Sunday, October 4, 2009
The B-22s are COSing!! Translation is the 22nd group of Bulgarian Peace Corps volunteers are Closing Out their Service (COS) after being here for two years. Plovdiv was the meeting place for the B-22s during their service here. Birthdays, and some holidays, were celebrated here. Their going away party was here. It combined a bachlorette party on Thursday, a birthday party on Friday, and the going away party on Saturday. And… because we are in Plovdiv, Lynn and I were invited to dinners with them. It was interesting talking to them as they reminisced and prepared to say goodbye.
The Peace Corps works hard to prepare you for “reentry”. Three months before the end of service, they have a week-long conference that addresses getting new jobs, going to grad schools, and the emotional aspects of closing service and returning to the states. It is hard to explain the emotions the B-22s are going through. Most of them are heading back to another “unknown”. But it is a different unknown. America is home. But they have changed a lot!. They have survived and thrived in situations most Americans will never understand. They are different, but going back to “THE SAME”. They are used to working and solving problems. But with the economy, and being half way around the world, very few B22’s have a job waiting for them.
And… then there is the difference. They may look the same as when they left the states, but all of them have a different life perspective after this experience. When you have lived with so little, it is hard to reconcile “so much” back home.
The emotional toll can be high. One of the young ladies was telling us she was experiencing panic attacks and shortness of breath, but she was not sure why. She is engaged to another B22, is trying to coordinate a future life with her fiancée, wants to go to grad school next year, does not have a job, and is not sure where they will end up. Symptoms of anxiousness seem small compared to the challenges she is facing.
The emotions of retuning are not only happening to the young. We have been following the blog of an older couple living in Samoa. He has just returned to Minneapolis. Here is a quote from his blog discussing his “re-adjustment” after coming home.
The slogan on my Peace Corps ball point pen reads, "Life is calling. How far will you go?". Well, we went. Now what?
My feet feel frozen in concrete, unable to move in any direction. What difference does it make whether I attribute this state to retirement, Peace Corps, or my own reticence? Sure there are things to do, people to meet, activities to fill out the day. I may be riding my bicycle around the park bike paths, pushing the remote channel changer, or setting out to read every Pulitzer Prize winning novel, but these actions just fill the time between sleeps. Indeed there is pressure to step in where I was before, but of course time changes all things and what was is no more.
One of the traditions of leaving is to “pass-on” stuff you have accumulated during your stay. One of the B-22’s took pity on us, and delivered a car full last night. It was his last night at site, and he leaves Bulgaria tomorrow. We got everything he could not ship including: towels, clothes, shoes, spices, Rakia, broccoli, books, speakers, games, a hair dryer, a vacuum, a TV, and ….chocolate Chips!!!! One of the things he said was “ It is strange how in one night all of the things I thought were important to me now have no importance at all”. Our job will be to carry on the tradition when it is our turn to close out service.
The torch is being passed, and the guard is changing. It is all part of that thing called the Peace Corps Experience. At times, that experience seems to be hitting us every day. But when you are in the middle of it, sometimes it is hard to know what it is. Maybe you finally can start putting it all together when you have finished and are back home. I’m not sure, but I think that Lynn and I will find out - - probably in the Fall of 2011, when we return.
In the meantime, here is to the B-22’s. They are an amazing group of young and old people. They have experienced a lot, and been changed. Lynn and I wish them all the best, and lots of luck. However, with their attitude and hard work, the “good luck” will happen. “RAISE YOUR GLASSES TO THE B-22’S - - NASDTRAVE!!!