“I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will faithfully discharge my duties in the Peace Corps.”
This is the oath every Peace Corps Volunteer takes upon the completion of their training. With a few alterations, it amounts to the same oath taken by every public officer in the United States Government. It is not something taken lightly.
Yesterday saw the swearing-in of 74 new members of the Peace Corps Botswana family. My Facebook feed has been full of their pictures. They all have a look of anticipatory excitement and well-deserved pride.
One year ago today, I myself raised my hand and spoke that same oath. Eager-eyed, I prepared myself for an unmapped adventure. A lot has happened in a year.
Peace Corps gives you the opportunity to explore a world you might have otherwise missed. I have more stamps in my passport than I know what to do with. I’m intimately familiar with the Johannesburg International Terminal. I’ve circled Botswana numerous times. I’ve traveled to Senegal and Zimbabwe. I’ve been to the Okavango Delta, Victoria Falls, and through the Kgalagadi Desert. I’ve seen hippopotamus in my backyard and been close enough to touch an elephant. I’ve experienced torrential downpours and thunderstorms that could only ever happen here. Your world becomes a lot bigger.Peace Corps shows you a much smaller world too. You find your way through an unfamiliar culture and see what life is really like on the other side. You sweat through 110 degree nights and dust storms that choke you. You learn how to eat watermelon and sweet reed under a tree. You spend your afternoons exploring the uneventful routine. You hear stories of heartbreak and triumph from a country razed by HIV. You see the ordinary, human parts of a foreign world.
You also meet people who take your breath away. Women who are the breadwinners and the caretakers of their children and their children’s children. Men who are joining the battle against harmful gender norms. Young women who see the value in their futures and the drive to pursue their dreams. The kindness of your landlady.I have had the privilege to work with incredible people all throughout my service. My counterparts, supervisors, and acquaintances alike have proven their dedication over and over again. They are full of ideas and a passion that is infectious. Not only have I worked with them, but I have the further privilege of calling them my friends. They enrich my life here in Botswana in a way I never would have imagined a year ago.
Before coming to Botswana, I could not have told you what a CD4 count was. Or the difference between P. falciparum and P. vivax. I couldn’t have begun to talk knowledgeably about the causes of the HIV pandemic or the nuances of gender-based violence. I couldn’t have told you what MCP, ARV, RDT, LLIN, or IRS stood for. I could not have done a proper condom demonstration. There are still plenty of times when I don’t know what I’m talking about, but I’ve gotten better at pretending.On top of all the technical jargon I’ve picked up these last 365 days, I’ve also learned an awful lot about things that aren’t on wikipedia. The individual human impact of HIV and malaria. The struggle of women in the developing world. I’ve learned an awful lot about the human condition, and about myself. They saying “learn something new everyday” couldn’t hold more true than during Peace Corps service.
More than anything else, Peace Corps has given me a pocket full of memories. Sitting on my front porch while my two good friends serenade me with their guitars. Eating crocodile tail straight off of a bonfire or a whole-cooked ostrich for Thanksgiving dinner. Playing word games on the bus to pass the hours. Explaining how to use a female condom for the first time.The one thing all of these memories have in common are the people – they are all exemplum of the friendships Peace Corps has given me. Peace Corps brings together people from all walks of life. People I would never have met otherwise. A year into my service, and the one thing I am most grateful for are each and every one of these people.