Over the weekend, I had a number of friends from Bots 10 over to my house. These friends came from all corners of the country to start souvenir shopping at my village's artist colony, attend a "cultural event", and catch up with one another. It was a lot of fun and reminded me of how lucky I am to be a part of my "elusive" group. We are "concentrated awesome", as one group member put it.
Of course, the conversation eventually came around to our upcoming COS Conference and a reflection on our services. We discussed Peace Corps and this whole crazy experience - the ups and downs, the things that motivated us and challenged us these two years, what we have gotten out of it, and the internal versus external measures of it all. After some time, one of us stopped and said "Can we please just acknowledge that this was really hard?" That statement paused the conversation for a minute because it was like a weight getting lifted off of us in a way - a relief - like fiiiiiiiinally, someone said it!. No matter how many accomplishments we have or how productive our service, this whole thing is really hard! And I have been thinking about that statement ever since.
As Peace Corps Volunteers, we spend so much time integrating and accepting things as they are and trying, trying, trying to become part of the community and to "forget" about life back home because it's just not our lives anymore. Things here that would have been extremely challenging in "our past lives" are so commonplace now that we hardly even notice anymore. For instance, we were having this conversation by candlelight because the electricity was out (again) and we never thought twice about it. We just got up, lit some candles, and continued on. But we forget how hard some of the things we have been through truly are because it is our lives now and we have accepted it. Things like being without water and/or electricity for weeks on end, riding a bus for ten hours with people sitting on your lap in 100 degree weather just to see a friend, being delayed because of cows crossing the only tarred road, having to go to multiple offices in multiple villages using public transportation to get all the required signatures just to get a P100/$13 reimbursement, always being on display like a movie star, and so on. These things hardly even phase us anymore. And that's only a sample of the "simple" "everyday" things we deal with here that make it "hard". That doesn't include everything we gave up and are missing out on at home - weddings and births and family and engagements - or the long long loooooooong hours wishing someone from home would send us a package or a card or an email just to let us know they're thinking about us. And the even longer hours spent alone, in silence, with nothing to keep us company but our thoughts (making the before-mentioned even more exasperating).
We don't usually allow ourselves to think about how challenging Peace Corps service can be. This is mostly because it can be too consuming and then you may miss out on all the great things about living here and all the positive outcomes, mostly within ourselves, that could never be replaced. You get used to it, you move forward, and you make the most of your time here.
We all agreed that it is a weird feeling to be nearing the end of our service. It is exciting and rewarding and feels like a major accomplishment, especially when we allow ourselves a minute to think about how hard it is. If you haven't been through it - actually lived in a village and had a long-term experience like this - you can't truly understand, which is why it helps to have the camaraderie of your group-mates, your peers, and the Peace Corps community. This is an experience unlike any other. It is rewarding and you grow as an individual in very meaningful ways. But it will also challenge you to your core and on so many levels. It was a relief to have someone finally say it aloud so we could acknowledge it and be proud of ourselves.