As much as weighing and repacking your luggage, and squealing at new creatures (Dear Lord, if you could keep all centipedes and duppy moths from me, that would be great!), and settling into a new home/circle/culture, goodbyes are an unavoidable part of the development volunteer experience. All – or very close to all – current Cuso volunteers in Jamaica will have left by the time I leave in February, which means I have a number of goodbyes ahead of me.
In fact, one of the first social events I attended here – perhaps the first in fact – was a goodbye dinner. I hadn’t met the departing volunteer before that night, and yet we had a connection. I accepted the invitation to her goodbye dinner because she is me. We are Cuso volunteers, and, despite only overlapping in Jamaica by a couple days, that link is irrefutable. It’s more than summer camp or college life, because while elements of both those experiences are present (being thrown into a group with strangers and sinking or swimming, sharing a new environment and figuring it out together), Cuso volunteering throws in the added dimension of doing all of that in a new country.
This week we said goodbye to the first (then potential) Cuso volunteer I met. Sean and I attended the same assessment day in Ottawa in July, both arriving slightly early in our eagerness to impress. As a corporate volunteer sponsored by his company, Sean was here for a very targeted short-term placement assessing the business case for corporate social responsibility in mid-sized Jamaican businesses. He accomplished a lot in just 7 weeks – in his own words even more personally than professionally.
On the surface, Sean and I might not have much in common. He’s almost the same age as my oldest son. He’s conservative (though perhaps now less so than when he arrived?). He’s young, bright, on his way up – and he’s Calgarian. Seriously – how is an aging bleeding heart liberal going to relate to a kid who loves breaking out his cowboy boots and stetson for Stampede?
How? By being here. We both now have ‘Cuso volunteer’ marked in Sharpie on our histories and our sense of who we are. I’m going to miss him – Sean was always up for participating in things. He was social, intelligent and engaging, if a bit of a Devil’s advocate. Sean brought balance to our otherwise very female, very left-leaning group. And, his leaving before we really got to know him – these goodbyes – was always the way things were going to be.
So far, Cuso goodbyes are not sad. By the time they leave people seem to be so looking forward to being home you get caught in their joy. Our next expected departure is of a lovely young American who will be home in time for Thanksgiving – it’s hard to feel sad when you see how excited she is to be home with her family to kick off the holiday season. It’s all a part of the process – the sudden connections, the anticipated goodbyes.
Perhaps in a few months when I am an ‘old hand’ and some of these connections are more firmly welded the goodbyes will be more painful. But for now it’s possible to simply wish each colleague well, and to know that ‘we’ll always have Kingston.’