This post was written on September 17th. There are some delays with editing and getting them posted on this site.
Today was my first hard day that wasn’t because of grief. It was hard for multiple reasons. I felt really sick for the first time since getting here, started feeling slightly ill equipped to help, started missing home (especially food and my loved ones), and started feeling like I was being confined in my site. And if there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I don’t like being put in a box of preconceived notions and expectations. This site placement is definitely going to be a challenge, but through my homesickness and stress today, I realized that I need to own my service and set boundaries now.
When I first got here, my supervisor made it a point to tell all the teachers and staff at a staff meeting at my school, as well as the chief and community during a Kgotla meeting, the things that I shouldn’t be seen doing. He made a point to say that I shouldn’t be driving, doing drugs, drinking too much, sleeping with married men, or having other inappropriate sexual relationships (in the staff meeting, he even turned to me and asked if I was allowed to mate). He made sure to tell my counterpart that he was in charge of knowing where I was at all times and if I was gone too long on the weekends or went somewhere without telling him, he was in charge of handling that. Now I understand that they’ve never had a Peace Corps Volunteer or even an American in the village, but for me, this is really challenging having everyone watching me like I’m an unruly teenager. I came here to work, not to break rules that could get me kicked out of Peace Corps. I try to always remember that everyone has the best intentions. He wants to make sure that I’m safe, that the village cares about me, and that I’m going to actually help them instead of just sitting on my ass. I’m just not used to having so many people in my business. This is one of those cultural things I need to work with though. The other thing that concerns me is the way my village talks about my home here. It’s on a family compound and my supervisor and others have referred to that family as my new host family, and told people that my new surname will be Phoro when I move there. For me, this feels like another confining situation. I don’t feel like I’m my own person here, I feel like I’m the village trophy. I know that in a collectivist society, like this, I have to get used to losing some of my individuality, but on the other hand, I’m supposed to also be sharing my culture and a huge part of that is my independence and individualism. After talking to a few volunteers (so many have checked in with me today, I’m definitely acquiring a peace corps family ☺), I realized that now is the time I need to set boundaries and plans for how to handle these situations. I already spoke to my counterpart. I told him that I understand they want me to be safe, but he doesn’t have to watch me like a hawk because I have a great track record for taking care of myself and I’ll reach out if I need help. He’s awesome. He told me that he thought I was perfect for this placement. I talked to my tutor who is a woman around my age and she told me to be who I am and not let others opinions matter too much. She’s awesome. Now I just have to get over my fear of conflict and authority anxiety and sit down with my supervisor. I know it will be so much better after I do, it’s just hard for me to stand up for myself in situations like this because I want to make the best impression I can. I know though, that it will be worse for me to make an impression that I am extremely flexible and end up breaking under the pressure. I’m still excited about my site, and I still feel so lucky to be here. I just want the small village family to come naturally, not be forced on me from the start.
I’ll write more soon. I am just trying to let myself process all of the change first.
P.S. Send me food 😉 haha