This might be over a month late, but the sentiment remains the same. Clearly, avoiding emotional processing is my MO.
After 26 months in Cameroon, I officially closed my service and completed my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Fittingly, my final moments in country were a rollercoaster, like of my time there. Despite the frustration and struggles that came along with it, there were resounding moments of joy and triumph. Some highlights to share:
One of my biggest difficulties during my time was the feeling that I wasn’t accomplishing anything, that I was wasting my time for no results. My last week in village showed me that this was by no means the reality. Different groups that I had worked with organized send-off parties for me, with people at each one giving speeches as to what I had meant to that group, how the work that I had done had impacted them, and how they were going to continue improving on what I had started. The water project, which was both my baby and the bane of my existence, might have been the best. The water management committee, who I had worked with on re-organization and empowerment efforts, threw a big celebration for me. They told me how the improved water access has already started benefiting the community and their plans for future expansion. Turns out, one of the men who was most involved in the project lives just outside of town—his neighborhood is higher than the rest of town and so are the one area that doesn’t get water from our catchment. He went to every community work day and coordination meeting knowing that he would get nothing from it. How cool is that?
In addition to these great stories, I also was surprised with a huge gift. This group worked with the traditional chief and the palace to title me as a queen. That’s right, I’m a QUEEN. Technical title is “Nquenjah” and includes a traditional straw bag and (ridiculously heavy) traditional wear. They gave me these things, the women in the work helped me dress in it, then they walked me through town so everyone could see. Embarrassing? Oh yes. Fantastic way to end my service? You bet!
My time in the Peace Corps wasn’t just about the work and the community. It also was about the network and support of other volunteers. Once again, my final weeks in country had one of the best moments in that regard.
For those of you who have been consistently reading this, you know that travel is one of the consistently worst parts of the PC experience (second only to sexual harassment. Fun times.) My trip moving out of village managed to be worse than anything else. After tearful goodbyes with friends and neighbors, I left my community at 9AM. I got to Bamenda the next morning at 8AM. A six hour trip into a 23 hour trip? One final slap in the face from the Cameroon travel gods…but rescued by the spectacular humans that are PCV friends. The saga is too long to even tell, soup to nuts, but let’s focus on the best parts.
As the trip dragged on and on and the minibus continued to get stuck in the mud and/or break down, I started to get nervous that I (and all of my earthly possessions) weren’t going to make it. I started contacting other volunteers that lived along the road asking if I could crash with them, if it came to it. Not only did everyone who was around incredibly supportive, but even volunteers that I had never met offered up their couches. My friends waiting in Bamenda made cookies and bought wine and listened to my dramatic texts.
Long story short, after the axle broke around 2AM, we the passengers (including the goats, obviously) slept in the car until a new one was found around 5AM. By the time I finally made it to Bamenda, everyone I had contacted the day before was checking in to make sure I made it. Other friends made me lunch, and everyone listened sympathetically to my ridiculous story.
These PCV friends have been there through crazy travel sagas like these, work frustrations, emotional meltdowns, multiple stages of relationship dramas, and various health crises. There were so many things that made this a meaningful experience, but what I’m really walking away with is a set of friends unlike any other, who have seen me at my worst and helped celebrate my best.
Now that I’m home, people have been asking me about my experience. Was it fun? Was it hard? Would I do it again? Would I recommend it to others?
It was ridiculous and great and crazy and hard and so not what I expected to go through, but it was amazing, and I wouldn’t give it up for anything. I left feeling proud of my work and cared for by my Cameroonian friends and loved and supported by the PCV community.
“The hardest job you’ll ever love”? I don’t know about that, but definitely the job that will make you feel the most love.