COS-ing Group 30ers.
Since mid-September, Group 30 Peace Corps volunteers have reached their COS (Completion of Service.) Group 30, nick-named the Dirty 30, which arrived a year before us Group 32, have been an legendary group amongst Peace Corps Namibia, full of super-volunteers, fabulous antics, and overwhelming personality. We the Group 32ers are under pressure to live up to the challenge in the eyes of the recent incoming Group 34 volunteers to appear just as cool and wonderful.
I recently said goodbye to two Group 30 volunteers who had shared my shopping town Gobabis. It was an odd feeling to see them go and welcome the incoming Group 34 volunteers. It seemed only yesterday that I was the newbie, asking the Group 30ers all kinds of nervous questions concerning my service. Now the Group 30s are packing and it’s my turn to answer the nervous questions. I guess time is flying-by much faster than it feels.
I had the fortune to talk to one of the Group 30 super-volunteers during my medical service. Brad was an education volunteer in Luderitz, a port-town in the deep south of Namibia. Besides being a teacher, Brad took on numerous projects ranging from local bicycle repair shop to renovating computer labs. When I met him in the Peace Corps lounge, he asked if I could proof read his close of service statement and I gladly agreed. I was astounded by the amount of work he did in two years, even teaching bicycle repair in Afrikaans. At the time I was having mid-service crisis and asked him for advice.
“I wish I could do half as many projects as you did, or else how else am I to let people back in the States (I was thinking graduate school when I said that) believe that I achieved anything while in Peace Corps?”
“You don’t have to” was what he said.
I really wish I could believe that I wouldn’t have to. At that moment he was on his way to an interview for an admin position with Doctors Without Borders. A few months later I heard he got the job. In retrospect, talking to an extremely successful volunteers might have increased, not lessened my pressure.
The other important advice the departing-PCV imparted dealt with self-love. No one really loves you more than yourself, and if you cannot love yourself, there is no reason why other people should. No one is responsible for your happiness, and if you cannot make yourself happy without outside support, you are far away from making anyone around you happy. What entails from this ideology is self-entertainment in the bush (hmm that think that came out a bit wrong.) When you are by yourself in the bush, there will be days when you cannot talk to another local people anymore and just want American (or Taiwanese, for that matter) companionship. But you’re not going to get it. So if there is any hope that as a volunteer you are going to making the locals that you work with happy, you need to find a way to make yourself happy through those down days. Read, blog, sleep, watch a movie, go for a run, recite poetry, whatever.
The last important lesson this PCV told me he learned through these four years is the ability to say No when you feel like it. As volunteers who believe they are out changing the world, it is difficult for us to say no to any requests form the people you work with. It is even more so for someone raised in a Confucian culture like me, where people are timid of even speaking up in public. Yet realistically, if you assent to every request thrown your way, not only will you be exhausted within the month, but you leave the impression on the locals that they can just dump whatever they don’t want to the do onto the volunteers. Hardly good for sustainable development. I am glad to say that I have slowly acquired the skill of No-saying, and by the end of my service I might even be able to speak my mind at will.