The long awaited Peace Corps Cameroon Reunion finally took place this past weekend in Chicago. I rang in the New Year with some of my favorite people in this world! Less than five months since we have all left Cameroon and we already needed a reunion. More than 20 of us joined in on the festivity, coming from around the US by train, air or bus.
The Peace Corps is organized by training groups. In Cameroon, there are two groups a year that enter the country to begin their training before being sworn-in as official volunteers. In Cameroon, business and education (SED/ED) trainees enter in June and agroforestry and health (Agro/Health) enter in September. Each group has its distinct personality and the 2008-2010 SED/ED stage (training group in French) was known as a wild bunch from day one. We are a group that liked to have a good time, but still managed to produce some impressive work. Work hard, but party harder is definitely our motto.
We spent the first three months in Cameroon living in a village and spent more or less every waking moment with one another. For most of us, those three months were the most intense period we have, or will ever have experienced in our lives. We were in a culture so utterly different, learning a different language, miles away from anything that remotely represented a comfort zone. We became each other's comfort zone. The bond created during that three months carried us through the rest of our service, and will likely carry us, or at least me, through most of my life.
For the next two years after our training, we were dispersed throughout different parts of Cameroon. Cameroon isn't a big country, but the public transportation is so under developed that it could take days to travel from one region to another. As a result, I was only able to see some of my closest friends less than a dozen times throughout the two years. Some others who were near me, I may see them every week. We had the telephone to keep in touch, but at 30 cents a minute, we defaulted to text messages. Sometimes during the 8th hour of being squeezed on a bus, a text message vent can really calm the anger.
Before we even left the country, plans were already in the works for this reunion. It made the separation slightly easier to handle. We left each other often and have said many rounds of goodbye throughout the two years. So the final goodbye in Yaoundé didn't actually feel all that strange. Yet at the same time, we were closing that chapter of our lives.
Personally, having this reunion to look forward to kept my sanity. The transition back to the real life has been hectic and strange. No matter how much people attempt to understand and be interested in my stories, it pale in comparison to Peace Corps friends. Don't get me wrong, I have amazingly supportive friends outside of Peace Corps, but for some things, it's not the same. Most people have studied abroad and made wonderful friends from the experience. The Peace Corps is a 4-month semester long study abroad times six and some change.
When we reunited, I felt an immediate sense of relief. These are the people who understand me; they are family. We could be doing something as simple as watching TV and someone can make an inside joke that has everyone rolling in laughter. We don't need to censor what we say, because nothing is inappropriate. When we talk about what it's been like being back, someone doesn't need to finish his or her sentence before everyone else nods in agreement. I wasn't alone in these sentiments. Everyone expressed that this weekend was the happiest they have been since leaving Cameroon.
I have never felt such love among a group of people until I met my stage. I didn't even know it is possible to miss a group of people so intensely - yet another wonderful element that the Peace Corps has brought into my life.