I’ve been warned about these kinds of questions. The questions that to an almost-RPCV seem to invite a flood of stories about an emotional rollercoaster of ups and downs, Dengue Fever and diarrhea, project failures and success. “It’s a trick!” Everyone warned, “You’ll dive into campfire storytelling mode, and their eyes will glaze over before you can explain the difference between PST and MST. Sure, your mom and close friends will want the insider info, but more than likely those are the people who have been hearing about it along the way. For everyone else, you’re better off coming up with a cookie-cutter response that both satisfies their vague curiosity and keeps you from going insane.”
The question caught me off guard, less because I didn’t know what to say, but more because it signified the beginning of the end of my time here. I had to hand it to the guy, he had pretty good timing. Liz, Alyssa, and I were getting ready to board the plane that would take us to our Close of Service conference on the island of Chuuk.
To a PCV, COS means 2 things- First, it is the conference you go to near the end of your service. Second, your actual day of departure is referred to by many as your COS. I had COS 3 weeks ago, but I don’t COS until mid-July. Still with me?
Generally speaking, it’s an exciting thing when all the PCVS in a Micronesia/Palau training group get together for training. Everyone reconnects with their closest friends, and nostalgia is inevitable because everyone seems to have seen and grown so much. This time around was a little tricky, for a few reasons. Our group was a few people smaller and it was sad to go through this rite of passage without them. M78s as a whole have also become extremely bored with group skits and what we in Camp Adventure called “Mandatory Fun”. In all fairness, this has a lot to do with our chemistry as a group. No one likes to admit it, be we do tend to be a little fragmented. These elements combined (on top of the fact that a woman who read tarot cards for me said COS would be constricting…seriously) equated to a very tentative outlook of our trip to Chuuk.
I will be the first to admit that I, and the tarot cards, was wrong. COS conference workshops were filled with relevant information that was delivered as quickly as possible so that we could focus on our real COS objective-reaching closure through the planning of post-COS travels, late-night talks about the future, and the purchase of a few too many souvenirs. On the final night of the conference, each M78 team had been asked to prepare a special presentation. A few groups opted for slideshows or videos they had made.
Team Kosrae, in my unbiased opinion, had by far the best presentation. We knew our presentation would have to be thoughtful, calculated, and showcase our favorite bits of Kosraean culture. After great deliberation, our cohort of three decided to facilitate a collaborative pursuit. Our presentation required all of the M78s to get up, move to the back of the room, stand in a circle, and play Epo. Epo is a schoolyard (and school hallway, and classroom, and living room)game that pretty much follows the rules of standard American hacky sack, but the ball is instead made out of either pandanas leaves or paper. Keep the ball off the floor using your foot, leg, or other body part without using hands and arms. Every time someone hits the ball, everyone claps twice. There is no winner and no loser, and play continues until everyone has had enough fun. Unsurprisingly, Epo was a huge hit with the crowd. We didn’t take home the COS trophy, but you can’t win them all, right? Props to Team Chuuk for their Chuukese stick dance!
Earlier in the week a few people had the idea of doing group superlatives. You know those things that just reek of high school nostalgia? Best smile, Most athletic, etc.. Well the idea wasn’t really going anywhere so I put up a poster on our last morning and asked people to add their own superlative categories throughout the day. These are the categories we ended up with:
1. Most likely to end up a Peace Corps Country Director
2. Most changed since PST
3. Best crafter
4. Most likely to come back and live in Micronesia one day
5. Most likely to sport a rat tail in America
6. Most likely to be the first to get an M78 tattoo
7. Most likely to adopt a Palauan/Micronesian baby
8. Best island style
9. Most likely to write a best-selling Peace Corps memoir
10. Most integrated/ “native”
11. Most likely to become filthy rich
12. Most likely to require a 127C form
13. Best poop story
14. Most likely to win Survivor
15. Least likely to become a Country Director
16. Best fisher(wo)man
17. Most likely to do Peace Corps Response
18. Best PCV couple that never happened
19. Most likely to give future children Micronesian/Palauan names
20. Most likely to night crawl someone in America
21. Most likely to wear a muumuu in America
After group presentations and the awarding of the COS trophy, I diligently tallied the votes everyone had casted for M78 Superlatives. I was personally selected for #6, and told my dad to be on the lookout for the tribal tattoo I’ll probably get while in Asia this summer. Jussst kidding. Or am I?
That night we had a rowdy (but fitting!) farewell. Emotions were running wild and everyone was really just appreciating the time we had left together. I remember looking around at this solid group of friends I’d made and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude. The people I have gotten to know through Peace Corps are fearless, inspiring, and utterly unstoppable. One of these fantastic people is going to Yale Law School! I give her a hard time because she’s shy about it, but man I’m proud of her. A few of these people are planning on hiking the Appalachian Trail! Seriously, if you can do Peace Corps, you can do anything. A couple of us plan to continue wandering the world. Others still are returning home and pursuing other adventures like Masters degrees, “real” jobs, and the daunting combination of re-integration and reverse culture shock. Keep a lookout, because these are the people that will be running the world one day.
The next day was the day of departure for most of the people in our group- teams Pohnpei and Chuuk. Team Kosrae, limited by the plane schedule, had a few days before departing. As most packed up to return back for the final stretch of service, the 3 of us loaded into the back of a Peace Corps truck and got a ride into town for our last round of physical exams and blood tests. Liz expressed frustrations with the unorganized goodbyes, especially since there were people we missed that we probably wouldn’t be seeing again in the near future. I had to agree, sometimes you just need that closure a goodbye offers. Upon completion of our tasks with Dr. She, we found refuge in a hotel/restaurant called Truk Stop. I walked in and was instantly transported to an intricately decorated beach bar that I swear must have been a portal to Hawaii. The restaurant was WAY fancier than any other restaurant I’d visited in the FSM. And more importantly, THEY SOLD CHEESECAKE. This was the best possible news for a group of hungover girls that were sad to see their friends go. If the cheesecake hadn’t helped us cope, certainly the retail therapy did. Truk Stop has a kickass gift shop where I picked up a variety of knickknacks like a Micronesian flag, a Chuukese carved mask, a tshirt (of course), and some postcards. Afterward we went back to the resort, we caught up with Team Palau and one of the rogue Team Chuuk PCVs that was sticking around an extra day. We partook in a nice dinner, followed by an early bedtime (for me) and a viewing of Ender’s Game (for everyone else).
The next morning held yet another round of goodbyes (I don’t see those ending anytime soon). Team Palau was homeward bound and Team Kosrae had a full day of relaxation planned. We took our turns getting massages, and spent a solid hour taking pictures together as we kayaked around the resort. I unintentionally turned my attention inward and really began the process of figuring out what Peace Corps has meant to me and how I want to spend the next 3 months.