Published on January 31st, 2015 | by Taylor Dempsey0
Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Africa: Closing Time
Next week, after 27 months/112 weeks /784 days – whoa that sounds long! – in Uganda, I will officially be graduating from PCV to RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer). My work commitments are complete, so now I’m just trying to soak up my final few days in country as I continue to reflect on everything that has happened during this wild ride.
Last words are always the hardest to write. This is a time of self-reflection, of trying to process what I’ve learned here, how I’ve grown, what will be hard to say goodbye to, and what won’t. Summing up and closing out an experience that shifted constantly between the highest of highs and lowest of lows has not come easily. When in doubt, resort to lists!
Things I will miss about Uganda:
- The strong bonds of understanding and camaraderie in the Peace Corps community
- The kids (Ugandan kiddies are the most adorable children in the world, after all. And they’re everywhere.)
- My little yellow house nestled under the banana trees
- The stars
- Local greetings
- The freedom of Peace Corps life
- How even the smallest victories make you feel on top of the world
- The rains
Things I will not miss about Uganda:
- Public transportation
- Local food (tasteless carbs)
- The lack of seasons
- Being treated as a second-class citizen because I’m a woman
- “Seeeee you, mzungu!!” and other high pitched chants that follow me everywhere
- Corporal punishment
- The anti-homosexuality act, and conversations about it
There were plenty of days when I thought I wouldn’t make it. But it turns out, the good outweighed the bad. That first list was a lot easier to write than the second. At the risk of sounding trite, I’ve gained more from this experience than I could ever have hoped to leave behind.
I’ve learned that it’s always a best practice to hold your judgements, because you never know someone’s whole story. I’ve learned how to cut a mango like a pro, and the perfect trick for telling which are the best avocados before opening them. I’ve learned that you can’t fix everything. I’ve learned the difference between want and need. I’ve learned the long-coveted skill of serious bargaining, and I’ve learned how to answer just about every awkward, absurd, or amusing question that an adolescent could possibly come up with during a sex ed class. I’ve learned to be grateful for the tiniest of successes, and I’ve learned to embrace the frustrations and failures and grow from them. I’ve learned, really learned, about the preciousness of water, the value of a loyal friend, the problems with international aide, and the necessity of self-motivation.
Though I have yet to leave, all of my friends here ask me when I’m coming back. If I’m being honest, I’m not sure it will ever happen. There is a never ending list of places I want to see and dedicating 2 years to Uganda feels like enough, at least right now. However, Uganda will always be a home to me. I often can’t imagine leaving and heading back out into the fast-paced world. Still, I do feel like the time is right for me to move on: I’ve done my thing here, hopefully left a little mark, and I’m ready for a change. My first and true home is calling my name. When I get back to the states I’ll be seeking a bit more structure in my life, plenty of long awaited time with family and friends, and many trips to Whole Foods and the Adirondacks.
Thank you to everyone who has read this column over the past two years, and thank you to Natural Awakenings CNJ for the opportunity! Wishing you all a peaceful, fulfilling, merry new year, all year long.
Questions and comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.