My life as a Peace Corps Volunteer is coming to an end and although I have three months left, I know it will be a whirlwind of activity which is certain to fly by. This week we will attend our "Close of Service," or COS, conference; a conference which will walk us through our service completion.
I don't know how to say goodbye to a place I both love and loathe at the same time. I hadn't anticipated that. I didn't know I would feel such wildly opposing emotions upon preparing for my service, although I could ask, how does one really prepare for a service such as this? Here, I have grown to truly love the women in my community, the hospitality, and the strong ties to family. I adore the children in my neighborhood who, upon seeing my windows open, cry out to me to "come and play!" How do I say goodbye to warm hugs from little arms received every time I walk to and from my building (even if it's within minutes of the last arrival/departure)? Or goodbye to makeshift water gun fights on hot summer days? And yet, at the same time, know that I'll be able to say goodbye to the things I find so incredibly loathsome; the harassment from men on the street, being followed and then sexually assaulted, patriarchal gender roles and the extremely few options available to women. I find a great sense of relief to be leaving it behind, but torn knowing that I will be leaving behind young women I adore, whose lives will continually encounter these challenges, most likely for its remainder.
How do I leave behind the people I've come to know as family? My Azeri sisters; the women who I've grown to love, cherish and trust. How do I live with the knowledge of knowing how different our lives will be moving forward? How do I say goodbye to my dear Azeri friend and brother, who has helped me with almost every problem I've had in country, and helped to look out for me while I've been so far away from home? How do I say goodbye to my Peace Corps family? Who, too, will be moving on to their next great adventure; people who have, surely, given me the love and support needed (and an understanding no one else in my life could have), which has allowed me to remain in service, inspired me daily, and allowed me to retain some semblance of sanity.
There is, truly, no way to prepare for the life of a Peace Corps Volunteer. Every single Volunteer's experience is different. It is an experience which is unique to their country, community, personality, and personal abilities. Our experiences vary so wildly, although are seemingly similar. How do you begin to talk about this experience with others? How do you explain its intricacies? That you can both love and hate something so passionately? That if asked if you'd do it over again, knowing what you know now, not knowing quite how to respond? How do you explain that the weight of these experiences are never easily recorded on one side of the scale or the other? Although there are things I greatly loathe about being here, some experiences which I loathe, are also experiences which I am grateful for, because they've taught me about myself and much about the world we live in.
This journey is not one which has been particularly easy. It's certainly nothing close to what I imagined it would be and perhaps that's one of my greatest lessons. Things are rarely close to what you imagine them to be, good and bad. Although I will be saying goodbye to Azerbaijan the country, I could never say goodbye to the things I've learned here. Although my mind is still very much invested in this experience, and I'm certain I can't yet see much of my service clearly, what I picture I've gained from it, what I hope I've gained from it, is a great deal of personal and professional growth. It is my greatest hope that the people I've worked with here, both students and community members, will think the same of themselves once I have left it.