This past week proved to be one of the most emotional experiences I have had as a Peace Corps Volunteer. The Close of Service Conference marks a pivotal point in a volunteer’s service journey; a point at which we realize how far we have come and how much our lives will change in the very near future.
For some, this is an exciting and rewarding result of two years’ worth of weird rashes, work conflicts, and stress-induced peanut butter comas. For others, it’s an alarm in our brain reminding us that all good things must come to an end. And our panicked and heartbroken response is proof that we aren’t ready to say goodbye.
The COS Conference itself focuses mostly on the logistics and administrative tasks associated with ending one’s Peace Corps Service. Final medical appointments, readjustment allowances, flights back to the U.S., and landlord agreements were some of the main topics of conversation (and confusion). A lot has to happen before a PCV in Albania steps onto that airplane and returns to American soil. The ‘to-do’ list can be divided into two categories: physical tasks/duties and mental steps to take in an effort to avoid an emotional breakdown at the airport. Like it or not, this period of preparation inevitably includes saying goodbye to the people who have made our experience in Albania what it is.
Having lived overseas, I have experienced these types of farewells – the kind that you try to avoid because the reality of being thousands of miles away from the people you love is like an anvil sitting on your heart. One of the most difficult goodbyes I’ve had to experience was watching my mother walk down the stairs of my college dorm room and begin her long journey back to Azerbaijan. Starting university without a nearby home base was scary, but it made me stronger and it was never really goodbye. If “all we ever do is say goodbye” (cue John Mayer moody swoon), is it a real farewell?
In other words, a goodbye implies a disengagement; a finality in at least the physical nature of a given relationship. But if you do intend to reconnect at a later date, it makes more sense that your “goodbye” is in fact a “see you later”.
It is very likely that there are people I have met during my PC service that I will never see again. Those are authentic goodbyes. But for those that I have adopted into my international family of gal pals, thoughtful coworkers, travel buddies, fellow foodies, gym rats, mermbabes, and friends of a feather, this is not goodbye; merely a “see you later”.
You aren’t rid of me yet.