Tuesday, March 1, 2016

the story about how peace corps followed me to disney world and i questioned the reality of all things

Back in January, my friend Melanie and I were in Disney World because she had a crazy idea that we should take part in the Dopey Challenge. I'm so glad she did. I'm honored that she asked me to run 48.6 magical miles with her through our favorite place. I insisted we hold hands crossing the finish line of all four races. We did. We also cried together as the final miles came to an end and Melanie joined the 26.2 club. I am so proud of her.

Hey Melanie, "You and me, we're in a club together."

The day after the marathon, I was running around searching for a gift for Melanie to celebrate our Dopey accomplishment. I knew what I wanted for her, but couldn't find it anywhere. It was getting late and I had to get to Epcot to meet Melanie and her family, so I called off the search. I also had dinner plans with my friend Dylan who I hadn't seen in almost five years. Emotions were running high.

I was on the monorail headed to Epcot when a couple stepped on and sat down beside me. They were laughing and adorable and they caught my eye immediately. I could hear parts of their conversation, and while unable to make out what they were saying, I knew they weren't speaking English. I decided they were from somewhere in the Caribbean. That brought a smile to my face as I thought of my home far away. Then the wife said something I understood, and for about 10 seconds I had a conversation with myself about whether or not I should ask them where they're from. I had to. I tapped the lady on her shoulder and asked. She looked at me a little unsure and told me they were from South America. My stomach dropped and I felt tears start to form in my eyes because I just knew the answer to my next question. I smiled and asked, "but where in South America?" She said what, at that point, I knew she would say. Suriname. I told them I lived in Suriname while serving in the Peace Corps. We chatted until we arrived at Epcot.

Before we parted ways I asked them if we could take a picture together. They wanted one too. We hugged each other like old friends. I told them when they arrived back in Suriname they must tell everyone I said hello. And I said it in Saramaccan. The man smiled and said, "a bunu," and they walked away. I crumbled. I couldn't control the tears pouring from my eyes. I was overwhelmed and having one of those I-do-not-understand-reality moments. Never mind all the tiny decisions we each made throughout the day that put us in that exact location at the same time, and forget that Surinamese folks aren't just coming to America all the time, I FREAKIN SPOKE SARAMACCAN TO PEOPLE IN DISNEY WORLD AND THEY UNDERSTOOD ME BECAUSE THEY'RE FROM SURINAME! What planet is this? How is this possible? I still don't totally understand. The story in which they were figments of my imagination is honestly just as plausible, except I have a picture of the three of us so I know it was real. Once again, Suriname's impact on my life proved to be greater than my impact on her.
Robby and Juanita
Today Peace Corps is 55 years old. I left for service when she had just turned 50. That's crazy. I am insanely proud to be a part of such a wonderful organization, and today calls for extra reflection on the impact of my invitation to serve in Suriname and my decision to say yes. It changed my life in the biggest ways. Happy birthday to you, Peace Corps!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Two. Dos. Deux. Twee. Tu.

Two years. TWO. I have been back in the States for two years. My little sister is older than I was when I left for Peace Corps service. It has been almost 5 years since I submitted a really lengthy application with the hope that maybe I would be invited to serve as a Peace Corps Volunteer. It has been two years since I've seen some of the best people in my life. I don't understand the passage of time, and I have a love/hate relationship with it.

A few months before I departed Suriname, I put a countdown clock on the dashboard of my computer with the title "Home at Last".  Ready to be back in America and onto the next chapter, I checked the number often and with excitement. On June 29th, 2013 the number hit zero. Life started moving faster the moment the shuttle drove us away from the Peace Corps office and towards the airport. It was 3:00 a.m. and I can still remember the excitement and sadness that filled that van. Life has not slowed down the tiniest bit. I discovered one day that the countdown clock on my computer did not delete itself as I guess I assumed it would. It counts into the negative. I can't make myself delete the thing, and today it tells me I've been away from Suriname for 730 days.

The ten days of June 19-29 will always be tough. My heart will always ache when I think of that day I hugged my family in Malobi goodbye. I woke up that day to the sound of the sweetest voices I've ever heard call my name for the last time. "Lobi Mai, i weki no? Ya go yeti?" I'll laugh and cry when I think of climbing into a boat beside my friend Julie so we could travel down the Suriname River for the last time. We were both so relieved and exhausted at the thought of what we had just completed. Some days being a Peace Corps Volunteer required all of my strength, courage, and tears. Watching my jungle home and people I love fade into the distance required no less. I'll never forget how comforted I was by Julie's smile and strength. She held it together while I cried hysterically for two of the most influential years of my life and all the people who love me back.

Last Tuesday, June 23, my friend Polo called. I can't remember the last time we talked, and he called just when I needed to hear from him. I was actually taking a nap when the sound of my phone woke me up. This is funny to maybe 30 people in my life, and would have been hilarious to Polo and everyone in my village if I had told him. Saramaccans waking me up is so classic. We talked about the village and people I know. He told me he is forgetting some of the English he learned, and I told him the same about my Saamaka Tongo. We promised to chat more and work on our language skills. Polo is the father of of my favorite kids. He said they are all doing well. He told me that Maena, his youngest daughter who was just a baby when I arrived in Malobi and cried at the sight of me for the better part of my first year in the village, asks about me all the time. He shows her a picture of me holding her, and she asks him when I will come back. She asks him when he will come get me and bring me back. I think I did a pretty good job at silently crying as he told me this. Polo told me he misses me and that some days he looks at my house and wishes I were still there. I do too. The longer I'm here, the longer I haven't been there, and the further away the people and conversations and hugs get. I hate it. I want it to stay as close as possible. 730 days and 2,700 miles is too far.

As I write these words, I'm looking at a picture of two of the most precious faces I know and my heart aches for them. It aches because those faces are in a picture and not in my arms. It's aching because they haven't been in my arms for two years. But most of all, my heart aches because I don't know when they will be again. That's the hardest part of this whole journey. It's a strange reality to miss people who are living and well, but not know if I will ever see them again. Peace Corps service is made up of relationships.  Project work and development are sprinkled in, but the people and the conversations and the hugs matter the most.

Marking one year away from Malobi last summer, I had a conversation with my momma about the twins. I told her the hard part is that in my mind, they're frozen as these six year old angels and they are so very fond of their Lobi Mai. The reality is that they are growing up every single day and I'm not there to see it. I hate that. My selfish heart hurts because when I finally go back to visit, they won't need me. They will be older. They are older. They won't remember me the way I remember them. That fact hurts so much. My mother hugged me as I cried and told me that I don't really want them to stay little forever. She's right. I want them to grow and be happy and healthy. I don't want them to be 6 years old forever, because that means they didn't make it to 7. Beth Crumpton would make an excellent Peace Corps Volunteer.

Two years ago yesterday, some friends and I rang a bell to complete our service in Suriname. It was a special day. Jamie sent us the video she filmed on her GoPro. No one knew what a GoPro was. The video is 30 minutes long. It won't matter to anyone reading this if you didn't serve in the Peace Corps, but it belongs on this post. Thanks for sharing this moment, Jamie. Thanks to the misfits in it, as well as a few not present, for sharing the journey with me. SURs, I think I miss us most when I hear Rihanna and Pitbull. I long to be sweating in Havana Lounge or showing the locals how to properly take advantage of a party bus. Mr. Worldwide has some great new songs. I'd like a dance party reunion. Or we could loiter outside of a wenke and split too many djogos. Let's do both.

During our recent conversation, Polo asked if I had this thing called WhatsApp. I didn't, but I told him I would load it onto my phone. He said he could send me messages and pictures. Writing an unwritten language is hard. Writing an unwritten language to someone that doesn't speak English as their first language, is silly. Still, Polo and I have managed to chat through text messages, and on June 25, 2015 WhatsApp changed my life. I cried just a bit. I went to work crying. I cried in my office.
There they are. They are grown ups. Jamie and Julie had great responses to the photo when I shared it with them. Jamie pointed out that they're still the same kids. They're just bigger and older. His joyful smile. Her shy nature. That baby's eyes. Julie just said, "Damn." My exact thoughts. It's hard to think of them growing up and forgetting me, but ultimately I know that if I were able to walk into the village right now, I would be attacked with hugs. 

I miss Suriname daily. I'm so grateful I have her to carry with me for all my years. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

another year older

Last week I really needed to cook some cauliflower that was in my refrigerator and about to go bad. When I pulled it out of the drawer, it already had brown spots on it. I was about to drop it in the trash when I asked myself, "Would you have thrown this away in Malobi?" I absolutely would not have. I cut the brown spots (mold, I'm sure) off and cooked the cauliflower. It was delicious.

That's a very small, very silly example of how Peace Corps is with me always. Still, I'm grateful.

Today I am especially grateful for President Kennedy and his idea to send Americans abroad to serve others and promote peace. I'm grateful for the way my life and so many others have been changed for the better. My Peace Corps story isn't just a story about this trip I took or this place I lived. It's not just a story about some people I met and spent some time with. My Peace Corps story is a story about my eyes being opened even wider to the world I live in. It's a story of love. It's a story of strangers becoming friends  family. It's a story about how, because of Peace Corps, my story collided with America's story.

Thank you to all the Peace Corps Volunteers who served before me. Thank you to those currently serving. Thank you to those waiting eagerly for that invitation to serve. And to all the SURs I know, thank you. I'm so glad our stories collided and I love us the most.

I am so honored to be a part of the legacy of Peace Corps and its story. I am so proud and incredibly thankful Peace Corps is part of my story. Happy 54th birthday, Peace Corps! 

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Eighteen Months

Eighteen months ago I boarded a plane that brought me "home". I was welcomed with hugs and kisses. And a cheeseburger and beer. Time has been flying since that day, but I've done some wonderful things since being back. I celebrated with friends as they married. I went shopping. I learned to use my iPhone. I wallowed in unemployment and did not hate it. Then I hated it. I visited old friends. I went on some dates. I celebrated my 27th birthday. I gained employment. I bought a car. I moved across Mississippi to the Gulf Coast. I signed a lease. I traveled for business. Twice. I marked a year of being away from Suriname. I ran 26.2 in Memphis. I relished in all the things of the First World. I hugged Peace Corps friends in America.

Life in America is moving too fast, and I know I'll hate it until the universe decides to adapt to my desires. I'd still find things to complain about, I'm sure. I have been back in America for one year and half of another one. That just does not seem real most days. It's hard to accept. Suriname gets a little further away with every day that passes, and that makes my heart ache.

I miss it. I miss the things I knew I would miss, and I miss the things I swore I would never miss. I miss people yelling my name, that name that wasn't always my name, but the name that will always be my name to them: Lobi Mai. I miss the attention that comes with a lack of privacy. I miss washing my clothes and dishes in the river. I miss Parbo and fellowship with my Peace Corps family. I miss the routine I adopted. I miss my neighbor returning after a day's work and singing. I could always hear Polo before I could see him. I miss my runs through the jungle. I miss tiny arms around my waist and tiny hands presenting mangoes at my doorway. I miss the days when my only job was to hang out with people and love them. It's so hard to comprehend that part of my life being over. Some days it almost feels like I dreamed it. But then I have these scars on my knees from that one time I fell walking to the river to wash my clothes. I have a picture of the two most precious faces I have ever seen and loved beside my bed and above my desk at work. If I want to, I can say things out loud to most people and have them not understand. I have a machete propped against my window. These things remind me that it wasn't a dream.
What a wonderful thing that has happened to my life. What a beautiful, marvelous life it is

There have been are moments when readjustment is HARD. Like these: 

One day back in the spring, when I was still unemployed and living with my high school roommates, I really wanted to take a nap outside. This was so easy once upon a time and I really didn't think it was that big of a deal. After deciding the place the porch swing occupies was my best bet at a location for my hammock, I wrestled the porch swing to the ground. I knew it was probably too narrow for my hammock, but I had to try. Of course it was too narrow. And then I had to put the damn porch swing back up. I walked inside, threw my hammock on the floor, and slammed the door. My mom looked at me like I was insane and asked what in the world was wrong. I couldn't hold back tears as I yelled, "I just want to take a freakin' nap outside in my damn hammock, and I can't." Not my proudest moment, but also not my worst.

I don't look at a big tree or someone's front porch without thinking it'd be a great place for my hammock. And a nap.

Speaking of naps, naps have been a part of my life for the last decade and now they aren't. It's one of the hardest things about being employed and I don't care how sad that sounds.

Struggling with English as a first language is a real thing. I'm still waiting to be as smart as I was before my Peace Corps service. I never will be.

Job searching has got to be the most soul-crushing thing, and I believe it was made harder after Peace Corps service. So many people told me for 2 years what great things I was doing. And how much I was learning. And how much it was going to broaden my skill-set and make me so qualified for so many things. Some days, when I was searching for a job, I was so bitter because I knew all those things were true. Being completely narcissistic, I'd tell myself (in my second language) that I probably didn't want that job anyway. And that the person doing the hiring was probably super lame. They'd probably never even been to the jungle and most definitely don't know what a latrine is or how to properly use a machete. Also, how many times could they have possibly been to an ambassador's house? Hell, they probably don't even know an ambassador.

I can be such a jerk and I hate it.

Being employed now, I have a whole new list of things to complain about. I'm a constant work in progress and I'm thankful every day for grace and redemption.

One day, back in September, I sat on my porch eating popcorn and drinking a beer. My butt was in one chair and my feet were in another. A tree frog was stuck to my window. I could hear conversations happening along my street. A couple of folks walked by and we exchanged greetings. There are about 30 people in my life who know exactly why that scene brings such joy to my heart. And makes me cry.

I have seen 11 Peace Corps friends in America, and it's a big deal every single time. It will never be casual. Here's why: These are people that did not know I existed before we met in Suriname or before we boarded a plane together. I had no idea they were in this world either. But now, now we know each other. And not only do we know each other, we know more about this really hard, really special thing we all did than any other group of people will. Ever.  Even parents and friends who came to visit us will never understand our lives in Suriname completely. We learned together. We complained together. We rejoiced and struggled and laughed together. These people are my family because the universe said so. We'll be connected forever. And just like the scars on my knees and my machete by my window, seeing these misfits in America validates it all.

Elliott and Jessica and I shared beers and played video games at a bar in Chicago. Malo Mai and Lobi Mai took at picture at the Bean. Shelley and I ate Mexican food in Atlanta and talked about boys.  Jamie came to visit and she showed up at my door in her own car, not a boat. I went to Boston and Julie and I rode public transportation together for the first time in this county. We spoke Saramaccan in Chinatown. I surprised Christina and I saw Jessica wearing pants for the first time. Ryan came home to Gulfport with Lindsay and baby Colby and we ate BBQ.

It occurred to me the other day that receiving compliments is so nice. I missed that in Peace Corps. I was sweaty and my hair was dirty for the better part of two years. Some days my outfit consisted of a sports bra and a couple of yards of fabric wrapped around my waist. I just did not look nice a lot of the time. And my villagers idea of a compliment was to tell me how big my ass was. A year and a half later, I love getting dressed and looking nice. And I like when people notice.

While I was in Suriname, my mom would always comment on my smile in my pictures. She said it wasn't a smile I could fake. She said she could see joy and love in my face. Maybe you're really not fully dressed without a smile, and maybe some days it's the only real thing people notice.

I like smelling clean and when people tell me I look nice, but if you think for one second that I wouldn't trade hot water and clean hair for the tan Suriname gave me, you're dead wrong.

18 things I know, struggle with, and just are after 18 months in America:

The smell of rain makes me long for a nap in Malobi.

I miss the amount of time I had. Days seemed to go on forever. This was super hard then, but I miss my routine. Greetings were mandatory. People always had time for each other.

I shaved my legs a lot more when I lived in the jungle. That may seem backwards, but it's true.

Every time I smell car fumes I think of Paramaribo. Or a wagi to Atjoni. Or being on Saramaccan Straat early in the morning. That terrible smell is so comforting to me.

I am still trying to satisfy my craving for guacamole. I don't know if this is directly related to my Peace Corps service, or just the fact that I have a pulse.

Starting a new chapter in life without my friends and family throwing me a party was nice, but I miss the attention.

I struggle with whether or not my current job and place in the world is making as much of an impact as the last one. Am I as important in Gulfport as I was in Malobi? Is Gulfport going to change my life as much as Malobi? Probably not. But maybe it should.

I have yet to calmly look at a spider without thinking of my very long journey to that very moment.

People don't dance enough in America. We need a revolution.

I still step into a hot shower with thanksgiving.

Some days, Ma abi peisa, and life would be easier if everyone just knew what that means.

I live super close to train tracks. The sound is so loud and so comforting to me and I miss it when I don't hear it. It's like my bats and sometimes rats in Malobi, except a little farther away and less gross, I guess.

I ran a marathon and learned again that most things worth doing aren't the easiest. I also learned again that I am tough and if I put my mind to something, I'm going to do it dammit.

Choices and options can be so overwhelming, but they are one of my favorite things about America.

I see mangoes in the grocery store, but have yet to buy one. The last mango I had was in Suriname and it was given to me by a precious child. Anything less than that and I don't want the mango.

I don't have a dishwasher. I don't mind it, but I prefer washing dishes in a river to washing them in a sink.

Being at home and homesick for home is a very real and very hard place to be.

And finally, I struggle to tell my story. I struggle to condense it down to what folks actually care to hear. It's hard. I'm not just telling a story about some stuff I did for a couple of years. I'm telling Suriname's story. I'm telling Beta's story and Polo's story. I'm telling Saramacca's story. This place and these people will be with me forever. It's hard to convey that as a response to, "Oh, Peace Corps, how was that?"

If this isn't your first time reading this blog, thanks. And if you've humored me and listened to my stories over beer, thank you so much. If I've ever just broken out in tears or laughter around you, and you knew it was Peace Corps related and you pretended to care, I owe you a beer. If any of these is true for you, you have validated this really hard, really special thing I did. I cannot express through words what that means to me.

Life called for me to live in Suriname for two years. I answered that call, and because of that, Suriname will live in me forever. 

I am so thankful for the long way home because I wouldn't know how to get there otherwise.

Here's to the next 18 months in America. Or maybe not in America. Cheers!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Peace Corps Day

Happy 53rd birthday, Peace Corps!

Tomorrow is Peace Corps Day, and I cannot help reflecting on the impact Peace Corps has had on my life. Okay, to be honest, I reflect on it almost daily. I think of some aspect of my time in Suriname every single day. But I'm not going to write about that today. If you're reading this blog, you've probably read it before. You already know some of my stories and experiences, and you know how thankful I am to have served in Suriname. So, I'll get nostalgic and sappy about all that another time.

This time, I just want to talk about Peace Corps. The Peace Corps is one of the greatest ideas to ever come into existence. My Country Director in Suriname, George, talked a lot about how interesting it is that a government would have an agency dedicated to promoting peace and friendship. It is really interesting, and regardless of which political party you associate yourself with, The Peace Corps is something that, as citizens of the world, we should be incredibly thankful for. It's also something that as Americans, we should be incredibly proud to call ours. The commitment Peace Corps and Peace Corps Volunteers make to the countries they serve, is one of the greatest commitments Americans can make to the world. And America.

This is one of my favorite ads for Peace Corps. So much of being a Peace Corps Volunteer is about serving in another county and culture, but it's also about what happens after service, and returning to America. 

Peace Corps Volunteers are the best kind of people. Read more about what they dedicate two years of their life for in other countries, and know that for the rest of their lives once they return, they're better because of it. Their country of service is better because of it. America is better because of it. The world is better because of it. 

And for goodness sake, if you ever meet a Peace Corps Volunteer or Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, thank them for their service. 

We will only send abroad Americans who are wanted by the host country - who have a real job to do - and who are qualified to do that job. Programs will be developed with care, and after full negotiation, in order to make sure that the Peace Corps is wanted and will contribute to the welfare of other people. Our Peace Corps is not designed as an instrument of diplomacy or propaganda or ideological conflict. It is designed to permit our people to exercise more fully their responsibilities in the great common 
cause of world development.

Life in the Peace Corps will not be easy. There will be no salary and allowances will be at a level sufficient only to maintain health and meet basic needs. Men and women will be expected to work and live alongside the nationals of the country in which they are stationed - doing the same work, eating the same food, talking the same language.

But if the life will not be easy, it will be rich and satisfying. For every young American who participates in the Peace Corps - who works in a foreign land - will know that he or she is sharing in the great common task of bringing to man that decent way of life which is the foundation of freedom and a condition of peace.

-John F. Kennedy

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Being Home Missing Home

I have been meaning to write this post for a couple of months now. I was hoping that by putting it off, time would slow down for just a second. I want to stay in this sweet spot of, "Oh, I just got back from Peace Corps service," for as long as possible. It makes blowing my readjustment allowance and sitting on my parents couch okay. It makes it okay that I don't have a job yet. I hope it makes it okay that I'm not really looking for one that hard.

Some things are still okay and acceptable because I lived in the jungle for two years. I'm okay with that. I will be working for the rest of my life, so I'm not rushing the job thing. I mean, my roommates are okay—they feed me and periodically drop me off to meet friends. Basically I'm a middle schooler that can drink beer. Admittedly, it's possible I'm a little too comfortable with my current lifestyle.

I love being back in America, but the longer I've been back, the longer I've been away from Suriname. The longer I've been away from Suriname, the longer I've been away from my village and Beta and the kids. I worry that with the passage of time comes forgetting. I chatted with Beta a couple of days ago, and I was so nervous because I thought maybe I had forgotten how to speak Saramaccan. I haven't, but it definitely isn't as fluid as it was six months ago. The longer I've been away from those kiddos I love so much, the more they've grown. Selfishly, I don't want them to forget me. I hope they think of me every day, because I sure do think of them all the time. It's hard knowing the time since I've seen my village is only going to get longer.

I have talked about my experience so much since I've been home. I've discussed it formally on three occasions and whole lot more over dinner and drinks. It seems like everyone wants to know what I miss most about the Peace Corps and Suriname.

Here are the top 3:

The people. I miss my village and the friendships I have there. Which is hilarious, because if you had asked me nine months ago what my biggest frustration was, the short answer would have been the same. Our lifestyles are so different. It was sometimes hard to integrate into a new culture and maintain my sanity, but the people and the relationships are the reasons I survived two years in the jungle and completed my Peace Corps service. I didn't cry climbing into that boat for the last time because I was saying goodbye to my latrine and bucket baths. It was the people. Loving them is what made it easy to stay when staying was the hardest thing to do. I miss them most.

The WOW moments. I miss those moments when the reality of what I was doing would smack me in the face. In those moments I could take my mind's eye high above where I was and picture myself so tiny in the scheme of the world. I remember in those moments thinking that nothing else this cool could possibly be happening anywhere else. I remember being so thankful that of all the places in the world, I was right there, experiencing that exact moment. These moments weren't always ones of achievement or success, in fact they hardly ever were. They were almost always quiet moments with people. Moments like traditional ceremonies and getting all dressed up in traditional clothes. Moments in a dugout canoe floating through Amazon jungle. Moments of sweet calm with children on my porch, even if it didn't last that long. Moments of sewing and shelling peanuts with Beta. Moments of holding and kissing new babies. And every little moment of people stopping by my house as I prepared to move away.

SUR 17. I miss my Volunteer friends. We are bonded by something unique. I miss complaining, rejoicing, and dancing with them.

I also really miss this chicken sandwich I used to eat in the city. The restaurant was being remodeled when I was there last. I'm still not over it.

I don't think time is going to slow down, so I will embrace it. I will embrace it with the continued support of hot showers, brunches, and all the other stuff that makes America the Beautiful.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Final Peaces

It’s more than hard to believe that my time as Peace Corps Volunteer has come to an end. I have spent so much time in the last few weeks reflecting on this journey and all that I have gained and learned. It’s been a wild ride. A wild ride that I will be forever grateful for.

I don’t remember the first time I said it. I don’t remember if it was even my original idea, but at some point as an undergraduate I told the first person, “Oh, maybe I’ll join the Peace Corps,” as a response to their “What are you going to do with a degree in international studies?” It sounded like a really good response, and it stuck as an option I would rattle off when asked. The truth was that I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life after college. (I have a better idea now, but I’m still trying to nail that down). At some point I decided I should look up this Peace Corps thing. I had a very basic knowledge of the Peace Corps and thought it would be a good idea to research the organization if I was going to keep verbally and potentially committing myself to it. I looked it up. A two-year commitment? Two years in another country? In a developing country? This needed some serious thought and prayer.

Eventually I just knew it was the right thing to do. I applied. I knew two things when I applied: 1. I was going to be sent somewhere with giant spiders and 2. I was going to Africa. I could feel it in my bones. Also, in my stomach when the thought of a tarantula made me vomit a little. The day I finished the application, I told my parents that not only had I applied, but also that I told the Peace Corps I would go anywhere the organization would send me. They were not shocked, but they still needed to be parents and have their say. And they did. They weren’t completely on board, but I was convinced and knew in my heart that this was right. I asked them to pray about it too.

The next five months were full of completing medical clearance and waiting. And waiting. And frantically checking online to see if any updates had been made to my status. And waiting.

In January 2011, my invitation came. I was at one of the part-time jobs I had landed since moving back in with my parents. My mom brought the package to me at work and we opened it together. “The Peace Corps invites you to serve as a water and hygiene sanitation Volunteer in Suriname.” Suriname. Admittedly, I wasn’t sure where Suriname was located. It didn’t matter. I was going to be a Peace Corps Volunteer! I accepted the invitation. I was thrilled. And people were thrilled for me. More than ever I knew this was the right decision. I spent the next four months spending time with people I love and obsessing over what to pack into two bags for two years. Also, I spent a lot of time preparing to see giant spiders. As it turned out, I was not going to Africa, but the spider thing, of course that one would be true.

For those interested, this is where I stand with the spiders after two years in the jungle: If you knew me well before Peace Corps, or were ever lucky enough to witness me encounter a spider, you know it wasn’t pretty. Well, I’m better now. Like, so much better. I’m basically cured. When I see a spider now I don’t have to cry or run away or roll around to get the invisible spiders off of me. It’s a real time saver. Okay, honestly, I still wish I hadn’t seen the spider to begin with because they are still so damn nasty and unnecessarily big, but you get it.

As my departure date grew closer and closer, I was more and more excited, but I also became more and more nervous. The night before I left, and after filling out my life insurance form with my mom, I was terrified. I didn’t talk about it, but I was scared. Regardless, I knew without a doubt that this was the right thing to do. I hadn’t chosen this for myself; this was the plan that was chosen for me, the one I had prayed for. I had to go. And yeah, maybe I was wrong about the whole Africa thing, but this, this I knew. I knew without a single doubt, scared or not, this was right.

If you’ve been keeping up with this blog, then you pretty much know what’s been going on since then.

And now it’s ending. Today I rang a bell to close out my service. In less than 24 hours I will be en route to Mississippi. I will be a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer. There are only about 200,000 people that understand how good that will feel and what an honor it will be. Some days, even here at the end, I still cannot believe I get to be a part of this group and the legacy of Peace Corps. I’ll say it: It’s a big deal. And I hope through this blog, I have been able to open eyes to what Volunteers are giving two years of their lives to be a part of. It is no small thing, and I am beyond thankful that my eyes have been opened to that truth.

It’s often hard closing a chapter and moving on to the next in life. However, in my experience, that means it was a helluva chapter and totally worth writing in the book of your life. This chapter is no different. Even though there were days I wished for it to wrap up a little quicker, I’m sad. I had to say goodbye to people I may never see again. My first place was in the jungle, and I had to walk out of that house for the last time. I had to hug and kiss those sweet kiddos for the last time. I had to get on that boat knowing I wouldn’t be spending a week in Paramaribo and going back to Malobi. I left my home of two years knowing I may never return to see it again. It was always going to be sad. I hoped and prayed for it to be sad. The past two years would have been kind of a bust if it weren’t sad.

I know I’ve said this before, but even on the hardest, loneliest, and most frustrating of hard, lonely, and frustrating days, I knew this was exactly where I was suppose to be for these two years. I never ever doubted that. I will forever be thankful for the peace that came with knowing I was in the right place. For all I know, it was the only thing keeping me here on those hard, lonely, frustrating days. And I truly cannot imagine my life at this point had I not stayed despite all the things that were tough. 

I will continue to write on this blog about my life after Peace Corps and the lasting effects of my service, so stay tuned. Don't expect anything soon. I've got an iPhone to buy. And then I have to learn to use it. Thanks so much for keeping up with my life and supporting me throughout this journey. "Lives of service depend on lives of support."-Tracy Kidder. 

And now, because everything about this decision was right from the beginning, when people ask about my time in the Peace Corps, I’ll get to tell them all about the time I lived in South America, in a country called Suriname. However, if you’ve been following this blog, seen any of my pictures from the past two years, or been lucky enough to hear the second language I speak, you understand, I’ll tell them I lived in South America, but I'll also have to tell them that I spent the majority of my Peace Corps service in Africa. After all that, it was Africa.