When I left Ukraine back in late 2013, a revolution had just started. As friends and I loafed around Vietnam and Cambodia, we stayed glued to our computers for updates. The images we saw of Maidan Nezalezhnosti showed a place we no longer recognized – yet a place we used to frequent on visits to Kyiv. While all this was unfurling in a country that I had grown to love, I returned to the States and eventually found a job with the Federal Government at the General Services Administration in Philadelphia. As I gradually shared the news about my upcoming job and life information, I was constantly encouraged with statements such as “You’re going to LOVE Philly!” and “Why do you think I always talk about my love for the city?!” I’ll be honest, everyone was right – Philly is amazing, different, and close enough to a body of water to keep me sane. I was lucky to meet some amazing people who will be a part of my life forever, experience a new city and actually learn a thing or two, like how to truly appreciate a donut from Beiler’s and a cheese steak from Jim’s (if you visit Philly, you can do the Pat’s and Geno’s thing if you feel you have to, but do yourself a favor and go to Jim’s on the corner of 4th and South…you’re welcome). Yet something was still missing, though I could not quite put my finger on it.
Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday, even more so since college. It was the time of year when friends would reconvene and inevitably spend time in the same garages, playing cards, talking about the things college students do…and don’t even get me started on the food. Fast forward a few years and it is no longer as college students, but now as early/mid-career professionals gathering to swap pictures of kids, tell significant others embarrassing stories of each other’s early years, or to simply see people for the first time in years. Thanksgiving 2015 was really the catalyst and it started back on Main Street in good old East Greenwich, RI.
A conversation about passions and how to pursue them over a few pints of Guinness with a wise and trusted friend really got the gears to turning. Something that had been whispering in my ear of late had suddenly grown like the gentle chop of the Narragansett Bay on a warm summer’s day. Now it was sustained, chest high, and right there in front of me. The fact that I really enjoyed being a Peace Corps Volunteer is not a secret. What I had not realized is that I really enjoyed that type of “work.” Being side by side, helping others to improve their communities, seeing the passion and the fulfillment first-hand, while supporting others to achieve their dreams – that is what I missed and what I knew I wanted to go back to.
I reached out to a good friend of mine who is deeply rooted in the world of Peace Corps Response and we had a very frank discussion about my future goals and how they mirrored a different type of service with the organization. He held firm to his belief that this was the right move for me and for the first time, I agreed. I found an opportunity that matched my goals and skills, and applied. Shortly thereafter, I found myself accepting an invitation to serve for one year as an Environmental Health Project Design, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with Les Compagnons Fontainiers du Rwanda (COFORWA), an organization focusing primarily on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) extension projects in the Muhanga District of Rwanda. I fly out on Sunday April 17, 2016 – fast approaching!
As I sit here at lunch, finishing my last week in a city that has truly grown on me, my mind drifts to images of what may lay ahead. However, I have to caution myself not to get too far ahead. While I need to mentally prepare to embrace what is about to become, I need to appreciate the “now” and what special times I have left. My friends will be dearly missed, but this is something I need to do and I think they understand for the most part. It’s been real, Philly. You, the city, but more importantly the people have made my time here a chapter that I do not truly believe is finished writing itself.
Rwanda, I look forward to meeting you soon.
Originally drafted 3/29/2016