What can I say about my service? I did it. I saw a lot of things I would have never seen otherwise. I ate food I would have never eaten otherwise. I communicated in a language that my parents don’t understand. I did some things I’m proud of. I met sides of me I didn’t know existed beforehand. I never said some things that I wish I had.
What will I miss the most? The people I met here, both Beninese and American. Ask what I’m the most proud of or what was the most defining aspect of my service or any variant of those questions and the answers will always be the people I met here and the relationships I formed here. I can tell you honestly that what kept me in this country for two years were the people whom I had the fortune to surround myself with: my best village friends who always knew how to cheer me up with a game of foosball; my volunteer friends are some the best people with whom you’ll ever have the chance to share a beer; my students, who while weren’t always the easiest, I still wish them more than they ever imagined they were allowed to want out of life. The thing that scares me the most right now is the idea of having to live a life without the family that I’ve found here.
What’s next? I can’t really tell you. The planner in me is suppressing the urge to freak out about it constantly. The 24-year-old in me is slowly starting to learn that sometimes you can’t plan life. For the next three months, I’ll be traveling with a friend (another volunteer who arrived and left Benin with me) around southern Africa. I have this scheme in my head that I’ll keep writing about it and people will keep caring enough to read about it. After that, my plans involve being near the people who are important to me. If I’ve learned anything these two years it’s that my life is incomplete without the people who I let in it.
Eight hundred and six days ago, I left the United States because I wanted an experience. I wanted to do something with my life that seemed like it would be greater than me. Fourteen days ago I turned in a piece of paper that officially finished my service. I wasn’t sad. I wasn’t reflective. I didn’t even particularly feel the need to have a celebratory beer. Why? Because I know now that some experiences are never really finished.