I want to remember the reality of my service. The moment where a gorgeous sunset was only obscured by a Togolese friend’s smile. When an afternoon bike ride or stroll became an opportunity to connect and exchange ideas with locals several villages away. Lost in the deep present of Africa, a million miles from my American past and future, feeling no worse for the distance. But, that’s not the whole picture. Really I cried more than I ever expected in want of affection or validation. Really I wanted to leave more days than I can count, more times than was healthy. But, I’ve still finished and am feeling whatever this experience was. I know that thousands of Americans give up before even beginning what I’ve already done; each never tasting how incredibly beautiful and challenging the Peace Corps can be. I’ve made friends here that I hope to have in my life until its end, such is their incredible warmth and kindness, just as I’ve concurrently experienced heretofore unfelt emotional lows. A friend suggested that those despondent periods were a valuable catalyst for personal growth; one can’t change unless they mark the shadows each positive experience casts. Perhaps my Togo time’s darkest shade was created by how incredibly bright other aspects of it shone? Like the local development problems PCVs mull over ad infinitum, there’s no definitive answer or idea that reconciles every aspect of an undertaking as enormous as one’s service is. The best course seems to be mindfully acknowledging and accepting every truth, while moving forward, pragmatic but lighthearted.
I didn’t know where Togo was before my Peace Corps invitation came. Now, I can’t see the world and not consider it. Its dense North-South orientation, its chaotic stability, its incomprehensibly functional mélange of so many attitudes and cultures. Togo’s left an indelible mark on who I am and, I earnestly hope, maybe some difference I’ve made here will linger after I’ve left. That change and that hope, two realities I’ll always feel.