A new group of trainees arrived in Mali on October 30 and I, along with the other PCV trainers, greeted them at the Peace Corps training center fresh off the plane. Unlike my training group, which arrived in the wee hours of the morning, this group of trainees arrived at the training center via the crowded, vibrant streets of Bamako in the mid-afternoon. As they stepped off the buses, you could see a variety of emotions in their faces – excitement, exhaustion, anxiety – which were accompanied by silent profanities and cries of exhilaration and despair.
After a quick briefing on training center logistics and a latrine usage demonstration (ha, ha!), the trainees enjoyed their first, “I don’t think we’re in America anymore,” meal at the center and headed to their huts to sleep off a 24-hour travel-induced hangover.
I certainly don’t envy the trainees, as I remember pre-service training (PST) being both exhausting and challenging. The goal for the trainees during these first two months in country is to learn as much as possible in a very short amount of time. I remember sitting in language class during PST thinking I was totally catching on, just to go back to my homestay family and not understand a word that was being said. I remember having so many questions about culture and norms and getting answers that led me to even more questions. I remember so many of my assumptions I had about Mali and Peace Corps service being challenged during PST. I remember PST feeling like an eternity.
But despite all of these memories, I have found myself being nostalgic watching the trainees and listening to their words of enthusiasm and concern. Perhaps it’s because I now feel like I’m on the fast track to the end of my service and wish I could have more time. Or maybe it’s because I remember how exciting it was to be learning so many new things during that time. I also think that I crave their sense of optimism and naïveté – more than a year of service certainly wears on a volunteer’s spirit.
More than anything though, I think I’m just excited for them – that they, too, will get to experience Peace Corps volunteer service (with all its delights and irritations). It’s awesome that they will get to learn in the same way I’ve learned and live in the same crazy way that I’ve lived. They are at the beginning of an incredible journey and it’s invigorating to be there with them. I’m looking forward to helping them during PST and celebrating their accomplishments with them before I leave Mali.
I’m splitting this PCV trainer role with another volunteer from my group, so I will be spending most of my time with the trainees in December, during the second half of their program. Until then, I’ll be at site, working with my women’s association, visiting the health center and, without doubt, drinking lots of tea. I’ll keep you posted on the trainee’s progress and highlight any moments I find particularly interesting, insightful or just plain funny.