Yesterday we officially closed service! Our two years of Peace Corps service is now complete. It is a surreal feeling no longer being a Peace Corps Volunteer. We begin our COS trip by taking a 10 day vacation in Southern Namibia and then we go to Bostwana next.
I am down to the final three best memories, moments and lessons of my Peace Corps service. My last three points all have to do with people. Before we began this journey any Returned Peace Corps Volunteers we met shared that the people were the best part of their Peace Corps experience, and mine has been no exception.
It was not difficult for me to come up with the #1 best memories, moments and lessons of this entire experience. Hands down, the best part of this experience has been sharing it with my very best friend.
Josh and I have had some of our best times and some of our worst times here in Namibia. Going through such a rich experience has brought us closer together. I can’t imagine having gone through this experience without Josh.
We worked as a team at home and here we did too, but we had to learn the new role each of us had to play. Problems arose here that didn’t at home, and together we came up with solutions.
We had picnics in the back of bakkies, we shared safaris together and we celebrated hot showers during holiday. We discussed the things that puzzled us about our host country and home country and formulated strong opinions on both.
I’ll always think of the 5k race we ran together in Rundu when I think of our Peace Corps service. At times we ran together, at times we needed to go on our own, but always, we could see each other, and we were cheering one another on. When the going got tough, we kept going. In the end, we crossed the finish line together. Our Peace Corps experience was very much the same.
I have grown to appreciate Josh even more since being here. Living in a society where women are not treated equally, I value so much that my husband treats me as his equal.
“Happiness is only real when shared.” I don’t know if that is entirely true, but happiness certainly feels exponentially more fun to share it with your life partner. Only 7% of volunteers are married couples and I’m happy and proud to be in the 7%.
When the difficult task of reintegration begins, I know I’ll have Josh by my side to help navigate the murky waters. I’m so glad I get to take the best part of my Peace Corps service home with me.
#2 My Namibian Friends and Family
When you’re a stranger in a strange land, you hope and pray that you’ll meet some people in your host country who will want to make friends with you, the foreign weirdo. Lucky for me, I met some people who weren’t shy to make friends with this weirdo.
There are so many Namibians that we grew close to so it’s hard to single out people, but a few stand out for my service. My life is much richer for knowing these great Namibians and their families.
Our host family was so gracious in opening their home to us two years ago. They had never hosted Americans before and made us feel at home. We have wonderful memories of hanging out with them and their kids after long training days.
My friend Tanya is Portuguese-Namibian and I met her my first week at site. She has a heart of gold. She is the sole care taker for so many dogs and cats in Rundu. We’ve spent many great nights with her and her fiancé at Kavango River Lodge, out in Divundu and at braais in Rundu. We collaborated on projects to try and help my school to improve. I’m going to miss seeing her a lot.
Some women have grown up on different continents, with very different backgrounds and different skin color. They may appear to have nothing in common, but inside, their souls line up and speak the same language. Such is the case with my Namibian friends and colleagues Eve, Namkasa, Lucy and Hamutenya. Our friendship was instant and real.
As Americans we see images of women in Africa on our tv screens and we begin to develop this idea in our head of the “strong, African woman.” At least I did. I have been so lucky to get to know four very strong Namibian African women.
My days and weeks these 2 years in Rundu were filled with great conversations with these women at Hungry Lion, my kitchen, Hamutenya’s house and lodges. Collectively these women have gone through some incredibly tough stuff and always manage to find the bright side of things. My friends are always striving to be better people. They always want to learn.
These ladies were the ones who checked on me to make sure I arrived places safely when I traveled, they were the ones who hugged me when I cried. They showed up at our flat with food to share in my grief when I returned from the USA to attend my dad’s funeral. They texted me when I was home in the USA and told me they missed me and wanted me to come back. They were a big reason I did. They were the ones who shared special American and Namibian holidays with me. They have been my family for 2 years and I am most sad to leave Namibia because it means I am leaving them.
Words do little justice to show my appreciation and gratefulness to all of them for being kind and for befriending this weird foreigner. When I didn’t know the right thing to do in a cultural setting, they guided me to make sure I didn’t offend anyone. When I didn’t understand something about Namibian culture, they gave me answers. It’s not easy to hear your culture or ways of doing things being questioned by an outsider, but they did it with such ease.
I know in my heart that our friendship isn’t restricted to geographical place, but I am so sad that I won’t be seeing them every day anymore. Even though our friendship will evolve, it will never be quite the same.
I will always, always remember the beautiful moments with these women. I know this is just the beginning of our friendship, and what a beautiful beginning it has been.
The two quotes I keep thinking of are “I am a part of all that I have met.” and “You’ll never feel at home again because you’ve loved people all over the world.” These women are with me forever. They give me a reason to smile wide when I think about Namibia.
#3 My Learners
Peace Corps is a weird thing. From the first Day I’ve arrived, people have asked when I was leaving. They know your time with them is limited.
“Miss, why don’t you just stay?’
I’ve been fielding this question for the last 6 months. It’s a hard question to answer. We could stay longer – PCVs can extend their service for a year if wanted. And why not? I’ve got friends here, I’ve got a job. Why don’t I just stay? I usually tell them my mother wants me to come home. Wouldn’t your mother want you back home after being gone for 2 years? While that excuse is partly true, it makes people laugh instead of watching me fill up with tears. Needless to say, it’s hard to leave.
My learners surprised me. Every day. In good ways and bad. Upon arrival, I was so surprised with how much they knew about America. On some topics, more than me! On the contrary, I know most Americans (myself in 2012 included) couldn’t find Namibia on a map.
On good days we could appreciate our differences. On bad days our differences made us angry at one another.
My learners are good at languages. I am not. My learners are good at sharing. I wasn’t when I first got here – I’m much better now. My learners are good at inconsistency. I am not. My learners are good at being flexible and forgiving.
I know some I will always keep in touch with. Many inspired me. The ones who worked hard motivated me to wake up every day and try to teach them everything I could for the year I was their teacher. In some I saw small improvements, in some I saw absolutely none.
On any given day, my learners made me incredibly angry, depressed, sad, happy, fulfilled. A fellow PCV asked a group of us PCV teachers scattered throughout the country to describe our learners. Here were the adjectives given: Helpful, respectful, reserved, motivated, unfocused, loving, confused, surprising, talkative, angry, eager, thoughtful, aggressive, emotionally stunted, confused, eager, sweet, mischievous, distracted, earnest, generally teenagery, some are angels, some are stones, reserved, passive and submissive, easy-to-please, determined but easily distracted (and/or hungry/tired). As you can see, it’s hard to sum them up. I know kids in the USA probably have similar qualities.
Reading my learners essays was tough these two years, and a way for me to get a real glimpse into what issues they were dealing with. My kids had to deal with a lot more hardship in their life than I ever had to deal with. Early marriage, HIV/AIDS, severe alcohol abuse, malaria, early death of family and peers, sever gender inequality. There’s no toys, games, community centers, pools, organized sports with weekly games, arts and crafts, running trails, etc. in our community to let kids blow off steam.
My learners don’t complain as much as I think I would if I had to deal with all that they did. They deal with hardship and adversity. Some walk an hour + to get to school. They aren’t obsessed with fairness and truth the way I have come to realize I am.
My learners had a knack for turning a bad day upside down, but also a way of turning a good day upside down. They inspired me, they frustrated me, they made me laugh, they made me cry, they made me mad. I will never be able to comprehend what some of them go through on a daily basis, but I am so grateful that they opened up to me when they did, and that I had the chance to teach them. I’ll never be the same because of their shared perspective.
One of the best things I received before leaving was an envelope full of letters from my learners. Here are some of my favorite quotes:
- “You were always there for me when I was bored.”
- “You gave me power to believe in vision.”
- “You are the most determined teacher I know.”
- “Don’t worry, I’ve mastered advice and advise, I know the difference now.”
- Thanks to you I now use the phrase “Old fish go boil your head.”
- “Miss don’t be selfish send a present from the USA.”
- Pretty as a dove, Smart as a wizard, Nice as a strawberry
- “You are the first foreign teacher that made me cry because you are leaving.”
- “I love you more than my father, that’s for sure. “
- “I enjoyed being part of your team.”
- “Thank you for remembering my name.”
- “No one can really say goodbye to a teacher, for they forever stay in the hearts of their students.”
- “In our culture we do not say goodbye, but we say see you again. Thank you for the things you taught us and making us leaders of tomorrow.”
- “Thank you for believing in me when no one else did.”
- “You helped me to realise that life is what you make and never to let go.”
- “I want to thank you for being my English teacher, even though you always taught each class, you never even skipped one period. Why couldn’t you give us one free period?”
- The best thing to do when you miss us learners, is to relax, close your eyes, and you will see all the Noordgrens learners.”
- “I won’t promise to come visit you because money is a problem, but I will try to do so.”
- “Please have a baby and name it after me.”
- “Miss even though some people say that you made them fail their math exams, you are still the best English teacher in Rundu.” (still trying to figure this one out lol).
- “You made me discover there is more to myself than I did.”
- “I just want you to know that you are going but your teachings will remain.”
- “I hope you enjoyed all the dust in Rundu.”
- “We’ll miss your laugh, jokes and last but not least, your undeniable support in everything we do.”
I think my colleague put it best: “Naughty or nice, they
find a way into your heart.” I’ll miss my learners.