Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Moving forward

On Monday, August 10th, I was told that the Peace Corps would be suspending its program in Mauritania, and I could not return to my village to collect my belongings or say my goodbyes.

On Monday, August 17th, I was at my mom's house in Kennett Square, PA.

Really weird.

All last week was a whirlwind, to say the least. Paperwork upon paperwork, medical screenings and blood draws and skin tests, psychiatric counseling, all the while trying to relish my very last moments with the other RIM PCVs who have come to mean so much to me over the last 14 months. And then the question of the future: where to go? What to do? The Peace Corps Washington staff presented a lot of options to us...

I could direct-transfer to another country (most likely West Africa, they said) immediately, and I'd be there in the next week. I could go home to collect myself a bit and re-enroll in a new country within the next 12 months, although there'd be no guarantee that I could get a contract for only one more year -- I might have to start a new full term of 27 months. I could participate in a short-term commitment abroad called Peace Corps Response. I could use my status as a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) for non-competitive eligibility for federal positions, like working at Peace Corps Headquarters or with the Civil or Foreign Service. Or I could just call it a day and start grad school apps.

Oh, and please make this decision in the next 48 hours max, thanks.

It was tough. But I am very, very happy to announce to you that I will be continuing my Peace Corps service as an English teacher in Rwanda.

Immediately I feel the need to defend my decision, because I know what thoughts it inevitably invokes in most people's minds: she's been evacuated from a place with a growing presence of al-Qaeda -- and now this is what she's chosen as her next step? Out of the frying pan, into the fire?

I would like to cite Fareed Zakaria, respected author and current editor of Newsweek International. Just a month ago, he was interviewed by CNN and spoke of why Rwanda is "Africa's biggest success story." He says:

You remember what happened in there just 15 years ago -- over a period of 100 days 800,000 men, women, and children were killed -- most of them slaughtered with knives, machetes, and axes by their neighbors. It is perhaps the most brutal genocide in modern history. By the time it ended, one tenth of the country's population was dead. Most people assumed that Rwanda was broken and, like Somalia, another country wracked by violence, would become a poster child for Africa's failed states. It's now a poster child for success.

President Paul Kagame wants to make Rwanda into the "Singapore of Africa." In recent days he has made incredible reforms and is ramping up a huge push towards science and technology. He plans to make the entire country WiFi-ready in the next few years. He has outlawed plastic bags.

Additionally, President Kagame nixed the colonial French as an official language and declared that all instruction (beginning in primary school) would be henceforth conducted in English. Slight problem: shortage of qualified English teachers.

Enter the Peace Corps, which reopened its Rwanda program in January of this year after suspending it in 1993. On October 5th, I will be leaving with at least 12 of my fellow RIM PCVs, including some of my closest friends: Ryan, Mark, Matt, Scott, Ashley, Megan, Colleen, Brandon, Michele, Lindsay, Austin, and Marta.

It's crazy! It's fast! It's, yes I know, RWANDA! But I assure you that it is a safe place for us to be (U.S. News and World Report agrees), and I am so unbelievably excited about the coming year. We will be arriving alongside some brand-new PCVs and going through the language training to learn Kinyarwanda. The other RIM PCVs and I will be helping to conduct the technical training (Model School, etc.) for the new class, since Rwanda is a new program and does not have any veteran volunteers to offer assistance.

I will continue to blog and will inform you when I have the new site set up and ready. In the meantime, I intend to post a few final photos/videos on this blog as I say farewell to my time in Mauritania.

It's surprisingly hard to be back. For months and months we had all dreamed of being in that far-away, magical place called America. I had always thought I would be bursting with joy when my feet hit the ground, but when I stepped off the plane in Dulles I felt overwhelmed and empty and confused. Where am I? How did I get here? Is this real? I was so out of practice with flying that I forgot to put my precious Leatherman knife/multitool in my checked luggage and had it confiscated.

I forced my feet to shuffle through the airport, and I spotted a popular Peace Corps advertisement. Perhaps you've seen it:

And I almost stopped in my tracks. It's not true, I wanted to tell everyone around me! That's not a promise! I joined the Peace Corps, and there's still so much I "should've" done. I should've given my clothes to my sisters, I should've taken a video of my little brother singing and dancing, I should've emptied my local bank account and distributed it among all my friends in the village...

But in this life, you never know. All I can do is move forward.

A final enormous _THANK YOU_ to all of you who have contacted me in the wake of this. Your support has been humbling and amazingly sustaining, and I appreciate it, more than you know.

So long, PCRIM.

Leaving Atlanta -- June 20, 2008

Goodbye dinner in Dakar -- August 12, 2009


Annicka said...

I heard after you'd left that you guys were going... and that some of you were heading to Rwanda. I assumed you were one of those, so I'm glad to hear it's true. You will have many new and exciting and life-imprinting experiences and I know you'll enjoy it. How long will you be in Rwanda? I am so so soooo sorry you were forced out of home. PC can be kind of harsh with the no going back to get your stuff policy, but I guess in the end, it's what they have to do. Good luck! And don't forget your pulaar so I can send you secret messages from time to time.

lydia said...

Hi Julie Ann,

I found your blog through Andy's blog about Senegal, we went to high school together. I just wanted to say I was hoping you'd decide to switch to a new country, congrats on the difficult decision!!

I live in Chile and also teach English, one of my classes partially involves preparing some people for some work they have to do in Rwanda (through an English speaking program) I'm hoping to read about some interesting aspects of life there once you arrive!

Anyway, awesome blog, I passed through previous posts and I love the pictures. My favorite post was about the dictionary donations to your club.
Enjoy your time back home,


Sarah Elizabeth said...

Hi Julie Ann! I just wanted to say how proud I am of all of you and am so excited for those of you moving on to Rwanda! Enjoy it and I look forward to hearing about a new country.
Sarah Bushman
RIM, 07-09

mmgraski said...

Hello Julie Ann,
I have been following your blog from the beginning in RIM and have greatly enjoyed your enthusiastic and compelling representation of your experiences there. I am very pleased that you are joining my daughter Marta in Rwanda, and I will continue to eagerly follow your blog. Marta is not a blogger so I have to rely on others for in country information. Best wishes and have a great time with your family. I am sure your other family will know that they lost you for reasons beyond your control.
Thank You,
Mark Grabowski

RMM said...

Hi Julie Ann,
I have been following your blog since the early days of your time in RIM. Your updates have been a pleasure to read and I look forward to becoming better informed about life in Rwanda. I'm so proud of all of the volunteers who stayed until the program was suspended - you are obviously tenacious individuals! Best of luck in Rwanda.
Reine Mages

Chante' said...

You make me smile Julie. You're so caring and so determined to accomplish everything. I love it! Best wishes to you guys as you continue to serve. I'll continue to follow you along your Journey.

Dave Cowell said...

Ok, so the picture won't load (surprise) but I think the poster you saw in the airport may be the same one I saw when I stepped off the plane in Philadelphia for orientation. Good choice, though. You had to do it. Very jealous, en fait. It's an entirely new region!!!! AH!!! Very psyched for you, JAC. You' re a strong one.