I don’t know where to start with this post. Somehow, incredibly, I am done with my Peace Corps service. There really is no good way to quantify this experience and all that I’m feeling at the end. Every PCV experience is unique, but we all also recognise a common ground in this. I know you will empathise with my sense of helplessness and emptiness. But also know that I feel more triumphant, joyful and complete than I ever have before.
Our COS (Close of Service) story is much like any other PCV story, didn’t go as planned and perfectly chaotic. Mac and I had spent our last weeks at site religiously going over the final plan. We were looking forward to it a lot and wanted to make this epic. The idea was we would leave site a little early to go to Bandung. Mac’s principal lives near there and we had been invited to stay with him and travel the area with him a bit. On May 13th we had packed, cleaned and said all our goodbyes.* It was such a strange feeling going down the mountain one last time, drinking in the last of our moments in Sagaranten.
Naturally, plans were thrown awry. About halfway to Bandung, Mac and I got a message from Peace Corps saying that there had been suicide attacks in Surabaya and we must stay where we are and await further instructions. This was serious, we’ve never had a standfast like this before and certainly never a level of terrorism like what had just happened. What followed were some very anxious and crazy days while we tried to figure out what to do. Peace Corps told us to return to site and stay safe until the threat was over. So we did.
I want to take the moment now to express just how sad I was at hearing about the attacks. Four churches and a police station in all, and there were dozens of people killed. The outrage I’ve heard from people here matches my own. Indonesia is a safe and tolerant place for the most part and terrorism does more than destroy families, it destroys communities. My greatest comfort is looking at how many people stepped up to help their neighbours, regardless of differences in religion. Also, Peace Corps Indonesia did an incredible job taking care of us and making sure we were safe. Not once during that crazy time did I feel personally unsafe, just worried for the safety of my friends and staff. They reacted with organised precision and had plans set up in case of escalation. No PCVs were hurt and everyone had a safe place to be. (Thanks Yoppie, you saved our butts!)
For better or worse Mac and I did manage to get to Surabaya in time for our scheduled COS date. All this anticipation, planning, counting down…. and it just… happened. Not to say the day wasn’t good or memorable. We signed a lot of paperwork and got the chance to sit down for some good reflection time with staff. At the end of the day we all rang the gong, got a pin and just like that we were RPCVs! I spent so much time looking forward to the day, I didn’t get the chance to really work through it in my head. I don’t feel any different. If anything, I felt a bit empty.
But now I do feel something. I keep looking back on these two years and marvel. I did it! I’m an RPCV! With that realisation comes such a rush of triumph but also a small nugget of anxiety. I no longer fall under the umbrella of Peace Corps. Yeah, I can ride a motorcycle whenever I want, but if I crash I’m on my own. It goes to show how strongly this has affected my life and identity. For over two years I have been a PCV in Indonesia. Now I don’t know what I am. I’m not a teacher. I’m not a volunteer. I can’t even truly say I’m a tourist here. I’m not worried but it’s definitely interesting.
I can’t tell you how much I’ve changed here. Sometimes I feel guilty when people say, ‘thank you for your service’. How can I express to them that I get so much more out of my service than I could ever give? How can I describe how special my CP was to me? How much she gave me in patience, kindness and friendship? How can I explain my growth as a person, a partner and a friend? I’ve learned just how tough I can be. I know how to sit for 8 hours on a bus with no AC and still be cheerful. I can speak a new language! All this change and experience just for me to come to class and teach English. I can never repay Indonesia for all she has given me. I guess I can only pass it on.
So congratulations to everyone making this transition. You guys rock. You’re the strongest people I know. To all those only halfway through: congratulations! You’re more than halfway through! You know just how strong you are and how much you can do. I have full confidence in you. To all those considering becoming a volunteer: DO IT! The most challenging thing I’ve ever chosen to do, but the most valuable. The best thing I’ve learned from this is that by giving just a little, you get so much more.
terima kasih atas semua pengalaman luar biasa. I can’t wait for my next adventure.
*The hardest goodbyes in my life. I cried so much.