Tag Archives: Peace Corps

De-stress

I have felt very stressed these last couple weeks, for a lot of obvious reasons: projects coming to head, uncertain of where I’ll be living 6 months from now, and beginning to wrap up some of my other responsibilities. Keeping perspective on how much time I have left has been difficult – 4 months is nothing in comparison. There’s a small part of me that wants to sprint toward the end and stay busy. But that’s not how this process works and I know I have to pull back.

I told my organization I would be reducing my role with them over the next few months, starting next week. Of course, if this last project gets approved it means I’ll still have a lot to do in the way of physical labor and organizing. But I’m leaving the other grunt work to my members. This is the point when I remember that I never was the executive director (although I often was) and someone else must take responsibility for this organization. If it crumbles, then it is not my job to glue it back together.

I’m still here, and I have other things to occupy my time. I started a computer class last week, which should be kind of fun because the students are enthusiastic. So far it seems like my class will consist mostly of older women – it seems to be the demographic I’m destined to serve here.

After this week my service will change as I enter detach mode. I’m taking the stress off and preparing everything for my departure. In a few weeks I have my close of service (COS) conference and that will really start the countdown.

Cheers

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Last

It’s hard to believe that I have only about 4 months left in Botswana, and that I’ve completed 22. Saying that my time here has flown by would be a flat lie – parts of my service have been agonizingly frustrating and slow.

This post is born out of some of those difficulties in the final (and biggest) project of my service. I’ve written loosely about it before and have avoided definitive terms because it has always been shrouded in uncertainty. The project is a building for my NGO, and it represents the largest amount of funding the organization has applied for to date. “Logistical nightmare” doesn’t accurately describe the pangs we have endured in the journey to this point, a week before the board makes a final decision about our application.

Anyone who has worked in development knows that disorganization comes with the territory. In Botswana, the residue of the British protectorate years manifests itself in bureaucracy unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the US. Furthermore, no one – no one – knows how to navigate it. I have dealt with this for quite a while, but I am still astonished by how many barriers there are to progress. Without intention to generalize, aspects of this project seem to center around me willing people to learn how to do their jobs or overcome their laziness. There are good partners in my life here, and some of them have fallen victim to the ineptitude of people around them. Orchestrating people in time here has been horrible.

At this point, I am unsure of this project’s potential for success. After all, I am leaving in about 4 months and even if the building is funded, it won’t be complete until long after I close my service. I can hope to get a foundation of the work done before June and push the people of my NGO to take charge of it, setting up some semblance of sustainability. First, however, is the matter of securing funding. My organization received a site visit from the donor in November, and has since been working hard to position itself to be eligible. I honestly don’t know that we will be ready in time.

I have spent a large part of my service being frustrated, but this is the last time I will do so. By this time next month I should know whether or not my NGO was successful in its application for funding. If, we succeed, I will have a very busy 3 months. If we fail, then we fail – but I will not hold any regret about my end of the project.

Failure is obviously not something I enjoy, but I recognize that it’s essential to the Peace Corps experience. We learn most from our missteps, whether we are to blame or not (in many of my failures here I was to blame). Some things are not within our control and I guess that’s an important lesson, too. Either way, it is emotionally draining and I am almost through.

With or without this project, I am satisfied with what I have done here. I may not be in the right mood to convey that sentiment, and I can reminisce later, but I know that I have experienced moments of fulfilment. I’m ready to get back to an environment that doesn’t oppose me at every turn the way this one does. The first world has its problems too, sure, but at least I don’t feel singularly defeated there. After this project I am done failing in my service, and that feels pretty damn good.

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America

Being home feels slightly surreal, but mostly normal. I have just a few reflections at this point. I’ll start at a couple weeks ago since it has been a long time since my last update.

I participated in Pre-Service Training for the new group of Peace Corps trainees. Like most of my favorite organizations, PC offers a chance for current volunteers to grandfather information and best practices down to newer people. I found myself reliving my time in Botswana, particularly the earliest moments and adjustments. The questions were endless and seemed almost rote, coming in constant rapid succession. Being some of the first faces that newcomers see was a fun experience, but it also highlighted the fact that every person’s Peace Corps experience is different, even within the same country. My role was to answer those basic questions about life and work, and I hope I helped ease some anxiety along the way.

I made my way home earlier this week, spending a couple days in Atlanta. I’ve been having a great time, with only a few readjustment culture shock moments (particularly in large grocery stores and shopping areas). My sister hosted me, and I was able to meet up with a couple friends; they were sure to tend to my food cravings. I also have begun to think about life after Peace Corps, namely graduate school and my career. My old boss and some Peace Corps connections guided me to a couple of one-on-one meetings at Emory. The interactions I had were really positive, and it started to get me excited about restarting academic life.

Home is where your family is, and that’s where I am now. I think that there is a certain idea Peace Corps volunteers have about traveling home and what it could mean in the context of one’s service. My friend put it best when she described our service as a bubble that we’re afraid to pop; why must we maintain an impenetrable barrier between our lives in the developed world and our lives in rural Africa? After all, this is where our original support systems still reside, and we will return to them when the 27 months is finished. Perhaps the mechanisms we use to cope and adjust to that new lifestyle include embracing the feeling of being marooned and isolated. This is something I’ve struggled with since deciding to take that trip to the US – my volunteer friends and I joke about not returning to Botswana if we go home because everything is just too wonderful. By processing this experience, and recognizing where I am in my service I know I will be able to return to finish my service. The concept is funny, though.

The few days I’ve been in Detroit have been a great reminder of my great friends and family. A lot of them have made time to see and visit with me. I’ve also finally been able to share some images of where I live and work, as well as a lot of people involved in my life in Botswana. Part of PC goals are to share what you’re learning about our respective cultures, and I feel that I’m doing a lot of that this trip. Fast and unlimited internet, food, and hot water have all been comforting – I machine washed my clothes and they are literally a different color (with the removal of the sand and dirt). I’ve only scratched the surface, and there are a lot more people I get to see and talk to in the next week. I better hop to it.

Cheers

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Back in the Kops

I offer to you, dear readers, my sincerest apologies for leaving my blog so vacant these past few weeks. Everything here seems to have changed for the better, if only in my outlook. Our In-Service Training conference provided the rejuvenation that I needed in every way.

Allow me first to declare my renewed love of showers. To me, they are the most glorious and sorely missed luxury about life in the developed world. I am now back to bathing in a bucket, but those 2 weeks of hot water from above left my body beyond pleased. The city also treated me well, and I got to experience nightlife for the first time in a long time! It felt great to be around friends and to be able to go out for food and drinks again (though not great on my diminutive bank account). Financially, it is better to be in the Kops; socially, Gabs.

The technical aspect of our IST was helpful in shaping my plans for service. I have to say that being thrust into a strange village for 2 months with little direction beyond “get to know your community” was scary and, at times, altogether miserable. I was certainly left in an existential crisis, and lacked the tools to dig myself out. After receiving a bit of guidance, I feel ready to handle the many challenges before me. My NGO has some cleaning up to do, but we’ll soon be on our way to exciting projects. First on the list is getting our vegetable garden up and running!

It seems that my departure from the north resulted in the disappearance of winter. Gone are the days of mild to cold weather, and I am facing a long and very hot summer. The river here is rising as well, and I see potential environmental challenges in my future. Thankfully, my new demeanor has me in a state of no worries – ga go no mathata (yes, just like hakuna matata).

Cheers

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Good Days

This experience is a rollercoaster, especially during these first few months. Today is a good day. Something has been accomplished. It is a small success, one that has taken a month of calls and confusion and more waiting than someone coming from the US is at all used to.

The tone of my blog since I have been at site has been stern, and rightfully so. Adjustment is hard and I have been collecting small defeats and lonely nights for a while. It’s nice to have some success, miniature as it may be.

Around the time of site placement, my program director asked our group if we wanted it to be easy. Why did we come here? Certainly we are each qualified enough to be part of companies and non-profits in the states that are flourishing and making boast-worthy strides. But perhaps the most room for growth is at the grass-roots level. The chance to make a difference, though cliché, is the reason many of us come here.

My site is hard – there is little private-sector development happening in Rakops. The group itself is voluntary with zero paid staff. It means willing people to come; to do things based on the relationships you have with them. Aligning myself with the people who can see benefits in that light is the first step. I think that all of us hope that some of that legwork will be done when we get here, but in most undeveloped sites, it isn’t. And it goes without saying that it all takes time.

Today, I got my district office to transport materials for our garden from Francistown. I had been searching for help for this for about a month, and there was no budget available for it. Transport, as I am learning, is a persistent headache. Petrol is not cheap, and cars aren’t widely available. It’s possible, though, and we finally have everything we need to re-start our garden. The group and I are going to plan an event to plant and celebrate, as well as honor the organizations that have donated to the project.

I realize that to American readers, this is silly bordering on ridiculous. It took 2 months to move two-dozen large poles 400 kilometers. Let me relish this triumph in the context of my service and congratulate me. Today I am victorious.

Cheers

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Closing Doors, Opening Windows

I finished up work at the Michigan Department of Community Health last Wednesday, which has allowed me more time to complete my necessary preparations before I leave (in 7 days). It was bittersweet – the people I worked with were incredibly helpful (whether they realize it or not) in guiding my career decisions from here on out. My coworkers took me out on Tuesday, making them the first for my going-away celebrations. It was a great time and really made me realize what a great environment it was for me. Though I will miss everyone there, I’m ecstatic to start something new and to shake things up a bit.

I also have begun the good-bye process with my family and friends, with a final farewell for most of my friends coming this weekend. It’s always tough to say good-bye, especially when it’s for a long time. I tell everyone to put any big milestones on hold for when I get back. Of course I’m joking, but their support has been huge – I have a great network of people in my life.

While thinking forward to my preparations and quickly escaping time left in the states, the word ‘inundated’ comes to mind. I’m over-dramatizing, but the thoughts about what I still have to do and pack truly flood my mind at times. There are 7 days before such things become part of the past, however, and I can’t wait for that day to arrive. Pre-service Training lies on the shelf of anticipation in my mind: 3 months of intense language and skills training, along with as much cultural assimilation as possible.

I also want to reflect on the incredible network PC creates, which I have noticed particularly in the past few weeks. I have encountered a lot of people connected with it (or Botswana) and I’m looking forward to becoming part of this organization. Today I received a message from an old friend (and fellow Spartan Marching Band member) who begins her service in Kazakhstan… tomorrow. What a coincidence – it actually is a small world, after all. This brings me to the focus of this post: my time at certain ventures here has come to an end, but it means the window is open now for this new one to unfold. Good luck to my fellow trainees, wherever you are, it’s almost time to begin.

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Expectations

Whenever someone talks to me about my upcoming start of service, I get the usual list of questions concerning living conditions and the type of work I’ll be doing. I don’t really know most of the answers since I won’t be placed at a specific site until after pre-service training. There is a great deal of unknown ahead of me, though I suppose that satisfies the element of adventure.

 

I recommend checking out this site which is essentially an RSS feed of Peace Corps blogs like mine. The postings are of current and future volunteers, and they shed some light on the kinds of things PCVs do in Botswana. The stories are sometimes about the challenges volunteers face, and sometimes reflections on daily events, but they’re always sincere. True to the nature of service, those blogs (and mine) aren’t always happy or exciting. They simply aspire toward a successful end product. My expectations and aspirations are, in the broadest language possible, to have a successful service. I don’t know how to measure that success yet, and that’s the beauty of it.

 

As a less dramatic aside, I’m also cooking up a plan to partner with a great friend of mine, Sasha. She is currently in her first year of Teach For America as a member of the Chicago Corps where she teaches integrated science at an inner-city high school called Urban Prep. A little background on UP – 100% of its students get accepted to 4-year universities. It’s a staggering statistic which really goes to show what a service organization like TFA can accomplish. I’m hoping to set up a system of contact for her students and myself in which we can learn and work together on some of my future projects. Hopefully Sasha will also have them send me questions when they get their club underway in the fall and I can answer them on my blog.

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