12 February, 2011 - the PCV dynamic
So, as we come to the end of our time in a place one starts to reflect on the relationships made there. For two years I have been placed into a new social circle with characters and dynamics unlike anywhere else. This is how it works: essentially, we have all left behind everything and everyone we know to enter into not only a new place but also a new culture. We have never met each other, and we most likely don't even come from the same part of America. We are of varying ages, between 22 and about 60, and have cultural backgrounds of our own depending on heritage and upbringing.
This group of random people is then put into a two month training in rural villages with no contact to anyone we've known in our previous lives. We all have massive hurdles of language, culture, and lifestyle changes to overcome. Thus, there is a bond created between the small group (of 20 people in my case) and we become a support network pulling each other through. Every minute is spent together as we try to adapt but also learn about these new people who chance brought into our lives. For this reason I know I will always be closest to my training group (Tilipo 20). While I did not form a strong bond with everyone in the group, I know that they are the people I have grown to know the best and will therefore stay close to even after returning to the states. In addition, this bond can be seen at large Peace Corps gatherings as we segregate into our training groups and/or regional groups.
After the training we are broken out of that family which we've formed and sent to live alone for two years in a village. In the village there is no way to hide from the fact that you are the only one like you in several km; and while there are locals around you can't help but feel overwhelmingly alone most of the time. Some are able to make strong connections with neighbors or workmates which helps in the isolation. Still, however, there are always cultural lines and histories of understanding which make stronger connections a struggle at times. Just like we relate to people of our own generation we also have a connection with our nationality which makes people from other places slightly less relatable. That being said I have a handful of people in Usisya who I will write and never forget; but the relationships, even after two years, feel as if they sit on a surface which cannot be broken.
That being said, as PCVs we often search out other Volunteers to make those bonds which we broke in leaving home. Friendships are fast and relationships go at the speed of light for the fact that there is just so little time together in the cities to develop them. Communication barriers keep us disconnected when not in the cities and thus we live through scattered text messages and weekend binges. We get to know the Malawi version of each other and spend two years jumping in and out of the lives of other volunteers as we go through our term rotation. Also, while there are group events twice a year in the capital, for a majority of the time we only see people who live in our part of the country. There is, thus, a northern solidarity that happens in my case where I frequently find myself in a Chitumbuka crowd. I will, because of this, stay in touch with people who were friends of convenience at the time but grew into close comrades.
In the end it has been difficult living through the extremes of isolation mixed with massive gatherings. Going through the high school like gossip about other volunteers and trying to keep your own head above water through the whole time. Losing people at the close their service and then getting to know new groups who arrive is always changing the dynamic as well. There have been hundreds of people to come through my life in the last two years, and sadly about a handful who I know I will see again. This, is how traveling works as it's just too difficult to keep everyone in our lives no matter how much someone may have meant to us in the past. Those who I won't see again, I know I will think of them from time to time, however. There will be something happen in my life which reminds me an individual or event and I will be flashed with a face and a name. It's just like the Beatles said,
There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places had their moments
With lovers and friends
I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all