At this point in the year I was supposed to be at my site integrating and learning about the community. No projects or traveling. Just adjusting to my new village and celebrating the end of training.
However, sometimes life throws a wrench into the best of plans. And in typical fashion, all my plans and goals exploded in my face.
It all started innocuously enough on August 25th. That Friday was supposed to be our biggest celebration! We all dressed up and wore makeup (a big deal in Burkina) for swear-in! Finally, we were becoming real Peace Corps Volunteers. Not just trainees.
The ceremony was amazing. We took tons of photos. The ambassador talked. My host family came dressed up in their most beautiful clothes. It was extraordinary.
After the end of the ceremony and lunch, we all dispersed to begin partying. About an hour later, we got a call that we had to return immediately to the training center.
I came complaining the whole way that this had better be something serious.
Apparently, it was. There was a unique security threat in Leo, Burkina Faso. We weren’t allowed to return to our host families that night and instead were put up in a hotel that we couldn’t leave.
Initially, this was exciting as we got to party and all be together for the night.
On the downside, my romper I had made for swear-in tore in the crotch and I had no clothes to change into or a toothbrush.
Drivers went to each of our individual houses and hastily packed our things for us. I could finally change clothes two days later.
My training group then spent a week locked in a hotel together. Imagine 60+ Americans altogether with running water, air conditioning, and a pool for the first time all summer.
It was simultaneously a blast and complete insanity.
To stop the boredom that comes from being locked in a hotel, we planned events. Spa day. A gala. Daily yoga sessions. The Brakina Cup. Some of my best memories of Peace Corps came from that time being with my training group.
On the downside, we were growing restless. Being around people 24/7 was a bit hard. And we didn’t know what was happening. Were we ever going to site? Most days the news was that there were no new updates. The uncertainty of our whole situation was mentally draining.
A week into our hotel party, we got the news. We were being evacuated for security reasons.
I remember lots of tears. I remember feeling like my heart was breaking. I never even got the chance to say goodbye to my host family. I remember anxiously packing a small backpack and labeling my suitcases with my parent’s address in the US.
The next morning, we were taken to Ouagadougou. Another stay at another hotel where we weren’t allowed to leave the vicinity.
We spent two days at that hotel feeling both exceedingly sad and excited at the amazing pool and food variety. Going to that hotel felt like a slice of heaven in the middle of hell.
We had a professional come down from Washington who oversaw our evacuation. His name was John Allen. His presence was calming and soothing. He updated us on the plan. He introduced himself to every single one of us. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone of our evacuation but we were being taken over the border into Ghana.
Two long days later we reached Accra, the capital. We stepped off the bus to greet a full staff. Professionals from DC had flown to Ghana to hastily put together a Close of Service conference for us.
We spent a week in Ghana at this conference where we learned the full details of what happened next and what are options were.
We were all ending service and becoming Returned Peace Corp Volunteers (RPCVs). Most people assume that since I was over there for such a short amount of time, I was being transferred. But if I want to do Peace Corps again, I must reapply-although the application would be expedited.
Now I’m back in Texas at home with my family.
I certainly did not foresee being evacuated 3 months into the Peace Corps as a possibility. But here I am.
Writing this post has been hard. I didn’t know where to even begin. And I still don’t have the words to describe losing a home and family. To have your future ripped out from underneath you. To describe the complex roller-coaster of emotions I’ve been through.
The past two weeks feel like they’ve been dragged out over a whole year. Now I’ve been back in the States for 2 days and my mind is reeling trying to piece together my experience.
Everything feels like a dream. Like I never went to Africa at all. Maybe boxing this whole experience up is my way of coping.
I also feel utterly exhausted to the bone. Answering my friends and family’s questions takes every fiber of my being. When people text me asking what happened I’ve just been copying and pasting the same answer. I don’t feel like going into details.
Our first full day in Ghana, John Allen, the man who evacuated us, recited the poem Invictus by William Earnest Henley. He has the poem memorized as its helped him through difficult times and at this moment in my life, it’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
I’ve left Burkina Faso. But life goes on. Ca va allé as we say in Burkina. And I know I’ll be back one day.
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.