03 June 2014

A Heartbreaking Journey

Nicole Anderson, Colleen Daley, & Elizabeth Whitton
Morocco 2007-2009
Youth & Small Business Development


I once read a blog post that said, “Peace Corps will break your heart.”  Truly, heartbreak has followed us all through our journeys.  Injustice and sadness in the world broke all our hearts, and drove us to join Peace Corps.  The stories of people we served while doing “toughest job you’ll ever love” broke our sprits yet we weathered it with the support of our new volunteer family.  Stomach viruses and street harassment and insect invasions and sun poisoning broke down our personal boundaries and brought us closer together.  And now, five years after our close of service, it is again my Peace Corps family that has healed the biggest of all the holes in my heart: the truly crippling break that came when I left Peace Corps.

There is something inherently risky about reunions.  They are notorious for being a theater through which you must show how great and beautiful you have become, or a forum in which to seek revenge on your high school bully or ex-boyfriend.  Reunions risk being composed solely of awkward interactions wherein the only thing holding anyone together is nostalgic reminiscing about the past.  Our Memorial Day Weekend in Holland, MI was nothing of the sort.  Because we lived together-but-apart for so many grueling months, when we got back together, it was not awkward or competitive, but easy, full of joy and love. 

We knew it was a success from the very beginning: it is hard to find the words to describe what I felt, the first morning, being amongst this group of 30 after five years, eating a sublime breakfast strata and standing around the kitchen talking like we used to in Morocco.  I kept having to mentally pinch myself to make sure that it was all real – that the most glorious two years of my life did actually happen – and that we were back together again.  It only got better from there:  There were lawn games, field trips to the beach, dancing, singing, and even late night games of Cards Against Humanity.  In keeping with our commitment to the Peace Corps and the third goal, we shared our adopted traditions, dress and food with our new extended family members.  During our Saturday night goat party, I was thrilled to see the non-RPCV guests dressed in djlabas and tkshetas and eating our freshly slaughtered goat, some who had never tasted goat before
 
What really struck me, however (as tends to happen in Peace Corps) was the people.  I found myself listening so much.  I found myself craving to learn about my fellow RPCV’s lives, because this reunion allowed us to come together over tea (or wine, hooray, since we are no longer in Morocco) and reconnect in a way not achieved through Facebook status updates, tweets, Instagram posts, and LinkedIn profile updates.  I had forgotten that crucial rule of Peace Corps, that ‘time spent’ is perhaps the most valuable work of all.

And from this time spent, I re-learned how unique our group was and still is.  Many of us continue to live overseas working in development or the US Department of State.  We have been awarded Fulbright and Presidential Management Fellowships, contributed to Public Radio International, and translated works of literature from their original Arabic language.  We have started families and are raising funny, mature, precocious, and adorable children.  We are entrepreneurs, researchers, government employees, nonprofit professionals, graduate students, and educators.  We work in sustainable farming enterprises, promote green building practices, and aim to incorporate sustainability into supply chains and product life cycles.  We have earned graduate degrees and are pursuing PhDs and medical degrees.  We are brilliant artists, masters of the written word, and talented actors.  We are community organizers, volunteers, and neighbors.

During Peace Corps, I was constantly amazed at the people I had the pleasure of serving with.  They challenged me to be a better volunteer and a better person, and they still challenge me.  I am amazed at how much they have accomplished, the lessons and values they promote and share, and their visions for what the future holds.  These people inspire, cajole, and peer-pressure us to be better, work harder, reach further in our personal and professional lives.  And I am as inspired and humbled by them six years and 9 months down the lines as I was on that fateful day of September 8, 2007, when we first met in Philadelphia.

By letting such a special group of people into that little crack that started us on this journey, we commenced a journey that will never end, a journey where we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.  We let our hearts to break for the sadness of others, in hopes of tempering their pain.  We let the joy, goodness, and beauty of their broken hearts fill the cracks in our own.  And this journey continues to test the capacity of my heart to hold an immense amount of happiness and love without bursting wide open.  It is truly this network of journeys that allows volunteers and returned volunteers to live life so fully, inevitably experiencing heartbreak and simultaneously finding the fervor, strength, and integrity to live the purposeful and intentional lives that we do.  With excitement and anticipation I look forward to our 10-year reunion for which the planning is already in the works: May 23, 2019!


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