Tag Archives: bush

100

Can you believe fewer than 100 days (only 97) remain of my Peace Corps service? Believe me, I can’t either. It has been a crazy ride and it’s almost finished. This weekend is my Close of Service (COS) conference when I’ll meet with the remaining members of my cohort for the last time. It’s the only proper ceremony to mark all we’ve accomplished before we go our separate ways.

I have made some great friends here, with whom I’ll always hold a bond. What can you say about a group of people who drop everything to live in rural southern Africa for two years for no money? It’s not normal – some of my friends here have left high-paying jobs, sold their houses, and dealt with long-distance (thousands of miles) relationships. All of it, of course, is done in the name of virtue and service. When I reminisce with my friends over how we’ve adapted and how different our lives are, I realize how much we’ve all changed. We have spent a long time in the village and earned an intimate understanding of grassroots development – one that you can’t get from an office at an international aid agency, venturing into the bush occasionally for fieldwork. It’s evident that the clichés is true: we are biggest product of this experience.

Here I have experienced some crippling lows and questioned my self-worth. I’ve learned that as Westerners, we hold our productivity and success as benchmarks for our happiness. And I’ve learned how dangerous that is here. These two years have been anything but flashy for me – aside from the images of bathing in a bucket and using a pit latrine – I have grinded through my work thanklessly. I was talking with a friend of mine in the village, a fellow Westerner who has been here for more than 20 years, and he asked me how I felt about my service. It’s a loaded question to anyone in the same line of work and I had to be honest: the people and my organization have been very challenging. He followed up and was not surprised to hear that I felt my progress was slow and often invisible. There are few moments that capture me “changing the world” or will fit onto an advertisement for Peace Corps. It just doesn’t work that way. In Botswana it seems common for your praises to be sung after you’ve gone – without being too presumptuous, I think that the Volunteer who follows me will hear some of the good things I’ve done.

A couple weeks ago I got an email from a future volunteer, as I sometimes do, asking some questions and seeking advice. It’s so hard to compress my experiences or generalize them since every volunteer’s life is so different – even people within my district have much different lives. But in answering her inquiry, I realized how much of the story is left out of pictures and stories. This is such a personal experience, that in some ways I don’t want to share the whole thing. Likewise, I don’t think others can understand through asking questions or reading books – the unhappy discoveries you make during these two years, as well as the way you handle them, are your own points of pride, and indispensible to your experience.

February has been good to me so far. I went to Lesotho for some hiking and relaxation (and to use the remainder of my vacation days) – it was picturesque. The mountains and greenery made me envious. I also got into graduate school! Actually, I’ve only heard from a couple schools so far, but I got good news from one of my top choices so I’m excited: Emory University’s School of Public Health in Atlanta. I’ve been so anxious about what comes next, so I’m relieved that my options are starting to materialize. Within the next few weeks I’ll probably be able to start planning my move.

I guess this is the point when times speeds up again. I’m ready for it.

Cheers

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You Again

Leaving the United States has been a reprieve from a lifestyle. I don’t mean to place negativity on America, because it hasn’t all been an intentional effort to disconnect (though admittedly some of it has). People are stressed there, and our culture has a much different set of values than this place does. I’m more relaxed here and free from some past baggage. My network has changed drastically. Living thousands of miles away from your former life creates an inevitable schism in your relationships.

I’m now facing the impending, uneasy reacquaintance with that life. There’s so much of it I’m looking forward to, though: I can easily call my family and close friends again, visit and travel with them, eat and drink with them… There’s comfort in that and a lot of love to be shared. People with whom I’ve kept in touch from this side have an idea of what my life has been like these past two years and have kept me updated on theirs. It will be seamless and easy to renew our bonds.

However, there’s a certain amount of awkwardness and guilt associated with others. I did seek a sort of “reset button” when I left, and I have felt relief in closing some chapters of my US life. But I didn’t necessarily prepare for that with others. The world is small and I wonder how some encounters will play out. The US is fast-paced and busy (that’s part of the reason I left), but I have been so fortunate with relentless support from some people. Friends and family have kept in email contact and some even buy Skype credit to call me regularly. It has been an incredible display of commitment and encouragement, which has been a crucial grounding throughout this experience. Comparing that with the relative indifference I’ve felt from others is the challenge.

What should I expect from people who were formerly central to my social life and identity? Living in the bush is like a get out of jail free card: my relative lack of access to internet and resources (I’m a poor volunteer) removes some guilt from my end. But how much time does it take to send an email? Or put a post card in the mail? I can ask these questions of myself, for I certainly haven’t been the best at this. This severed (or weakened) tie was not deliberate. Was our relationship one of convenience and proximity? Maybe the line isn’t so finite – I didn’t exactly ask everyone to maintain a long-distance friendship with me, I just thrust it upon them. Neglect was made on both ends. Shall we just call it even?

Homecoming should be absent begrudging hostility. I’m excited to go home, after all, because America is a place of wonderful people, infrastructure, food, productivity, live music, showers, big cities, central air conditioning… the list goes on. Before I get to all that, I need to reconcile that imbalance, and leave behind any bitterness. Readjustment is going to be hard enough.

Cheers

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