Peace Corps was a living dream

October 23rd, 2016 by | Tags: | 1 Comment »

Peace Corps was a living dream.  The regular activities of Cameroon are now a memory.  It’s so surreal that I lived a life riding a motorcycle through the chaotic streets of no traffic lights and through the lush green mountainous countryside.  I was surrounded by people walking with big buckets and baskets on top of their heads as if they were not worried that they would fall off and people walking with babies on their backs with pagnes wrapped around.  I shopped for clothes by picking out fabric and taking them to a tailor.  Wearing pagnes was a part of my life as that is what most people around me wore too.  I bought my food at outdoor markets.  I was called “White Man” many times and was proposed to too many times to count.  I fell in love with a fellow volunteer and took getaway trips with him in packed bush taxis.  I worked with persons with disabilities and together, we changed lives.  While at times during my service two years seemed so long and never ending, those two years of my life also went by in a flash.  I’m constantly pinching myself and asking, “Did the past two years happen in real life or in a dream?”

On Thursday afternoon, on my last day in Cameroon, right before the closing ceremony also known as “Gong Out,” I sat in the office of Peace Corps Deputy Director.  The Deputy Director and I sat on the sofa chairs.

“I’ve been asking myself this week, ‘Where did time go?'” I said to the Deputy Director.

She asked me, “So what do you think?  If you had only one minute to sum up your service, what would you say?”

“This would be like an elevator speech?” I asked.

“Yes.”

I was silent for a second trying to process my thoughts about the last two years.  Then I uttered, “Wow” out of my mouth.

“It was a living dream,” I added.  “I have learned as much as I have taught people.  I feel that I have checked unintentionally everything off of all experiences a Peace Corps Volunteer could experience.  I was assaulted and medevaced to the US.  I lost a work partner.  I was in the hospital for six nights for food poisoning.  I fell in love with a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer.  I completed big successful projects.  The U.S. Embassy saw my work and I met with the Deputy Chief of Mission and U.S. Ambassador.”

“When you’ve had the lowest of the lows, you’ve also had the highest of the highs,” she said.

“Yes.”

The conversation continued and we reflected on my two years of service.

Sitting in the office made me feel as if I was reflecting on a very long dream I had while sleeping the night before. It was also a moment when I felt as if I had just stepped outside of a wardrobe like in the Chronicles of Narnia.

I then praised Peace Corps Cameroon’s incredible support throughout my two years of service to the Deputy Director.  I told her that my service has been successful not only because of the great support I received from my community, but also because of the great support I received from Peace Corps Cameroon staff members.  I shared with her that two years ago, when I was in training, I remember very well when I sat in a small room with the Country Director at the training center.  I shared with the Country Director at the time that I was nervous about whether or not I would make it through the two years of service because I had been denied joining the Peace Corps few years before due to my disabilities, and I faced doubts from family and friends about my ability to serve as a person with disabilities.  The Country Director said to me, “You will do well.  You will see yourself through the two years of service.”  His comments boosted my confidence.  I further explained to the Deputy Director that, two years ago, my number one reason that I was nervous about joining the Peace Corps was being able to serve well as a person with disabilities.  When I was first starting my Peace Corps service, I felt a huge tremendous pressure to do well because so many parents of children with disabilities were following me closely and, if I failed, I could be shutting the doors to children with disabilities who may aspire to join the Peace Corps.  I wasn’t doing Peace Corps for only myself and my community.  I was also doing it for children with disabilities too so that I could open up more doors for them.

I did it.  And I feel very proud of completing the service.

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Me with four other volunteers closing our service at a closing ceremony.

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Me with other volunteers who are now Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and Peace Corps Cameroon staff members

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The moment the airplane took off and was no longer touching the ground of Cameroon, I totally lost control of my eyes and shed many tears while Alex continually wiped them off my eyes.  It was a moment that really hit me and made me realize that this two year chapter of life had really come to an end.

“We’ll be starting a new chapter and going on many new adventures together,” said Alex.

“Yes, we will,” I said.  We then reflected on our two incredible years together in Cameroon and then discussed our plans for the next year, which include traveling to Israel and nearby countries and taking road trips throughout the US and Canada.

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1 Comment

October 23, 2016 at 3:36 pm

Rachel, I am crying with you as I read this. And so blessed!! Thank you for all you do!

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