Fourth and Last Visit

I just returned from my fourth and last visit from visiting my boyfriend in the Peace Corps. The focus of this trip was together time, and just enjoying each other before we are re-introduced as a couple living a regular everyday life in America.  It was an incredibly fun two and a half weeks, but I was also very aware that we were in the middle of a very particular “vacation” bubble that we might never again have the luxury to experience together in our lives.  That’s the thing, you can’t have everything you want all the time, sometimes you have to trade one thing for another–which is tough and may not seem fair, but it’s in these moments that we need to look at the positive.

Even though we had the hurdle of long-distance, we have been incredibly lucky to have spent so much us time together during the almost two years apart, just the two of us.  The downside is that since we have been enclosed in a bubble of togetherness, with us as the focus, we haven’t really had to think about sharing each other as much.  When my boyfriend returns to the states, I know his family and friends will want to see him, and our bubble of being the only two people in our own little world will drift away.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to have him home, so we can go on sushi dates and enjoy a life of showers and clean water, but there is a part of me that is sad.  Sad that this moment of time when it was just us in our own bubble tucked away in Africa, our own world, is coming to an end.

Over the course of the last two years, I spent approximately ten weeks of my life in Africa (almost three months) so it’s kind of a bittersweet time for me, it was my last trip to Kenya for either a very long time or ever.  I will miss Africa.  I will miss the tuk-tuks, the lunch spots overlooking the ocean where you can get a seafood lunch with a couple of sodas for $6 and I will miss the children at my boyfriend’s school.  I will miss “our home” in Africa, and learning how to slow down even if by force due to limited technology. There is so much I will miss, but upon returning to the states this time, I felt ready to be home, ready to leave Africa for a while, ready to focus on the rest of our life together, the next chapter.

Ultimately, any remaining fears and anxieties are left behind, and the idea of him being home, of us having a life together in the same place, wins.  This is also now the first time since he’s been away, that I’m really allowing myself to think about what the world will be like when he gets back, and looking forward to all we will do together.  I went to Africa for my last trip a little anxious knowing that my life as I know it would soon be changing, we would be entering the unknown again. Upon returning home and thinking about our time together and how we truly feel about each other and how close we have become after two years, I am now just excited thinking about having him back.  It’s time for him to come home, it’s time for us to both be home now.

My Pre-Trip Traditional Buying Frenzy

Each time before I visit my boyfriend, I go on a big shopping spree to bring him supplies.  It’s kind of  a fun trip for me but here’s the thing…when I go on these shopping trips I feel like a bad mom.  You see, when I go shopping, I buy a ton of soda (Dr. Pepper that he can’t get in Kenya), tortilla chips and Cheetos (the most common kind of chip there is potato) and candy (different kinds that can only be purchased here)–that thrown into a cart with a ton of school supplies (coloring books, flash cards, pens, etc.) makes mothers stare me down.  I can hear them wondering what kind of mom I am to buy such bad food for my children, yet still try to feed their education with learning activities.

The part of the shopping expedition that is the most painful is when I am checking out.  The moms behind me and the cashier, seem exhausted by my loot and appalled at the junk I will surely be feeding my children that evening.  So it’s at this point where I offer up something like, “I just love all the school supplies that you have here–they are so reasonably priced.” “Yeah, it’s a great deal,” replies the cashier.  And then I delve further, “Yeah, my boyfriend lives in Kenya and teaches at a school and so all of this stuff will be great for him.” The cashier and people immediately seem to change their positions of judgement to adoration (yes, I realize this may all be in my head), so at this point I hastily continue, “Can you believe they don’t have Dr. Pepper in Kenya? Or tortilla chips?!”

Last time I went on this shopping excursion, the cashier was from Nigeria.  We talked a little about Africa, and then I saw my opening, so I commiserated with her about how tortilla chips are not readily available over there.  She agreed, and I felt relieved to have met someone who could verify my story.

Part of me feels a little guilty for playing the “my boyfriend lives in Kenya” card when I am buying stuff for his school–my real intent is not to be praised for being a do-gooder, or having a selfless boyfriend. Honestly, the bottom line is I just don’t want to be judged and written off as a would-be horrible mother.  So I guess that’s kind of selfish of me, but it’s a good example of when it comes in handy to say, “My boyfriend lives in Kenya.”

My Boyfriend Just Left for the Peace Corps

One of the most difficult times of being in a long-distance relationship with a Peace Corps volunteer is at the very beginning.  It is difficult to be the one left behind, the one who is not going off to a new place on a new adventure.  It is also sad to adjust to life without your partner around.  The beginning is tough–it is full of uncertainty, insecurity and without your partner around to discuss all these feelings it is only made tougher.  When my boyfriend joined the Peace Corps, I promised myself that I was going to get through the two years, that I could do it–that each couple faces a test or trial of some sort and this was ours.  I knew I had it in me, but I was still nervous, was our relationship strong enough to get through the time apart, would either of us meet someone else?  So, in the beginning, it was really tough–really tough.

Something that really helped me when my boyfriend left for the Peace Corps, was knowing that his leaving had nothing to do with me. I had been on the other end of this kind of situation years before, so it was easier for me to understand that his leaving was all about what he needed to do for himself, not that he didn’t love me. Sometimes being the one left behind makes you sad or hurt that they chose the place over you, but really it doesn’t have much to do with you–it’s really just a life experience someone wants/needs to fulfill. It’s important to remember that this new adventure is not a way of leaving you, but a way of satisfying something in the other person that you simply cannot provide–so if you want to be with that person, you must commit to supporting the adventure also.

I also think it’s incredibly important to understand that even though your boyfriend or girlfriend may not be with you physically in the same place, you are still living your lives together.  It took me a couple of weeks to realize that, especially with him away, and without much communication.  I kept thinking to myself, “when we have a life together,” but then I realized we already had a life together, it might not be conventional, but we are living our lives together in our hearts and thoughts, just in separate places.  Once I realized this, I felt stronger in our relationship, and in the time we were going to spend apart.

So even though there were all those things I told myself to feel better and not as alone, I still cried hard on day 3 when it finally hit me that he was gone, and so I did the one thing that has always helped me in tough situations, I wrote in my journal. For this post I went back to my journal from the first month he was gone and truly the writing really helped me.  I wrote to him in my journal as though he were right here with me-I told him about my daily life at work, with friends and however I was feeling. It was like a security blanket.  I also wrote emails that seemed to disappear into thin air because my boyfriend didn’t have any connectivity. Throughout this entire time apart, I have written letters that have stayed with me in a journal. During some months (particularly the beginning) it has helped me feel connected and as though my message on paper would reach his thoughts.  It also has been a wonderful tool of going back to from time to time to remember how I felt, or even what was going on in our lives.  I’ve even thought about continuing it when he gets home.

I also talked about this in a previous post, but in looking at the time apart, at the beginning I really wanted a way to measure time that would seem manageable to me.  I thought about looking at it in terms of weeks, or months instead of days–but the funny thing is, that for the first nine months that he was away, I actually would put the # of days he had been away next to the date of my entry, but after nine months it stopped.  I think it was only then that I really got into more of a routine, and felt more comfortable with the distance. The marking of the number of days stopped around the time of my second trip to see him, and the second trip was really cool because we were more in a rhythm with things and knew what to expect with each other.  The only real exception was about a month ago when I was feeling really alone–I felt the distance and so I pulled out the calendar and counted the days left so I could see the exact number of days and percentage of his time left in Kenya.  For me, it helped a little to look at time in percentages.  I would suggest a similar method to any couples in a Peace Corps Long-Distance Relationship–figure out what makes it okay for you (ie. you only have one more birthday to go before your boyfriend/girlfriend is back). Just find a different way of measuring time that doesn’t seem as daunting as the number of days.

Training time is extremely rough (in my case it was two months, but most typically three).  The reason the training period is so difficult is because during the training, Peace Corps Volunteers are sent to live with a family which means they have little or no privacy, so phone calls may be short or not as in depth as you would like–don’t take it personally.  Your Peace Corps volunteer is still thinking about you.  Also, at that time your Peace Corps Volunteer is making new friends with the volunteers in his group, and adding new people to his life.  We made it an effort to talk/email about all the people in my boyfriend’s Peace Corps Volunteer training group–I figured if these people were going to be around in my boyfriend’s life for the next 2+ years (at the very least, since lifelong friends are developed in the Peace Corps), it was important I knew who he was spending his days with, so he could feel comfortable in talking with me about them, and so I could be familiar with who he mentioned in conversations.  Think about it like starting a new job–if you start a new job, you would tell your partner everyone you met on your first day, the same is true with Peace Corps.  By knowing the people surrounding your boyfriend/girlfriend in the Peace Corps, it will also help you be more involved in their daily life, and make for good conversations later.

Also, as soon as possible, make sure your Peace Corps Volunteer gets a phone, and make sure you get a calling card plan.  After shopping around, the best plan for me was Nobel.  We would talk a lot his mornings (my evenings) on his hour walk to his daily classes.  He would walk behind the rest of the volunteers and we could chat a bit about our lives.  This also helped connect us, and even though it was a much abbreviated amount of time together than when we had physically been in the same place, it was a big help.  For any other time I needed, I again used the letter writing to fill in gaps.

The main thing to remember when you are in a long-distance relationship with a Peace Corps volunteer is to keep yourselves connected.  Be really aware of how you feel, and find ways to keep your boyfriend or girlfriend at the top of your mind–if you commit to having this boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t let the long distance make the relationship less real.  You are in a real relationship, those feelings are there, even if you are separated by oceans–you are carrying each other around in your minds and hearts, so be respectful of the relationship in the same way you would if you were in the same place.

ME Time in A Long-Distance Relationship

When my boyfriend decided to join the Peace Corps, and we concluded it would be better if I stayed, I tried to look at the positive.  I told him I wanted to make a list of things to do when we were back together to look forward to–he suggested I make a list of things I wanted to accomplish while he was away.  I never really made either list, maybe just mentally have taken some notes, but as his time in the Peace Corps is wrapping up (he is five months away from his official end date), it has made me wonder if I have accomplished all I wanted.

When you are in the Peace Corps and you hit this wrap up time , you wonder if you’ve done everything you wanted, if there is still more you can do in this time left and I’m having the same thoughts/reflections.  It’s interesting, I’m not sure what I really expected my time to look like with him in a different country–maybe more girlfriend time?  While I definitely have made more of an effort to have more friend time, work and extra interests have kept me really busy–which honestly would have probably been tough if he had actually been here.

The weekends are always the most challenging and maybe most unexpected time.  I guess I thought I would get more girl time on the weekends, but I haven’t really been too interested in girl time at bars/clubs; it’s not really my thing and because I have a boyfriend, the idea of drinking and being picked up on by men has zero appeal to me.  I have, however, enjoyed movie nights with my friends, going to see plays or bands or the rare bar night out.

What this time apart has given me the most of is ME time, especially on the weekends.  A regular occurrence for me has been a Friday night with a massage at the spa after work and take home sushi, so I can go home enjoy a glass of wine and a trashy TV show.  Not super glamorous, but really good indulgent me time. When I reflect on different periods in my life (ie. college, the summer where I went to the movies every Saturday morning by myself), I smile thinking about how I will look back at this time in my life when I am even more grown up and wistfully recall the time of Friday spa and sushi nights. So maybe I have not gone to the classes I hoped to attend while my boyfriend is away (there is still time!), but I also have carved out a really nice period of my life where I have been incredibly indulgent in myself and the luxuries around me. Do I know I’m spoiled? Yes! Do I appreciate it? Definitely, yes! But I also have to say I feel so incredibly lucky to have had this time to spoil myself, to focus on me.

When you’re single, your time alone has a different feel–you miss having a partner, you do things to meet “the one”, or maybe even do things to make yourself more interesting, or distract yourself.  When you are in a long-distance relationship and alone, the things you do with your time are more focused on what really interests you, which is such a gift.  Don’t get me wrong, I really cannot wait to have my boyfriend back in the same city, and share kisses and conversation in person, but since I try to stay positive in my life, I look at our time apart as the period in my life where it was all about ME.

Last Peace Corps Long Distance Relationship Standing

My boyfriend informed me a couple weeks ago, that the last couple (besides us) in his PCV group, in a long distance relationship had ended.  So we are it–we are the last Peace Corps long-distance couple standing from his group.

This news, of course, made me reflect.  There have been tough times for me in this relationship, where I felt lonely or a little insecure about what would happen, but ultimately I think the reason we have worked is because we have communicated on almost a daily basis.  I also took my ego and the game playing out of the equation, and let myself cry and be needy sometimes.  I also wrote letters (in a journal) to my boyfriend when I was working through issues to help me sort out feelings, which was generally a great tool and sometimes helped me frame conversations (or reflect on them).

I want to reiterate for anyone thinking of embarking in a long distance relationship with someone in the Peace Corps that communication is key.  This week, we went about a day and a half without a real call or Skype chat and that was a lot of down time for me.  Yes, sometimes that happens, where we can’t have a lot of talk time, but really I do everything possible to make sure we get as much talking together time as possible.  It is so incredibly important.  I guess maybe it is also about how one views the boyfriend/girlfriend dynamic, or what you want for your relationship–but honestly what I want and have is a boyfriend who is my confidante, my support system, my rock and my best friend.  He is the person I love waking up to in the morning (even on Skype) and the one I brush my teeth with at night (again on Skype).  We are not just talking every other day or every week, we speak almost every day. It’s important for me that he knows everything that is going on in my life on a daily basis, and that I know everything that is going on in his.  It keeps us connected as partners.  Again, this might not be the relationship that everyone wants or needs, but this is the one we have chosen and has worked for us.

I also have wondered if the reason we have succeeded in our Peace Corps long-distance relationship is because we are a little older than most volunteers.  Most Peace Corps volunteers are right out of college, but we were a few years older when my boyfriend joined the Peace Corps, late 20s.  Due to our age, my experiences with relationships taught me what I wanted and how rare it was to have found what I did with my boyfriend.  I spent a long time figuring it all out in my 20s, about what worked and what didn’t. So when I finally figured it out, I could finally settle myself down and commit whole-heartedly (even though ironically once I found him, he moved to Africa after dating for a few months).  You have to find the humor in these kinds of things.

So maybe it’s the age, or simply finding the right person.  Whatever it is, if you do want to be in a long-distance relationship with a Peace Corps Volunteer, just remember that communication is the ultimate key.

My Last Ticket Is Booked!

I finally booked my ticket back to Kenya–it will be my final trip there before my boyfriend finishes his Peace Corps service.  I’m about 40 days away from getting on my last plane trip back to visit my bf and cannot wait to be in his arms again, and say a bittersweet goodbye to the place where I have spent the most time over the past two years (besides my own home in CA).   Am so looking forward to seeing him again, because it has been such a long time, but am also very aware that it will be my last trip to Kenya for a long time or even possibly (hopefully not) ever.

We are currently trying to determine where to spend our weekends, and if small side trips to other countries are doable or reasonable.  Even though Kenya is so close to so many other countries, the problem is that Kenya is a very poor country, so there are not a lot of Kenyans traveling, therefore airfare is not necessarily cheaper out of Nairobi than London for example.  The top options on our current list are Ethiopia (because it’s close) and Angola (because Kenya Airways is apparently having a special since they will start flying to that country soon).  So let’s see what we come up with!

We did make one major decision though about our travel plans, we decided where to spend our last weekend.  With all my trips out there, we had the luxury to stay in some really amazing places all over Kenya, and so we debated about whether to stay in a place we had been to previously or try something new.  We both are very adventurous, but since this is our last weekend together in Kenya, we decided to revisit one of our favorite places where we know what is available to us and take the guesswork out of whether or not we will like the locale we choose.  I think this was an excellent choice, and the more I think about this place, the happier I am.

Ramadan in Kenya

So I wrote this entry last October 2009…but I wanted to publish now anyway because this was such a cool experience.


I just got back from visiting my boyfriend in Kenya for the second time, and happened to be there during Ramadan.  My boyfriend had been fasting since the beginning of Ramadan (only cheating slightly by drinking liquids during the day).  When I got there I also joined him in the fasting for the last ten days of Ramadan. What a wonderful experience!

I have to say that he was better than I was, as it was a little difficult for me to adapt to no food during the day, particularly during the weekends when we stayed at beautiful resorts with delicious food all around us.  We managed to survive though, just fine and I am so thankful for his wonderful community who allowed us to break fast with them.  Every night we would come together under the stars, and sit on mats on the ground.  Together with students and a few teachers, we would eat big plates of beans, coconut rice, beef stew, chapati and what I can only describe as delicious sugar dough balls–all washed down with hot Chai tea.  Since I only eat seafood, sometimes these meals were a bit carb heavy, but it was still a really incredible experience to share that with his neighbors. The way they welcomed us completely into their community for this ritual was humbling.

Call Your Peace Corps Volunteer

A few weeks ago, I was feeling a little down, but now I am feeling so much better.  Most shocking of all, we have been without Video Skype for about a week because my bf is traveling for work.  So what have we been doing instead? Using the phone!  The good old-fashioned non-Internet phone, and it’s actually been fun and kind of nice.  Don’t get me wrong, Video Skype is still my communication technology of choice but I’ve been enjoying our calls.  It also has been reminding me of the period of time when we had limited Skype.

I’m going to repeat myself here, but please, if you are going to be in a long-distance relationship communicate as much as possible.  When we exclusively only have the phone available (and even w/Skype) we speak at least once a day (unless we are traveling), and more likely twice.  It is a wonderful way to stay connected and feel like the other person is really a part of your day.

Anyway, even though I am a huge fan of Video Skype, this post is basically to say that phone calls can be pretty wonderful also.

Questions & Tips For a Long Distance Relationship With a Peace Corps Volunteer

So…Your boyfriend or girlfriend has decided to join the Peace Corps.  Congratulations, you are with someone who wants to give of them self in a really amazing and challenging way!  In my situation, I was incredibly proud, excited for him and nervous about what it would all mean for us. Here are a few main things you need to ask yourself if you are going to be in a long distance relationship with a Peace Corps volunteer.

  • Are you absolutely committed to your partner?  Are you prepared to be away from someone for 27 months with only sporadic visits and be faithful to the relationship, to each other?
  • Are you prepared to put in the same effort that a daily in-person relationship takes (ie. speaking every day, knowing when your partner needs more attention and finding ways to make them feel loved every day)?
  • Do you trust your partner?  There is a lot of socializing in the Peace Corps, so you must trust your person and know they are committed to you (at the same time they must also trust you).
  • Is technology available to both of you? This question will actually need to be answered when your SO (significant other) actually gets to their real Peace Corps site, but it’s an important one, so it’s included.
    • I might sound like a broken record, but I cannot reiterate enough how important Video Skype has been to the success of our long distance relationship especially in this longer time apart. I realize only phones might be available in some situations, since some Peace Corps volunteers end up in obscure locations, but with Video Skype we stay connected, we get to see each others’ joy and sadness, which is incredibly important.  That said, I recently reflected on the fact that for the first couple of months we had sporadic email and sporadic phone calls–then that was followed by daily phone calls (1-2 times per day) w/weekly Video Skype when the internet wasn’t out, then Video Skype in the morning and night whenever we aren’t traveling.  We have definitely gone in phases, but Video Skype is wonderful.
  • Can you financially afford the in-person visits and the calling cards? And do you have the flexibility from work to visit? It is extremely important that you visit your Peace Corps boyfriend/girlfriend as much as possible so you maintain your connection to each other and also so you can relate to their experience and know their friends. By the time my bf comes home, I will have visited him four times (about 2-3 weeks each time).  Honestly, I think five times would have better, but we are working with what is available to us.

Okay, so now that you have answered “YES” to all of the above questions, here are my personal tips for surviving and growing in your Peace Corps Long Distance Relationship.

    • LDRs can be tough, so don’t make it tougher by playing games, communicate clearly when something is bothering you-don’t make your partner guess.
    • When people ask me how often my boyfriend and I talk, most are surprised to hear we talk at least once a day or twice (depending on our schedules).  You would speak to your regular boyfriend once a day, and fill them in on your daily life, so of course you should do the same in a LDR so you stay connected and share all aspects of your life. I actually get a bit frustrated and anxious when we can’t speak as often (we will deal with those feelings in another point later).
    • Find a way to communicate every day.  When my bf first went off to PC, we couldn’t get on the phone for a couple of weeks.  He also had extremely limited access to email, so I did a couple things to keep myself connected: 1) I would write him emails whenever I felt like mentioning something to him. 2) I kept a journal of letters I wrote to him at night to help me chronicle my feelings (this is also a great way to see a snapshot of your relationship).
    • Funny enough this is something that is stressed to PCVs also when they volunteer.
    • This one is sometimes tough for me, but it’s important—you never know what the situation will be for your PCV (living/work, etc), be flexible and adapt to the situation.
    • Time zones can also be tough, so you may need to take turns staying up late for the other.
    • This one is also sometimes tough for me, but by exercising patience you will keep yourself sane.
    • Sometimes there will be blackouts and your partner’s cell phone won’t work, or they will be stuck in trainings—just know that the situation will pass and you will be communicating regularly again-breathe.
    • Again, I repeat breathe.
    • Just because your partner is not right in front of you every day, this does not give you permission to take them for granted—this goes for both the PCV and PCVSO (Peace Corps Volunteer Significant Other).
    • Make sure they know they are loved by making time for the other (ie. little emails or texts help).
    • You both will have busy social calendars, make sure you make room for each other in those schedules.
    • If you feel you are not getting enough time together, say something and be creative about finding a way to feel connected.  If you don’t say anything, the distance will grow and you face the potential issue of disconnecting.
    • My bf had to go into town and contact an Internet provider to install something on his roof to get Internet.  It costs him about half his monthly PC allowance.
    • If your PCV did not bring any additional savings for these kinds of situations, consider giving your PCV the money—it benefits both of you and will be incredibly worth it.
    • There will be times when you are tired, sad, lonely, and frustrated.  That is okay, your partner lives halfway around the world.
    • Let yourself feel that way, talk to your partner, talk to your friends, remind yourself that your PCV is coming home soon to you!
    • You both will have ups and downs in your life apart-sometimes relationship related, but mostly life related—support each other and take turns being the shoulder to lean on.

I think I will add on to this list as more things come to mind…but at least this is a good start!

Rules for our Peace Corps Long-Distance Relationship

In a blog comment recently I was asked what our rules are for our Peace Corps Long Distance Relationship.  My answer is simple, we want to be together, so we choose to be 100% committed to each other.  Nothing is open, it is a real relationship with daily communication and yes, sometimes it takes work (just like any relationship).

It might seem incredible to some that I choose to be in a committed relationship with someone who lives oceans away and who I only see every few months, but I love this man. The thought of jeopardizing it by casually dating others isn’t an option for either of us.  Personally, I think once that door is opened you have basically said it’s okay if the relationship doesn’t work, and you are not completely committed to seeing it through. Can I be proven wrong? Sure, there is that chance that if you’re in an open LDR you might at the end realize how much you love the other one, but for me, I found the guy I want to be with, so I don’t want to risk losing what I waited so long to find. I wouldn’t have an open relationship with someone I wanted to be with if he was here in person, so why change the rules for a LDR? I would rather spend the weekends with my girlfriends or alone in order to ensure that at the end of my boyfriend’s time in the Peace Corps we are still together.