Tuesday, September 3, 2013

What was it really like?

After so many blog posts where every turn, and every encounter seemed like a story to me, it is amazingly, the end, and I sit here and think, What was it really like? For that one millisecond that the thought of joining the Peace Corps arises in many, my fleeting moment turned into a reality.  In the twinkling of an eye, me and my mid life crisis were transported, with a blank slate to another continent, halfway around the world to a new land, and to a new family who warmed my frozen heart, and made me stop caring that I uprooted my life, or wasn't in my beloved Asia.

The call to adventure came to be set in a rural Botswana village watching chickens scamper around in the dirt, cows walking in my house, teaching life skills, listening to the clanking of donkey carts, absorbing the ambiance of young children, lugging groceries and water back to my village, and gazing at the stars in the endless sky.  I found myself lying at night with muddled thoughts, ruminating about the secrets I keep and other fun stuff, and listening to strange noises that eventually became normal to me.  I remember how odd it felt to be blind in a way---to walk a path I couldn't see---and now I realize the exchange for lack of sight is replaced with vision---a greater focus of existence and a learning to let go of attachments.  

Being a PCV in Africa, you have to have, or at least develop, some bravado, compassion, chutzpah, and a little added humility in order to navigate the culture and survive.  Time doesn't live here, it just visits now again to tell ya it's still around--so I no longer looked at my watch, but with my inner sight as old realities began to warp and fade.  I watched women working tirelessly, chipping away at the hard dry soil, thinking they were wasting their time and energy, only to see, months later, the fruits of their hard labor. I continue to marvel at the persistence and patience of some neighbors, the toil under hardships that I still can't imagine. I struggle with the intangible stuff of the many young deaths from AIDS that occurred this past year, the lack of good nutritious food as I sit and hoard my Cliff Bars, and the longing in the eyes of kids, adults, and frankly, in my eyes too, when we see a photo of an American Thanksgiving dinner. While they may tell me they're hungry, or ask for food at times, they rarely complain or give up.  

Then there were the daily hiccups and frustrations of projects failing, of feeling unused, unneeded, and unappreciated, as well as how the school system works, and the lack of the promotion of critical thinking, or how the family system works.  I also wonder if the girls and boys will ever stop struggling between personal aspirations and cultural expectations. You spend hours trying to teach what you can to those who have curiosity, or motivation. You make friends only to realize that there is something void in some, or that they really are only being nice so you'll charge their phone.  But then there are others who are more real, and you wonder why all of them can't be like that. Things, lets say, are complex here.

Botswana has extremes in weather that fry or freeze us, thunderstorms that made me either jump through the roof or laugh, and don't forget to wrap your food good or else you'll be eating bugs for dinner in the summer. We contend with being smashed into a kombie that's supposed to hold 14, but 20 are sitting on top of you and asking you to take their kid. We wonder why talking to our fellow PCV's about bathing and pooping is normal. 

But there are also the endless hilarious, wonderful, and nutty moments that will be imprinted in my mind forever, the moments of “you had to be there.” The smiles from the cast of characters that jump all over you because they know that you know how to have fun and how to listen---or the mom that approaches asking if she can “color” also. And then there are the touching moments that only you know from the 6 kids who graced my house almost daily, and were open enough to let you in and learn from you---and vice versa! I do hope, on some level, that I was a catalyst for change in some of these people.  Simultaneously, there are successes like the Glow Camp, Pact Club, Yoga, Reading groups, etc.. that make you feel it was all worth it. And of course, being a part of the Peace Corps family, and the travel experiences that show you how amazing the world can be.

So what was it like? It was awesome!!!! It was hard, it was easy---it was ugly, it was beautiful---it was funny, it was frustrating---it was challenging, it was serene, ----it was, dare I say, transformative---IT WAS AFRICA!

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