After packing up my entire house, gorging myself on last minute injera, completing piles of paperwork, buying unnecessary things to use up all my birr, submitting myself to a thousand medical tests, and getting hugs, hugs, and more hugs from all the wonderful people I’ve worked with, it’s really time to go. I can’t say that this past year has been a breeze, but I’m walking away with beautiful new friendships and memories, an incredible amount of personal growth, and so much hope and excitement for the future. It’s been an adventure, Ethiopia, and I’ll never forget you.❤
I’m not sure how to best say this, so, no frills, here it is: I have decided to end my service with the Peace Corps.
Some may be shocked, while others may have seen this coming long before even I did. I promise you that I never saw myself quitting before my 27 months of service were up. If you had asked me if I’d even consider ending my service early before I came, I would have scoffed at the idea. I had never seen myself as a failure and, to me, quitting was failing. But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned for certain these past 12 months, it’s that you don’t get to plan your life or your experiences and, sometimes, quitting is the hardest and the right choice.
You can imagine your future down to the minute details. You can obsessively prepare for it. You can do your damnedest to make it work out the way you want it to. But, in the end, that’s not how life works. Life happens to you. And, after it happens, your agency exists in taking that experience and doing with it the best you can.
My past year in Ethiopia—with all its beauty and frustration and pain—happened to me. For the past year, the best thing for me was to stay and grow and learn and work through it all. I found value in the struggle and I continued to grow in ways that I didn’t imagine possible for a 23 year-old.
But now, the best thing for me is to say goodbye. I cannot tell you precisely when that shift happened—when it stopped empowering me to change for the better. I’m sure it was gradual until impact. But I can tell you that, for certain, it is time for me to say a difficult farewell to my students, colleagues, and friends and come home, heal, and strike out on a new path.
My reason for leaving consists of a kind of push and a pull—a push for leaving Ethiopia and a pull to come home. The pull is the simple part. The strongest pull comes from my family and friends. The inability to stay connected and to be with the people whom I define myself by has been an incredible challenge—one that makes my day-to-day difficulties all the more difficult. Anyone who has been far away from their family and friends knows the unbelievable strain that comes from not being a part of the daily lives of the ones you love, and I feel that pull to come back home every single day.
Another pull homeward is my career path. During my time here in Ethiopia, the happiest, most connected, and most fulfilled I’ve felt is when I’m working with my students. I’ve found that my heart is in education. And, while my English clubs and work with my students has been the most rewarding of my time here, my Peace Corps program in combination with the culture at government schools severely limits the time and the extent to which I can work with my students. I spend the majority of my time trying to get teachers to work with me and students to come consistently. Last semester, I was able to hold English Club at my government primary school only three times, including one impromptu session where I just opened my door and random kids came from their teacher-less classrooms to practice the alphabet. Not once did another teacher come to work with me or the students.
Working here is so much more than your time in the classroom. I would argue that, while it may seem like teaching is our main job, in actuality, we’re spending 85% of our time living and integrating into our communities. And while integrating into my community has been a great if incredibly challenging experience, I have so much more to give to my work and I can’t do that here. I’m constantly frustrated in my efforts to create and implement more programs, and I’ve found myself fantasizing about a 50+ hour work-week, where I see my students every single day and I’m exhausted and content by the weekend. My teaching style, work ethic, and need for mutually beneficial teamwork is much better suited for an American work environment.
This brings us to the more complicated of my reasons for leaving: the push.
I wish I could break “the push” down into a ton of little lists: A list of verbal, physical, and sexual harassment and assault, an inventory of people who love and respect me versus people who see and treat me as non-human or as a source for things, a collection of stories about day-to-day frustrations, programming failures, or illnesses. But, as I sit here and try to chart my pushes, I feel that they’re not quite enough—they’re not the whole story. It’s not so much these constant difficulties alone—it’s what I could do with them last year and what I don’t believe I can do with them for another year.
I believe that even the most traumatic experiences aren’t purely evil, aren’t purely damaging. Using my agency and the support of my friends, family, and community, I can take them and turn them into something positive. Maybe that awful experience could make me a better, stronger, and more understanding person. Maybe it could inspire me to work with others who have experienced similar trauma. Or maybe it’ll just keep me from putting myself in the same situation ever again. But the bottom line is, I get to decide what the outcome is for me, and I can make the most awful experience a little bit positive.
That being said, there comes a point when the trauma and the constant strain are too much. There comes a point when you get too tired to make another assault a learning and empowering experience. There comes a point when the more challenging path is not the right path: when choosing your health and well-being is more important than reaching the golden number of 27 months. This is, in a nutshell, my push: self-care.
All of this being said, I have to admit that I will never be 100% sure that coming home is the fail-safe, perfectly right-for-me decision. Life and experiences and people are too complicated and inconsistent for certainty. I know that I’m leaving things behind. I know that a part of my heart will break when I tell my students I won’t be at school next fall. I know it’s going to hurt when my friendships transform from faces to Facebook messages. But, I also know the relief I will feel living again in my own culture, with all its complications, nuance, and diversity. I know the true feeling of contentment at the end of a long and hard day of doing precisely the work I love. And I know how much joy I will feel being able to touch, hug, and properly annoy my family and friends with affection once again.
It’s not simple or straightforward. And it sure as hell isn’t easy. But, for me, quitting is the right choice. And it is from my struggle in Ethiopia that I cultivated the strength to make this choice.
As I prepare to leave, I can’t help but be thankful for everything Ethiopia has given me. Through all of the struggles, I know I’ve become a more loving, more understanding person. Through all of the adventure, I know I’ve become a more open, more daring woman. Through all of the beauty, I’ve found more appreciation for life and all that I’m blessed with. This experience has, in all honesty, changed me for the better. I can only hope that I’ve made some little bit of my own impact on my community, and that someone learned something from the English teacher with the long hair and funny accent.
I will be forever grateful to the incredible people that made this challenging year possible, and I hope that you know how important, well-loved, and treasured you are.
All my love and gratitude,
Remember when I said that I had been working with five of my top students on the Yale Young African Scholars application? Well…
GERSUM GOT IT!!!
That’s right. One of my wonderful students is going to Debre Zeit this summer for a two-week leadership summit that focuses on English, academics, enacting change, and, if you’re interested, giving you the tools you need to apply to universities in the States!
HOW INCREDIBLE IS THAT??!?!?
My amazing Gersum was part of the only 8% of applicants who were chosen and this two-week summit could forever alter the course of his life.
I’m so proud I’m speechless. I’m so proud I could explode. I’m so proud all I want to keep doing is jumping up and down and saying, YOU ROCK, GERSUM!
I know I’m a writer and all, but I can’t really find the words to express how it felt to hug my grandparents last night, or how it felt to eat a quesadilla with real sour cream, or how it felt to wake up in a fluffy bed in Chicago this morning. The anticipation I’m feeling about seeing all of my family/friends/loves and eating everything and dancing inappropriately had me up and energized too early on a Tuesday morning (well, that and the jet lag.) To my loves in Ethiopia: I’ll be back before you know it. And to my loves in the US: Let’s make this month something to smile, laugh, and get embarrassed about for years to come.❤
Check it out! Jackie, the brilliant volunteer living in Durame, invited Jaynice and me to come help facilitate the world map painting in her library. It was messy and wonderful and I am so thankful to have been able to be a part of it. Here’s the link to Jackie’s blog, too! Enjoy! http://suitstoethiopia.wordpress.com/2014/05/12/map-madness/
Take a look at all this! Jaynice and I, being the awesome Americans that we are, invited her close friends and coworkers over for dinner. We made tibs, eggs, and dinich wot, and everyone drank heavily diluted Kool-Aid. There were games and, of course, Wolaiytic dancing. Cheers to cultural exchanges!