6 June 2013
On the way back to Fodé Bayo after a two-and-a-half-week vacation in the U.S. and Close of Service (COS) conference, I am full of thoughts about moving forward. going home made me realize I’d missed it more than I knew. Seeing two young cousins that had grown taller than me, one who wouldn’t stop hugging me, meeting a precious toddler, and seeing how happy my Uncle was to dote on her. Recalling the community my parents have created for themselves; they have friends who exchange rockfish for fresh vegies and a painter who brings salt fish just to repay ordinary kindness. A lot of volunteers are amazed by the neighborly responsibility exemplified in Senegalese villages. I am thankful for that (especially after hostile interactions in public transportation), but it is not novel to me. A friend came to visit while I was home and he was shocked by the number of people I stopped to say hello to on the street or who came by the house to visit before I left. I look forward to building a life and a community myself.
My first step will be applying to graduate school. At COS conference we had very productive professional development sessions. One of the things we worked on was how to sell our Peace Corps experience in resumes, interviews and elevator pitches. I am starting to work on explaining my work here in a letter of intent for landscape architecture school. A friend gave me the advice to show persistence in the story that I tell. Persistence? I have that covered. As a PCV, I know that anyone who completes their service exemplifies persistence. But how do I express that to an admissions committee?
I could look through my calendar and count the number of times I visited Gano with the same to-do list: “compost, neem solution, weed rice demo.” I could talk about the number of meetings I called to weed the live fence in the women’s garden last rainy season. Or perhaps just describe the amount of work I put in to learning a language I’d never heard of until the day of my first class. But these solitary acts are nothing compared to the larger picture of what I do every day in Senegal, I set an example.
I am an example of who Americans are, of who Peace Corps and any other foreign development agent is. I keep my garden in a specific way to serve as an example. I built a chicken coop as an example. I learned how to farm rice as an example. I don’t hit children or dogs. I stand up to men when they are rude or abusive to their wives. I tell my many suitors, not that they are ugly or I am married, but that I don’t want to marry them because I am working. I put on a cheerful face and share positive experiences with wide-eyed new volunteers. When projects fail in village, I commiserate, then put on a smile and say we better keep trying.
I have persistently upheld a lifestyle that is for the benefit of others. I am tired, but I’d do it again. I am ready to come back to the U.S., but I am ready for another challenge. I don’t know if I’ll come back to this kind of work, but this work, this way of living, will always effect what I do.
Love you and see you soon,