A little over a week ago, the Peace Corps Regional Director for Africa and Country Director for Cape Verde called the Santiago-based volunteers to Praia to make an announcement: after 24 years, Peace Corps is closing its program in Cape Verde. (Volunteers on the other islands were consolidated as well and notified by telephone.) The official US government term for the transition is “graduation.” The decision was made after a worldwide programmatic review; Cape Verde is one of six graduating host countries. The decision is based partly on the fact that Cape Verde is not one of the world’s Least Developed Countries and on the funding available to Peace Corps worldwide. The agency wishes to focus resources on the poorest of the poor. Our program will close in September 2012.
On a personal level, the upshot of the news is that Adam and I won’t serve a second year in Cape Verde. We have several options, though I won’t bore you with the details. We have decided to pursue a transfer within Peace Corps. Our Program Director, Country Director and Regional Director will work to locate another country that can use our skills and experience, and we will join an incoming group of volunteers for a new Pre-Service Training.
If our transfer happens (not a given), we will be committing to one more year of service, rather than a full two years in the new place. It is bittersweet to think that I won’t serve two years in one place as a PCV—something I had held as a given. If Cape Verde has graduated beyond the need for Peace Corps, that is a good sign for the country. But I boarded the plane fully expecting to be here for two years, and since arriving I haven’t once wished it would be shorter.
I’m sad that I won’t have the opportunity to master Kriolu and Portuguese; that I won’t have another Corn-Eating Day or fixon kongu season; that I’ll have only half the time to explore this and the other islands; that I won’t see some of the neighborhood kids graduate into high school uniforms. Santiago is a beautiful place to live. I’m already feeling sodadi (a sense of homesickness and longing, well known to Cape Verdeans, who have a long history of emigration).
On top of that, graduation means another first year in another new country, with no guarantee of a second year anywhere. Adam and I could apply to extend our service after our second first year, but it’s a competitive process that depends on our performance and the programs’ budget—and we’d be competing with volunteers who will have spent two full years there. Plus, we’d be committing to a third year away from home.
In addition to the fact that I really like Cape Verde, I was looking forward to my second year here for professional reasons. The adaptation and integration process is a long one, and by many accounts, payoffs are big in a volunteer’s second year. I have gotten used to the paradigm that the first year is largely for becoming established, and the second is for action. It’s been a mental saftey blanket for me during the long and winding learning curve of the past six months, helping me stay positive and be patient.
Nonetheless, there are two sides to every coin, aren’t there? If the transfer goes through (and our Regional Director has promised to work his hardest—that transfers are being considered is already an exception), I’ll have the very unique opportunity to meet another country and experience another way of life. I might only scratch the surface when it comes to project work, but one year is a lot of time to learn about life in a foreign place. The experience of doing that twice in two years, with all the support and training of Peace Corps behind me, is not something to scoff at. Plus, cultural exchange is 2/3 of the purpose of Peace Corps, so I’ll have a boost in that department.
At this point, it’s hard impossible to tell where we’ll end up and when we’ll go there, which makes it hard impossible to plan very far ahead. Luckily, Cape Verdeans are not too hung up on planning ahead—a whole lot of things here happen at the last minute and nobody bats an eyelash. It’s just how they roll. So I think Adam and I can pull off some neat projects if we make proposals very soon. And I am sure things will only get clearer once the staff has the chance to begin working out the kinks. Right now, they have just learned that their jobs have disappeared.
After the graduation plans were announced to us in Praia, we had a short Q&A session with our Regional Director. Someone asked for advice on how volunteers can explain to our host communities that Peace Corps is over, with the fact in mind that some of these places have hosted multiple generations of volunteers uninterrupted for a decade or more. His advice was “Finish Strong.” He asked us to realize that it is a privilege that our program is graduating, rather than closing abruptly. Peace Corps more often leaves countries under emergency conditions, or with programs’ futures in limbo—as with the recent situation in Honduras—and volunteers in those cases face a much tougher situation than us. We, on the other hand, are leaving Cape Verde partly because it is stable and strong.
I appreciate the advice, and I also appreciate how hard the Peace Corps staff is working on our behalf. We’ll see what happens. I’ll keep you posted!
Ess Pais, by Cesária Évora
Ali não existe riqueza
Não há ouro, nem diamantes
Mas temos esse paz de Deus
Que no Mundo não há igual
E este clima maravilhoso
Que Deus nos deu
Vem conhecer este país
Here there aren’t riches
There are no gold or diamonds
But we have this peace of God
That has no equal in the World
And this wonderful climate
God has given us
Come and meet this country
[Please excuse the poor translation of this song; see above about mastering Portuguese. Also, I am conveniently leaving out the first verse, which says that if you don’t know Mindelo, you don’t know Cape Verde.]