My Final Days As A Fellow: Jessica Walton Says Goodbye to PPI-Cyprus

This week’s blog was written by former Cyprus Fellow Jessica Walton about her amazing 2 years working at PeacePlayers-Cyprus.

My fellowship with PeacePlayers has come to an end. I’m struggling to fully accept that sentence. It doesn’t feel real. My final days in Cyprus have come all too quickly and I am basically in denial – I haven’t packed a single bag yet. 16651424_10208176464433211_965766958_o

I know everyone says it, but I swear it feels like I just sat down for lunch at “The Old Lady” for the very first time. Fast forward two years later and I’ve basically become the queen of meze and kebab and developed a second stomach when it comes to making room for halloumi or baklava. But in all seriousness, PeacePlayers has changed my life. I will always consider myself grateful to these wonderful people and this amazing program.

When I applied for the fellowship in the winter of 2014 I was working a typical desk job and knew that I was looking for something so much more. I crossed my fingers after submitting my application – hoped it would work out and tried to picture what life would be like as a fellow, thousands of miles away from home. Lucky for me these two years have exceeded my expectations in every way.

16593555_10208176464953224_1139523284_o  Let’s start with the job itself. I think it’s safe to say most of us would be hard pressed to find a better job description than using the game of basketball to foster peace and friendships between kids in conflict communities (especially on an insanely beautiful Mediterranean island). Mix that with some of the most compassionate, funny, intelligent, kids and the most dedicated and passionate coaches/staff I’ve come across and you have a pretty unbeatable combination.

I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to express enough thanks to people like Ryan and Sean (my amazing partners in crime) or Nicos, Mike and Andreas for showing me the ropes and introducing me to the world of Cyprus basketball. I can’t describe how grateful I am to coaches like Sevki and Bahar who were always willing to invite me into their homes, make me a home cooked me and treat me like a member of their own family. Special thanks to Steph (and her Dad) for ALWAYS being there when I locked myself out, had a problem with the car or needed to find a new place for the fellows to live. Shout outs to all the inspirational coaches and staff I’ve had a chance to get to know and work with during the exchange trips and summer camps. I’m lucky to have had a chance to learn from your unique PPI experiences and call you guy’s friends! Last but not least – Jale! We always tell you but just in case you haven’t truly heard us, you’re definitely going down in the books as the best boss! 16593385_10208176465353234_65073808_o

To my PPI-CY kids – I am so incredibly proud of all of you guys! You are some of the most fantastic humans I have ever met. It’s been a complete privilege to watch you develop and grow over the past two years. I remember my first LDP and how impressed I was with you all. Visiting Lapta girl’s practice and laughing non-stop with you guys as we played 5v5. Victor – your enthusiasm for everything is contagious! You’ll make a fantastic coach someday. Singing Beyonce songs with Mush and Sophia in the back of the bus on our way to my first camp. Now those two crazy kids coach their own team J I’m going to miss the survivor obstacle course with my little guys in Iskele! Sevilay, my summer camp hairstylist, you’ll make it to New York before you know it! And Cetin, watch out for Ali – I think he’s going to be dunking soon! Andriana! Captain of the TuneSquad and my 3v3 teammate – I know you’re going to do some incredible things on the court!

I’m not quite sure the best way to close out my last blog. I am truly blessed to have witnessed just how effective PeacePlayers programming is, not only here in Cyprus but around the world. I will always consider Cyprus a home away from home. These people will always hold a special place in my heart. Saying goodbye seems way too final. Instead, I’ll let a pro do the talking for me:

“Nothing makes the earth seem so spacious as to have friends at a distance; they make the longitudes and the latitudes.” – Henry David Thoreau

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