I’m a month late on talking about our Close of Service (COS) Conference, so sue me.
In early September, my group (Cohort 2 who came to Uganda in November 2013) got together for the first time since January. The point of COS Conference is to both prepare you to leave Uganda and prepare you to re-enter American life.
I think it was one of the most useful conferences I’ve ever been to. We spoke on improving our resumes, interview techniques, post-service medical insurance (ACA what am I doing with this?), receiving our Readjustment Allowance (a Peace Corps severance package), and saying goodbye to our communities. We talked about coming full circle from not knowing any of each other two years ago to being extremely close friends now.
I also turned 25 during the conference. Definitely one of my better birthdays, spent with good friends, eating good food, at a beautiful hotel.
In some ways it feels like I’ve been in Uganda forever, much longer than 2 years, and in others it feels like no time at all. I’m planning a post-PC trip to Western Europe (in PC jargon we call it a COS trip) for most of December, and landing back in Michigan by Christmas.
I think one of the hardest things about time passing here is that there are no seasons (in the American sense) to pass the time. When one month turns into the next, maybe it rains more or maybe it rains less, but things look the same. Different crops are planted but people dig all the same. A different school term comes but you teach all the same. Now leaving the equator to vacation in a cold place and flying home to an even colder one will I think be a wake-up call for my brain to remember what I grew up in.
Uganda has been the first time I’ve lived alone for an extended period of time, being responsible for my house and everyday tasks. So though I didn’t pick my house or my neighborhood per say, and though I don’t pay taxes or cut the lawn, I feel a sense of ownership. I know it will be hard to leave.
In my last few months I’m trying to take more videos, so that even if I can’t upload them while I’m here (woo expensive data packages), I can make something of them when I get home, and when I get homesick for Uganda.
Though this blog will be ending, I’ll have a short term blog while in Europe. And when I get back to the US, look out for a new project titled “Will They Know Me Back Home?”, documenting my group’s return to the US and how we’re dealing with readjustment. Many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) say that their host country feels like a dream once they return to America,
because no one has the context to understand your life for the past two years. At COS we discussed creating our ‘elevator pitches’, a 30 second to 1 minute description of what we’ve been doing. Mainly this was for job prospects, but we were also encouraged to think of preparing these for conversations with friends and family. It’s common knowledge that a few people in your pre-PC life will want to sit and spend an evening with you discussing everything, but most people in your social circles just want to hear the highlights.
I’ve had a couple conversations with close friends here that revolve around the theme, would you do it again? That if you could rewind back to your acceptance email, knowing everything you know about your Peace Corps Service, would you come again?
I have to say I don’t know. One of the reasons I told myself I joined Peace Corps (which may be different from the actual reasons I joined Peace Corps) was that I wanted to be uncomfortable. I was raised in a culture where I could control many things in my life, where I had a lot of opportunities to do what I wanted and live the life I wanted to live. I had never experienced a culture or a place where that was not necessarily true. And I know that many in the world, especially many that live in poverty both inside and outside the US do not know that experience.
I can say for sure that I have experienced being uncomfortable many times, and for many continuous hours or days or weeks. I also think that I didn’t know what I was asking for when I joined Peace Corps. In conversations attempting to explain Uganda to American friends/family, I often think of the phrase, “Imagine a color beyond purple.” To humans this is nonsense, because the cones and rods in our eyes do not allow us to see a color beyond purple, let alone imagine it, but this is the best way I can describe this experience.
One of the Peace Corps goals is to explain our host countries to our American communities and social circles. I love this goal because it encourages Americans to imagine others complexly (as one of my favorite authors, John Green, is always telling us to do). But I think there is a limit. I in no way believe that I completely understand Ugandan culture, even living here for two years, and maybe even if I lived here for ten. But I understand that I have been made an ambassador for both cultures, American and Ugandan, to try and explain as best I can while acknowledging the limitations. I believe understanding is one of the most admirable goals of diplomacy.
So in this respect I am glad that I came, in order to learn the things I was unaware I didn’t know. You cannot see beyond purple unless you are fundamentally changed as a person, and I believe I have been.