‘Why was I going? For curiosity? For adventureship or friendship? For the sun or for the moon?’ -Elaine Dundy, The Dud Avocado
I ask myself these questions daily. I wonder: what led me here, to Togo, training to be an English teacher, seeking French fluency? Since I applied for Peace Corps over a year ago, I’ve articulated my motivation, my goals, my belief in myself repeatedly. But I still struggle to put into words what core part of me has always wanted to do this.
Often, I think about Vietnam, where I taught English four years ago. I think about the mistakes I made, the regrets I have, how I learned more in 11 weeks than I thought possible, how that experience prepared me for the challenges inherent to this work. But I also think about how endlessly grateful I was and am to have experienced all of it, how individuals supported, inspired, empowered, grounded, and led me. I think about how I might feel here had I not gone there first, how little I sweat in Togo’s rainy season humidity compared to Vietnam, how the first night a lone lizard on the wall felt familiar to me while it terrified another, how the ubiquitous dirt roads and motorbikes comfort me.
I think about Kenya, too, where I tutored students between high school and university on the other side of Africa. I remember my moments of intense loneliness and how suddenly, upon finding connection, I felt happy. How I faced a venomous snake and calmly told my companions it was time to go rather than giving into my fear. Anyone who knows me well knows I faint when needles enter my arm, whether taking blood or providing immunity. My second day here, I pricked my own finger to practice testing for malaria; I have since received five shots on an empty stomach without once reaching lightheadedness. The grit must grow.
Every day, I miss the people I worked with in Portland—adults with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. I miss the ambiguous goal of supporting them toward living their best lives through art and community. When I interviewed for that job a week before leaving for Kenya and after applying to nearly 30 positions in the nonprofit sector, I could not foresee how much it would mean to me. It was simply a job to fill my time in Portland—then it became the why to my time in Portland.
Alas, here I am, for the sun or for the moon, je ne sais pas encore. Despite the mysterious bites dotting my ankles, despite the five hours I spent at church on Sunday (turns out my host family is Pentecostal and Sunday was Pentecost itself), despite knowing how long 27 months will feel across the world from my family and best friends, I trust that my reasons will reveal themselves; that so far I’ve felt a release, at peace, and a resolve to be better; that Togo has a lot to teach me. And for now, in my nightly bucket showers under the stars, I look up to see the same moon as anywhere else in the world.