Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Final Post

This post has taken some time to write.

I apologize to those who I know have been concerned due to my health and to my silence.
The last 2 weeks of my life have been absolutely insane and a bit emotional.

As of June 4th, 2014 I am officially an RPCV. After my many weeks in the medical unit, it was decided that my current health issues are very likely being caused by my anti-malaria medicines (at least from my understanding) and therefore I needed to be medically evacuated to a place where I could eventually stop being on them. Since I was already so close to the actual end date of my service – I was processed as a Close of Service. Which basically is just a fancy way of saying they let me go home early without any sort of negative consequence - but have no intention of sending me back to Benin.

Anyway, it all happened incredibly fast, and the whole medical experience was very up and down. At this point I am home in the USA and working on getting healthy again. There isn't anything actually wrong with me (which is actually an incredibly frustrating thing to hear when you aren't feeling well) except for a cough that will go away eventually - most likely when I am off the medication. Anyway, I feel weird getting into the whole medical this and that on the internet – since the whole end of my service has been incredibly personal. That being said, I felt I owed it to readers and to myself to have a final post on this blog. I couldn't leave it feeling unfinished.

America has been a very interesting readjustment. I am glad to be eating well again, and I am very happy to be readjusting during my favorite summer months. I do miss the palm trees and the hibiscus juice and of course Papaya cat and all of my fellow volunteers -- and countless other things.

To answer the big question: I am very happy that I joined the Peace Corps and am grateful for the experiences I gained. It may not have ended the way I had planned – but I would most definitely, with out a doubt, not have changed anything about my decision to be a part of this amazing organization. Peace Corps had its bad days and its good days -- and some more bad days -- and I loved it.

As for now, I am working on getting myself readjusted and healthy and ready for graduate school! Being home early has allowed me to enroll in an online summer course to get a jump-start on the program (see silver linings everywhere!!) - and some more time with family and friends before I move away again!

Thank you everyone for reading and following my journey as a volunteer. This blog has been an experience for me, almost as much as the Peace Corps itself was, in its own way.

Over and Out,

Zoe Crum
Returned Peace Corps Volunteer 
Benin 2012-2014

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Happy Days

Over the last 100 days I have been doing the "100 days" happiness projects with one of my friends back in the USA -- it has been a really great experience. That being said, with my current health issues, there were quite a few days during the 100 that were very much a struggle (and thus resulted in a picture of a water heater.. or better yet a piece of fruit as my happy moment for the day). While my experience was personal between me and my dearest. I wanted to share the project itself and as an idea with my readers because I found it very eye opening, and it was an absolutely amazing experience.

Check out the idea at 100 Happy Days, and in the mean time here are some of the happy moments from my personal 100 day project <3 :

I think that once I am home it might be fun to do a similar personal project - highlighting the things I find shocking or surprising about the US!

Hope you enjoyed the pictures!! 

Monday, May 12, 2014

What is COS Conference?

COS is an acronym meaning “Close of Service,” and COS Conference is the last in a series of Peace Corps training workshops that we attend throughout our service. Specifically COS Conference is when we are trained on how to come home. It is our last chance to all be together at the end of this incredible 2 year journey that we embarked on together in Philadelphia 2 years ago. Mostly, it really is a training on what to expect in America.

Friday, in Cotonou we started off with opening remarks form our Country Director. We had an important session on what type of health care to expect, or to not expect, once we go back home – and what medical clearance we need to go through before we get on our plane. (Basically the same physicals we had to do in order to enter the Peace Corps have to be done again in order to leave). Followed by some security information, and a question and answer session with RPCVs who are currently working with various NGOs and living in Benin.

The RPCV panel was incredibly insightful. Hearing about stories of readjusting (or not readjusting) to American life. The things that were shocking to people as they returned home. How to answer questions, that we really might not want to answer... and how to tell if the person asking really wants an answer. And of course about finding work after Peace Corps.

Me with the EA Program Managers
[Photo Thanks to Sarah A]
In the afternoon we had an official luncheon where we were presented Certificates of Appreciation from the various ministers of the Beninese government (the Ministry of Environment presented them to the Environmental Action volunteers) – and then we packed up into buses and headed to the beach in Grand Popo for the rest of our information sessions.

I am not going to go into detail about all of the things we learned this weekend. In summary we talked about resume writing, interviewing, how to frame our Peace Corps successes in a way that is applicable to work in the US – we talked about our successes individually and also in sector groups (showing how much we accomplished as a group was really uplifting) – we talked about our concerns with the program (ie changes we would like to see for future volunteers) – how to say goodbye to our friends in village – how to address the fact that most of us might not ever come back to this place we have been living and building relationships in for the past 2 years – the types of questions (both good and bad) that we will probably be asked when we get home and how to respond to them – the perks of Peace Corps service (NCE and Fellowships) – Networking – Closure – and so on and so forth.

The moment during the weekend that I found most interesting was when we were handed back our “Aspiration Statements” that we had been asked to send to the office in Benin before our arrival in June 2012. At first I was impressed by how well I used to speak English – after that initial shock – I thought it was really great to be able to see how much I did and what things I didn't get to do. It was interesting to see how naive (not in an entirely bad way) most of us were – as we were heading into this new adventure.

For me personally, when I applied to Peace Corps, I applied specifically for Environmental Action and Environmental Education posts. I even turned down an offer to leave at an earlier date, if I was willing to switch to the Agriculture Sector. My aspiration statement whole heartedly reflects this. Which is interesting, since we really are an agriculture program – and I have spent my service working with farmers to improve their techniques and with schools to grow vegetable gardens. This isn't what I wanted to do, and it will not be my passion in the future, but I am glad I did it and I feel that I ended up serving where I was meant to serve. Even though I was not doing the work I expected to be doing, even at the point of my aspiration statement for Benin, most of the goals for myself and my service, are things that I did do and I did them successfully.

I think that it might sound silly – to most people at home to say that we needed to be trained to come back to the USA, but coming home is going to be hard. I won't know the technology, or the current fashion. A song might come on the radio that EVERYONE knows from last year or the year before – and it is very possible that I will never have heard it. People will have started and ended relationships – and I will have missed it. New jobs, and babies and even a few weddings have happened while I have been disconnected. So when we come home be patient with us – and be understanding if we don't want to constantly talk about our experience – or maybe if we do.Who knows what will happen.

As long as chocolate chip cookies and the going down the shore are still both things -- it will all be OK. It just might take some time – and if I am speaking in a language other then english – tell me because I might not realize it. If my clothes are funny... well that might just be something you will have to live with.