I wanted to give it time before I wrote this final report, hoping that my thoughts would become more concise, more comprehensible to someone who wasn't in my head. After almost an entire month of being back, as I sit here in my parents' basement, I'm still at a loss of how to get all these conclusions out.
I guess I'll start off by saying that I have very little complaints about Peace Corps. I think entirely too many people cut it down. It is what it is. It's an opportunity for Americans to give a little and take a bit more. It's a chance to see what lays outside the comforts that you know, and how the rest of the world lives everyday. It's a opportunity to see the world in a way that you might not be possible without the Peace Corps. And it's a way to take this generation, which is slowly losing its compassion for each other and reintegrate with the core of being a human being.
Because, there is that moment for every volunteer, when you are sitting in your village, whether it be in the Sahara Desert of Mali, or the tropical islands of Vanuatu, where you come to realize we are all in this together. That thousands of miles away from where you are sitting with your host brother playing cards and betting with seashells, you can picture your own brother learning to play a good game of Texas Hold'em. And yes, they are entirely different environments, but the overlying theme is the same. We are all in this together. When it comes down to it, it doesn't matter your skin color, your citizenship, your job, it matters that we are all humans. And the beauty of Peace Corps is that it allows you to find your humanity again. It forces you to forget the differences, and see the similarities.
Some would say I've been dealt an unusually difficult hand this past year. The tragic loss of a boyfriend, the evacuation from my home in Mali and an unsuccessful run in the South Pacific Islands left me worn down to a place I didn't even recognize myself. I had deep wounds and was trying to cover them with band-aids of rushed new relationships, repression and sheer denial. I wasn't fine, and no matter how many times I said it, I knew deep down, I wasn't. Yet, a month back in the states, with some time to think and take a step back, I can actually say I will be fine. But let me clear, it's not because of some moment or cheesy quote I read. It's because of my experience as a whole with Peace Corps.
I learned an important lesson in understanding and living life. I've lived in one of the poorest countries in the world, where people struggle each day to feed their children. I've seen happiness in places that seemed so dark that I never thought light could reach. And that is what Peace Corps allowed me to do. It allowed me to take my problems and take a step back and say, “Is this really how you want to handle your life?” The things and people that have been taken away from me this past year will always be a part of me. Living in Mali and Vanuatu did not downplay the pain of the past year, but it did allow me to learn how to react.
You see, Peace Corps allowed me to go to a country where I learned a lesson I will repeat every morning when I wake up. Mali and Vanuatu taught me that you have two options to live your life. You can sit and say, 'Man, this sucks. Nothing is going my way, I can't catch a break, why won't just one thing go the way I want?”. This will cause you to never let go. I could sit here and question the death of a loved one, the heartbreak of leaving a country and village that felt like home, or I can make the change that so many people in Mali and Vanuatu have shown me. I can take a step back and say, “Ok. This happened. Now let's look toward tomorrow.” Malians showed me first hand that you can't live in the past. Especially in a place where so many things go wrong, it's not feasible to focus on every hardship. Instead, you celebrate when the good things happen. You party like it's 1999 and remember that tomorrow is a new day.
I came back to the United States to a party. It was my cousin's wedding and it was a fantastic weekend. I was welcomed back with dozens of open arms and tons of questions about Mali and Vanuatu. There was a moment where I was sitting watching everyone dance at the wedding. I was distracted, thinking about, well everything--the past 13 months of my life and the rollercoaster it has been. And then I remembered Aminata, my host mother in Mali. I remember what she told me when I offered my condolence for her deceased brother. She said that there are too many good things in life to focus on the sad. Too many miracles everyday, right in front of you, that you will miss if you focus on only what is going wrong.
I looked into the crowd, saw my entire family celebrating this amazing occasion and followed Aminata's words and did the only thing that felt right. I fist pumped my way into the circle of my family looking at every one of their smiles with an immense sense of gratification and happiness.
So thank you Mali, thank you Vanuatu, and thank you Peace Corps for giving me this opportunity. It's been one crazy ride, but I leave with very little regrets and a new understanding of not only my own life, but the undeniable human connection and optimism that can exist right before our very eyes.