When we started there were 32 of us. And, probably like all training classes, we were hopeful and cautiously optimistic about our chances of making it home as a team. We all finished training and swore in and during those first difficult months in site we stayed strong, despite some volunteers being evacuated from their departments for over a month. They seemed to be determined to make it through the rough times and we felt good.
I remember the feeling of having the rug ripped out from under me when I heard, days before reconnect that two of our group had decided to leave. It was sad. And it shook me because I’ve always wondered if I’m really strong enough to be here. I questioned my staying power. Was their fate simply a preview of my own? But we all seemed to move on from reconnect again hopeful, thinking that 32 just wasn’t meant to be but maybe the 30 of would make it to the end.
We all saw each other again at the 4th of July party, at this point nearing our 1 year in country anniversary, most battling our own personal forms of “mid-service crisis” but feeling like we were making headway. However, for two more people, the fit just wasn’t right and they too decided to make their way home to the states. It hit me hard because I was close to these two and they formed a key part of my support system. We had discussed on various occasions our resolve to make it to the end, to show everyone else and ourselves that we had what it takes and with their departure I wondered, “Am I next?”
I did my best to ignore the nagging voice telling me “you know you want to go home, you weren’t made for this” and we all refocused on the 28 of us getting to COS. And we were doing really well. 28 hit the 1 year anniversary in country. Then the 1 year anniversary in site and mid-service conference. 28 made it through our second set of winter holidays and everyone that visited home managed to get back on the planes to Guatemala.
But, well, you know what happened then. The changes to PC Guatemala presented every volunteer with some tough choices and everyone was forced to evaluate why they were here and what the next best step would be for themselves. Many decided to take the early COS and gracefully move on to other opportunities and adventures.
After this week there will be only 13 of us left. 13. I just got back from yet another despedida (going away party) and am taken aback at just how different things turned out from how I had pictured them. At the beginning a weekend gathering amongst our training class would prove to be a raucous affair where everywhere we went automatically turned into a loud and crowded affair (even if only a fraction of us all turned up). Now we’re at the point where we can all easily stay in the same hostal and go into restaurants without moving every table in the place. I thought to myself, there are a lot of people from our class here this weekend! And then I counted and realized that 7 of us is now a crowd in my mind. That’s life for you, though. Particularly in the Peace Corps when anything can, and often does, change.
So here I am on the other side of the country from where I started, missing people that I once depended on the most but also enjoying the opportunity to construct an entirely new chapter in this experience. And while, yes, I’ve made my frustration well known and still struggle with the disappointment, it’s also satisfying to simply still be here and be able to tell myself “I made it this far, I must be stronger than I thought.”
And, yes, I am hopeful that the 13 of us will all make it through the next few months. But, you know, things change.