Friday, March 1, 2013

Whoa! We Made It! Bots 10 COS Conference

How do you sum up two years of your life? Even in the best of circumstances, it would be extremely difficult. Throw in the confines of risk, adventure, unknowns, cultures, creepy crawlies, and a life in a far far away place that you ventured to all on your own and a person can be at a loss for words. And, if not lost for words, then definitely overwhelmed by them. Either way, the result is the same. That is where I sit now, at the conclusion of my Close of Service (COS) Conference and in my final months at site. Contemplating everything.

Our COS Conference was a time when my cohort, my Bots 10 family, was able to reconnect. This was invaluable, as I hadn't seen some members since our mid-service training a year ago. I realize it may be hard to understand how these people have remained so integral to my service and how amazing it was to reunite, but they are among the few who actually understand what Peace Corps service in Botswana is like. We can recount our own experiences and have them feel like a joint memory because we "get it" in a way that no one else could. Being afforded the time together to catch up, to share our stories, and to decompress, was probably the most cherished part of our COS Conference. This could very well be our last time in the same room together and will definitely be our last in country together. As you can likely imagine, this reality caused a few tears from more than a few people (myself included).

Tears were also met with laughter as we had dinner on the salt pans in the Nata Bird Sanctuary, recounting humorous tales showcasing each of us and paid homage to those from our group who left us early. Bots 10 has not forgotten anyone - we are all a part of this story, even the one who never made it on the plane in New York. "The Survivors" sitting around the table with the expanse of the pans and the fading sun, regaling everyone with great love and admiration, was one of my favorite moments and one that will stick with me long after this adventure.

While the emotions of our COS Conference are among the highlights, they are not the sole purpose of the week. More seriously, the conference serves as an opportunity to prepare for the goodbyes in our villages and the transition back home. It is a time to construct our "elevator speech", knowing that most people will not want the full account of our two year hiatus, and learning how to quantify our work and cope with the many changes in ourselves and in the world we left behind.

Many of us have some concerns about returning to America, whether it be about reverse culture shock, consumerism, personal growth and change, making sense of our experience and bringing it back with us, rectifying relationships with friends from home, and so on. My fears encompass many of these things. For example, I am nervous that people will expect me and expect things to continue on just as they had before I left but these things won't feel normal to me anymore. There will be a necessary adjustment in the way things once were. I have changed and I am happy with who I am. But I wonder how this will impact my relationships and my life when I return. My experiences in Botswana have been profound and have impacted me in ways that I am sure I can't even imagine yet. How will I react to all of this? Will I be compassionate and patient with those who don't see the world as I do now? Will they show me that same respect when I find things hard to deal with? And who will let me ramble on and on about my service, even after the "acceptable" statute of limitations has passed? These were some of the things we discussed at length throughout the conference. In the end, my group agreed that it will be vital to maintain our friendships with fellows Bots 10s. They will be our lifeline and our connection to this world. We are also grateful for those friends and family who have stuck by us in one way or another because we genuinely believe we will need to lean on them during this period of transition and re-entry.

And, finally, how do you say goodbye? How do you say goodbye to people who have been your main source of support and friendship in an unfamiliar land? How do you thank strangers that took you in as family? How do you leave a village whose paths welcomed you home every day? Most of us won't return to Botswana again. These goodbyes will tear at the heartstrings of even the most jaded of us. And this is our next big challenge and what we will focus on in our final months at site. Just 80 days until departure...

1 comment:

  1. This has to be the hardest part.

    "And, finally, how do you say goodbye? How do you say goodbye to people who have been your main source of support and friendship in an unfamiliar land? How do you thank strangers that took you in as family? How do you leave a village whose paths welcomed you home every day? Most of us won't return to Botswana again. These goodbyes will tear at the heartstrings of even the most jaded of us. And this is our next big challenge and what we will focus on in our finals months at site."

    You're lucky, you're going back, but for the people who are not, and who won't see their village family again, it has to be heartbreaking and sad. I was sad leaving Botswana after only 2 weeks, I can't imagine how it will feel to those not returning after 2 years.

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