Many of you I know I have suffered persistent dental problems since early July, and after 10 chipped teeth, 8 medical visits to Antigua and Guatemala City, a night guard, and prescription toothpaste, -spray, and muscle relaxants, Peace Corps has admitted defeat. After submitting to a battery of closing procedures, I will be back in the United States early next week.
The irony that this is exactly what I fantasized about during the weeks immediately surrounding my departure in early January is not lost on me, a way to go home with my honor intact. And yet, now that it´s here there is no relief, no satisfaction. I am depressed to leave, even as I´m acutely aware I was drooling over an American-style sandwich less than a week ago.
As a coping mechanism I keep trying to hate this place, to remind myself of the cold showers, the intestinal fireworks, the frustrating work situation…
But I can´t, because it´s not any of those things that have made the greatest impression on me. Rather, it has been the people of this truly remarkable group. My fellow PCVs have been my confidants, my drinking buddies, my fellow explorers into parts unknown. They have been my surrogate family, even when (and perhaps especially when) surrounded by the peculiarities of my host families. What truly destroys me from this violent expulsion back into the proverbial “real world” is to no longer be part of this fraternity of shared experience forged—and yes, improved—by hardship.
In these final hours of my service, I have been thinking with increasing fondness of its beginning: I remember riding the chartered bus through the deserted streets of Washington nine months ago, that early morning darkness tinted by the orange glow of street lights. It just as easily could be nine years ago for how distant that person seems from myself. I was terrified; each passing building took me further and further from the known, the safe.
I remember those first days in Santa Lucia, so unsettled by my surroundings I thought about bolting back to the airport, begging the airline to forgive my enormous mistake even as I continued to hide behind my painted veneer of bravado.
But you fake it ´til you make it, and after a few months here I found little fault with my life on any day-to-day basis. The strangeness of the everyday became exciting only after it ceased to be terrifying.
And now that I’ve relived that cycle in San Se, supplanting the threatening with the thrilling, growing accustomed to—and then comfortable with—the banality of my routine, I can´t help but be sentimental to the way life was, and will likely never be again.
I am scared, and I make no secret of that fact. Not so much about substituting one country for another, but that I will never fully be part of this motley crew again. I can—and will—continue to keep up communication over Skype, Facebook, and the easy conveniences of modern technology, but it is the daily grind that brings us together, not the distilled talking points each evening.
So now must I resort to being a member of an imagined community rather than a physical one? Am I now part of the Peace Corps diaspora that was not unified in the initial country and dispersed to distant lands, but united in distant lands dispersed to the initial country? Or has the betrayal of my teeth against my PCV status precluded me from being part of this “deep, horizontal comradeship”?
But I´ll only get a bruise from beating my head against this wall of unknowable, not some sense of vindication or epiphany. For that, perhaps only time.
Goodbye, Peace Corps. You weren´t perfect, but we had our moments. And now, with great remorse, I admit that for or better or worse, this too has passed.