I've been thinking a lot about my service, especially because leaving feels suddenly so close. Why did I join PC? Why Africa? I guess it was a lot of things, and I'm sure my answers have changed being on this end of it now. But from what I remember I think that something about PC had always appealed to me. Maybe I saw PC as a low level trial run of sorts for my desire to join Doctors Without Borders. I was still fairly certain at that point that I wanted to go to med school, but was starting to have some doubts. I also wasn't sure of my ability to get into a med program without a thesis, any internships, or anything beyond the bare minimum of having gained my BA. I saw PC as a way to stand out, as well as something I wanted to do for it's own sake. I'd definitely romanticized the idea of being a volunteer – the no electricity, remote from a city, living in a hut in Africa somewhere – thing. I had no idea what I'd be doing, but I assumed it would be health related, weighing babies, teaching lessons, I didn't really care as long as I got to go. When my recruiter asked where I wanted to go I knew I would truly be ok and come out with a good experience no matter where they sent me – Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, some Caribbean island. But when pressed I said I wanted to go to Africa, that's just where I'd always imagined going. I admittedly didn't exactly anticipate coming to BF specifically, I was kind of rooting for Rwanda or Madagascar (both on my list of PC countries that spoke French), but I was still excited getting to look up information on my new home for the next 2 years.
People come to PC, to Africa, for so many different reasons. It's pretty clear that, while I did sign up to help and give back and “make a difference”, a lot of my motivation for being here is fairly selfish. In the 'it'll look good on my resume/get me into grad school' sense, but mostly in the personal development sense. I knew that if I did PC I would become a very different person. Not that there was anything wrong with who I was at the time, but I realized kind of unconsciously that I needed and wanted something else, an experience totally different from the life I'd lived. Being a PCV isn't exactly living alone in the African bush, it's very hand-holding and structured and in this day and age involves quite a lot of contact with people in America. But being here, living here, speaking new languages and eating new foods and doing my laundry by hand and not having electricity and especially meeting new people – all of these and so much more have clearly changed who I am and how I think and act. I don't know how much will translate to living in the US. I'm not actually sure I want all of these changes to stick, some of them feel very “temporary adaptive” and should stay that way (such as eating out of my cooking pot to save doing another dish, or only connecting to village friends at a somewhat superficial level due to cultural and language differences).
Other things feel like they're just beginning, starting to blossom, and almost feel like they can't continue until I leave. Burkina has been the catalyst to start the reaction, but it's also the limiting factor and the process can't continue until I leave and have new inputs to keep it going. Burkina has given shape and new definition to my life path, has shone a light in new and exciting directions, has started to help me expand my view of the world and is teaching me to think differently and see deeper levels of meaning and repercussions. I don't think it could have done those things if I wasn't already open to them on some level, and I know there are still many levels that have yet to be raised to a conscious plane, but I know they're there, and I'm ready to try and dig down to them, and that's scary and exciting in so many inexpressible ways. So I guess right now the most I can say is that I'm glad I decided to come here, for whatever mix of reasons, and I'm glad it was here. I'm sure that my experience would have been very different if I'd gone elsewhere, or even come here at a different point in my life (not in a positive or negative way, just different).