Under different circumstances, we might have enjoyed having our meals cooked for us, our activities coordinated, but we’d been evacuated from our sites and were worried that we were looking at an early flight home. In the middle of the compound was a courtyard with picnic benches – we’d gather there like a collection of incomplete thoughts, an assemblage of fragments.
Normally, you confine this many volunteers in tight quarters and the nights are charged with electricity. But it was a strange compound of people – from all years and all programs, each of us spinning with mixed emotions of our own – and even in those instances where there was chemistry, there were too many elements at play, and you could feel yourself separating even as you came together.
What compounded the loneliness, too, was how hard it was to separate from the larger group – and on the off-chance that you did spend the night with someone else, you’d have to eat breakfast with them in the group hall the next morning, all your friends cracking jokes about who’s wearing whose socks, as you’d stare into your coffee, stirring those clumps of powdered milk that never seemed to dissolve.