I’m a Volunteer!

The past few weeks have been a crazy whirlwind of emotions that I never could have anticipated. I’ve read so many Peace Corps blogs and have friends currently serving, but I never could have imagined the emotional exhaustion that accompanies the final weeks of training, swearing-in, and installation. During my final week at homestay in Dodoma, I felt so many emotions. I could feel myself getting short with my fellow trainees, angry and upset with small situations, and I knew I wasn’t getting nearly enough sleep. Little things that my family did were beginning to become unbearably annoying, but I endured knowing it was my final week. On the flip side, I spent great quality time with my friends, passed all of my Swahili language assessments, and the workload lessened every day so that I had more time to rest and enjoy my homestay life. It was a strange rollercoaster of emotions, where my mood could change in five minutes.

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On the final night of my homestay, my mama threw me a going-away party. People who I had never met came to say thank you for coming into the family. My family was all there, even the members who lived away, and it made me so happy to see some of them, especially my friend and sister Rachel and her daughter, Emmy. That happiness made me realize just how close I had grown to my family. When my sister Dina stood to say a speech to me, I got more emotional than I expected. I really grew to love this family during my limited time with them. My mama even had a “photographer” there, who took bad pictures of people eating mid-bite with his finger in the corner, but they’re pictures I will cherish forever. There was lots of praying and bible reading, both in Swahili and English, and many people gave passionate speeches about the importance of me going to church once at my site. I am really grateful my family did this for me, as it was a loving gesture for my send-off. The next morning, I woke with my family at 3:30 AM to depart for Dar es Salaam.

The bus ride took all day. We boarded around 5 AM and didn’t reach Dar until about 7 PM. My ankles were so swollen from sitting. I couldn’t wait to shower. My time in Dar is a blur, and I didn’t get more than 4 hours of sleep each night. We had so much fun, though. Since it was all of the trainees’ last week together, we did paper plate awards (I was voted most likely to survive a zombie apocalypse!), we sat around and read off “remember when” moments, and we just enjoyed each other’s presence one last time until early service training in August. I will really miss my friends.

Wednesday was an incredible day, the day I had been waiting for for so long: the swearing-in ceremony at the U.S. Embassy! We had to leave our center at 6:30 AM, even though the ceremony didn’t start until 11 AM, because Dar traffic is so bad and because it can take a while to pass through the U.S. customs security. I had a dress made specifically for the ceremony with fabric that matched everyone in my CBT group. We all looked so “safi” in our outfits, even our teacher was wearing a dress that matched ours! The ceremony included a tree planting, many speeches, a performance that we did where we sang songs and danced (and that made the local news and newspaper!), and the final oath to service. As we repeated the oath, I got chills. I can’t believe I’m finally a volunteer. I have been waiting for this for so long, and I have never been more ready to serve. I am excited to serve the people of Tanzania, friendly, gracious, welcoming people who are eager to learn and teach as well, and I can’t wait to find out what projects I will begin once installed in my community. I also feel scared. I don’t even have bed in my house. I feel so disorganized and unsure. But I know so many people have done this before me. I know they wouldn’t send me to live alone if they didn’t think I was capable. There’s just so much to do to make my house livable.

On Thursday, I boarded a bus at 3:45 AM and traveled to Njombe with more bags than I could carry by myself. We didn’t arrive to Njombe until 7 PM! It was the longest bus ride of my life and I am not looking forward to ever doing it again. However, we did have an amazing part of the ride where we drove through a national park and drove through fields and fields of grazing giraffes, zebras, baboons, monkeys, antelopes, and even elephants!!! I became so giddy. I never even thought to take out my camera because I was so excited about what I was seeing. When I screamed from seeing a huge herd of zebras, they all pricked their ears and turned towards the bus to look at me. They were just as close as horses in a pasture as you drive through Vermont. It was incredible. I couldn’t be more excited to serve in this beautiful and diverse country.

On my first day in Njombe, I traveled around to four district offices with my district supervisor. We met local officials and they welcomed us into the community as volunteers. This will help us become more integrated and also serve as a resource for us when we want to begin projects. Afterwards, exhaustion hit me, and I went back to the hotel, leaving the huge shopping I needed to do for the following day.

Today I shopped for seven hours. It was crazy, and I feel so exhausted but excited. I bought a small gas stove, hot pots, a frying pan, a pot, plates and bowls, a broom, spoons, a water thermos, I splurged on a handcrank juicer, and other necessities for the first few days. Hopefully this week I’ll be able to get small tables made and some small racks or shelves for storing food in my kitchen. I also bought buckets for my baths and for storing safe drinking water. It’s the rainy season now, so I will want to set up a water catchment system so that I don’t need to pay for water or lug it from a nearby well.

Now that I feel I have all of the necessities to live for a few days at my house, I’m feeling so excited. I can’t wait to set myself up and start exploring my village. I can’t wait to create a schedule for myself, get some quality sleep and recover from training, start exercising and eating well again, and especially meeting my community members and thinking about potential projects. I’m sure the next three months will be challenging, but I have been faced with many challenges over the past three months, and have overcome all of them. To date, the biggest challenge I’ve faced was stepping on the plane to come here, and leaving behind my friends and family whom I miss so much. I know if I could make it through that, I can make it through anything. Everyone from home keeps me going. Tomorrow I’ll travel to my site with my village executive officer. I couldn’t be more excited. More updates to come. As always, thanks for reading!

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2 thoughts on “I’m a Volunteer!

  1. Reading this brings me straight back to my swearing in day. It is truly a mix of emotions that you feel and there is no better way to describe service then its a ROLLER COASTER RIDE!!! I am so proud and excited for you Mikaela. It was the “hardest but most rewarding” thing I have ever done. Remember that projects come and go but the relationships that you make last a life time and in my opinion are what really count. I feel so lucky to know that I have a family in Ecuador that I can always return to and I know you will have the same in your community. 🙂 Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures. Sending you a giant hug and lots of love. xoxo your friend Paige

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