The topic of the Peace Corps came into our relationship a couple months after we started talking to each other. We weren't "going out" but whatever it was, I wanted to end it. I knew I wanted to do the Peace Corps and I knew a relationship would not last. I'm glad I was wrong. She insisted that we don't worry about that but rather see where we end up. Two and a half years later I was offered the ticket to Senegal. I accepted and the relationship did not faulter. And I guess that's due to the honest conversations we had leading up to that decision. We actually did the corny Peace Corps relationship scenarios and read the literature they had on how hard it is to maintain one throughout service. We consulted volunteers' blogs and talked about some strategies for when I left. And I really think this all paid off. We had fights, especially in times of transition and around holidays when stresses were high. But despite that, we tried to understand each others' lives. We don't downplay each other' challenges and we don't judge. We trust each other. I know those sound like general good traits to have in a relationship but this is what held things together and it started before I left.
Additionally it's been extremely helpful to have some hope down the road. For me, looking forward to Lizzie's visit to Senegal was torture but the only fuel I had left. While she was here we talked about plans for another trip so we can have something not so far in the future. From now on it's going to be important that we don't keep our plans vague but rather have some kind of vision for the next year.
But I don't want to make it sound like it has been all struggles and hard times. Today is tough and maybe the next few days will be just as hard. But her visit here has given me a new energy and a new perspective on this country. She looks at frustrations differently than I do and she gave me new ideas for some of the work I'm doing here. And I know she will tell people from home all about the journeys we had here. If I can learn to look past the pain of not being with her for another year and look forward to doing good work here and staying in touch with home, there is definitely a bright side to all the struggle. For those thinking of taking this on like we have, I'll only give one piece of advice: don't go into this half-hearted. All or nothing.