Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Bittersweet End - Closing out my Peace Corps Service

Sitting down to write this last story about wrapping up my service in Senegal was hard for many reasons.  Primarily, my last few weeks at site were busy with tying up loose ends, packing and giving away a bunch of stuff I’d accumulated, introducing my replacement to his new home and projects, and making my rounds to say goodbye.  That was followed by a week in Dakar doing all of the administrative things necessary to end a government job.  Six other volunteers were doing this at the same time and a handful of others came in to bid us farewell, so there have been a plethora of social activities this week as well.  Unfortunately, all of this running around and communal living has taken its toll, so I’ll be boarding my flight this evening with a lovely chest cold, as well as several other minor bacterial infections that were identified in my last medical exam.   I consider this nice little going away present.  Merci, Senegal.  Things could be worse; there’s a letter I’m bringing to my doctor back home that was included with all of the final paperwork I received from Peace Corps that outlines of all of the nasty things that I could have caught while here.  Oh joy!  Let’s all cross our collective fingers in hopes that none of these pop up after my return.

If the volunteer should present herself for treatment, please be aware that the following diseases are endemic in Senegal:
·         Malaria-falciparum, ovale, vivax
·         Tropical eosinophilia
·         Infectious hepatitis
·         Intestinal parasites (such as Shistosoma, hematobium and S. mansoni, Ancylostoma, Stongyloma, Ascaris, Trichiura, Taenia, Entamoeba, Histolytica, Giardia lamblia)
·         Tuberculosis
·         Yaws
·         Leprosy
·         Typhoid Fever
·         Poliomyelitis
·         Yellow Fever, Dengue Fever, and other Arbovirus diseases

Blister beetle burns - ouch!

Infections aside, as I look back on my two years of service, I'm happy with my accomplishments.  I’ve done work that I can be proud of, left a lasting impression on many people, and experienced remarkable personal growth.  Some amazing people have entered my life and many existing relationships have been strengthened.  My ability to stay connected while I was here was an unexpected blessing and I am thankful to have received so much support and encouragement during this journey.

Baol Environment board members wishing me farewell

Leaving site was a bit more difficult than I had imagined.  Three months ago, when we had our official Close of Service conference, I felt like I already had one foot out the door.  I’d been researching housing, school, and work options back home and I was mentally ready to leave.  As the time drew nearer, however, I really started to drag my feet.  Uprooting your life is never easy, even if you know you're going home.  Luckily, I was involved with training the new group of volunteers who will be replacing many of us at our sites and this kept me busy until the very last week.  During this time, my neighbors and friends stopped by to say goodbye which often turned into lengthy visits.  Some of my favorite students, who didn’t want our lessons to end, made frequent appearances just to hang out.  Packing was a production, mostly because I left a lot of things behind and these had to be distributed with great care so that no one felt left out.  I ended up giving all of the clothes I left behind to the family that I’d eaten lunch with my first year in Diourbel.  I felt a tad guilty, as I didn’t have any clothes for the many boys in the family, but that guilt soon passed when I saw one of their teenage sons walking down the street in my purple cargo pants.  I wish I’d taken a picture because they looked really cute on him.

Marame Gueye sorting through my clothes

Last photo-op with Ibou

Last Friday, I joined a group of friends at a local bar near the University of Dakar to watch the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics.  I come from a family of non-sporty types who can go two years without watching any sports on TV, but when it comes to the Olympics, we're glued to the tube. I was really excited to be in the capital this last week so I could see some of the coverage.  It was fun to sit amongst such an international crowd, especially during the parade of athletes.  People cheered for all of the West African nations but when the Senegal team hit the track in their bright yellow boubous, the place erupted with excitement.  The same held true when the U.S. team entered the scene.  This camaraderie bring people together in a way that you only see when living abroad. Within our Peace Corps community, we have many people with allegiances to other countries and/or dual citizenship, so there was a rolling celebration as the teams rounded the track.

Team Senegal hits the track

Alex cheers for her homeland - Poland
The Opening Ceremonies

Team USA

I’m looking forward to spending some quality face time with friends and family over the next few months as I settle back into the swing of things.  Hopefully no one in the fast lane will run me over before I get a chance to acclimate to the speed of America.  After a week in the DC area, I’ll be returning to Charlottesville to begin anew.  I’ve rented a cute little house downtown and have enrolled in a Non-Profit Management certificate program at UVA.  I’m excited to get involved with many of the socially conscious organizations that have sprung up in Charlottesville since I left in 2010, most notably The CvilleTime Bank and the Charlottesville Cash Mob.  I’m also looking forward to joining the board of Better World Betty, a non-profit organization that serves as a resource for sustainable living.  We'll be working together to review and refine their mission, goals, and projects  There’s a lot of good stuff happening back home and Charlottesville is filled with some amazing people!

Speaking of amazing people, my friends at Brothers Cycling for the World who helped fund a village garden project that I worked on with Baol Environment have recently posted an article I wrote on their website:  http://brotherscycling.com/web/2012/06/celebrating-world-environment-day-baol-environment/

So, in less than 12 hours I'll be boarding my plane to fly home.  I leave behind many friends and co-workers who I'll miss dearly, but I have faith that many of our paths will cross again.  I take with me a belief that one person can make difference in the lives of others and a new-found courage that will make entering this next phase of life a little easier.