Best Memories, Moments and Lessons of my Peace Corps Experience, Numbers 4 and 5

This last week I haven’t gone a day without crying as I slowly come to terms with the fact that our time here is about up. Last night was our goodbye braai and it was an incredibly special night to remember with thoughtful speeches and dancing.I’m down to 5 remaining memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps experience that I want to share. Please excuse any grammar errors as I am short on time and sleep. : )

#5 – Fulfilling Goal #3 – Sharing this journey with friends and family back home

There are three goals of the Peace Corps and our third goal is to share your experience and what your host country is like with friends and family back home. I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for being part of this incredible ride with us. How fun it has been for me to text you, blog, and share via FB about life here and catch up on news back home. Our interactions have meant a lot to me. On days when I was feeling low, you don’t know how fun it was to see messages from you on text, email or Facebook. You laughed with me, you were puzzled with me, you sympathized with me. Thank you.

Many of you went beyond just keeping up with us. Many of you sent us love in the mail. THANK YOU FOR THE BOOKS YOU SENT, especially Beth and Ziggy Cooper. You helped fill up our library. Thank you to those of you that sent packages, cards, words of encouragement. We really appreciate them all. Please know that all your gifts were used in our community and spread throughout. I shared the food you sent with friends and staff, I gave away the gifts you sent as prizes to my top learners and I used your school supplies in my class.

A huge thank you to those of you that visited. We are so lucky to call you friends and now we have many fun stories to enrich our already great friendship. We really enjoyed sharing our experience with you in person in Africa.

So many of you have been here with us when we would hear certain songs on the radio, saw signs that reminded us of you, met people with your same name, etc. Gentle reminders of home always made us smile. I know when we go home there will be many things that remind us of people and places in Namibia.

According to our blog stats (which I’m obsessed with) we had over 2,000 visitors to the blog this year alone! I hope you learned a bit about this beautiful place we’ve called home for the last 2 years. Now what you’ve seen from us these last 2 years is just that – two people’s perspective. It’s hard to capture all the heart, complications, spirit, frustrations and challenges of a nation in just 2 years of living and observing.

Taking you all on this journey with us has been one of the best parts. It took a big support network to get us to this point, and I thank you all for being interested in our journey.

#4 The NamFam and PCV friends

The fourth reason this journey has been so enriching and fulfilling has been sharing it with other Americans. Other PCVs are fascinating people. They’re fun, curious, innovative, crafty and just all around good people. PC tends to attract strong personalities.

When we first found out we were placed in Namibia, I found some Namibia RPCVs online and they said to us “Welcome to the NamFam!’ Peace Corps volunteers in Namibia refer to ourselves as the NamFam or NAMily.

More so than ever in my life, I’ve been part of this Peace Corps community that helps one another out often. We have to do things for each other because our transportation is limited and things don’t work the same in Namibia as they do at home. We pick up items for one another when we go to the capital or home to America to visit, we share lesson plans and we do errands for one another. I’ve never done so many favors for people, and I’ve never had so many people do favors for me.

We took the whole NAMily concept to another level when we became Peace Corps parents. I’m not exactly sure when it happened, but Josh began referring to our fellow PCV Mary Grace as my little friend during PST, despite the fact that Mary Grace is eight inches taller than me. She is, however, 10 years and 15 years younger than Josh and I, respectively, so we started to take on a bit of a parental role with her once we heard she was being placed in a village not too far from our town. I believe Josh one day said “I feel like Mary Grace is like our daughter” and since Mary Grace seemed agreeable to having Peace Corps parents, our first Peace Corps daughter was born. Mary Grace calls us Onane and Otate (Mom and Dad in Rukwangali) and we simply call her “Daughter.”

I highly suggest to anyone on the fence about parenting to begin with a 22+ year old who lives in a village. They are fully functioning independent adults who are overjoyed when you feed them some cheese and salad. It has made my job so easy.

Mary Grace is one of the most considerate and thorough people I know. She helped me pass Rukwangali during our Pre-Service Training, and she has been a source of sanity for me while trying to navigate the difficulties of teaching in Namibia. She has had an extra level of environmental challenges living in a village during Peace Corps, and I’ve learned that she is one tough girl.  Knowing how hard she works motivates me to work harder.

Mary Grace is so smart, thoughtful, humble, motivated and fun. Even though I am her Onane, I learn so much from her, and she keeps us hip by letting us know the things that the young kids are into these days. We have shared some of our happiest and toughest Peace Corps memories together.

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Late night dance party in Rundu with our Peace Corps Daughter

Soon after Mary Grace came along others asked to join our NAMily and we agreed. Our other group 38 daughter Alyssa lives in the Erongo region of Namibia and we had two other Kavango children whose service was over in September of last year (group 36).

Also a part of our NamFam is JT, my female husband. She says things Josh would say when Josh isn’t around. She is our sister, and Mary Grace’s aunt. JT also lives in the same town as us, so we see one another quite a bit. We’ve collaborated on some projects together and when I had a bad day at school, I know I could count on JT to be up for a glass of wine at our place or Kavango River Lodge.

JT is a whiz at project management. I can hardly believe how much she can manage in her life, and this often includes reminding me of reports due to Peace Corps as well as making the most delicious hummus and salsa in Namibia (with her immersion blender she bought in Swakop which she’ll tell you for hours is the best purchase she made). She has been through some of the toughest personal challenges of anyone I know, and despite it all, is one of the most optimistic people I know. I know after I’ve hung out with JT that I’ll have sore cheeks from laughing and feel rejuvenated about life.

I admire the way she has truly integrated into our Rundu community. For the reasons I rely on her, I wish I could be like her. She is always well-oriented wherever she is, she is always on top of her game. She is honest when it isn’t easy, and she reads the census for fun.

JT was there when I found out the news that my Dad died, and she hugged me and got me through that traumatic time just as much as Josh did. When I was back in America during that time, doubting if Namibia was where we should return, I heard from her daily that she missed us, and things weren’t the same without us.  If I didn’t feel confident about having a good enough support network to come back to here, I don’t know if we would have come back. I’m so grateful we did come back to finish our service, and having people to support me and understand how difficult that was made all the difference. I am so glad we come back to finish our service.

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Getting a ride in an uncomfortable, slow car in Namibia. A common mode of transport.

When we had to leave the country for my dad’s funeral and my brother’s wedding, our NamFam put our minds at ease with taking care of things for us on the homefront.

So many of our weekends have been filled with great conversations, intense workouts, chocolate and wine with these two amazing women. They have been my rocks on bad days, our support system and a laugh when we need it. They’ve helped me work through cultural frustrations and sad anniversaries. We have camped together, hitch hiked, celebrated, brainstormed and collaborated.

They truly feel like family to us, and it is going to be a pretty big adjustment not texting one another 50-100 times a day. I’m going to miss these two like crazy.

I didn’t come to Peace Corps expecting to leave with great American friends, but I am so grateful we crossed paths.  As much as it’s sad to leave, I remind myself of how lucky I am we ever met. I look forward to hanging out in the USA or somewhere else in the world to laugh and remember the good stories of our time together as Americans in Namibia.

 

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