Before coming to Senegal I scoured the internet for blogs written by people in relationships. I wasn’t all that successful and what I did find was not encouraging. Even before joining, if you’re honest, Peace Corps asks you to fill out a fairly detailed questionnaire concerning the romantic relationship and how it will or will not affect your service. I also spoke with one of my sorority sisters who started serving in Tanzania a year before I started my service. She relayed the grave news that only one relationship in her stage survived the first year of service. Having a significant other Stateside is fairly taboo within Peace Corps.
In my stage of 56 people there were 15 people in a relationship when we started. 5 couples have made it the two years. I should qualify this by saying that 5 couples have remained at that same level of commitment without any hiccups, or at least none that I know of. My stage quickly acquired a not so nice nickname because so many of us started out in relationships. For some reason there is a stigma against having someone back home. It supposedly lessens your experience. Keeping one foot in America makes you a lesser volunteer. I definitely garnered a reputation during PST as the crazy girl who got up to Skype at 6am. Ah, the glories of the west coast. But, at this point, I think I can say that I’m not defined by my relationship within the Peace Corps community. It’s taken as a fact along with my Thiesty region-ness and people know I’m not a wet blanket, which I think is the concern.
In my opinion, my relationship didn’t hinder my Peace Corps service; it enhanced it. Being able to share what you really think with someone you care about and who won’t judge youis nice. It also gives you perspective and an outlet from the groupthink that Peace Corps can sometimes be. What I do know about the other relationships that made it is that we all talk every day. Skype will be your best friend and a third party in the relationship. There were differences among the relationships. Some had significant others in school which made visits easier and longer. Others had significant others who are working. A demanding job Stateside can definitely act as a distraction, but I think it’s easier for the person who is a PCV. We’re always having new experiences and have ridiculous things happen to us. Definitely expect to carry conversation. It’s also important to have the same expectations of what the relationship is and where it’s at. Many relationships met their demise because people weren't communicating when they were talking. Visiting is a must, the ability to countdown a necessity. I would also recommend that your significant other visit you as late as makes sense into your service when your language skills and cultural understanding are at their best. Sorry if this sounds preachy.
Today is my anniversary with Matt. He has been unbelievable. He didn’t cave when I asked him to tell me to come home during PST and he was the voice of reason when my mom and I had whipped me into a frenzy. We had several fabulous vacations not least of which was his trip to Senegal where he was a champ. He deserves a ton of credit for putting up with all of my shenanigans and coming along for the ride. Matt, I cannot thank you enough for everything.
Not only have I seen and experienced change in my relationship with Matt, but with all of my relationships. I have been overwhelmed with the amount of support I’ve received. There were the usual suspects who have always been and continue to be awesome and there were the friends from high school who came out of the woodwork to donate to our girls’ camp. I’ve been able to reconnect with some friends over email, gchat, and Skype who I had lost touch with or didn’t feel as close to anymore, but there have also been the friends who have become more distant. My family has also been fantastic. I’ve always had a close family, but their letters, packages, and fun when I went home at Christmas was above and beyond. I’ve also enjoyed connecting with my aunt through her class and experiencing Senegal with her through her students. I’m excited to see how all of these relationships progress once I’m back in the States and back in action.
The most surprising and rewarding relationships over the past two years have been with my Peace Corps friends. I would not be writing this post if not for Tamar. There’s absolutely no way I would have made it through PST without her. My girls know every single mundane and fantastical detail of my life since August 13th 2009 and I wouldn't have it any other way. My friends have gotten me through the dark times and really made Peace Corps a fantastic experience. There are people like Katherine who I would have been friends with anywhere at any point in my life and there are also the people who I would have never been friends with if not for Peace Corps. Peace Corps has definitely taught me not to read a book by it's cover and that you might as well jump on and enjoy the ride.
Huge shout out to Jackie, Katherine, and Tamar for everything they've done and for all of the good times ahead.