Saturday, November 14, 2009
It might be a stretch to say that I joined Peace Corps in order to obtain the rank of Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (RPCV) and feel like I’ve earned my seat at the monthly social gatherings, but it was a factor.
Long before I ever volunteered for the Peace Corps, I noticed that there was something that all Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) have. I’m not sure where or how they got it. But I like it. And I’d like to have it to. If only I can put my finger on exactly what it is.
I can’t remember when I first heard about Peace Corps or who the first RPCV was that I met, but it left an impression. Maybe it was the work the person had done. Maybe it was the concept and mission of Peace Corps itself. Maybe it was the exotic image I had in my head. Maybe it was something I ate. But whatever it was, I noticed that each RPCV I met possessed something. No matter where each person served or how long it had been since they served, they had it. I’m not sure if the RPCV’s are even aware that they have this thing. But to me it’s quite evident albeit ever-so-difficult to get my hands on.
When I first began seriously entertaining the idea of volunteering I started asking a lot of questions to RPCVs I knew. This is when I started to get a better glimpse of the mysterious it. No matter how naïve I may have been with my questions, no RPCV was ever condescending. In fact, I felt they each showed great understanding, respect, and compassion. As I pressed on with my interrogations, the RPCV would patiently answer my questions the best they could. But I got the feeling they were leaving something out. Although at the same time I didn’t feel they were trying to hide anything from me. I think maybe the RPCVs responded to my inquiries much like a parent does with a child. It was like a pat on the head. No matter how much you try there are some things in life that cannot simply be explained.
In the end I decided that there must be only one way that I could get it. I volunteered. Now after a year+ in Peace Corps, I don’t believe I necessarily have it, but maybe I’m beginning to grasp it. The slogan says that Peace Corps is “The toughest job you’ll ever love”. While this is proving to be true, there is a lot more to it. It’s not just a job (or just an adventure). It’s a level of growth and a mindset.
Peace Corps is kind of like spring cleaning. First you clear out all you have accumulated. Then you knock off the dust, analyze each thing, and decide what’s worth holding on to, what’s superfluous, and what needs to go. First I did this physically while preparing to leave home. Then upon arriving at my assigned location I started to go through the process again. But this time psychologically. This has led me to believe that it might not be something that RPCVs have, but rather it might be something they have given up or decided to leave behind.
In my mind RPCVs reside on a pedestal. And like a child, I would like to emulate my heroes. As I continue on through the second year of my Peace Corps odyssey, I realize that what I have experienced so far has made an irrevocable impact on my life. But I can’t know if when I return home I will have acquired what those RPCVs possess. I hope I’m getting closer… still working on it.
Pictured: A few of the latest from Ghana to obtain the rank of RPCV