone at site or other volunteers.
But the fun didn’t stop there. The date of departure was pushed back and my body screamed NOOOO. So once again she tried it.
I packed up and finally headed to Gaborone waiting to leave and while under medical observation. I went to the bank to try and close my account. Standing in line I started to feel really sweaty and cold at the same time. I took my cardigan off. Then I felt pains in my stomach and like I was gonna puke. I was so close to the front of the line but I needed to sit down. Finally I was at the front and was going through the transaction but I just couldn’t move or talk anymore. I saw a chair and sat down. Told the teller I don’t feel good. Not too sure what happened after that. But I remember I couldn’t talk or move for a while and people were trying to help me.
Yea my body tried it. And she won. If there was any doubt in my mind that my body was the greatest messenger of my mental, physical, or spiritual state. It was confirmed that day. Always listen to your body when it gives you signs of distress or pain. ALWAYS! Don’t be like me and wait almost two years because you wanted to accomplish a goal.
I was medically separated from Peace Corps and closed my service on July 29th, which also happened to be my birthday .(the universe has a sense of humor)
I left two months early and served a total for 25 months. I completed my Description of Service report, received all my benefits and NCE status and rung that damn bell y’all! Also I was able to attend my Close of Service Conference the month prior.
Lesson # 3
“Friendships happen when you least expect it.”
As a volunteer I feel like they put a lot of fear in us when it came to moving about the country. With good reason because they want us to be safe. But this can create distrust in the locals and prevent you from creating new friendships. Once I stopped caring so much I met so many great people at my site and around the country. All of my travels have taught me that people can be really great and welcoming when you are trying to adjust to a new country as an “expat”. I will miss the people I met attending all those random events like the Makgadikgadi Epic. I attended both in 2015 and 2016 with our U.S. Ambassador. It was so much fun.
I even met a girl who followed “travelingnatural” on Instagram. How cool is that?!! She is an artist and we randomly met outside a Mugg and Bean in Gaborone. There were awesome people with amazing stories everywhere.
So that is my story of the end of my Peace Corps service. I really had to force myself to write a closing chapter about my experience. I failed to do that with Viet Nam and I still think about it. And that was over five years ago!
Will I ever visit Botswana again? Maybe.
Would I ever do Peace Corps again? I don’t know. Maybe as a retiree.
I’ve done so many different programs that have enabled me to travel and work abroad so I know there are other opportunities.
I live in D.C. now and have been living here for about four months and working here for about six. There are a ton of returned Peace Corps Volunteers here. Now that I’ve closed that chapter I just want to meet new people and expand my network and learn something new from non RPCVs lol. But it’s great to be apart of that network.
I have a new website I am launching. Not sure if I will post about it here. I was considering closing down this site but it will be up for another year. I’m not even sure who still reads these posts. LOL.
In any event, if you have questions about being a Peace Corps Volunteer, being black in Africa (I have a book/collection of interviews under the Resources tab), maintaining your natural hair, or leaving Peace Corps, please feel free to email me or leave a comment. I would love to help anyway I can!