In my final blog post about the Peace Corps I will explain as best I can my decision to leave early. Thank you everyone who supported me as I tilted windmills in Botswana.
Leaving the Peace Corps early was the hardest decision I’ve ever made. It was a choice between two very personal values in conflict with one another. Sounds simple now. At the time I struggled to understand it. I still struggle to explain it.
It was a choice between keeping my word and acting with integrity. Would my integrity suffer if I didn’t keep my word? (There’s a circular argument for you.) There were many layers of dissatisfaction and several issues I tried to overcome. I might have been able to work through the issues if I had seen the value in my projects. With little guidance and less support on a local level, I fell into projects that while useful to some were not supporting the fight against HIV/AIDS in Botswana, our mission.
Immediately after an incident that would become the final straw, I was traveling to another village to work with a fellow Volunteer and his organization. It was a three hour bus ride. I joked to a friend via text message that perhaps I should have packed more food and water since it felt like the three hour boat ride that landed on what would become Gilligan’s Island. I would of course be Mary Ann. Shortly after that text was sent, the bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. No one knew when a replacement bus might appear. The outside temperature was over 100⁰. The only thing I wanted to do less than ride a bus in Botswana was to hitch hike. But there I was on the side of the road with my umbrella for shade waving down cars with my fellow passengers. I laughed at the irony of it all. It was the first joke I had told and the first time I was able to laugh at myself since I had arrived in country.
I had lost my sense of humor. Without that I had no coping mechanism for the inane things that happened on a regular basis. No wonder I was struggling. That’s when I knew something dramatic had to change. I thought about it and actually figured out a way to stay in Botswana and work with an organization that would benefit many people, use my skills and would provide the environment I was looking for.
In the end, it wasn’t enough to overcome my personal belief that, for the most part, we were not accomplishing the goals we were sent to work on in Botswana. I also have serious concerns about how volunteers are trained, placed and sent out to find their own projects. Putting 150 people on the ground to find relevant projects is the “spray and pray” approach to getting work done. A few will do great things and hit the target. Many will be within range of the target, doing good things and changing lives. Many others will miss it completely. In Botswana that could literally mean wandering around in the dessert looking for an oasis. Is it enough to focus on Peace Corps cultural exchange objectives? Maybe it was in the last century. Not for me, not at this point in my life.
This was the source of my conflict. Do I keep my word, stay and continue to do work I don’t believe is hitting the target? Do I spend another 20 months miserable every day? Or do I trust my inner voice that was screaming at me, “Is today the day I go home? There are people at home who need help, want help and will accept help.”
I learned a long ago to trust my gut when it comes to the big decisions in life. I haven’t totally figured out the future. I must live with myself and the decisions I have made. And so I broke my word; it was not any easy decision. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. It is the one that I can live with.
And so I close that chapter of my life and turn the page on a new one. I doubt there will be a blog about it. Although I lead an interesting life, it’s not that interesting. I am settling down in Lexington, KY to be near some of my family and start fresh. It’s beautiful here. I will have a guest room and hope to see you soon. Until then…See you in the funny papers…