The opinions expressed in this blog are mine, and mine alone. They do not represent the views of the Peace Corps or the United States Government.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Saying Goodbye

When we met in Philadelphia before any of us knew each other, Peace Corps workers told us that a good number of us would not be at the close of service conference in Botswana in 2013. Looking around the room of 40, it was hard to imagine who wouldn’t make it. People leave for many reasons. Some must return to the United States to get medical problems taken care of. Some realize that they aren’t happy and decide they would rather be home. And then there are those who have family emergencies.

During pre-service training, we all get close. We really do become a family. Losing anyone is difficult, especially when the decision is outside of his or her control. We knew, in coming to Peace Corps, that we would miss graduations, births, engagements, weddings, new jobs, important moves, and all other milestones of life. But thinking that we would come to Botswana, only to be pulled back because of a family member’s illness, is heartbreaking.

In our group (Bots 10), one of us decided not to come to Botswana after staging. Since then, seven of us have gone home. We are now 32. That is a roughly 20% attrition rate. Based on past groups, some more will leave after our upcoming in-service training, and even more around the one-year mark. Regardless if the volunteer that decides to leave makes the right decision, it is still really sad to see anyone leave.

This experience is teaching me many things. One of them is that humans are humans underneath cultural differences, external features, and other identities. Similarly, group dynamics do not vanish just because we are Peace Corps volunteers. Some people feel like they aren’t doing as much work as others, which therefore makes them lesser volunteers. We compare ourselves to one another, even if we try not to. It’s just human nature. But the most important thing is to support each other, especially when the person next to you could be desperately trying to search for meaning in his or her service.

The latest person to leave Peace Corps Botswana is from the group before us. She had been here for a little over a year. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer some time ago, but this volunteer had decided to wait to go home until she had to. Last week, her father asked her if she could get on a flight home—that day. Her mother’s condition had taken a turn for the worst. She had to say goodbye to her village and pack all of her belongings in a few hours. I am not sure if she will be able to return to Botswana.

I was very close to this particular volunteer. She was a good chunk of my support system during these first two months. We share similar attitudes about service, relationships, and just life in general. I am 100% positive that my transition would not have been as positive without her. I can already feel the lack of her presence in my life and it has saddened me greatly. Obviously we aren’t all best friends, and some departures are more devastating than others, but it is never easy saying goodbye, especially when the actual conversation rarely occurs.

So this is for her, and the rest of the volunteers who have left. If you chose to leave, I hope you are fulfilled back in the United States. If you were forced to go and hope to return to Botswana, I pray that comes to fruition. For the 32, we should never forget that being there for each other emotionally, as well as for the people in our village, is the best thing we can do here.


  1. I am so sorry for your friend and send prayers for her mother.

    I understand the loss you are feeling too, and it is hard; it left you with a bit of a hole.

    I can't remember our attrition rate - at least 30%. We didn't have Facebook when I was in Peace Corps (I know you can't imagine that), but the supreme joy is we have it now and I am connected to most of the people from my group - especially two friends who had to E.T.

    I was almost one of the people who left (in my second year which is not common except for those with medical issues - most go in the first year). My students didn't make high marks on their end-of-year exams, and I felt ineffective. There ensued a three-week turmoil of "what to do". That was a turning point when I realized if I made a difference each day in just one person's life, I was DOING something important. A lesson I reflect on each day, 15 years after I returned home from Botswana. Also, advice I give each PCV :)

    Your posts are so articulate and informed. You know about 80% more than I did when I was 4 months into my service!

    Wishing you the best - and for something/someone to help you not feel alone.


  2. Wa'reng nnake mo AXO :) (I don't know if that is correct grammar ...)

    I just found this list; maybe a bucket list for you? LITB, Itumeleng

    Botswana’s Top 50 ultimate experiences
    by Thalefang Charles

    You have experienced Botswana if you have:

    1. Seen the Okavango delta
    2. Rode a mokoro past the delta hippos and crocodiles
    3. Travelled on the A1 road
    4. Travelled the lonely Trans-Molopo highway to Bokspits (***I DID THIS! before it was a highway***)

  3. hi honey - I feel the loss - and feel for the PCV whose mother is ill. On the one hand, 20% attrition seems pretty high but from where I sit, considering that most PCV's are young, just out of college, may not have spent significant time in another culture, I would guess anything better than 50% would be pretty damn good. But that doesn't lessen the impact of someone leaving, I know. I do know that students I had ten, twelve, thirteen years ago that I run into still feel and now acknowledge the impact the school, and I had for them. Although at the time they didn't see it nor acknowledge it. The community members you are are meeting, working with, living with will remember you and feel the impact of your participating in their lives many years after you have left. Similarly, you will feel the impact of your experience in Botswana upon you and your view of the world, of humanity, of yourself, long after you leave, and in ways you can't even begin to guess at now. This is a transformative experience honey - and no change comes without upheaval, and some pain. It is the human condition.

    The work you are doing in particular will put you thru extreme ups and downs I imagine. The one post that refelected on feeling ineffective as a teacher, then recommitting to impacting just one soul at a time, sums it up. Nothing worse than feeling ineffective - more demoralizing or discouraging. You are in a country with a serious health issue, and you are just one soul and at times it may seem you are having no impact. But there are people there you will touch, will bring light into their lives if in no oter way than your own beautiful spirit. I love you honey and can't wait to see you at end of September. Dad