And now, a few words in praise of infrastructure.
No, please, keep reading!
Back when I ran a campus news office, we used “infrastructure” as shorthand to describe a story that was important but boring. Today, though, I want to discuss a different kind of infrastructure, namely the Moldovan staff that’s made my Peace Corps service possible. They include:
- The program staff that taught us a new language, arranged our work assignments, identified our host families and trained us before and after our swearing-in.
- The administrative team that transported us to our sites, processed our grants, replenished our bank accounts, monitored our safety and publicized our work.
- The medical team, whose professionalism and skill I’ve described previously. I’d consider myself lucky to have Dr. Iuliana as my primary physician back home.
I’ve been reminded of all these people as I’ve begun gathering many of their initials for the “COS Checklist” we need to fill out for our “completion of service.” On Tuesday, we made a good start, getting eight Moldovan staff members to check off 15 of the 36 boxes.
- Did Champa and I each submit a detailed “description of service”? Check.
- Site reports about our host community? Check.
- Final “volunteer reporting forms” with “data indicators”? Check.
- Financial sign-off for our grants? Check.
- A security questionnaire? Check.
- Our post-service travel plans? Check.
I returned our smoke alarms and fire extinguishers. I returned one of our medical kits. I picked up the last of our medical prescriptions. Check. Check. Check.
Everyone was helpful as I briefly interrupted them to ask them to sign our forms. Several took the opportunity to say nice things about our service and wish us well. The interactions as a whole reminded me how much they all have done on our behalf.
Champa and I will miss them — after we get through the list. We still have our final medical check-ins, financial close-outs and departure interviews. We need to return the Moldova SIM cards for our phones and confirm we’ve closed our Moldovan bank accounts. Our computer accounts need to be shut down, our residency documents reviewed and our lockers emptied.
Only after these and other boxes are checked will the head of administration for Peace Corps Moldova sign the bottom of our forms and officially return us to civilian life.
All 36 boxes seem reasonable and necessary to me, an accurate reflection of the complex infrastructure required for thousands of Americans to volunteer as Peace Corps Volunteers every year in less developed parts of the world. The single-spaced, two-sided list is a visual reminder of how many moving parts keep the machine running, and it doesn’t even include everyone working with Peace Corps back in the United States.
The staff’s work is less glamorous, and certainly less recognized, than ours, but it undergirds everything we do. PCVs like me come and go but the local staff remains, mastering the occasionally arcane rules of both the Moldovan government and Peace Corps itself. They deal with unreliable host families, unsettling security situations, unhappy volunteers and more, usually with grace and effectiveness, and they rejoice in our successes. They are the human glue of Peace Corps, in both Moldova and more than 60 other countries.
If their quiet dedication and professionalism is boring, well, so be it. That’s how infrastructure is supposed to work.