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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

EC-81 Swearing-In

I’m sweating in a black suit, on stage with my seven other PCT friends in front of a small group of about 30 people (host families, co-workers, Peace Corps trainers, etc.). Two air-conditioners are on but they don’t seem to be making much of a difference. Interestingly, rather than growing accustomed to the heat, I’ve simply grown accustomed to sweating all the time. Seriously, I’m a gross, sweaty mess wherever I go. I can only hope people understand what's going on when they always see me soaked to the bone. I think it takes years- maybe even generations?- for your body to truly acclimatize to a new environment. And being from the Northeast, I’m built more to retain heat than to lose it. This is a battle I'm simply not going to win.

Anyway, none of the people I invited have shown up- not even our host-mom. To be fair, I did talk it down a bit with everyone, replying to questions of how “big” the ceremony would be with, “I don’t think there’s going to be much to eat.” Of course, I was spot-on, but the truth did nothing to entice people to come. In this moment, I think of the time my mom drove three hours on a weeknight to attend an awards ceremony for my Anthropology Honor Society in college. We both felt embarrassed, I think, because it turned out to be a really tiny ceremony. But it really didn’t matter how big it was, ya know- it was her thoughtfulness that was so important. (Of course, that was my real mom and she’s supposed to have those moments.) A sobering wave of homesickness barrels over me.

The swearing-in ceremony starts to drag a bit after about 45 minutes, but I appreciate the formality. This is, after all, a big moment in our lives. We’re taking an oath of office and beginning our official careers as Youth Developers in the US Peace Corps. During the past seven weeks of Pre-Service Training, my niche has become computer literacy. This is simply the need that has presented itself in my work and school attachments, so I’m running with it. I’m now involved in two different programs: one at an elementary school and another with a government-run program for at-risk youth. It’s quite a process because every step of the way you have to think about inclusion (of all people involved), facilitation (rather than just teaching), and sustainability (I won’t be here forever!). Building capacity so that the program continues once your gone is incredibly important. There’s so much I could accomplish on my own, but the programs that come from the community- the ones they feel are their own- are the ones that prove sustainable. Listening, observing, and learning from the locals were major points to our training, and many of the RPCVs I’ve met also stressed the importance of stepping back for a while and seeing what the people themselves want changed.

The American charge d’affairs to Grenada asks us to raise our right hands and repeat the official oath everyone must take in order to work for the US government. It’s quite an honor to be given this opportunity- to represent America in such a constructive way- and I’m ready to go prove myself in the field. I look around at the seven others on stage with me. The clock is ticking now- we have two years from this moment; how far will we go?