These past two weeks, I had the opportunity to be the “Welcome Host” for the new group of volunteers. I also successfully completed the Ruaha Half-Marathon in my banking town of Iringa. A huge group of volunteers came in to either run it or to cheer us on, and celebrate at the BBQ we planned afterwards. My goal was to come in under 1:45, and to my surprise I came in at 1:31. I’m not sure how accurate the distance was, but I was still super pumped that I did so well. Another volunteer came in at a blazing fast 1:20 and we had two Peace Corps girls take home overall 2nd and 3rd place female awards. To all of our surprise, this included some decent sized cash prizes/medals/certificates. In the evening after the race we all got together at another ex-volunteers house that lives in Iringa to celebrate two birthdays and grill out. I’ve got pictures posted online but in short it was a fantastic day. Not only did everyone do a great job at the race but we got to eat cheeseburgers, guacamole, chips, chicken jambalaya, and drink some cold beers together. The weekend after the race I headed up to Dar to help welcome in the new volunteers. Me and another one of my fellow volunteers, Fo, were the lucky ones chosen. It is one of the more coveted assignments as a Peace Corps volunteer since you get to be the first volunteer to meet the incoming training class. It’s also kind of cool because I remember the two volunteers who were the welcome hosts for our training class. Even though we have many volunteers that come in to give sessions during the 3 months of training, the “Welcome Hosts” were some of the few volunteers that I remembered distinctly, for a variety of reasons. For one, they are the first Peace Corps volunteer faces you see in country. For another, I remember them speaking Kiswahili with the Peace Corps staff and being absolutely floored. I thought to myself, “shit, I wonder if I’ll ever be able to do that”. They are also completely bombarded with questions. As you can imagine, incoming volunteers have no shortage of questions. I remember feeling slightly sorry for our welcome hosts because we asked them questions non-stop for the entire week they were there. After last week though, I got to experience this from the other end.
Fo and I arrived in Dar 2 days before the new volunteers actually got there to prepare a few sessions for the volunteers as well as get more information on what we’d be helping with. During the day we hung at the Peace Corps office planning our sessions, but in the evening, we were able to enjoy the delicious variety of food selections in Dar. It just so happened that at the same time Fo and I were in town, a handful of other volunteers were in town also on their way to pick up family members as well as take care of other business. Three volunteers were actually on their way to Senegal to get training for a third year extension project doing malaria research. Since there were so many volunteers in town, it wasn’t difficult finding people to go out and eat delicious food with. We had such things as chicken shwarma, ice cream sundaes, burritos, as well as legit chicken sandwiches with fountain drinks and ICE CUBES. Yea, this was the fast food chicken place across from the movie theatre where I got to go and see MIB3 in 3D along with another volunteer and her family who happened to be in town. After relaxing for the two days prior to the volunteer’s arrival, we moved over to the Peace Corps training center in Dar to await the new volunteers arrival. I remember that two years ago, my groups’ flight didn’t get in until around mid-night and when we got in we were completely exhausted. This group however got lucky and was at the training center by around 7:30pm. They got from the airport to the training center so quick that Fo, I, and another one of the Peace Corps staff members had to cut our dinner of chipsi mayai and soda short to rush back to the center to meet the volunteers. As we got back to the center, the buses with the volunteers were just pulling in. It was the first of many flashbacks during this past week. I tried to remember what the heck I was thinking as I walked off the bus into the same training center. After the volunteers got settled, there was only a short session to get them started on their malaria meds then Fo and I did a short session on how things worked at the training center. As I was doing the session, I tried to remember how I was feeling and what I was thinking as I spent my first night in Africa.
The remainder of the week of training was awesome. The new group of volunteers is amazing, really excited, and really full of energy. Even though I’m nearing the end of my service, it even got me re-energized to go back to my site. The week consisted of Fo and I doing a few sessions on our experience with our home stay families as well as a session on “Introduction to Tanzanian Culture” which was a fairly brief overview of the major differences new volunteers will encounter. It was an absolute blast. I also can’t believe, as I’ve mentioned before how comfortable I was getting in front of this group of more than 47 people and giving an hour long presentation. I remember being petrified to even do small things in front of my own training group of only 37 people. In addition to doing a few sessions in Dar, I was asked to help with another session on Safety and Security in Morogoro. Since my students were taking exams and the only thing I was really missing was invigilating (proctoring) exams, I said why not. It also gave me a chance to go back, probably for the last time to CCT in Morogoro where we did all of our training. In addition to helping do the session, I got to see my LCF (small group teacher) for the first time in over a year. When I got off the bus, I yelled her name and she screamed she was so excited. We ran to hug each other and catch up on life. I also had a huge smile on my face because we still keep in touch via Facebook but haven’t actually seen each other since last year. We had a great time catching up and reminiscing about our CBT group. During the couple of days in Morogoro I also had the chance to see my host Mama. This was also fantastic, as this time around, I was actually able to have a full, in-depth conversation with her. I also got to see Arisha, the little guy (her son) who couldn’t even walk the last time I saw him, who now is running around and talking up a storm. When I showed up to my mamas house, Arisha looked at me in a quizzical way. My mama kept asking him if he remembered me from the picture of me with the family inside the house. I think the little guy knew who I was from the picture but was kind of shocked to see me standing there in person. My mama here really knows me too well because as soon as we exchanged greetings, she got me an ice cold beer from her small shop out front and we sat and chatted about how my school was going, her new project of keeping pigs, and about how my other little sister went off to private school in Uganda. In addition to hanging out with my mama, I got to meet up with my mamas neighbor across the street, whom I knew really well from my time in Morogoro as well. I can’t describe how amazing it was to come back, be conversational in Kiswahili, and see how far I’ve really come in the last two years. It was quite a surreal experience, and gave me a feeling of accomplishment to realize I was able to create and maintain these relationships in a second language.
Not only was re-living the beginning of my training, catching up with my LCF and host mama amazing, but I also loved the chance to really get to know the other training staff at Peace Corps. Many of the staff who trains us as volunteers do just that; train us then send us off into the real world. It was awesome being able to get to know them better and to work alongside them. When I was actually doing my training two years ago, I don’t really think I realized how hard they worked and how much they really believe in what they are doing. For two of the nights in Morogoro I had the chance to eat with and get to know better the two guys who comprise the medical unit at Peace Corps as well as the safety and security officer. They didn’t have to, but they invited me out to eat with them both nights at a pretty nice place in town called “The Oasis”. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this place in previous posts way back but in short, the food is great, the beer is cold, and the TV is flat. The 4 or 5 of us ate food fit for kings and got to watch a couple of the EuroCup matches on the big screen. Again, I got to know these guys as more than just someone I call when I have diarrhea, I got to know them as people and as friends.
So yea, as I scan through this post I realize that it’s all over the place. What I am trying to communicate is basically the title of the post, that things have really come full circle for me and that the reality that I’ll soon be an RPCV is setting in. I’m starting to reflect on my experience more and realize how it has affected me and what effect I’ve maybe had on other people. When I got back from my village, some of the people were honestly scared I had left without saying goodbye. I had to reassure them that I was actually there and that I had just went to welcome the new group of volunteers. When I got into this explanation, they naturally start to tell me that I don’t have much time here. I try to tell them that I still have about 4 months, then they counter and say that it’s not really that much time. It’s also crazy to see some of my other good friends here getting ready to leave next month. There was a volunteer here in Iringa, a good friend, who didn’t ever really have a plan to extend and was pretty well ready to leave, but when I saw her this weekend, she was on the verge of tears. She admitted to me that saying goodbye to her village was actually a lot more difficult of a task than she expected. The shock that she was leaving was finally hitting her. While I don’t think I’m quite at that point, I’m starting to be much more aware of my surroundings here and enjoy every minute of it. As I mentioned before, the fact that my replacement in the new training class has arrived, really made it real that these new trainees were just starting out on their adventure as mine was coming to a close. Another volunteer who texted me during the training after inquiring about the new training group said “Ah, Mzimbazi Center, the gate to a crazy, cool, hard-as-it-gets amazing adventure!” I smiled to myself as I received that message, thinking to myself how true it really was. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve counted down the number of days until my departure but I found myself telling the new volunteers that I still had plenty of time here and that I’ve still got a long way to go, but I think that was just me realizing that I will miss this experience more than I anticipated. At some points I actually found myself wishing that I could start it all over again and experience it all again, the ups, the downs, the good times, the bad times, and everything else in between. The entire week I was with the new class I kept having flashbacks and memories of my time there. I really can’t wait to go back and read my first few blog entries about how I was feeling when I got here, and how much far I’ve come since then in so many ways.