Five weeks ago, I was so culture shocked that I wanted to go home. I didn’t care about my commitment; in fact, I hadn’t really made it yet. I was apprehensive about walking away from the Peace Corps, but I rationed that my happiness was more important, and at that moment, I was far from satisfied. I wanted my personal freedoms back, and I yearned for familiarity.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I would regret it if I left. After all, my decision to join was not one I made lightly, and I’d been alerted to the ups and downs that trainees and volunteers face throughout their service. That little voice inside my head, the one that dictates to my steadfast personality, told me to tough it out.
And today, I am so glad I did!
On Friday, during our Swearing In Ceremony, I sat with the members of my group while we waited to take our oaths. As we listened to our program directors speak, delivering words of wisdom and encouragement, I thought back to that week of doubt. It was then when I finally felt the pride and satisfaction I’d been looking for. And I knew, with every fiber of my being, this was only the beginning.
What would have happened if I’d left? I wouldn’t have realized how much of the language and culture I’d picked up. I kicked ass during the Language Olympics and amazed myself at the amount of material I’d retained. And if that wasn’t enough, I was due to give a speech within the hour.
I don’t even want to consider what I’d be doing if I were at home.
I smiled to myself, wishing that those who’d doubted me throughout my life could see me now. From a troublesome child with low self-esteem, to a Peace Corps Volunteer, elected to give a speech at the Ceremony, I was on top of the world. In the presence of PCJ staff, our supervisors, members of Jamaican congress, workers from the U.S. Embassy, and the media, I finally understood the gravity of the choice I’d made. I’d joined the Peace Corps, and I would never be the same again.
The ceremony lasted about two hours, and at its conclusion, twenty-eight trainees became twenty-eight volunteers. It felt a little like graduation. We’d spent ten weeks in training, and then we walked down a line of dignitaries, shaking their hands, and finally collecting a certificate of completion and taking a photo.
But I’ve glossed over some of the coolest parts, so let me fill you in. Our day started at 8:30 at the Ambassador’s residence. We were invited into her home, given a tour of her vast art collection, and then ushered into her veranda for a delicious, and elegant, breakfast. Unfortunately, she was called away and was not present, so we were greeted by the Chargé D’ Affaires, who fills in for her during her absence. We dined on bammi, rich Blue Mountain Coffee, egg and callaloo, pineapple tarts, cranberry muffins and tomato and mozzarella pastries.
Afterward, we took a couple of professional photographs, and then continued on to her backyard for our ceremony. After we were sworn in, we mingled in the backyard and was served finger sandwiches and cake. In the background, a selection of music was played softly. Here is my favorite part, because of all music, in the entire world, that they could have selected, they played a loop of Elton John songs. Thus proving the Elton John defines my life. =)
Now if only I can get him to play at my wedding….
By midafternoon, it was time for the volunteers to depart to our sites with our supervisors. My ride back to Cedar Valley was about two hours. As I drove up the mountain, I passed the school where I work. The students had only been dismissed a half hour earlier, so they were still hanging around the school, along with other members of staff. As I drove past, they saw me, called out my name, and jumped up and down with excitement.
I was home.