Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mid-Service Training: Missing the States and Toilets

This is for you, Rachelle!

We're a more than a year into our service and into our second and last year of Peace Corps service, so, we've spent a week at a lovely, lovely hotel having our Mid-Service Training (MST).  We have one more formal training left, our Close-of-Service Training (COS) which will happen in June of 2011.

I often think of Peace Corps trainings as Peace Corps "throwing us a bone."  Most of our regular Peace Corps lives are days of dirt, dust, repetitive, plain meals, living with language issues, the stress of teaching, the stress of attempting to integrate, etc.   It can be really stressful, and I for one, don't I notice how stressful the life of a Peace Corps volunteer can be.   At trainings, we're treated to buffet meals, clean sheets, freedom from mosquito nets, opportunities for pool-side relaxation--just all of the grand things that come with staying in a nice hotel with a bunch of Americans you're usually very happy to see..

I, for one, appreciate these wonderful reprieves and felt more than ready to leave my village to come to this training--my spirit needed a recharge!

The photos are of my Peace Corps family, what is left of it.  Actually, we've lost one of us since this photo was taken a week ago.  Every time we come to a Peace Corps training, we're reminded of our group "family members" that have returned to the States.  To lose one of us, for whatever reason, is always upsetting for the group.  Many volunteers return to their lives in the United States for very happy reasons, for example, job opportunities.  However, sometimes some of us return to the United States for unhappy reasons.  The loss of the latest of our family had quite a bit of controversy surrounding it, and because this volunteer is returning home for an unhappy reason, the group has been more upset than usual. 

When I first joined Peace Corps, I was asked what I thought about members of the group.  I hadn't realized it at the time, but when you join Peace Corps, the other volunteers become family, whether you like it or not and "for better and for worse."

I personally hadn't relied on my fellow volunteers until very recently, when I lost a primary relationship (my romantic relationship) and a significant source of emotional support from the United States.  When I lost my primary relationship, all of the challenges that I was facing in South Africa seemed to compound a bazillion times. EVERYTHING felt harder here: the teaching, my relationships with host-country nationals, everyday life events in South Africa, just everything here felt so much harder without that source of support I so heavily relied upon. When I found myself feeling discouraged, frustrated, and, well, hopeless at the half-way mark of my service, (in other words, these last few weeks), I knew I was in trouble.

But I found help and a wonderful resource for emotional support.  I turned to my Peace Corps "family," and they have been WONDERFUL.  People in the group have been so supportive of me: one young woman asked, "Do you want us to support you to stay (in South Africa) or do you want us to support you in going home?"  I replied, "Please support me to stay in South Africa; I'd really like to finish my service." And she replied, "Alright, we need to do A, B, and C," and these words and her willingness to support me endured her to me forever.  I've also made plans with  volunteers to do collaborative projects together, made plans on exchanging resources, and made plans for future visits.

Of course, we have some negative Nellie's in the group that will scream at me to "JUST GO HOME."  I avoid these people at all costs.   But for the most part, the group has supported me beyond my wildest dreams.  Last week while in Pretoria for medical and dental check ups, Peace Corps family members took me shopping, out to dinner, to the Pretoria Zoo, and to a movie!  I had the best time, but more importantly, I feel that I've made significant connections with other volunteers, significant connections that I can turn to and rely on when I face the difficulties of the approaching year--of my final year.

In short, I've learned, very recently, to UTILIZE my Peace Corps family as a resource, and they've surpassed any expectation I may have had.  They have rallied for me, they have surrounded me, they have uplifted me, they have LOVED me, and it has been wonderful.  I feel ever-so-much-more supported, happier, and EXCITED about remaining in South Africa and finishing my service.  (This last point is nothing short of a miracle.)

I feel so much better, having come to this Mid-Service Training, having come to my "family" and asked them for support.  Yes, I'm still missing the States and toilets, but with the love and support of my Peace Corps family, this last year will fly!


PS.  I will blog more about our actual training and the activities that have occupied this week very soon.  For now, I'm off to my last buffet dinner for awhile!

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