The Long Way Home

This week’s blog is written by International Fellow Kristin Degou, who has just finished up her fellowship in South Africa. She has recently traveled to PPI-Cyprus and  will visit PPI-Middle East on her way back to the US.

PPI Fellows Kristin Degou and Ashley Johnson coaching together in Cyprus

PPI Fellows Kristin Degou and Ashley Johnson coaching together in Cyprus

It has been a very emotional, tearful, and bittersweet week for me as I officially ended my 2 year fellowship with PeacePlayers -South Africa on Tuesday.  I have to admit, there was a lot of anxiety about leaving the country I called home for so long, and saying goodbye to the amazing family I had made while working for PPI-SA. Luckily for me, wonderful PPI-Family is all over the world.

About a month ago I was ready to book my flight back to the US. One evening, Ashley Johnson, the PPI-Cyprus fellow, (who I had never met in person) sent me a message, asking how I was doing and feeling about the fellowship ending. We spoke for a bit, and I told her how I was a bit nervous about going home for the first time in nearly a year after such a life changing experience. I was so excited to go home, but I was also overwhelmed.  Ashley, who had spent 2 years with the Peace Corps in Cameroon before her time in Cyprus, completely understood my situation and feelings. She told me her own story, about how she took time to travel West Africa with friends after the PeaceCorps before heading home, and how the travels were such a positive experience, and allowed her to open her spirit, and reflect on such a life changing experience before returning stateside.

Ashely, knowing all of this, (and who is always up for an adventure), then suggested that I fly through Cyprus on my way home to stay with her and see the PPI-Cyprus program, and then take a short plane ride to visit PPI-Middle East for Christmas. I was amazed at how awesome of an idea this was, and that I hadn’t even thought of it myself! I immediately agreed, and started planning the trip.

I arrived in Cyprus on Wednesday, and although I pictured a nice Mediterranean island, I was shocked by the cold and wintery weather; there were even talks of snow!  Ashley picked me up from the airport and showed me around a bit; I was able to see the “Home for Cooperation” where the office is located, which I had read about in many of the Cyprus blogs. I also was able to experience passing through the checkpoints to the north, where the Turkish- Cypriots live.  At that point, I could really feel the divide in the island, and the situation here became real to me. It’s one thing to read about it, but to experience it is something very different.

Kristin Degou connecting with PeacePlayers across the globe from South Africa to Cyprus

Kristin Degou connecting with PeacePlayers across the globe from South Africa to Cyprus

I was also able to go to 2 PPI practices! One was in the north, and one in the south. It was so amazing to see PPI at work, and to compare and contrast with my experiences in SA. Cyprus is such a unique place, and from what I have seen, the kids here are really passionate about basketball! On Saturday, I will be attending the big Winter Tournament which will include both Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot participants! Seeing the kids playing together will certainly be a lasting memory, and proof that basketball really can bridge divides.

To me, this whole trip and experience is an example of how amazing the PeacePlayers family is, and though we are located in different places around the world, we share an amazing bond through our work. I would like to thank PPI-fellow Ashley Johnson for reaching out to me, and making a huge difference in my life. I have only been here a few days, but our many common experiences make me feel like I have known her forever! PPI really is a special group of people, and I am so grateful to be a part of it.


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