Monday, September 10, 2012

Spirit of a Year

Having walked into an unexpected adventure, life has unfolded in ways never imagined---I am in Africa!  A year of living in a small village under my belt, having disengaged from the path of middle class America to blaze my mid-life trail, far from the familiarity of the place I once called home, far from the food I loved.  Outside the wind howls, raindrops drums a lullabye, heat swelters, the cold of winter chilled my bones, and sunsets amaze.  Another hot season coming upon us heightens my awareness that time has passed.  Looking out into the darkness of the star filled village night, with the mosquito net draped lazily over my bed, my own private cocoon, I reflect on the flood of memories that pour over me, the ups and downs of being the constant outsider, alone, misunderstood, alive, a Peace Corps Volunteer.  

 I remember the teary good bye at JFK, wondering what I did, what I was getting myself into, then the comfort and ease I felt in meeting my host family, the initial shock of seeing my site for the first time, a place, now, I have grown to love. Yet in the course of integrating for a year, it's been natural to go through phases for better or worse, musings, amusement, self-doubt.  You deal with frustrations that you're not used to, make sense out of things that make no sense, get to know yourself in ways that can be astounding, and then you start comparing yourself to how you used to be, and wonder how you will find a way to fuse the person I used to be with the person I've become.  The challenges that happen physically and mentally, testing your strength and resilience, are such that you cannot prepare for them. Even in Botswana, where some of us have it relatively easy, and the infrastructure is decent, it still seems challenging, little annoyances magnify, yet it all makes you think, it sharpens your awarenes, makes you wiser, kinder, empathic. Though I've had relatively no tumultuous tumbles, reality is, you're still a part of the Peace Corps culture, which is this broad spectrum of experiences that can be uplifting and depressing, beautiful and ugly, filled with challenges and triumphs.  Initially, whatever you did, you stuck out like a sore thumb, with no sense of anonymity---simply exercising, or the way you do your laundry, caused laughter and bantering, and there's little place to hide except for your own bedroom, leaving you to reconcile your cultural differences.

Even though I'm in a contemplative state right now, my fondest memories are the humorous things have happened, and I imagine will continue to happen. But after a year, I can say that things have fallen under the category of "pseudo-normalcy," with the exception of doing my tai chi, people are somewhat used to the white person quirks.  But do they know that at times I've forgotten the 6pm world news ever existed, or that there's even a calendar, or that football is really played anymore? Do they know that there were moments that I just wanted to crawl back into the good life, sit on a real toilet seat, do laundry with a machine, take a real hot shower, watch TV, eat an organic cucumber?  Do they know that I rarely eat porridge, and that some of my alone thinking time consists of reuniting my relationship with Asian food?  Do I understand them more or less than they understand me, or have we just gotten used to each other?  

No matter the answers, what a difference a year makes---I left, I survived, my global perspective has broadened, the sights and sounds of Africa conjure up the depths of imagination, and even with the challenges, a sense of peace and harmony has surrounded me.  A year ago, I started out my blog with my expectations, but now I realize that the best thing is not to expect anything, to trust the ride, look up at the stars, nurture the relationships gained, grow with the hard times, flow along in my village existence and try to saver each and every inspiring or touching moment because I know it's not the beginning anymore.  Yesterday, my little friend Lefika was helping me in the yard,---we took time out to color a picture, and he looked up at me and said, "this is a wonderful moment."----That is what my year has given to me!

                       "Not all those who wonder are lost."

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