Tomorrow I fly back to a country I haven’t been to in over two years. I return to a family that has morphed, evolved, and grown while I’ve been away. I circle back to a life that I left and feel like should have stayed the same, but I know will be vastly different. I have no home. No job. No car. No plan in place. Not many belongings. This is the freshest start I could ever imagine having. It’s both terrifying and exhilarating. I feel like I’m diving into a black hole and hoping there’s water somewhere down there and it’s deep enough to keep me alive. But alas, it’s time to stop worrying about what’s at the bottom and just take the leap. Here I go.
This will probably be my last post before I’m home in 2 short weeks!
My service has been one of challenges and I shouldn’t have been surprised that it would end that way as well. It’s not overall bad, but I’m leaving in a way I wish I wasn’t. I wish I was leaving with more that I’m going to miss. I wish I was leaving having felt like I really made an impact. I did everything I could and I know that my students learned something valuable from me, but I was dealt a hard hand. Today a friend and fellow volunteer said that she thought I had had the most challenges in my service. I responded that I hoped so because I wouldn’t wish that anyone else have this many challenges or more. Challenges aside, I had a great experience. I didn’t get the communities and friendships that my friends did. I didn’t have really any relationship with my counterpart in the end. My service was quite the bumpy road, but I did it. I endured, persevered, and stayed resilient through it all.
I dealt with extreme back pain, a gallbladder removal surgery alone and in a foreign country, a tumor diagnosis in my leg (don’t worry, it’s benign and doesn’t pose any threats to my health currently), an eviction, not having a home for 2 months, the death of a close friend, a tiny village with no water/electricity/transportation, a huge village with lots of crime and harassment, nosy and active counterparts, counterparts who didn’t seem to give a shit about me, corporal punishment all around and teachers offering to demonstrate how painful it is on me, other mentally triggering events, and people belittling me and discriminating against me because of my identity. I have dealt with a lot in my life, but this was still an extreme experience. But I also had hours of amazing time with my students, bonding time with my neighbor/sister, great travel experiences, fun times with my cohort, and I have made some of the best friendships of my life. If the only thing I got out of this experience was the love of these amazing friends, it would be enough. I’m happy to leave this village that has tested me day after day, but I will miss the experience and the time in my life. I will miss the people and the things I’ve done here. I will miss Baewyn weekends, and teaching my little sister math. As much as it sometimes doesn’t feel like it, I will miss Botswana. But I am ready to be home.
*Told you it would be soon!*
I don’t really know how to define productivity anymore. In my office, and in many others in Botswana, it’s not about how much work you do, but how long you’re there. I haven’t witnessed a lot of drive or motivation to get things done, which has been challenging for me because I am someone who, in the past, has always felt this need to stay busy. If I was constantly busy, I didn’t have to think about all my insecurities, fears, and other depressing thoughts. I could ignore and run away from my problems. Being here, I’ve found the value of taking things slower. I’m not great at it, but it is nice to not be filled with anxiety over a million deadlines like I used to be. Sometimes that means that I don’t do the things that need to be done finished in a timely manner, because I don’t have that deadline motivating me, but I still get them done. I almost enjoy expecting things to start two hours late because that gives me two hours to sit and read.
In the past few months, I’ve been worried that I won’t be able to work on American time anymore. I was worried that I would struggle at a job and have issues focusing. But in the past couple weeks, I’ve had to actually get things done since I’m leaving and I’ve noticed how fast I can get back into a state of productivity and motivation. It’s only 3 o’clock and I’ve done three loads of laundry by hand, a load of dishes, cooked two meals, packed all of my belongings to take home besides the aforementioned laundry, deep cleaned one room, moved unused furniture into said room, taken out two loads of garbage, applied to three jobs, found four more to apply to, watched two episodes of Buffy, written one and half blog posts, worked on e-mails, packed a couple boxes to go to people here, and sorted my finances. A typical Monday for me in the past couple months would be to wake up around 8 or 9, watch some TV, maybe journal, do some reading, then go to Teen Talk, come home, make some calls, and then go to bed. Not quite the same kind of productivity. So I have hope that I won’t be a completely useless human when I’m home.
I’m still almost always early to things, and I still get things done when they need to be, but I’m no longer the ball of anxiety about everything. I recognize more of what I can and should have control over and I recognize that I don’t need to be busy all the time to prove something. I’m enough at any level of productivity. I enjoy having more time for myself and listening to my mind and body instead of trying to shut it off. And Botswana has given me the time I needed to learn more about myself and become a more confident and happy person. I don’t want to keep living by Botswana time, but I also don’t really want to go back to my insane American time. I’d like a happy medium where I have pockets of business, and stretches of leisure. That sounds beautiful right now.
*This post should have been uploaded last week, but my brain would not focus enough. So expect the one that was actually meant for this week soon!*
You know when you’re trying to load a website and it just keeps buffering or saying it isn’t responding? That’s my brain right now. I have 20+ tabs open thinking about going back to America, the end of Peace Corps, saying goodbye to the place I’ve called home for two years, my family and friends, my travels before coming home, money, finding a job, which city I’ll be living in, that girl I made out with last weekend, Mexican food, cars, more Mexican food, how different I am now versus two years ago, my recent health issues, driving, relationships, grocery stores, PhD applications, living situations, and how insane life is right now (just to name a few). Suffice it to say, I’m getting pretty used to no focus and having my mind in a million places at once. I don’t think this state of mind is going to end any time soon. I’ll be in quite the flux state for the near to somewhat far future as my entire life transitions.
I’m not terribly upset to leave Botswana. This is not a place that I particularly want to live in for much longer, but I have made quite a few friends here and really made a friend of myself. Botswana will always hold a dear place in my heart as the time in my life where I pushed myself almost to my breaking point, but found so much knowledge and strength in that. I have learned so much about myself and realized that I can handle an insane amount of challenges. I’m not scared to leave Botswana, but I am scared about what I’m going home to. I don’t have a job, a long-term place to live, many belongings left at home (I pretty much just left five boxes of books and a dress), a car, a computer, or much else. I’m coming home to a relatively fresh start which is both exciting and daunting. I’ve changed so much in Peace Corps that I’m not really sure what my American self is anymore. Do I still wear make-up? Do I eat out? Do I have friends? Will living with a roommate drive me insane? What will my days look like? Will I have a job that is actually in my field? Will I be able to get back to a ceramics wheel anytime soon? Or even larger questions: Will I be discriminated against more or in danger because of my beliefs or my sexual orientation? Will my state still have anything left or will it all be ash? Am I coming home or to some foreign place that is just a shadow of the land I love? Coming back to the U.S. poses more questions than it answers. It doesn’t really feel like it’s my home anymore, but neither does Botswana.
I recognize that I won’t really have these answers until I’m back stateside. I can try to find a job while I’m still here and that would answer some questions, but the job market is a hard place to break into right now. I can imagine what my life will look like, but I don’t really have control over it. That’s ok. Control is overrated. That doesn’t stop my brain from wanting it. There isn’t much that will stop my brain though. I can rationally say a situation is over and I’ve learned as much from it as possible, but my brain will still say, “Oh, let’s replay that situation.” That’s just how I function and I realize and accept it.
My life may be chaotic right now, but unlike the last six months, it doesn’t feel tainted by depression. I finally feel like the veil has been lifted and I can see things more clearly. Which makes things overwhelming in a very different way. I never expected leaving Botswana to be harder than coming here in the first place, but it is. It’s much harder because unlike when I came here, I don’t have a plan. When I was coming here, I knew I was going to have a job and a secure long-term place to live. I knew that there were things out of my control, but in someone else’s. Now, I feel all the responsibility to find my independence and that’s great. I should have that responsibility and freedom. I’m just worried that once Peace Corps throws me out into the deep end, I won’t fully remember how to swim. We’ll just have to wait and see. I know I’ve lost a lot of my English skills, but maybe I still remember how to swim.
Overall, this is a thrilling time. I’m in this huge transition that marks the completion of something amazing. I have countless opportunities ahead of me and a beautiful new beginning that I can make into whatever I want! I just have to turn this anxiety into excitement and embrace what feels like the biggest adventure of my life. It’s time to break into self-sufficient, non-student, adulthood!
Recently, a friend was talking to me about how she is trying to end her service positively because she doesn’t want to look back at these two years as a black hole in her life. It made me think a lot about my experiences in my service and how I view them. With only a month of service left, now is the time for reflection and reframing! To start off, I don’t view my service entirely positively or negatively. I’ve had a lot of great experiences and a ton of bad ones, but that’s life. Who’s to say my last two years would have been any better if I hadn’t done Peace Corps. I don’t regret my service at all, but it’s extremely different from what I expected it to be.
I definitely thought Peace Corps was going to be hard. I expected a lot of homesickness, communication challenges, acclimation, cultural accommodation needs, and personal struggles, but I was also a naïve twenty-one-year-old (I’m still relatively naïve, just two years older), who thought that I had been through a lot of shit already and I was somehow invincible. I remember thinking that I didn’t have a breaking point and that I would be able to weather any storm. Don’t worry, I’ve been humbled quite a bit here. I’ve gotten closer to my breaking point than I’ve ever been before, but being the badass that I am, I did weather the storm and I’m still here. In this context, badass means with a lot of support from my friends and family and weeks of crying.
The things I didn’t expect from my service were the following: feeling unwanted, undervalued, underutilized, and disrespected; having my mental struggles continuously triggered and aggravated; feeling unsupported by my host organization and PC; and having medical issue after medical issue arise.
So, these are the negatives and they have royally sucked, but if I change them, I change all the growth and evolution that I’ve gone through to become who I am today. Life isn’t meant to be easy. Peace Corps is not meant to be easy. What would you learn from a life where everything just gets handed to you and you never fail? And what constitutes failing?
I’ve struggled a lot in the last few months with a feeling that I failed my service. I felt like I didn’t do everything that I expected to do and I didn’t build the relationships that I expected to build and somehow, that means I failed. I also fight with comparing myself to others. I look at my friends and see these great friendships they have, all the camps and projects they’ve done, and the amazing take-away they have. It’s easy to look at one thing they have that I don’t and say that means I failed my service. But there are so many factors into why they could cultivate these friendships and projects. Their successes are not a reflection of my failures.
A lot of my big take-aways from my service are personal. They’re things like making a lot of mental strides toward healing old wounds and insecurities. My successes are earning my master’s degree, applying to PhD programs (almost), and getting myself to a healthier place with food and activity. But I also have successes in my service. I made relationships with hundreds of students. I taught about topics like sex vs. gender, understanding different forms of sexual orientation, diversity and cultural tolerance and advocacy, and gender based violence; topics that would not have been taught otherwise. I resurrected a club and got 50+ kids interested in it. I showed kids what it’s like to be a strong, independent woman with no current interest in marriage or kids. I showed men every day that treating women like objects doesn’t always give you favorable attention. And I acted as a resource to Peace Corps and my host organization for diversity understanding and inclusion.
I would never be able to say that I wasted two years because I didn’t. I learned so much about myself and others. I learned more about diverse cultures and about my own. I taught others and myself how to be strong and independent. I changed my career paths (a few times) and started to recognize my true passions. My two years in Peace Corps were two of the hardest years of my life and I am absolutely ready to be done with my service, but I will always cherish this time as one of the biggest learning opportunities of my life. I’ve made a lot of progress on learning who I really am and how to love myself, and I think that is one of the hardest and most important lessons in life. So, no, I don’t just have a black hole where the last two years of where my life should be. I have a huge eclectic roller coaster of extremely high highs and terrifyingly low lows with a couple months of neutral territory thrown in. It’s not a roller coaster that I’m going to jump off and get back in line for, but it’s one that I will remember for the rest of my life.
I’m writing this as I procrastinate on the rewrite of my resume and first write of my cover letter for the three jobs I want to apply to this week, the research on the nine PhD programs I’ve narrowed it down to, and the description of service and site reports I should do for Peace Corps, all in the next three days. But like the ice cream I was allowed to buy because it was written on my grocery list, blogging is on my to-do list, so it’s ok to be doing this instead, right?
My muse, Henri, has been on a long vacation and blogging just hasn’t felt feasible for months (apparently, it’s only been 5 months, but I forgot about my last two blogs, so I thought it had been 8, whoops!). My writing is obviously incredibly memorable. A lot has happened in those 5 months. I don’t like to be too negative about my service, on my blog and I’ve been in a pretty negative place for these 5 months. I’m still not in a “hip-hip-hooray” head space, but I have so much going on inside my head that it’s no longer all dreary. I finally have something to keep me busy and driven. That’s not to say I haven’t done anything in the last 5 months, I have. In fact, let me tell you about it!
Had to take a break from writing this to be productive! AKA watch my 18th episode of Will and Grace for today. Productivity comes in all shapes and sizes, my friends.
So, in the past 5 months, I have sadly had all my classes reallocated to new teachers, but happily expanded my club to over 50 students and 5 days a week. With all the extra time I’ve had from not teaching, I’ve watched a lot of TV, researched over 100 schools for PhD programs, read a lot, and tried not to freeze from the winter. I also finished my final paper and graduated with my Masters degree! I spent a month thinking that my job here was no longer for me, fighting intense anxiety, and almost going home. But instead of going home early, I went on 4 vacations, spent more money than I had (not hard to do when we make $300 a month and I came to PC with only $75 in my account), and saw amazing sites, animals, and concerts. Last month we had our Close of Service conference for PC. And lastly, I’ve done a lot of planning for my return to the States.
It’s been a crazy 5 months, but the craziness hasn’t ended. Now it’s the big transition time! In less than two months, I’ll be done with my Peace Corps service (gasp). It doesn’t quite feel real. It’s been an insane 2 years. It’s gone by rapidly at times, and yet excruciatingly slow at others. It’s been over a year since I’ve seen any of my family (thanks again to my brother for coming to visit me last year!), and a tragically long 2 years since I’ve hugged my mom. And although I’m done with my service in 2 months, I won’t be home for another 2 because I’m taking advantage of this crazy liberating (AKA stressful) time of having no job lined up, no school to go back to, and only guaranteed housing for 2 weeks when I return, to take the trip of an amazing lifetime. 2 months, 8 countries (if you count Bots and the US), and many adventures await me. So that’s really the update. A lot has happened, a lot is about to happen, and life is all up in the air starting September 15th.
I’m going to leave this as a pretty short update because I see more blogs happening in the near future. I really mean it this time, maybe… We’ll see. But probably.
P.S. Thank you to my two most loyal readers, Niki and Bhruga. You keep me inspired to blog even when I feel like I have nothing to say. You’re also just beautiful goddesses.
I see students almost everyday for guidance and one of the biggest concerns they come to me with is anxiety and/or depression because of the pressure they’re under. A lot of that pressure comes from parents, teachers, and peers, but so much more comes from themselves. Now this is a topic I know a lot about. I have anxiety and depression. I am constantly second guessing myself. I rarely feel like I’m good enough or successful enough. I’m constantly comparing myself to others and trying to prove something. I don’t know who I’m trying to prove my worth to anymore, I just know that someone out there still needs to see that I’m good enough. Why?
I’m always telling my students that they are amazing just the way they are and they shouldn’t focus on getting the perfect score or having everyone like them, but instead focus on doing the best they can do. Then they can’t feel disappointed in themselves because they put in every effort. I tell them that the world would suck if we were all the same, so they should rejoice in their own personal strengths and uniqueness. I say all of this, and I mean it, but I can’t seem to give myself that same advice.
I tell them it’s ok to not get 48 points (the equivalent of a 4.0), but I’m obsessed with whether my 3.93 will get elevated with these last credits associated with my internship. I tell them not to stress about being as good as their peers at something, but I’m always comparing my PC service to my friends or trying to study everything under the sun because someone knows more about something than me. I tell them to not focus too much on the end result, but to focus on the now and the journey, but my head is always 5 or 10 steps ahead. I tell them to rejoice in their individuality and uniqueness, but I have been trying for as long as I can remember to fit my life and body into a mold of what women should look and act like. I tell them to love and treat themselves well because they’re the only people they have to be with every second of everyday, but I so constantly beat myself up for not being perfect.
This is not just me. This is human nature and how we’re conditioned societally. There is this ideal of the perfect human and we’re constantly comparing ourselves to that and seeing the positive ways our peers are achieving that. But no one is perfect and as we see the positive in others and the negative in ourselves, other people are seeing the positive in us and the negatives in themselves.
I’ve been told a lot lately that I’m really inspiring, which of course I appreciate, but it always surprises me. I don’t feel that inspiring because I’m constantly putting myself down and saying I’m not doing enough and if only people saw me on the days where I make a peach crisp, eat it as my primary meal for the whole day, and watch over 12 hours of glee, they’d realize that I’m just like everyone else. That example, by the way, is essentially how I spent my day today. But the point is that I am inspiring in many ways, just like everyone else around me is. We’ve all had to overcome something and we’ve all succeeded at something. I don’t think I’ve met a single person who I can say hasn’t inspired me in one way or another.
But I also could be a better example for the people who look up to me. How can I tell my kids not to stress about their grades when I cried the first time I got a B on a test because I thought it was the end of the world?; when I am still so obsessed with my grades that I’m nervous to go back to school? How can I tell them to not compare their achievements with their peers, when I see a project another PCV is doing and think that I’m a terrible volunteer and I’m not working hard enough? Or when I call myself stupid and ignorant when someone brings up a topic that I’ve never heard of? How can I tell them to not focus so hard on the end result when my head is already on applying for Ph.D.’s and what my life will look like in America in 8 months? How can I tell them to rejoice in their uniqueness and individuality when I have based my self-worth on being thin and looking like the girls around me? How can I tell them to love themselves and treat themselves well when I am constantly bringing myself down for being fat, unlovable, stupid, lazy, etc.?
I’m great at giving the advice and seeing the good in those around me, but I’m not so good at doing the same for myself. I sometimes come off as cocky and arrogant because I’m trying to hide my deeply ingrained insecurities, but who is that helping. That’s not giving an example of authenticity. I’m tired of trying to be someone I’m not. I’m tired of putting all this pressure on myself. I’m tired of trying to make myself smaller for the world. So I’m going to start taking my own advice. I’m going to give myself credit when credit is due and I’m going to put in the most effort I can in every area of my life (while listening to my body and mind) so that I have no reason to feel guilty or bad about myself. But I’m also going to let myself have days to eat an entire peach crisp and watch 12 hours of glee. I’m going to stop thinking about my size compared to others, that number on the scale, or the size on a tag. The size of my body doesn’t define my worth or even my health. And if someone tries to judge me for the little piece of my life that they see, that’s a reflection of them, not me. They don’t know my life, my story, or really me if they think they can or should judge me negatively. Just like most of the humans I know, I’m a pretty awesome person. Hopefully I can start teaching my kids through example instead of just talk. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves and live happy lives. It’s unfortunate that it’s often one of the most challenging things to do.