The Mid-Service Slump is Real Y’all!

Music, music, music!

mid-service slump (n): the sudden severe feeling of guilt for not having done enough throughout your Peace Corps service, especially felt at the year mark

Okay, so I made that up entirely. Stay with me.

At the beginning of Pre-Service Training (PST), our Director of Programming and Training (DPT)…also known as the fantastic and enviable Bryan Dwyer…gave us a peek inside the emotional journey we’d be taking over the course of our twenty-seven months in Rwanda. The Office for Special Services has even dubbed it the “Cycle of Vulnerability and Adjustment”. After Bryan finished, my cohort and I didn’t exactly scoff, but we certainly didn’t subscribe to the cycle. After all, can anyone really pinpoint every emotion I’ll experience in twenty-seven months of service?

Well. No. But close enough.

I’m living proof that the cycle is more a less an accurate road map of what emotions you feel during Peace Corps. (With April being one huge exception and emotional detour for Peace Corps Rwanda.)

feelings-mapUp until that ten-month mark (April), things were smooth sailing. I had those couple dips during training when I was emotionally drained…cough…language learning…cough, but on the whole things were great and I sailed through the “honeymoon phase” along with the rest of my cohort. April happened and my little squiggly line dipped so far down that it’s off the silly chart. Somehow, our Health 6 family helped one another through our tragedies and my line eventually made it back to its normal progression.

Month twelve (June) came and went and my little squiggly line never really dipped; I was too busy planning my WASH ToT and staying caught up with committee work. Then month fifteen (September) came along and slammed right into me.

At the end of September, I just started to feel off. It was getting more and more difficult to get out of bed at 5:30 in the morning. I was feeling a bit complacent about my position here in Rwanda. My projects were well on their way (more than halfway through the WASH lessons), my counterpart had just finished a Permagarden training all on his own, I’d just completed two weeks of intensive malaria training, and I was feeling productive enough at home that going into the office seemed like a hassle. On top of that, my health center is incredible. The community needs a volunteer, sure, but the staff at work is just so fantastic that sometimes I feel like the center runs at 100% whether I’m there or not. (It’s taken me until this past weekend to realize that that was the goal all along, right? Build capacity in your colleagues and community leaders…basically Peace Corps 101.)

So, there I am at the end of September, minding my own business…going into work for 4-5 hours a day and coming home to work on reports for the Ministry of Health…and I get this phone call from one of my favorite Peace Corps staff members. She tells me that she recently accepted a position at the CDC in Kigali. I was shocked; ecstatic for her, deeply saddened for my own professional loss, and worried for the future of Peace Corps. That probably sounds dramatic to you all, but this particular woman has been with my cohort since our first days in Rwanda. She’s been our rock and our biggest supporter throughout our struggles. I’m glad Kigali is so small…I will be stalking her at work soon enough.

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Maurice and me!

Fast forward a couple of days and I’m sitting in my house, again, doing WASH reports, again, and I get a call from my counterpart and best friend, Maurice. He drops a bomb: he’s been transferred to a health center in the main part of our district (nearly ninety minutes away) and the next day would be his last at our health center. Now, I don’t really know how to explain this to someone who hasn’t served in the Peace Corps (sorry if that sounds exclusive or snobby or whathaveyou). Your counterpart is your everything. Your colleague. Your immediate supervisor. Your village buddy. Your partner in crime. Your go-to for literally everything Peace Corps related. And, for me, my best friend. After I got off the phone with Maurice, I sat in bed and cried until I was thoroughly finished with my solo pity party. The next day we sat around our office while he prayed and we both cried a bit. Eventually, I had to leave early because I honestly just couldn’t take sitting around and moping during his last few hours at work. We hugged it out and he was on his way the next morning.

Over the course of the next week, I kind of just floated through work. I didn’t have electricity all week (pretty common occurrence during wet season) and busied myself in hands-on community work, laundry, and helping my neighbor plant grass (because the Red Cross is just that bougie). By week’s end, after having read through every paperback novel in my house, it finally occurred to me that the reason both of these work losses hit me so hard was because I was already deep into my mid-service slump! I thought back to that dumb little cycle during training, remembered that damn squiggly line, and finally started to feel comfortable owning my slump. After all, I’d made it to the mid-point. Hell, I’ve made it past the midpoint. I’ve got a little under ten months left and have been here about sixteen!

Armed with that little slump badge, I headed to Kigali last Saturday for the wedding of my language teacher, Immaculee. Vanessa and I made it to our hostel just before the monsoon level rains started and got all done up for our first Kigali wedding!

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In our Senegal dresses. #sherberttwins

Rwanda wedding culture is much different than America and is actually shifting quite dramatically as the younger generations come into their marriages. Last month (while V and I were still in Senegal), Immaculee had a traditional wedding in the town she grew up in and where her family still resides. Last Saturday, she completed the marriage with a modern ceremony in the city.

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As is common in Rwanda, there were two ceremonies held at the same time. Two couples, previously strangers, marry at the same time to save on wedding costs.

The ceremony was beautiful and included plenty of choir music and up-down prayer. (I will never get over the gorgeous hymns sung in this country.) When the wedding was over, we (Vanessa, myself, and other PCVs who had come for the festivities) headed over to the reception hall.

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Immaculee was the most flawless bride!

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Sparklers at the reception…sure!

The reception was set up much like a large conference, with row seating for the audience and a “bride” and “groom” family section. There were four family speeches given, alternating between each side, while the audience dined on Fanta and cake. It was clear that the bride’s family spoke to the groom’s family and vice verse during their speeches; it was a lovely show of respect for their new in-laws. After each family spoke, it was time for the gift-givers to give a brief speech and hand over their gift to Immaculee and Jean Paul. I was reluctantly chosen to be the PCV spokesperson, so when we all went to the front of the reception hall, I gave a very brief speech and we handed over our gifts to the lovely couple. Following that, we snapped some photos with the gorgeous couple and were on our merry way.

IMG_0476Immaculee’s wedding could not have come at a better time for me. I know she, clearly, did not plan her wedding around my slump…but boy did it help. I was so fortunate to spend the day celebrating two people’s love for one another; it helped me see the bigger picture of – you know – life. At one point during the ceremony, Immaculee rested her head on Jean Paul’s shoulder and I couldn’t help but let out an audible “Awww!” Seeing two people so in love profess it in front of their family and friends was exactly what my cold little heart needed.

Following the reception, a few of us PCVs headed out to dinner and dancing. Given that I have a liver/kidney function test coming up (due to recent surprise illnesses and fevers), I stayed well hydrated, 100% sober, and danced my tooshie off with the other PCVs until well into the morning.

And then came the major upswing: coming back home on Sunday.

Yesterday was International Day of the Girl Child (why call it “girl child”, whyyy?). I celebrated with two mighty hugs from the girls in the photo below. They brighten even my darkest days with their giggles and determination to say “hello” before they run off to afternoon classes. But, honestly, what I love most about these girls are their attitudes. Mariya and Kabebe are feisty! They are determined to get what they want out of life and make their desires known. Even with Rwanda’s Parliament being majority female, feisty not an attitude you see often in Rwanda. I have done and will continue to do everything I can to foster their drive and strong spirit; I hope they never lose their feisty.

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Mariya and Kabebe, my neighbors and besties!

And then there was today. The final upswing.

I went to work this morning expecting another casual work day of filling out reports and watching Rugamba fill out the same reports in Kinyarwanda. Insteaaad…I met my new counterpart! Maurice’s position has been filled by Betty, a middle-aged Rwandan woman who I can already tell is extremely dedicated to her job. (Side note: I have so many talented, strong, driven women in my life here in Rwanda…it is incredible!) Betty speaks very little English, so that’s a plus for me! (My Kinya skills might yet improve!) We worked side-by-side today, chatting about life and Peace Corps, until I had to go buy eggs. (Gotta get ’em before they sell out, seriously!) What I found to be particularly fantastic is that my titulaire (supervisor) had already explained to Betty her role as my counterpart. In fact, I think it was part of the job description when hiring for the position. My heart is so full of love for this staff and this community. Many PCVs struggle with finding a counterpart or with their staff not fully supporting them. And here I am – with my titulaire hiring someone based partly on their desire to work with a PCV!

By the time I got home today I was already a few days out of the slump and excited to make french toast with my newly bought eggs. As I unlocked my door, my neighbor Jackie came bounding out and told me how excited she was for the rain (you and me both, darlin’!). We shared some tea until the Red Cross umukozi/my surrogate grandpa came over to join and we all just kind of hung out for a few hours. A totally normal day in Rwanda.

And now?

I’m sitting in bed with the little juice I have left from the hour of electricity I had tonight, writing this blog post, to express the norms of the mid-service slump and to brag a bit about having come out of it mostly unscathed. I spend a lot of time writing about the positive aspects of Peace Corps…mostly because I haven’t had very many negatives (aside from the deeply tragic ones). But I want everyone out there (Bueller, Bueller…?) to know that it’s not always rainbows and thousand hill vistas out here. We PCVs do get down. In fact, Peace Corps guilt is one of our biggest struggles (and probably a huge influence of the mid-service slump)…but that’s a topic for another time, maybe.

P.S. Here, have some random photos from the STOMP meeting weekend:

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Our favorite meeting spot, RZ Manna, made us a complimentary Peace Corps latte! HOW CUTE IS THAT.

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STOMP Rwanda – October 2015

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Our transit house, when they take out our couches and replace them with plastic lawn chairs. I didn’t think it could get more frat-house…until it did.