‘I have done nothing all summer but wait for myself to be myself again.’ -Georgia O’Keeffe
The final stretch of PST commenced with a self-ceremony: shaving my head. I had decided to do it long ago, but I waited until a symbolic moment, and until my meilleure amie could do it with me. So, at lunchtime on the new moon in Leo, I simultaneously received the shortest haircut of my life and performed my first haircut. The results are nothing short of liberating, confidence-boosting, cooling, and incredibly low-maintenance. When people ask me here, in the cool breeze of my village, why I did it, my typical answer (‘il fait chaud!’) doesn’t suffice. So I shrug, say it’s easier, and hope that soon I can put into French a curiosity to see my hair at every length, a desire to challenge standards, and the symbolism of starting afresh. Plus, I won’t need another haircut for the next two years.
After site visit, I had somehow reached the necessary language benchmark for French, so while I continued pushing it further with more in-depth subject matter in my two-person class—punctuated with rummy breaks, a game at which I seem to thrive—I could continue with peace of mind that I would swear in as a volunteer. We also switched to practicum, two weeks of teaching in a Togolese classroom to secondary school students who chose to learn English, agriculture, and health despite being en vacances. The first few days, the youngest class, 6eme, presented a wild ride of energy, confusion, and trying to put everything I’d learned into practice. I stumbled through co-teaching, then moved on to 4ème, the oldest (and smallest) class, and soon decided that I both can and want to teach English, while also dreaming of perhaps teaching in a university classroom une jour.
The final weeks of PST were difficult, draining, stressful, and emotional. But they were also gratifying, rich, and worth it. At the conclusion of practicum, it was fêteing season. The school threw a graduation fête with dancing, awarding of top three students in each class, and speeches. The next day, after our final language test, I and the other education volunteers spent our last training Saturday together. Monday, we donned matching pagne with our host families at yet another fête with beaucoup dancing, feasting, and more speeches. After that, I returned home to my family and we all changed into another matching pagne that I had gifted them for a picture (we had to wear the first pagne to the fête so we could also match the education volunteers and their families. Clearly, matching is important.). Early the next morning, we said our tearful goodbyes and loaded a bus to Lomé.
Thé almost-week in Lomé was a blur of last-minute things, an air-conditioned bureau, free time, shopping for big things like a mattress and small things like dark chocolate, nighttime synchronized swim-dancing pool parties, digestive systems returning to normal, losing a lot of sleep on purpose, and the main event: the swear-in ceremony. On Friday, we traveled to the U.S. ambassador’s house—once again in matching pagne, this time by sector—and took two oaths. The first was the standard foreign service oath to uphold the constitution, but the second was Peace Corps specific and brought tears to my eyes when I promised to serve with an open heart and mind, approach challenges with determination and humility, and strive toward the goal of world peace and friendship. Though I have had my doubts and questions, in that moment, standing with 40 other volunteers, trainers, and administrative staff—people who have come to mean so much to me—I felt a decade-long dream come true, and I was proud.
After a final fête at a nice hotel that night, we hugged goodbye (for three months, until we meet again at in-service training) and loaded our respective cars to our site assignments. Again rising into the mountains—this time fighting sleep—I arrived at my village feeling already at home. Within the first five days, I received beans at 8am, peanut sauce with pate for dinner, the company of friends old and new, a swarm of biting ants outside my shower, the daunting task of finally moving from suitcases into a two-room home, food poisoning by my own cooking, help installing my lime green toilet seat, time to think and time to wander, the inheritance of furniture and a dog, rain after a month without it, the unpacking and wearing of my favorite sweatshirt, and a sense of anticipation, gratitude, and wonder for all that the next two years might bring.