IST. In Service Training. The point where, after three months at site, everyone is going a little crazy. We have been researching, interviewing, data mining, drinking copious amounts of shay/buna, meeting new people, and forgetting our Amharic. We have been getting sick, getting harassed and getting to be known. We have been missing each other.
So Peace Corps brings us all together, with our Ethiopian counterparts, sticks us in 9 hour days of training, and then lets us loose in Addis Ababa at night. Sounds like a good time, and for the most part it is. I actually learned a few things about composting and food security. I visited the National Aids Resource Center and got a little jealous of their resources. I discovered my counterpart really likes his sunglasses. But most importantly I got to catch up with the family of volunteers I came in with. The volunteers who are going through the same emotional cycle as me. The volunteers whose support I couldn’t do without.
IST is also the time when I got to know better those volunteers I only said a few words to before. Whether because we never had the same trainings, they lived in a different village, or we simply didn’t have much common ground, we certainly do now.
Nobody’s experience is the same. Some of us are in small villages, some in towns, and some in large cities. Some of us speak Amharic, some Tigrynia, some Oromifa, and some are picking up second and third tribal languages down south. Some of us are working with health centers, rural outposts, English learning centers, agricultural offices, and tree nurseries. But what we have in common is the day to day trials and small victories that come with living in communities where we both belong and do not belong. Where we represent change and hope as well as materialism and charity. Where we live in a fishbowl, yet no one really know us.
Three months in site, six months in country, coming back together gives us the chance to reevaluate. Are we still here for the same reasons? Have our expectations changed? What does success look like now? It is still early enough in our service to shape these things.
Coming in to IST I was worried about the changes I was seeing in myself. I was more blunt, curt, quick to assume and ignore people. And while many of these are coping mechanisms for the day to day barrage, what didn’t bother me 4 months ago was getting under my skin 4 weeks ago.
I didn’t want to come back to site, or America for that matter, a bitter jaded expat worker. But everyone is struggling. What is rude? Where to set boundaries? How much Doctor Who is really normal to watch in one day? And I realized I wasn’t doing too bad. And then I had a small incident that was a little scary, and I realized I wanted to go back to site. I was actually excited to go back to site, to start work, and see the people I hadn’t seen in three weeks. And it wasn’t about getting out of Addis (well, a small part of it was), but getting to Gondar.
So IST did it’s job. It got me out of the funk. It shook me awake to the bitterness that was sowing seeds. It gave me a jolt of ferenji food, and sent me back ready to create relationships, get shit done, and separate my self worth from the times when I don’t get shit done. The show must go on, as they don’t say here.