It has been a long time since I wrote last. They say that in your Peace Corps service, there are pretty consistent seasons of highs and lows for the majority of volunteers. Although, I don’t like to buy into the majority most times when it comes to emotions, there is some truth to the chart that they show us during Pre Service Training of the swings of highs and lows. This, of course can be attributed to many aspects of a person’s post, village, personality, current work life and so on and so forth. After writing about my villages work with hypertension, I continued with that work and a few other things, but I had a hot minute where I had a significant lack of inspiration. Of course I did, though. We always have ups and downs in life. I think that sometimes it hits you a little harder when you are in a place so far away from familiarity…although The Gambia has become extremely familiar, now.
Have no fear, though. I’m back after a rejuvenating break.
Many people have asked me what it was like to take a trip home in the middle of my service, here.
“It must have been so hard to come back!”
“You looked so happy in all of your pictures!”
“I don’t think I could have gone home…”
“Do you recommend going home?”
Well, I am just Stephanie…and sometimes Isatou…so I can really only speak for myself. I can fairly tell you how it went from my eyes. So here it is.
September came quickly and before I knew it, I was on a plane to my first vacation since I moved to The Gambia. I never had thought that the United States would be where I was going to be “vacationing”. When I returned to The Gambia, many people asked me how my vacation was, and I realized that the word vacation wasn’t the right one. My trip home was an ultra marathon. Beginning in Chicago, I spent time there, in Wisconsin and in Michigan; Flying from The Gambia to the USA and then to Cabo, Mexico. The third day that I was home, I convinced myself that it would be fun to run a half marathon with my sister…and it actually was.
In The Gambia, often times I feel pretty low physically. The diet is carb heavy and vitamin poor. Its always hot, and with the heat comes a sluggishly engulfing lack of motivation. Almost every day I run, do yoga and/or do a HIIT workout. The shift from the USA’s standard of results to actual health has been a good, but incredibly difficult one in my personal life. Anyway, that is a post for another day. The fact that I was able to run my booty through the woods at a more than pretty OK pace was an encouraging endeavor. There is a sense of comfort in the running community that I have missed. I love to be a part of a group of individuals just happy to see each other moving and accomplishing goals.
Every morning, I found myself waking up early just so that I could see my little sister off to school and enjoy a brisk morning power walk with my mom and our corgi, Java. I was able to go to my old middle/highschool and present to the kiddos about my experience here. This was a major highlight of my time home. Not only did I get to see the teachers that had so much to do with shaping me into who I am today, but the only reason that I am even serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is because of a girl who once came to my elementary school and told me about her experience as a volunteer. I love full circle stories and am happy to have one of my own.
There were trips to cross country meets, shopping trips for some basics to keep me happy this next year (AKA loads of new underwear, yayyyyy!), hikes, bikes, Unbreakable Kimmy Shmitt dates with my mom, meals cooked, coffee drank and of course, the whole reason I went home in the first place, weddings! For a week, my mom and I made 200 plus pumpkin cake pops from scratch for my best friend’s wedding. There were dresses to be tailored, music playlists to be made, decorations to be put up and outrageous amounts of fun to be had.
I had never stood in a wedding before this. To see someone that I consider to be a sister to me stand up and commit herself fully to a man that, only about a year ago, was a stranger to me and now is like family, was something I will never forget. In the middle of the forest right on Lake Superior, the day was beautiful and I was able to stand with five other strong, wonderful friends. Traveling from Turkey, Nepal, Colorado, and The Gambia we gathered together and, in my opinion, made up the most amazing bridal party. If you need six women to get stuff done at a wedding with unrelenting smiles and dedication, feel free to call us up.
To top it all off, I was asked to perform the first dance song with one of the very musically talented groomsmen, the bride’s dad on bass, and one of our adopted fathers and local realtor, Mr. Mark Silver, on drums. We performed, “I was made for loving you” by Torri Kelly. If you haven’t heard it, I suggest you take a listen.
Another beautiful thing about this wedding was the fact that I saw so many of my friends and family. Friends from all over traveled in, my mentors and adopted parents were all there, people that I haven’t been able to see in over a year. I am so thankful for that. I’m incredibly thankful for the relationships that have cultivated and grown over the past 23 years of my life. There is something truly amazing about watching two people who so obviously have God at the center of their life join together with an ever extending church family around them, supporting them, loving them. I can’t wait to someday have that for myself, but for now, I am pretty darn happy being happy for the people that I love.
Oh, and a perk to living in The Gambia. Because I have my own tailor here, I was able to design some pretty neat gifts for the bridal party if I do say so myself!
Fast-forward to a little under a week later. Back on the plane I go. This time, my family is with me and we are on our way to Mexico for yet another wedding. My oldest brother got married to the best sister in law a girl could ask for on the beautiful beach. Staying at an all-inclusive resort is something that I had never done, but boy, was that something else. There was so much fruit! I ate allll the fruit!
Not to mention the tacos, empanadas, mojitos and seafood. I’ve never spent so much time relaxing in a pool in my life. One evening, we watched a really neat cultural dance show, which was definitely one of the highlights for me. The wedding itself was picturesque. Unlike the cozy, mystical, woodland wedding I had attended just a week before, this one was a crisp, sunny paradise. With ocean waves behind the ceremony and champagne glasses in hand, one of my brother’s best friends officiated the marriage…and then we ate and danced all night.
Then, like the blink of an eye, 22 days had passed and I was back on a plane to The Gambia. I am blindsided thinking back to the blur of smiles and laughter that was home. The whole leaving thing was odd. I actually returned to The Gambia at the same time I left last year. Unplanned. I’ve been asked again and again, “was it hard?”. Absolutely. As I sit here now, on a cement bantaba, I don’t miss the couches or the TVs or the coffee shops (ok maybe a little). Leaving my family all over again was horrible. I don’t want to and will not sugar coat that fact. I cried and then cried again. You know what was really cool though? When I got to my gate, eyes red and stinging, exhausted from already traveling so much, my Gambian host brother and sister called me. As I left one family, I was reminded that I was returning to another. Maybe they aren’t like my family back in the states, maybe they don’t get me as well, maybe we don’t speak the same language, but they sure as heck care about me. I’m blessed to have that all the way over in West Africa.
Then I got to Brussels. Guess who else was there? 38 new, fresh, exhausted Peace Corps Trainees on their way to no other than The Gambia. You know what is even better? This past year, I received then position of one of the new Peace Corps Health Sector Trainers. These newbies were my newbies. And so began a new chapter of my Peace Corps service.
So, what have I been doing the past month since I have been back in country? Well, remember when I first got here and had to go through Pre Service Training? Here I am again in our training facility, but this time, I am on the other side. For most of October, all of November and a portion of December, I am here training in the new group along with a few side projects. Did I ever think that I would be in this position training in new people? Absolutely not. How have I even been here over a year?! They say that time flies when you are having fun, but that is an understatement. Times soars.
Oh, that’s another thing that has happened. My cohort has been in The Gambia officially over one year. Of course, we had a party. We are opportunists when it comes to parties.
Crazy, huh? I haven’t written too much yet about an organization that I am working with, but I am officially our posts coordinator, or “champion” as the title is labeled, for an amazing Philadelphia based organization called Roots Tribe Yoga! I’ll be putting up a post about that later when I have implemented it in my own village in the upcoming months! I have also taken up a position as a Monitoring and Evaluation working group member for our post. Probably a little less exciting to tell you about…but I am overly excited about the work we will be doing to better this particular post.
I know that this blog post is a little random and slightly more about my personal life, but there is so much coming up, I am getting really excited to keep all of you updated! The past months have just been a roller coaster. In such a short time, there can be so many ups and downs, heartbreaks and disappointments, joys and soul lifters. Your situation can very much affect your attitude, but your attitude can also, very much, affect your situation.
There is a saying that I keep with me often and it goes like this, “Each thought you have informs your energy, and your energy manifests into your experiences. Your thoughts and energy create your reality.”
And with that, I’ll leave you with some vacation pictures that probably mean more to me than you…but what the heck.