Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Two years in Peace Corps is like a long-distance race…
I remember applying to Peace Corps a few years ago and equating it with a marathon; it took determination, drive, perseverance, and patience. After a year and a half of completing the application process the ‘finish line’ was my invitation to serve in Zambia as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Now I’m a year and a half into my service. I look back and notice similarities between the state-of-mind runners go through while running a trail marathon and what I've been going through in the first half of my 27 month commitment as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
Before joining Peace Corps I've ran two trail races over marathon distance and multiple half-marathon trail races. Running teaches many things and one of the things it has taught me is not to give up.
So, let’s begin with the starting line…I come into country with 53 other Peace Corps Volunteer ‘hopefuls’ ready to go through the rigorous three month training prior to becoming a Volunteer. I don’t want to say I was competing against these 53, but I did notice I am the only one in my age group and the oldest female. That’s a challenge right there. I asked myself if I had the endurance to make it along with the others who are fresh out of college and half my age.
As with races, I compete against myself with anything I find challenging. I use others to help gauge if I’m at the place I should be at; such as, do I push myself more or should I slow down?
This is where my self-building-up comes in. I have a college education and over twenty years of adult life experience. My health is impeccable and I’ve been through the hell and back raising two kids, now successful adults, by myself while working and going to college. So, if I can do that, I can do anything.
This is what I go through prior to a race: I look at the other contenders and size them up a bit; I look for others who are similar to my fitness level. I reassure myself I've done the distance before and I’ve been training for the race for a while, so there is nothing to worry about, though my nerves are a little on edge. I call this the ‘adrenaline rush’. That is what will keep me going; nerves that will pull me through the tough spots along the way.
Once the start begins I feel good. I feel like I’ll have no problem pulling this off. Everyone else is feeling this as well. I look around and we all have smiles on our faces…this is great. I’m in a good place. Just have to remember to pace myself and not get too cocky because we all know anything can change.
During Peace Corps training, the first one drops out--just like in a race. This affects me personally in two ways: I fear of dropping out, too, but also I get a push from within that gives me the courage to overcome obstacles. I remind myself thinking I have prepared for this and I must keep going.
The first three months in Peace Corps, I believe, are the toughest so far because this is when a person questions whether this is how they want to spend the next twenty-four months of their lives. I had some doubts during this time, but the others around me encouraged me to keep going. I don’t know what I would have done without the support. Just like in a race, I get support from other runners along the way, and I remember family and friends who wished me luck before I set out for the challenge.
Once finished with the first three months and declared a Peace Corps Volunteer; I’m feeling great. I did it. I can keep going. Still several months ahead of me, but I can do it. More people had dropped out, but the chances of more to pull out have dropped. I’m feeling confident with my dedication.
After month four I am finding a new challenge: I am alone with myself. The others are spread out in other areas of the country. I don’t have the happy faces that pass or I pass by to give each other encouragement…I just have myself. I’m still feeling good, but I have to readjust to the freedom of the open trail ahead of me.
I don’t have the others to help gauge how I’m doing. I just hope I’m not moving too slowly or too quickly. If I do too much work now in my village, I may find myself tired and nothing left to do to complete my service. But, if I’m not working hard enough, I will have the fear of letting myself down with not challenging myself enough. Being alone can also open up the door of negativity. Thoughts pass through such as, ‘Am I good enough to do this?’
The breaks during service away from the village are much needed just like water breaks in a race. Fuel up and get encouragement from others. Cheering me on helps revive a positive outlook of what’s ahead.
Back in the village I have many obstacles. Am I eating the right things? Is my health still where it should be? Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten that strange meat the other night. A false alarm of intestinal issues rise up when I get a sudden urge of having to use the restroom, or the kimbusu in my village, but, luckily this feeling passes and I continue on clearing my mind and thinking about happy things like kittens and puppies.
Loneliness in the village is the same as loneliness on the trail until someone passes by and gives a smile and a new friend is made. It’s a journey all right. And the journeys are never the same just as running a race that had been run before…it’s never the same race because it’s a brand new journey.
Getting close to mid-way in my service I’ve decided I’m in Peace Corps until the end. Nothing will stop me unless something happens back home that prevents me from finishing. I’m in this for the long run and feel confident.
Since training ended more people had pulled out, but I don’t feel happy about it. I try to understand what strength it takes to make that final decision. Peace Corps is like a long distance race; it takes stamina, endurance, perseverance, and dedication. I haven’t made it to the ‘finish line’ yet, but I can envision the people waiting for me back home with smiles and cheering…just like a race.
I still have ten more months to go in my service. There is still a chance I could drop out whether it is a tragedy at home I need to tend to or I lose the ambition to continue. The latter is why encouragement from friends back home is so important. I still need to hear, ‘Keep going, Ginny!’ This is a challenge I put myself into because I love to see how far I can go. It’s a mental challenge, just like a race, to make it to the finish line, and I plan to see you all at the end.
photo credit: Scott Livingston