This past week was a particularly exciting one in the scope of the Peace Corps experience. This week we spent six long-awaited days in Maputo with the rest of our Peace Corps training group, participating in our Moz 17 Mid-Service Conference.
Peace Corps conferences are HUGE events for Peace Corps Volunteers. They mean several things, including:
1. Paid Public Transportation
Rather than take ground transportation to Maputo (which can take between 25 and 30 hours), we are flown to the capital (for a total of 2 hours in the air)
For a full week, we have running water, comfortable beds, and air conditioning
3. Per Diem
We receive cash in hand to make our own decisions when it comes to taking meals. Usually, we have breakfast and lunch at the hotel and eat dinner on the town
4. Social Hour
We have lots of free time to spend with other volunteers. This is especially important, since most volunteers spend the majority of their service living alone or in isolated pairs
There is a difference, of course, between the reasons why we like the conference and the reasons why Peace Corps deems such conferences necessary. In reality, such luxuries are simply perks. The Mid-Service Conference is a very purpose-driven event. The true goals of Mid-Service are as follows:
Every volunteer is required to take part in their annual medical exam
And dental exam
3. Project Ideas, Design, and Implementation
Volunteer have an opportunity to find inspiration and advice from staff members and other volunteers
Volunteers receive reminders about health and safety, discuss community integration, etc. Basically, Peace Corps takes this time to ensure that we are still on track and that we are comfortable, safe, and happy at site
There was also a special component to this year’s Mid-Service Conference, and that was the 1-year anniversary memorial service for Alden Landis and Lena Jenison. It was a touching way to begin our week-long conference, and reminded all of us (now just 39 volunteers, from an original 51) of our common goals and heartaches.
The service was tastefully done. This time, there were no speeches. Instead, all of the volunteers worked together as a group to plant trees, plant flowers, paint stones, and personalize a mural on the wall at the Peace Corps Maputo Headquarters. It was the nicest way of remembering.
|Jamie and Chris add finishing touches to the mural dedicated to Lena and Alden. |
The quote reads, "The love they gave will forever endure."
|Mireya paints her square on Lena and Alden's memorial mural|
|Sara paints a heart in Lena and Alden's memory|
|Steph decorates her square on the mural|
|Painting my own square|
|Laying painted stepping stones in the memorial garden at the PC Maputo office|
|Dedicating the garden in the memory of Lena and Alden|
|Our Country Director, Carl, dedicates a plaque in the memorial garden |
(picture on right courtesy of Stephanie Newton)
The conference lasted from Monday until Friday. Mornings were spent in the conference room, discussing projects and goals and challenges. Afternoons were spent in the dental or medical offices, getting check-ups. Evenings and nights were free to spend roaming around the capital, getting pizzas and drinks and ice cream cones.
The best part was the social interaction. Because Dan and I are so isolated (our nearest Moz 17 volunteers are 6-8 hours away), it felt nice to just be in the presence of some of our very best friends. Jamie and I giggled and traded secrets. Steph and I cuddled and watched movies. Dylan and I made plans to start a band. I saw friends that I hadn’t seen for more than a year and won’t see for another 8 months in the future.
On our last night together, most of us stayed up late. Jamie and Dan fell asleep before midnight, but Steph, Hoang, Dylan, and I lay side-by-side on two pushed-together twin beds in the boys’ hotel room.
“Peace Corps creates a weird social dynamic,” said Dylan, “Doesn’t it?”
“I guess,” I said. “Clarify.”
“”Well,” he said, “You spend most of your time in an isolated environment, doing your work. Then, every month or so, you get together with other volunteers and it feels like a frat party. Then, very rarely, you get to spend time with everybody all at once. You have these really intense social interactions,” he swept his eyes over me, Hoang, and Steph, all snuggled together, “and then you go back to being alone.”
And he’s right. That’s exactly what it is. Up and down, fast and slow, together and alone. For two years, anywhere in the world. It’s a Peace Corps rollercoaster.
I feel that the Mid-Service Conference is a true benchmark in the Peace Corps experience. It signals the start of the second year of service (in the words of a fellow volunteer, it should be called the Five-Eighths-of-the-Way-Through Service) and, in many ways, marks the beginning of the end. We are now starting the first of our “lasts”—our last January, for instance, and our last rainy season. We are doing our work with ease and self-confidence while viewing our communities with a strange sense of anticipated nostalgia. Most of us are still counting down toward the end of service (how can you not? Home is an ocean away), but also appreciating the “lasts” as they come and go.