I had the pleasure to work a little bit here with a volunteer by the name of Josh Bossevain, who was a journalist working as a volunteer teaching English in Chisinau. Josh had this perspective about Peace Corps service and I wanted to share it with you here. I’m going to paraphrase in my own words but the idea was Josh’s and I would encourage you to Google him if you are interested in reading more about Moldova.
Peace Corps is like an entire life, all wrapped up into two years.
Step 1) Infancy
You get off the plane and you can’t speak. You can’t get food for yourself. You can barely go to the bathroom by yourself because everything is totally different. You need special care and instructions to do the most basic tasks and you are surrounded by people – older volunteers, host family members and Peace Corps admin, who think it’s adorable how clueless you are and who are lined up to help you out.
Step 2) Childhood
About two or three weeks in you are awash in curiosity and wonder at your new surroundings. You are picking flowers and asking in your limited vocabulary how you say “daisy” and “pancake” and what everything means. Your host family treats you like an 8-year-old and takes you to family events and shows you off. You’re always being condescendingly told that you’re doing a great job and, because you’re like a child, every time someone says it, you swell with pride and pat yourself on the back.
Step 3) Adolescence
Suddenly everything irritates you. How dare your host family act like you don’t know what you’re doing (you don’t) or think that you can’t find the mayor’s office (you can’t) or that you don’t already know how to take care of yourself (you used to, but in this new environment, it appears that you don’t). You resent the fact that you need help so you retaliate by pushing everyone away and insisting that you don’t need anything from anyone. The result, however, is that you’re constantly screwing things up because the fact is, you don’t know what the hell you’re doing or how to take care of yourself. You’re convinced that you know more than everyone else about everything despite the fact that you’re constantly making an ass of yourself.
Step 4) Young Adulthood
You calm down a little bit and accept that you need help sometimes. You go to site and get to start over with a new host family so you can set up a real life. You regain some autonomy as you learn the ropes and maybe even start cooking for yourself. You start to feel like you know who you are and what you want and you find that other people find you engaging and interesting. Things change a lot, but you go with the flow and find that you have your own niche in life. You get hassled a lot about why you’re not married yet.
Step 5) Midlife Crisis
Around the end of the first year, you start to slow down. You look at the new volunteers who arrive and you think to yourself, “Was I ever that young and fresh?” You become more realistic than idealistic. You no longer get embroiled in hot button issues with host country nationals or other volunteers because, at your age, you understand that it’s not worth getting all riled up about everything all the time. You spend most of your summer trying to calm down the younger volunteers, who just think that you “don’t get it” or are “too old to care anymore.” You settle into a complacency with your work and your life that makes you feel secure. You sometimes envy the younger volunteers their youthful exuberance, but mostly you’re just happy that that tumultuous phase of your life is over.
Step 6) Aging
As your second year unfolds, you begin to feel your age. Basic parts of your life that used to give you drive seem tired and old and you begin thinking about the end. You think about what your colleagues will do once you’re gone. You think about what life will be like in the village when you’re not there anymore. You realize that your existence here is temporary and that all that matters is how people will remember you and the things that you taught them. You look around at your friends who arrived with you and realize that within a few short months you will all be gone.
Step 7) Advanced Old Age
You begin to see your friends go. As they do, you hug them, tell them what they have meant to you, and promise to follow them soon. Once they are gone there is a hole in your life and you find yourself feeling thankful that you don’t have to be here too much longer either. You remind yourself a lot that the end is a part of the whole process and that although it’s bittersweet, it’s a natural part of this life. No one really knows what it will be like on the other side, but we believe that it will be restful and beautiful and clean and that we will meet our long lost family and friends on the other side.
Step 8) Death
You can feel your time coming. You get your paperwork in order. You visit partners and students and friends for one last dinner and one last glass of wine. You feel a little disjointed because you have known your whole life that this moment is coming, but it seems unreal. You think of all the friends you have lost recently and you take heart in seeing them again soon. Everyone tells you goodbye and good luck. They are all super nice because they know you are a little scared. They tell you they don’t know what they are going to do here without you. You assure them that you will be watching them and wishing them the best from the other side. You take one last look. And you go home.
I am now somewhere between Advanced Old Age and Death. Death comes in 2 and a half weeks. It’s not meant to be depressing, but exciting. It’s a little scary but, after all, it is a part of this Peace Corps life and I’m excited to live the rest of my life on the other side. See you all soon!