Preparing for the possibility

When you leave for Peace Corps, you prepare yourself to be away as best you can, knowing that you’re most likely going to miss important holidays, birthdays, weddings and all kinds of other celebrations.  It’s part of the sacrafice.  Volunteers go home for some of these events, but they can’t go home for all of them.  And while it’s not fun to miss these events, you get by.  I spent Thanksgiving with other volunteers and Peruvians, and shared the holiday with them.  I spent Christmas with my homestay family and felt really at home.  Not once did I feel horribly homesick that I was missing these events. 

But something happened that I was only somewhat expecting, but never really thinking about.  My grandmother died this past month.  While not going into details, it was expected and unexpected.  I’ve gotten calls from home during Christmas, Easter, etc and always felt happy about it, but this was the opposite.   Instead of missing an event where everyone was happy, I was missing a traumatic moment with my family…one where everyone converges for a few days and puts everything else on hold.  And I was in Perú with no way out. 

Before I left, we talked about the possibility of my grandmother dying and what we would do if it happened.  Peace Corps only pays for the volunteer to go back to the states for immediate family emergencies (parents, siblings), and seeing as how getting a flight that soon would be very expensive and by the time I got from my site to home, she would be buried, it just wouldn’t be possible to go home.

I prepared myself for being away for holidays, but maybe this is something you just can’t prepare yourself for.  To be honest, I did feel alone and depressed for a few days and took some time out of site in the regional capital.  My homestay family was compassionate and caring, but it just wasn’t the same.  I talked with other volunteers, and they helped out, and I took a few personal days. 

I don’t mean to write this to be depressing, or discourage the 16er’s that will be arriving in Peru in less than a month.  This is just one part of your experience in Peace Corps, not really glamorous.   And my advice would be that before you leave, talk with your family about a plan of action if someone dies.  Although it’s hard to even talk about it - let alone go into the specifics since most likely you won’t know where you’ll be stationed, and access to communication- it’s better to have the plan and know a little bit before you go, rather than having it all hit you at once.