Over two years ago, I spent my first night with my host family in a little village named Nyamsong. I arrived at their house in the evening on a day when the electricity was out. There were about 30 people waiting to accompany me into my new home for the next six weeks. They sat me down on the one little couch in the sitting room and placed the one lantern they had to light up the room next to me. They spoke mainly spoke Bafia, the local tribal language, and I spoke a bit of broken French. One hour went by of babies being handed to me, people taking photos of me and silence—lots of silence. Then they brought out a plate of food and the 30 people watched me eat. I was searching for things to talk about but I had already used up all of the French I had, “Is this your sister? What is her name? How old is she?”
When I felt like I had sat long enough that if wouldn’t be rude to excuse myself to my room, I did just that. I tried to go to sleep, but Cameroon’s super mice happened to live in my room—four of them actually. I call them super mice because they can scale walls… I’m not joking. So these little mice scaled the walls and sat perched upon the corners of my mosquito net. I knew that at any moment they could jump and slide down the mosquito net, and their little bodies would weigh down the middle of the net just enough for them to land on my face. I tried sleeping on the little couch in the living room but realized that my new host family would think I was absolutely crazy if they found me out there. So, I returned to my room and starting throwing balls of socks at the super mice. I’m not sure what I thought the end result of that would be, but it was all my fear-of-small-crawling-things self could think of in the wee hours of the morning. I remember thinking to myself, “can I really do this?”
Over 26 months later, I not only did it but I loved it. A friend of mine who just finished Peace Corps in Antigua told me once about a returned Peace Corps Volunteer she had crossed paths with in Indonesia. It was her conversation with him that made her apply, and the story she retold me helped influence my decision to apply as well. He said that when you reach the end of your service, the group of volunteers who are left are so pure. I think the truth is, when we reach the end of our service, we have become the purest version of ourselves. It is hard for me to even comprehend how much this experience has changed me, made me grow, challenged me and purified me.
I have started saying my goodbyes and they are as hard as I had anticipated. In a Cameroonian goodbye, you wipe the slate clean and you leave a smile. You ask forgiveness for anything wrong you may have said, anything wrong you may have done, and you ask the other to remember you by the good times you shared together. You ask them to think of you from time to time and to never forget that from now on, you are family. In my final days in Nyambaka, every time I saw my neighbors, close friends, co-workers or village family, I heard, “mi yida a hortan,” which means, “I don’t want you to go”. At the beginning of my Peace Corps journey, I strived to integrate in a way that would actually make me part of this community. I feel now that I am—yes, I am still different, but Nyambaka has been, and always will be, a place I can call home.
I know it’s time for me to move onto the next chapter and leave this place for the next volunteer. I am walking away from Nyambaka proud of what I did, grateful for what I learned and touched by the community who took me in. The Peace Corps motto is, “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” It is just that.