“She who loves watching the daybreak must not be afraid of the dark”
It’s official! And I’m thrilled to announce it:
After much soul-searching (read: agonizing, in true Cori-fashion), I have decided to embark on my next long-awaited adventure: the Peace Corps, serving as an Environmental and Food Security Volunteer in Togo! I’ll be leaving June 2015 for twenty-seven months!
Holy crap. Do I know anything about the intersection of subsistence farming and environmental conservation? Can I really integrate myself into a Togolese community enough to make a difference? Can I actually get my French up to par for this? Do I have the ability to learn the local language? Also, considering my record, do I even know how to stay in one place for two whole years? I don’t necessarily know the answers to these questions, but I have chosen my response: Yes, I do. Yes, I can. Yes, I will.
Although I was incredibly lucky to get my formal invitation only four months after I submitted my application, the journey that brought me to this decision has been a long-time coming. I don’t remember the first time I heard about Peace Corps or the first time I thought I wanted to serve. I remember bringing it up to my high school French teacher as early as sophomore year, who urged me to carefully consider the very real risks, but also hearing stories from my senior English teacher, who had served along with his wife, while our class read through Things Fall Apart and Heart of Darkness. Through my college experience, as I dug deeper into my academic and professional field, it seemed like at every turn, in places around the world, I met a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) who only reinforced my desire to serve. When exactly it began, I don’t know. Where it came from, though, I have no doubts. Those that have followed this blog or know me even a little probably see that one of the most sincere parts of my soul is rooted in this very type of experience. The Peace Corps is a natural and exciting next step for me, offering me all the challenges, adventure, learning opportunities, and experience I could hope for at this point in my life.
In the midst of all the questions, the most difficult one has been this: Can I really make this sacrifice? Leave my home, my family, the life I have here in DC, for this kind of commitment? To live as the only Volunteer in a rural village for 2+ years, tasked with promoting cultural exchange and making a difference? Coming from a deeply raw place of grief after losing my mom in August, I have struggled with my response to this question. In losing my mom, I lost a huge rock of support in my recent life, particularly for every time I’ve moved and traveled. I am now acutely aware of the fact that this post will not be faithfully followed up by an email from her. That I won’t be able to send her a photo of “where I lay my head to rest at night,” because I know it makes her feel better. That I won’t hear her laughter on the phone when I tell her stories, and she says, “Oh my gosh! Cori, I can’t believe it..” Followed by a gentle, but stern, “Now, I hope you’re being careful over there.” The absence of these phone calls, emails, and the comfort of knowing she is thinking about me each and every day has manifested itself in an uncharacteristic fear in my heart to leave this place and go away again.
Before she passed, though, my mom knew my plans to serve in the Peace Corps. I had gotten as far as my application, my interview, and my nomination. When the nomination came in I called to talk to her about it. As she grew silent after hearing it was a 27 month term, I was at a loss for what to say to comfort her. But before I could get anything out, she said through her tears, “I can’t bear the thought of you leaving for so long, but I know this is what you have to do. This is who you are.” I will never forget those words. And perhaps until I am a mother someday, I won’t fully understand the strength it took her to say them to me.
The week before I got my invitation, I shared an abridged version of these concerns with two RPCV’s, separately. The first, who only recently returned, didn’t spare me the truth in the loneliness that comes with the PC, but also said with absolute assurance that my emotions are not unique, that every PCV goes through them. She said, “It seems like this is something you’re really supposed to do, and I would hate for you to make a decision out of fear.” The second RPCV, who served in the mid 80’s, asked me what my mother would tell me to do, to which I replied, she would tell me to go. The following day, she shared with our team at work that her eldest sister died half-way through her service in Cameroon, and she chose to go back and finish her service at the urging of her mother. She looked at me very intentionally, with tears in her eyes thirty years later, and said it was one of the most difficult things she ever did, but in retrospect, the most important.
So, in the face of my worry, I am recognizing that the absence of my mother is now a painful reality I live in not just during these difficult recent months, but for the rest of my life. And in life I cannot deny who I am, who my mother knew I was, and shy away from a perfect assignment at a nearly perfect time in my life, when so much of me is screaming to serve and struggle and adventure and learn! Having more or less made my decision, the formal invitation came in last week. In the standard letter from the Country Director, a couple unassuming lines read, “You will feel you have accomplished something – helping others develop and finding you were developing yourself as well. However, you would do well to remember this African proverb: She who loves watching the day break must not be afraid of the dark.” Welcome to Peace Corps Togo!