Natalie Garro, 129 TESS
So much has changed. So much hasn’t. I read somewhere once that at the end of a journey, we come back to where it all began and know the place, as if for the first time. In so many ways this is the end of a journey; even though my Peace Corps journey isn’t over yet, my time with my cohort has come to an end. It’s a lot of bittersweet emotions as I prepare to say goodbye to the people who have been my family for the last 22 months.
We don’t get to choose our family. And, as with any family, there have been conflicts, frustrations, and moments of extreme exasperation. There have been fights and tears. But there have also been laughs and smiles. Inside jokes, empathy, support, and love. Endless love.
I like to think I came to Peace Corps reasonably well mentally prepared for the constant hurricane of emotions I assumed would accompany my service. I did not come prepared for the absolutely overwhelming notion that the time would one day come to say goodbye; I was not prepared for the realization that the beginning of our Close of Service Conference might mark the final hello – that the end might be a final goodbye – with some of the best people I have ever had the privilege of being forced to get to know.
The faces are fewer in number now than when we touched down in Thailand, and although they’ve remained more or less the same, I have been a silent witness to the personal evolution of every soul behind.
In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “We beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
When I look back on my service, years from now, I will remember my village, my community, my family and friends here. I will remember the adventures, the struggles, and the triumphs. But I will also remember the people I served beside. I will remember lying on the floor in front of the fans in piles of sweat and exhaustion. Bike rides through the countryside of Singburi and Saturday afternoon beers at the River Bar. Flipcharts, skits, and group outings in Bangkok. Group hugs and the comfort we eventually found in one another.
Life will continue, but I don’t think I will ever stop wishing for one more reunion with my cohort. I admit, I have not always felt it – as someone who has existed on the margins for my whole life – but in this moment, I feel so blessed to have been a part of Thailand Cohort 129. And although my service has been far from perfect, I wouldn’t change a thing.
To every person who served as part of Peace Corps Thailand Group 129, from the bottom of my heart, thank you. Thank you for the conversations, for the support and encouragement, for the laughs, for the tears, for forcing me to grow, for holding space, and for showing up – on the good days, the bad days, the hard days, and the days where nothing made sense. I have learned something from each and every one of you, and I am forever a changed person for having had you in my life.
Here’s to the future: to the evolution and mystery and promise it holds. Here’s to reunions on different continents, to reminiscing, and to the paths that now lead us on to the people we will become. Good luck to all of you. Go forth, knowing you have made a difference, knowing you are strong and capable, but – more than anything – knowing you are so, so loved.