Arrival in Country

I’m walking around in the airport, trying to kill time before the flight, when I see a familiar face. I can’t remember her name – I’ve met so many people in the last 24 hours – but I know she’s in the Peace Corps group. I walk over to say hi, but then I notice she’s on her phone, and tears are starting to come down her face. For the 63 of us Peace Corps Benin Trainees, this is the last time we’ll be in the U.S. for quite a while, and many are taking the opportunity to call family to say good bye. It’s an emotional day.

Everyone was excited, but occasionally you’d see a cloud of worry or sadness pass over someone’s face as the reality of Peace Corps and the sacrifices it would entail sunk in. I was chatting with another member of our training group and he said, “Before my first flight to Philadelphia, as I was saying good bye to my parents, there was a part of me that thought you know, I don’t have to do this. I don’t have to get on that plane. I can just turn around and forget the whole thing.”

I had those thoughts too. In fact, I’m pretty sure everyone did. Peace Corps isn’t a little vacation or a semester study abroad. It’s a 27 month commitment to give up most of what you know, to live in a foreign country, to learn a new language (or a few), and to adjust to a completely new environment. But if what I’ve heard is true, Peace Corps can also be the sort of transformative experience that stays with you forever and gives you a set of skills that you won’t find elsewhere. If what I’ve heard is true, it’s worth it.

So in spite of our doubts, we all got on that plane, and now we’re here! After I don’t even know how many hours/days of travel, we finally arrived in Cotonou, Benin. We were greeted by a handful of the current volunteers who enthusiastically welcomed us into the Peace Corps Benin family. They are the Peace Corps Volunteer trainers and are staying with us throughout the course of our training to assist with everything from logistics to cultural immersion and language instruction.

Our days will be very structured and busy over the next couple months, so I probably won’t post much, but I’m enjoying myself and would love to hear from you. Beware that if you email it may take a very long time for me to get back to you, but I will eventually! Letters would also be much appreciated (hint, hint…)

– H

P. S. Mom and Dad, I don’t have a phone yet, but I should be able to get one by Monday and will call as soon as I can!!

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13 Responses to Arrival in Country

  1. judith.wold@mchsi.com says:

    Hi Heidi,
    Your blog is so well-written and creative. You write as though you are speaking to each of us individually. I look forward to staying current by reading your blog.
    Just know you have so many back here thinking about you and praying for you in this truly incredible experience. I am certain you will be a treasure to the people in the area in which you serve.
    Stay safe!
    My best to you,
    Judy Wold

  2. Grace Tauring says:

    Hi Heidi—you are a brave girl! When I was young I would have loved doing what you are doing now. When Jane Tellekson went to Tanzania to teach I found myself living vicariously through her. I look forward to hearing your stories. I’m sure you will have many wonderful and sometimes frightening experiences. We are thinking about you and will keep you in our prayers.
    Grace Tauring from Peace

  3. Grace Tauring says:

    Hi Heidi–you are a brave girl! I admire you and wish I could have done something of this sort when I was young. When Jane Tellekson left for Tanzania in 1992 or 3 (I’ve forgotten exactly when) I found myself living vicariously through her. She taught at the Lutheran schools for five years even though she said she would only stay one year! I visited Tanzania in 2000 and hope to go back again. About Africa it’s said, you either hate it or you love it. I found many reasons to love it. I hope you find that also. I so look forward to hearing your stories.
    Grace

    • Heidi says:

      Thanks Grace! This is my second time in Africa – my first time was in Botswana – and it is very different! But I’m sure I will come to love Benin the way I now love Botswana!

  4. Karen TorgheleAtlanta says:

    Dear Heidi,
    Your writing makes us feel as though we were right there with you. You have a rare combination of gifts that will enable you to make significant contributions while you are in the Peace Corp…and in your later life.

    All your Atlanta cousins said to say “hi” and to keep away from any vicious monkeys. (I think they equate monkeys with rabid possums or something.)
    Much love, Karen and Larry

  5. Way to go—we’re cheering you on from afar!

  6. Dadinminnesota says:

    Hi, Heidi. We are thinking of you as you begin your new adventure. As difficult as it was to see you go, I’m so excited for your coming time in W Africa. I look to regular mail, blog/email/Skype to help me share in your experiences. Can’t wait for the next blog installment ….

    Minnesota is much the same as when you left. We are drying out after the drenching rains of last week. It’s hot (for MN standards – in the 90° F range daily).

    P.S. letter # 1 is on it’s way, if not there already :-)

  7. Grandma and Grandpa says:

    Hi Heidi,

    We are happy to know that you have arrived in Benin and are now ready to start on your journey. We know Heidi, that you are very conscientious about your new assignment and will give it all you can. God Bless. We know that when you come back to the US you will be a better person with lots of love for the human race. We are so proud. In the meantime, we will pray daily for you and then look forward to your return and time does fly by.

    Life at Ponto remains the same with all its beauty and love of all the people who reside here. In the future we want to share this all with you and the rest of our family.

    Honey, we love you and love to hear from you. Your blog is very interesting.

    Love, Grandma and Grandpa

  8. Anne Lee says:

    Dear Heidi, Your grandma just came over to our cabin to let us know that you have arrived in Benin to begin your training with the Peace Corps. We wish you all good things and know that you will be an asset to the country in which you work and a wonderful ambassador for our country during your stay in Africa. Our granddaughter, Lindsey Lee, junion at St. Olaf College is currently in Norway, where she completed an internship up in a rural community in northern Norway, and now, she is beginning her studies at the University of Oslo. Our daughter, Andrea, just returned from a business trip to Abuja, Nigeria, her first to Africa. My husband, Victor, has worked in Africa twice, once leading a group on a HFH Build and another working at an airfield near Alexandria. Global experiences, as you are discovering, are invaluable! We moved to Japan for 3 1/2 years right after I completed my studies at St. Olaf and after Vic had served one year in CA with the USAF. At one time, we thought that we wanted to join the Peace Corps, when our kids were all out of school, but somehow, other obligations had to be met. You are at the perfect time in your life to contribute in this way. We will keep you in our thoughts and prayers and keep your grandparents entertained during your absence…or, is it the other way around? It is a picture perfect night here at Lake Ponto – warm and clear. There should be a beautiful sunset soon. Blessings to you at this special time in your life, Vic and Anne Lee

    • Heidi says:

      Those sound like such neat experiences! I have a bunch of friends who live in Nigeria, but that’s one country Peace Corps won’t let us visit. It’s hot and humid here – I miss those nice Ponto days!

  9. marcel chaine says:

    Heidi – I will love to live vicariously through your peace corp adventure. I know your folks are bummed but worrying is what we parents do best. Be well and good luck! Marcel

  10. Holly Anderson says:

    We all miss you and your sunshiny personality around here already. Who else more than you enjoys every day as it comes? There’s a big empty hole in our hearts, even though we know you are on the adventure of a lifetime. Take care of yourself. We love you, Mom

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