Picture this: 30 strangers crammed into a hotel conference room in Miami, eyes red from saying goodbye to everyone they know. Strangers from all over the US with different experiences, ages, paths, appearances and interests all united for a common purpose. Each armed with a plane ticket to Kingston, we survived hours of ice breakers and awkward introductions together.
We took our first steps into the hot, humid air of the island we would call home for the next two years together. As we learned to speak Patwa, we didn’t mind so much that we sounded like toddlers stumbling over their first awkward phrases because we had each other to practice with.
We are, as much as I dislike the term, “government issued friends.” We are Peace Corps Volunteers. As different as we are, the challenges we are faced with in service are often not so different.
Some of us decided it was time to return home sooner than anticipated. When this happened, the group took a collective sharp inhale and we held onto each other a little more tightly. All hands in. Alone as we may be, at least we have each other.
Now picture this: 15 months have passed since that day in the hotel conference room. We find ourselves in a different hotel conference room, this time in Ocho Rios. We are much more grateful for things like air conditioning and hot showers, a welcome change from our morning bucket baths.
We have laughed together. We have called each other, hysterical with despair and frustration. We have learned and changed and integrated. We have wondered “what the heck does ‘integrated’ even mean?” together. We have fought and we have confided in each other.
We have become each other’s chosen family. We started as strangers in a room, but became friends with an inexplicable bond over a shared experience.
“Home” has become less of a place, more of a feeling. Home for me is my site, my community, but that group of strangers-turned-friends are undoubtedly my home away from home. They are my foundation, my sense of solidarity. They are my stabilizers, motivators, inspiration, friends.
Group 85 – big up unu self. Mid-Service Conference is behind us, year two of our service is in front of us, full of new projects and challenges, adventures and experiences yet to be had. I can’t wait to see what we accomplish.
“When I look at you, I can feel it. I look at you, and I’m home.” – Dory, Finding Nemo