I got to talk to my two best friends this weekend. I hadn’t realized how long it had been since hearing their voices. It’s easy to lose yourself in the daily challenges of living and working here in the name of integration and survival. I feel as though I’ve been neglecting my long-distance relationships during the past month in search of success here. The truth is I don’t yet have those sparkling achievements to belabor to my friends and family back home. The process of development, as I understand more and more every day, takes a long time.
While I was talking with each of my friends, I found myself getting a little depressed about my service and its challenges up until now. Finding meaning is harder when your limits and methods change around you; situation is everything, and your mindset has to adjust when you’ve been removed from a developed country.
I never really contemplated the kinds of personal changes and growth I would go through here. It was always anticipated that something of the sort would happen, and presumably it would be for the best. During my explanation of the problems I’m having here, my friend pointed out that self-sufficiency is probably the biggest lesson of my service so far. It’s not an unexpected or unique lesson, it just feels a bit strange to embrace alone. On one hand, I have very few people to answer to on a daily basis; however, it also results in a lack of structure and support. The Peace Corps ideology stresses working side-by-side with host country nationals on everything. Since I don’t see my members on a daily basis, I’m often left to my own devices and that means everything moves a lot slower.
This will always be a whirlwind journey, but the novelty of foreignness has worn off. I’m not surprised by anything anymore and the initial optimism I had upon arrival is gone. It’s not to say that my attitude is at an irreconcilable down, rather I feel I have a realistic understanding of the problems I face. Unfortunately, identification is only the first step to conquering them.
Next week marks 20 months left in Botswana for me. In some ways it’s unbelievable that I’ve been here for so long. During training, I recall being told (repeatedly) that it takes a year. A year, that is, before volunteers here really feel a sense of accomplishment or value in their services. I suppose I’m halfway there, but it’s disheartening to think that I may have 6 months left of feeble victories and insurmountable struggles before arriving at that magical day when the heavens will part and symphonies will erupt around my newfound enlightenment. I agree – it’s a weird phenomenon in the world of international development (or at least Peace Corps).
There are a couple of ideas that highlight themselves in my mind when I think about the overall picture. Goals and achievements are always the first, while the second is eventually returning home. I can’t even imagine going back to the US right now, must less in 20 months. The brevity of my time here lies in stark contrast to the immeasurably changed country to which I’ll return. How often do you conglomerate a 2-year period of your life and stamp it a success or failure? It’s tough to absorb in those terms, especially when your definition of success is fluctuating every day.
I try to resist these kinds of self-serving ruminations in my blog, but hopefully they will convey the way I’m feeling during this phase of my time here. Thanks for reading,
P.S. – Check this article for more perspective on what Peace Corps service means