I did not share.
I had this prepared forever in advance, had written notes in my journal (which I carried to each session) so I wouldn't forget anything, and we had already placed bets on how many times I'd cry. But everyone said such great things - I laughed, I cried, I was inspired. So I thought, yeah, I can't do this. My natural "emotional basketcase" state plus a mountain of insecurity at the time just led to my sitting there listening to everyone else talk. Luckily I have a bunch of amazing supporters on my team, who said they still want to hear what I had to say. So here it is.
I can, with relative confidence, walk the mile or so from the bus stop to my house on a moonless night.
You're probably thinking, okay... great job, Cat. How is that Something of Impact?
My site is a small village that's three hours from Chisinau on a good day. We don't really have paved roads, and we have about 4 streetlights (and 3 of them are right next to each other). When I first arrived, my host mom made a big deal about the fact that there was a streetlight outside our house. I eventually realized that it was literally on just for me. Someone was paying to have that streetlight on because the volunteer, the American, lived there.
So when I first got to the village, if I returned to site at night (which I tended to do, due to bus schedules), I would have a few streetlights, hopefully a moon to light the way, and my flashlight (or, more accurately, the light on my phone). And I knew I was getting close because I had the streetlight in front of my house to guide me. In other words, I had a lot of help making my way through the village.
The road isn't terrible, but if you don't know it, it can be a little treacherous. There are holes to avoid. It's uneven. If it's rained, there are perfect places to step so you don't get as muddy. (The American is not good at finding these perfect places.) You never want to step directly where the cows have traveled on their way home..
Maybe you see where I'm going with this. In the beginning of my Peace Corps service, I needed a lot of help. I had my village looking out for me (with the streetlight at my house), I had my program staff, cohort, and people back home helping me out (maybe they're the rest of the streetlights), and I was trying to make it on my own (with my phone to light the way). It was really hard at first. I might trip, or make mistakes. Dogs would come out and scare me, or I would get homesick. Even if I tried to do everything right and not step where I shouldn't, some unforeseen obstacle would come out of nowhere and upset me or make me fall. It was really frustrating at times, especially when I would leave for a weekend and come back to new holes in the ground to avoid.
But it got easier. The road got renovated a little, and I started to get used to the life I was living in my village and in Peace Corps. I felt a little more sure of myself. I cried less. I had successful projects, and English classes, and trainings, and I was helping other PCVs. I became more comfortable in the work I was doing and the way I felt about it. I could speak Romanian. I felt relatively accomplished (most days). I knew which dogs had a bark worse than their bite and which ones were just curious about the American walking by. They turned off the streetlight, and I was okay.
Now I can walk from the bus stop to my house on a moonless night. That maybe doesn't sound so impressive to you. But without streetlights or natural light to show the way, most of the walk is completely dark. I'm doing this on my own, and
I don't need to make such an effort to keep myself from falling.
Sure, there is still opportunity for me to slip up. A flash of something in the road that isn't normally there; being told I have to run important meetings using a bunch of vocabulary I'm unsure of. An animal might appear suddenly; I might have an unforeseen complication with a grant. But there are still a few streetlights and at least I know where I'm going.
And on those nights when it's completely dark and I'm making my way slowly through the journey, I've got you guys. I've got all these beautiful stars, these constellations, some of which I know like the back of my hand and that I know I'll be seeing for all of my life, that make the whole trip worth it.
Love to you, M29, my moon and my stars. You turn the darkest night into a breathtaking masterpiece. We've come so far, and I'm forever grateful that you've been there for me this whole time (whether you're still here or whether you've already gone). We did it! Vă iubesc, și mi-e dor de voi deja.