The Reason I’m Still a Peace Corps Volunteer

I was ready to quit. I was ready to throw in the towel. I was frustrated, upset, sick, confused, scared, and hopeless. I was afraid of facing my fears head on. I didn’t feel like myself either. I felt like a shell of my former self.

At the beginning of April, I felt like everything was crashing down around me. At our All Volunteer conference, I knew that I needed to take control again and stop the train before it really did crash. I approached Peace Corps staff for help.

The Country Director saved me. I spoke with him about what was going on, how I tried to resolve the issue myself and how after months of different strategies nothing was working. I really did feel like I was crumbling in front of him. I thought I was strong enough to overcome these challenges alone. I’ve learned though that it takes an even stronger person to reach out for help when they know they need it. I expressed my fears and frustrations. He listened to me attentively and spoke calmly with me. He assured me that I was not alone. And I wasn’t the first person to go through this. He told me to come down to Accra after the conference, so I could think through things and relax. I felt like I was the number one priority. I felt like Peace Corps staff wanted to do everything in their power to ensure I felt safe and could be an effective volunteer. It was exactly what I needed at that moment.  I needed to be reassured. I needed a mini vacation. And I needed to know Peace Corps staff was there for me. As stoic as our Country Director is, I still felt like I was being cared for. Sometimes you just need that family atmosphere to remind you that people truly do care. You just need to be around people who want what’s best for you. It wasn’t just the Country Director that helped me, but my APCD and the DPT. My APCD has been there for me through thick and thin for the past year and a half. He’s rushed to my side to stick up for me, he’s intervened when necessary, he’s listened to my long rambles about budgets and money, and he’s always given me constructive feedback and helped me find my way. He’s really gone above and beyond to help me through my service. Plus he literally swooped in with my favorite driver and rescued me.

After the conference, I headed to Accra for a weeklong forced stress buster. I spent a lot of time researching stress relief methods, yoga poses, meditation techniques, and other ways to relax. I’ve never felt so relaxed before. It helped that I stayed with my Thanksgiving homestay family as well. (The American embassy workers who hosted me for Thanksgiving.) I spent a week with them a few weeks prior due to a really dumb medical issue. And by dumb I mean, only this kind of weird thing would happen to me. But it didn’t! It affected someone else too in an unrelated circumstance. The couple I stay with are beyond welcoming. I never feel intrusive or awkward staying with them. They have truly opened their home to me and allowed me to heal. The American food, air conditioning, hot showers, pool, and super cute puppy help too. One of them is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, so she truly knows the hardships involved and how sometimes PCVs just need a hug. She talked me through a lot of the issues I was grabbling with, giving me great advice on how to proceed. She encouraged me to remember why I joined Peace Corps.

A few days later I met with the Country Director, my APCD, and the DPT. They gave me two options: take interrupted service and go back to America or return to site. In my head I imagined Tim Gunn shouting “MAKE IT WORK!” I took a few hours to think through it, but in my mind I had already decided. I wasn’t quitting. I wasn’t going home. I wasn’t giving up. I feel like the CD gave me some tough love, a gentle kick in the ass. Exactly what I needed. I needed someone to give it to me straight. I needed that push. The next day, I walked over to the Peace Corps office and told CD Mike that I wanted to stay. And I 100% made the right decision. Ghana isn’t done with me yet.

Parallel to all of this, I wasn’t feeling well. For months I felt crappy, but I was never able to figure out why. The day I got into Accra, I had a lot of time to think. As I was unpacking, I grabbed my malaria prophylaxis. Suddenly it dawned on me. I looked at a calendar and everything became clear. The three days after I took my medicine, I became ill, but I would get better. Then I would take it again and I was back to sick. The next day I met with the Peace Corps Medical Officer, a quick explanation of my discovery and immediately they changed my meds. All along I thought I was just under the weather, but it turns out I was having a terrible reaction to the medicine for over 5 months! The PCMO has helped me every step of the way along this bumpy road of my service. Ghana has definitely thrown spitballs of salmonella at me, but the PCMO is always there to bandage me back up. When I fell, they were incredibly thorough. When I had my other recent medical issue (seriously, I would be a tropical disease doctor’s wet dream), they had me on the table drawing blood within minutes and off for Xrays immediately after. I loved my doctor in the States, but the PCMOs here have really gone above and beyond to ensure that I am healthy. Would your doctor yell at you for not eating vegetables? Would your doctor text you to check up on you after you got home? There has been at least one occasion where the PCMO has saved my life. Hell, the PCMO even met me at the office on a Sunday evening. The last few times I’ve been down there they’ve even made me de facto PCMO. They joke with unsuspecting PCVs that I’m the new nurse. I couldn’t imagine having to deal with 200 hypochondriac volunteers with weird infections, tropical diseases, and never ending requests for meds. I completely trust and respect the PCMOs we have and I’m incredibly grateful to be in their capable hands. Now if only they could get a thermometer that didn’t take 3 minutes to take your temperature.

Two weeks ago, the unimaginable happened and we lost our fellow PCV and friend. Our grief was overwhelming and it was shared by the staff. The way they handled the memorial and allowing us to mourn was beyond amazing. They kept their composure, but it was clear they were in agony. The speed and efficiency at which they organized homestays for us was truly impressive. The embassy employees opened their arms and their homes to almost 140 of us. At the memorial service, I was moved by CD Mike’s speech about Dani. CD Mike, the very definition of stoic, stood up and shared his grief with us. His tears showed us that it was okay for us to cry, it was okay to mourn, we didn’t have to pretend to be strong. After the memorial, he came around and hugged us all and told us to stay healthy. It reminded me of my own father, hugging me and telling me to stay safe in Africa. It reminded me of that fateful morning when I entered security at the airport. My dad hugging me goodbye. Once I got to country, I found a note he left in my backpack telling me to stay safe.

Every single one of us has a family, a group of friends waiting for us back home – sending us love, worrying about us, scared out of their minds, and amazed at our adventures. I imagine as a parent it is incredibly difficult to allow your child to disappear away to Africa for two years. Before this, I was only concerned about how this would affect me. My parents would learn to accept it in time, but know I realize what stress and concern I’ve put them through. Now they know that life is even more fragile over here and it could have been me. I’m sorry Mom and Dad for putting you through this! But know that I’ve grown as a person, I’ve learned more than possible in the 19 months I’ve been here, and I’ve had an amazing time.

I know though that my parents can take comfort knowing that I’m in good hands. From my APCD always having my back. From Ernest the driver being my personal body guard. From the DPT offering support when I needed it the most. From the PCMO saving me, caring for me, calling all my PC neighbors to help me, and putting up with my seemingly endless strains of salmonella. And our fearless Country Director who gave me the kick I needed, the hug I needed, and the support I needed. I’m so grateful to know these people have my back.

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