Monday, February 6, 2012

Finishing Strong

I am back from vacation and feeling great! After three weeks of family visiting and vacation, I have a lot of catch up to do, and I’ve been working hard to do it. Like I mentioned, my vacation was crucial- it gave me the opportunity to temporarily escape the reality of my life and refreshed me for the next stage of my service, the last three months until it is finished.

One of the tasks I have been working so hard on is reporting. Every year, I have to complete a report for Peace Corps on my activities. I have many reports due throughout the year, but this is the biggest and most important one. It takes a lot of time and effort, but it can also be a good tool for reflection and empowerment.

As I’ve been putting my activities to writing, I’ve realized everything I’ve done in the past two years. It’s a lot, much more than I acknowledged. Sometimes, Peace Corps Volunteers feel guilty because we think we are not being productive or doing what we are supposed to do. Our everyday realities are of slow village life, and our work comes in bursts of activity that disrupt our constant. Our great accomplishments are interspersed with periods of slower activity. This is not the pattern we are accustomed to. We forget to look at the big picture.

Here is a simple list of my accomplishments in two years:
- Established and managed Isangano Youth Center
- Organized 2 national and 1 regional leadership and development camps for youth
- Facilitated procurement of 22,000 books to start libraries in 15 communities
- Supported Community Health Workers in prevention, care, and other activities
- Trained and empowered groups of people living with HIV/AIDS in skills to improve their lives
- Provided administrative, logistical, and technical support to projects executed by Plan International Rwanda and partner organizations, including the Village Savings and Loans Project, Girls Scholarship, and School-to-School Linking
- Built the capacity of coworkers in participatory analysis for community action (PACA); project design, implementation and management; planning and organization; proposal and report writing; English language; and technical skills.

And that is just the simple list. I don’t mean to brag, but it feels good to accomplish so much, against the greatest odds and challenges I have faced. I am proud of my accomplishments. Like I said, if I was this successful during my two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, what CAN’T I do? It is an empowering realization.

I also had a visit from a team at Peace Corps in Washington, DC. They came to Rwanda to do a program review. My site was selected for one of the few they visited. I am an exemplary volunteer and my site is a model site. They were impressed by what I’ve been doing, and it was greater confirmation of my pride and accomplishments.

I am getting ready to go home. I am incredibly homesick. But, my homecoming is bittersweet. I am also going to miss Rwanda. A fellow Peace Corps Volunteer friend said to me once, “As much as we complain about our service in Rwanda, we will still always have some attachment here. We have gone through such an emotional spectrum, such conflicting, extreme emotions. When we look back, years from now, we aren’t going to remember all the difficult, petty things. It is going to be the things that made this experience amazing that we are going to remember.” I couldn’t agree more.

I wonder how I am going to return to America. Life in Rwanda feels normal now. I am going to experience an intense reverse culture shock. I think about my previous experiences in JFK International Airport and I am intimidated. I wonder, “Am I going to be able to do it?”

That is one of my biggest concerns. I’ve been living the slow-paced village life for so long. As frustrated by it as I’ve been, I’ve also adjusted to it. When I return to America, I am returning to the fast-paced life. It will be overwhelming and I am scared.

What will life be like in America? I’ve missed so much at a time when my country is going through some great changes. Even though it is my country of origin, at this moment in my life, I feel like America is as foreign to me as Rwanda once was.

And then there is always the concern of WHAT WILL IT BE LIKE TO LIVE IN A PLACE WHERE WE HAVE WATER AND ELECTRICITY ALL THE TIME, EVERYTHING WE NEED, WORKING SHOWERS AND TOILETS, AND WASHING MACHINES AND DISHWASHERS? Compare that to where I am living now. Just today, I went to the gas station and they were out of petrol so I can’t cook on my stove, a situation that once resulted in my eating a raw potato. Electricity has been out at my house for two days. My sister called yesterday and I had to tell her we’d talk another time because I wanted to save the last of my battery in case of an emergency. And it hasn’t rained in weeks, so we are beginning to run out of water and my water boy has started to venture further and further away from the house to fetch water. All I could say is “It is going to be one of those weeks, isn’t it?” By those weeks, I am referring to normal.

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