This is one of a few posts written while I could not sleep one night during my site visit a few weeks ago.
Everyday, I lose a little more of my American identity. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can also be kind of shocking and sad. Here everything is changing, now I just need to own these changes and decide how to handle them. Here are a few of the changes:
My name: In America, I’m known as Joiwyn or variations of that depending how close we are. I take great pride in having a beautiful and unique name and always having to explain it (it essentially means pure joy). And I love my name and would never change it. Here, my name is Kesaobaka or Kesa for short. It’s important to have a Setswana name to integrate better and also because a name like Joiwyn is hard for Batswana (the people of Botswana) to pronounce. Kesaobaka means I praise Him. I haven’t met anyone else with the name, so that better than being one of the 20 Mpho’s or many Neo’s of our training group. And I understand the message behind it, although not being Christian myself made me a little put off by it at first. I do love this Setswana name, but I often miss being called Joiwyn and feel like it’s a part of my identity that I’ve lost.
My language: In my village very few people speak English. So I’m pretty much forced to learn as much Setswana as possible. I really enjoy learning the language and being able to communicate with people here, but it also feels like I’m losing a piece of myself. I can’t communicate as fully in Setswana and went from having a rather large vocabulary to a very small one. You don’t realize how much comfort comes from speaking your mother tongue until you’re forced to use it very little and in very different ways to promote understanding.
My beliefs: In America, I held pride in owning who I was and freely admitting things like my age and my religion. Here, I’ve started to hide those things. This culture puts a lot of emphasis on being older, so my age loses me respect already even though I don’t tell people how old I am. Many people ask me how old I am and guess around 20 or 21. Which is strange for me since I’m America everyone guessed I was older than I am. I’ve started to say that it’s rude to ask your age in America and I refuse to answer. Religion is a similar issue. Nearly everyone is Christian and today I was told that they try to promote everyone to be Christian so that they can find their salvation. I get asked a lot what prayer group or church I go to at home. I answer honestly that I didn’t go to church and that I was raised with a different religion, but if they probe further, I say that in America religion isn’t usually an open topic. A lot of people keep their religion very private.
Food: I used food for comfort in America. I know it wasn’t healthy, but it was how I coped with things. Here I don’t do that because my comfort foods aren’t here. I’ve found that I eat far less here than I did in America, which is not a bad thing and have found other coping mechanisms for my anxiety or homesickness. I miss my favorite foods, but have also managed to lose 25 pounds because the food I eat here is actually a lot healthier than what I ate at home as well as the reduced portion sizes.
My family: I’ve found that I talk to my brother a ton more and my father quite a bit more since getting here because they both have strong Facebook messaging skills. Unfortunately, I’ve been talking to my mom far less and that has been a little hard. We used to talk on the phone everyday in America. I’ve barely talked to my other brother or sisters. And my friends have been a mixed bag. It’s been hard losing some communication, but what’s even worse is the way people here try to fill the hole. I’ve loved having host moms, but I don’t want to replace my mom. I didn’t come here to get new families, so it’s just felt a little overwhelming having new people to answer to and having these expectations wrapped around me. That is why I was a little worried about my forever home being another home stay, but after talking to my supervisor, it sounds like that is less of a concern.
And lastly my assurance: I’ve been a student for the last 5 years and I’ve known how to do that. I’ve been good at that. I don’t feel as sure that I’ll be good at this. As the first volunteer in my village, I feel like the village is expecting me to make all of these great changes and solve all of these problems and I’m just worried that I’m not actually going to be able to help at all. I’m more worried about failing than I’ve ever been before, but on the flip side, I’m not even sure if I can fail here. Isn’t my just being here making an impact? I’ve always been a worried person raddled with anxiety, but this is a whole new level. Every activity has a new level of anxiety attached to it.
However, I know that with everything I lose, I gain something else. I think my biggest worry is that I will change so much here that I won’t fit into how people see me back home. Change is not inherently bad, as long as I make sure to keep hold of the things that are most important to me.