Each year, one new group of volunteers comes to Paraguay for each sector—health, community development, agriculture, and environment. What this means, because of our 27 month deployment, is that once a year, for each sector, one group is finishing up, one group is celebrating a year in country, and one group is beginning training. For health, that time is now.
About a year ago, I was in training. I was the greenhorn, the lost new volunteer uncertain what Paraguay would mean for me. I looked up to the group of health volunteers before me, which are endearingly called my “sister G.”
It’s hard to believe that I’m now filling the mentor role for a new group of volunteers—and scarier to think that my mentors from my sister G are about to begin a new journey, the life of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs, in government jargon).
This period of important landmarks—finishing up, celebrating a year, and beginning training—I’m going to call the “hi-bye” period. “Hi” to the new group, and “bye” to the veterans. In a year, I’ll know what it’s like to be saying “bye,” but for now, I can only tell you what it’s like to have made it to the hyphen, the group caught between “hi” and “bye.”
I don’t know how I made it to the hyphen. Training and adjusting to Paraguay was a phantasmagoria. Living in a new culture and language confuses things, and made me wonder what was real and what was something I thought real but wasn’t. But, through it all I had my sister G. They answered my questions, sent reassurance (that what was happening and what I was feeling was not out-of-the-ball-park), and cheered me up when I was down. You can’t truly understand the Peace Corps experience unless you’ve done it yourself, and so I looked up to (and still do) each person in my sister G not only because they proved service was possible, but also because they understood my fight in a way few others can. Picture a five-year-old boy who dreams of becoming a baseball player getting to be coached by his favorite pro player—that’s how I felt about my sister G during my training. They knew everything.
Now, being where my sister G was during my training, I know that they didn’t have all the answers. That a lot of the advice they gave was theoretical. That they aren’t untouchable pros, but amazing people and friends. I’m going to miss them as they start to roll out.
It’s only right, being the in hyphen, that I help the “hi” group as much as my sister G helped me. I have a mentee from the new group, and I look forward to meeting her. We’ve already exchanged emails as she prepared to come to Paraguay. The new group arrived just days ago and I send them my warmest welcome.
The hyphen is the most stable stage to be in during the hi-bye period. I have the experience of a year in this hot and sunny country, but I don’t have to worry about what I’m going to do with myself after Peace Corps just yet. It’s a time to reflect. To think about my first year. Hear the stories of what the “bye” group did during their service. Listen to the anxieties of the “hi” group. It’s a time of conflicting motions—joy for my sister G’s success and sadness that they are leaving. They say Peace Corps is a roller coaster. They never mention, though, that it will be the most winding roller coaster known to humans.