As the title says, this is my only blog post about our very short Peace Corps experience, which ended 25 months earlier than expected.
I want to emphasize that Ryan and I did not quit Peace Corps; Peace Corps quit on us. We were asked and forced to leave Guyana. We were told that we are “a great couple for Peace Corps, just not Peace Corps Guyana.”
The reasons were weak and flawed, but to reduce a rant-like post I will not dive deep into the reasons. We did not break any rules. We participated and found family within our cohort and our host family. Having been told this only a week or so before we were suppose to swear in as Peace Corps volunteers, something we’ve trained for for 9 weeks in Guyana, we left feeling devastated, heartbroken, and frustrated.
I learned many things during Peace Corps training, from how to observe a new culture to how to get 6th graders excited about science (p.s. the secret is cootie catchers). However there is one thing that will stick with me: the danger of a single story. This blog post is a single story; it’s my story. I’m sure Peace Corps has its story on why they chose to send us home too. So as you read my ups and downs from the past two months in this post, just know that it’s solely my experience, my interpretation.
We were told that we are “a great couple for Peace Corps, just not Peace Corps Guyana.”
My wonderful friend had told me that I do not need to prove or explain anything to anyone (shout out to Akeesha). But I felt inclined to write something to my followers, subscribers, friends, and family. We were trained, excited, and ready to serve 27 months. As I write this back in Colorado, it hurts bad, bad to be “thrown away” by Peace Corps. But, we’ll persevere though because Peace Corps hired the right people – a couple that can deal with hardship.
I think what made it hurt the most is how sudden and unexpected it was to get laid off. As we got our site assignment, went through model school, and had interviews with staff during those 9 weeks, we were never given a sign or warning that there was a possibility that things wouldn’t work out. To be honest, it was a fucking shock.
….we were never given a sign or warning that there was a possibility that things wouldn’t work out.
But hearing that news was just another way I was forced out of my comfort zone. I had found comfort in knowing that our future was secured for 25 more months – until it wasn’t. Even though I had only experienced the tip of the iceberg in terms of Peace Corps service, the amount of times I was forced out of my comfort zone during the past two months was unreal.
I’ve never been more nervous in my life than the day I met my host family (swear to god, I had nervous poops and was on the brink of crying every 38 seconds or so). Of course, I survived the occasion (and spoiler alert: I did not shit myself).
We lived with a young couple around our age who was crazy enough to take in two people, and they had two children ages 3 and 10. However they lived on the same lot as their extended family, so aunts and uncles and cousins were part of the daily crowd.
I remember the first night we moved into their home. I found my super power. For real, even when I’m a melted puddle of nervous mess on the inside, I turn into a confident human being capable of making mildly funny jokes and light conversation even when I barely understood my family’s heavy Creolese accents. It’s like in Fringe when Olivia needs to be exposed to trauma in order to release her super power. Oh I’m sorry, for some reason my weakness is making Fringe references in any opportunity I can get. I’m the worst (but seriously you should consider watching Fringe. GET. ON. MY. LEVEL.).
Spoiler alert: I did not shit myself.
I still remember how excited Saudia, my 10-year-old host sister and my first Guyanese friend ever, was the day we moved in. We went over to a family friend’s house to celebrate Ramadan ending. She grabbed my hand so tight and pulled me into the house like I was her new toy, or rather her cool new, American friend (yes, I just called myself cool. This is my blog I can do what I want). And that night, I had tasted duck curry for the first time ever. LIFE-CHANGING.
Eating hot curry on a hot night became a regular thing; so regular that my body started to adjust, turning those hot nights into sorta-warmish-cool-but-I’m-still-sweating-sorta nights. I know you may be really confused on why I’m eating curry in South America. Well, Guyana is a really unique country, with much of the population having an Indian or African heritage. (Still confused? Just Google it already.)
I learned quite quickly that Peace Corps service is a 24/7 job. I was a new member of a family and a community, so I couldn’t just hide away in my room watching reruns of Bob’s Burgers.
Some days I had to force myself out of our bedroom, where the bug net around our bed became more of a security blanket and secret hideaway as the weeks went by. However I never regretted forcing myself out of my room, even though it took some serious self talk sometimes to convince myself to pull the latch on the door and just fucking open it. But when I did, I was never disappointed. I would watch my host mom roll out roti for dinner, listen to the nightly Creolese conversations that I barely understood, and entertained my host siblings and cousins through riveting games of UNO and Jenga.
My favorite part of the day would be early, early mornings when the rain was falling. Since we didn’t have A/C, the rain would cool off our room and that is the time I could cover myself in my blanket and revel in the fact that I had an hour or two more of sleep before the heat of the morning forced me out of bed.
“Oh you’re wearing you’re black glasses today?”
“Are you going to bathe before dinner?”
“Will you paint your nails tonight?”
“Can we play UNO?”
“Why are you wearing those earrings?”
Saudia asked a lot of questions. She liked to put my glasses on because I had three different pairs. Being 100% a girly girl, my accessories, clothing and style always drew her attention. She had to wear a uniform to school, but to differentiate herself, she’d paint her nails with henna, wear her gold bangles, little gold hoop earrings, and a ribbon around her long braided ponytail.
She’d drive me nuts sometimes, but not as nuts as her three-year-old brother Saquib. Saquib is bossy and wild af but he was so cute so it sorta cancelled out. I will never be able to forget how Shameena, my host mom that was more like my sister because we are the same age, would yell their names when she needed something.
“Saquib no trouble!”
I miss my host mom a lot. I would call her queen because she ran that house. She made the best roti I’ve ever had, and I would kill to have some of her beef curry right about now. My mouth is literally watering right now dammit. There’s nothing worse than craving something you can’t have (just kidding! Getting kicked out of the Peace Corps even though you’re qualified and trained is far worse *queue punch in the gut* #alltheseflavors).
The first month of training was blissful. I found my “tribe” (I fucking hate saying tribe or squad or whatever-the-fuck group but here I am). Our cohort was full of excited college grads, the opposite of me. I mean I was excited but I wasn’t a college grad. Ryan and I were among the oldest in our cohort, which oddly made me feel I had my shit together more than I’ve ever felt in my life. For real, I had a husband, a savings account, and I had owned my own business before this. Fuuuuck, I’m old.
The first month’s conversations among the cohort involved how much sweat we have, how much beer we want to drink, the lovely awkwardness involved in living with a host family, and of course, my favorite, the stupid gossip that kept our morale afloat.
When you’re in a group of 37 other people, you’re bound to find people you don’t click with and then you’re bound to find those “friends forever” type weirdos. The first month’s conversations among the cohort involved how much sweat we have, how much beer we want to drink, the lovely awkwardness involved in living with a host family, and of course, my favorite, the stupid gossip that kept our morale afloat.
And yes, we obviously trained to be volunteers, where we learned about Guyana, how to implement community projects, and strategies to live and work as inclusive volunteers. We trained in a little library with no air conditioning, so days were always sweaty. I had never looked forward to cold showers more in my life.
About a month into training, I remember some of my cohort saying how much they missed being hugged or touched. I couldn’t relate not only because I was with Ryan but also because my host family was full of loving women. Kissing, hugging, or hand holding were regular greetings among my aunties, and I loved it. I felt a part of the family more than ever when extended family would come by and give me a loving embrace.
One of the reasons why I chose not to blog during Peace Corps training was because I felt that things weren’t “exciting” enough. Sure, I was eating new foods, meeting new people and learning new things, but I hated the idea of blogging my day-to-day like y’all needed a fucking rundown of my 9-5. I wanted to introduce a culture through my posts but I ended up not writing at all. I didn’t journal either, not even when tragedy struck our host family, ultimately changing how I saw the world.
I don’t like the idea that “everything happens for a reason.”
“Good luck!” Saudi said to me that morning as I left for model school. She knew I was so nervous to teach that day. She was waiting for the minibus to take her to a summer program at the mosque.
The day went like any other model school day. I was way too nervous, then I did my lesson, and realized that I’m actually a pretty good educator! Anxiety is the best!
Before I knew it, Ryan and I were walking home after brainstorming some lessons for the next day’s model school classes. Our host family’s house was just a short walk along a very busy road, where taxis, minibuses, and citizen cars would regularly speed past as we walked along the overgrown grass, feeling the rush of the cars as they left us in the dust.
As we approached our home, we noticed there was a crowd around the house, including police cars, family, and friends. The first person I recognized was my host uncle, who was standing by the road.
I asked, “what happened?”
He said, “Saudi. Saudi got hit by a car.”
Immediately the tears came. By this time, we had lived in that house for over a month. Attachment to this family is an understatement. I weaved through the people searching for Shameena, my host mom. Her pain was evident, as she was the one to run for Saudi after the accident occurred.
We knew things were bad when Saudi was taken by plane to a hospital in the capital city, instead of staying at the small hospital in the next town. She stayed at that hospital for weeks, and my host dad never left her side.
This is very painful for me to write about. I want to describe to you the pain we felt, the tears we cried, and the late nights we spent talking about the accident and the driver, but I can’t. I’ve been avoiding writing this part, because it is still so heavily painful. Some days Ryan and I felt like a burden to the family, while other days I convinced myself that this is exactly where I should be.
Family, friends, reporters, and curious neighbors flooded our house the night of the accident and the days following after. Some people were there to cry, some people were there to talk, and some people were there out of curiosity. All we knew at that time is that Saudia was breathing but in pain. She was immediately put in an induced coma. She had a head injury and a hip injury. As the days and weeks unfolded, we learned more and more as she slowly improved.
Some days Ryan and I felt like a burden to the family, while other days I convinced myself that this is exactly where I should be.
The day after the accident, I had to teach Grade 5, the same grade as Saudia. I walked into the classroom before classes started and just cried to my co-teachers. They cried too. However, I did my lesson, which was fun and energetic. Before I let the kids out for break, I ended my lesson on water pollution with two requests:
1. Pick up a piece of litter and throw it away
2. Always looks both ways before crossing the road
I had to take a deep swallow after saying that so I wouldn’t break immediately into tears.
I don’t think Peace Corps staff considered how traumatic and life-changing this tragedy was to both Ryan and I.
I wonder why we were there, in that family, during such a intense and heartbreaking time. No one else in our cohort had to experience such pain, and then report to work day after day like nothing happened.
Saudia came home after a couple weeks. The day she came home I was, once again, nervous. I didn’t know what to expect. At the time, she was just learning how to eat again without a feed tube, and she was not talking yet. The first time seeing her after the accident still haunts my memories.
I was so used to this smiley and outgoing girl, so when I saw her in a vegetative state, it hurt. I held her hand with no response; it definitely wasn’t the tight squeeze like the first time she held my hand. She did respond with nods that day, and as the days went by, she started speaking and remembering things. I was glad to know she remembered me.
I was glad to know she remembered me.
I spent sleepless nights Googling brain injuries, and those who recover from a minimally conscious state. Yep, I’m a WebMD doctor. Guilty! I noticed that many brain injury patients had to relearn not only simple tasks but also how to express emotions again too. After spending time with Saudi after the accident, I kept on wondering what was different with her. Yes she has stitches on her head and her speech was slower, but it wasn’t that. It was her smile. Her smile was missing. I hope she finds it again.
I don’t like the idea that “everything happens for a reason.” Before Peace Corps service, I would have made that dumb ass statement too. But now, that statement is something you tell others when you pity them. I heard it a lot when I told others about our situation with Peace Corps. However I couldn’t believe that “everything happens for a reason,” especially after Saudia’s accident.
“But I feel like I wasn’t able to do what I came here for.”
I said that to one of my Guyanese friends the night before I left. She said “well, I’ll never forget you.” At the time I didn’t think it was much, but now that remark is all I have to validate my time in Guyana. The day before we left, we had so many visitors, friends from our cohort and Guyanese friends. People just kept showing up at our house. My family had never seen so many Americans bombarding their home before. I will never EVER forget how loved we felt that day.
I had found comfort in knowing that our future was secured for 25 more months – until it wasn’t.
Peace Corps emphasizes that we won’t be able to see change and that it won’t happen quickly. Considering that they changed Ryan and I’s lives within the matter of a weekend, and that my family’s life was changed the day that car hit Saudia, I do believe change can happen overnight. I just hope to find good change that happens just as quickly as the bad kind.
Ryan and I were actually the first people among our cohort to apply to the Peace Corps Guyana volunteer opening back in late May of 2017. For an entire year, we went through all the hoops Peace Corps required of us in order to get accepted and cleared for service. And even after the application process and 9 weeks of training, we were “let go” yet encouraged to apply again. Today, we are unsure if we want to apply again, since the application process is so long and tedious.
…we’ll persevere though because Peace Corps hired the right people – a couple that can deal with hardship.
In perfect quarter-life-crisis style, we went on a Caribbean cruise the second we landed in the U.S. I currently have my old job back as a writer for TripstoDiscover and we have many travel opportunities coming up. It’s not what we expected for this year, but life changes, life goes in any direction.