It’s Time To Say Goodbye

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.

Botswana Time

*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.

Buffering…

*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!

Black Hole

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 Still in Botswana, and Alive

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.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do

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.

Joiwyn 2.0

The other day, I was standing in Bethany’s living room putting moisturizer on my face at 1:30 in the morning. Bethany was just sitting there staring at me for like ten minutes while I did my evening routine and finally she just blurts out “Do you ever think you’re a completely different person than you were two years ago?” Of course, as the crazy detail oriented person I am, I replied “You haven’t even known me two years.” I got the point though. I clarified that she was talking directly about me and not using a universal you to apply to all PCVs or something. But when she told me she meant me specifically, it sent me into a bit of a tail spin. And my answer is, yeah, I guess I am a very different person.

Of course, I don’t think I’ve lost my core values or anything. I don’t look like a completely different person. I still have many of the same mannerisms and ideals, but overall, more has changed than stayed the same.

At first that scared me. I thought I was losing parts of myself, but then I embraced the change and realized that I was just letting myself actually be myself. I was dropping my defense mechanisms, fears, and insecurities and realizing my potential. I’ll never be done learning, growing, changing, or evolving, but I’ve made an exponential amount of progress from that Joiwyn that moved to Botswana 17 long months ago.

I think I can attribute a lot of this to a big growth spurt in my prefrontal cortex, but I also can attribute a ton of it to my hard work and effort. I came here with a huge focus on wanting to change and learn about myself and I’m so glad I’ve done that.

I turn 23 in an hour and a half (yeah, I still have no chill about my birthday) and as usual, my birthday makes me think of all I want to accomplish this year. But there is something that’s different, I’m not anxious or stressed about these goals. I’m not worried about them not happening or something massive getting in the way, because I’ve learned that it doesn’t really matter. I shoot for the moon and land in the stars (Is that accurate? Isn’t the moon closer than the stars? This makes me feel a little stupid, but hey, I don’t know everything). If I only accomplish half my goals, I’ll still accomplish a whole hell of a lot. And I’ve learned that I can’t control everything.

This year was filled with things out of my control. I couldn’t control having to move to a new village. I couldn’t control my weight loss plateau. I couldn’t control my work situation. I couldn’t control my gallstones. I couldn’t control my depression that came with that isolation. I couldn’t control the things that happened back home that made me wish I was there. But I learned that when I release that need to control, I also release so much of my anxiety and stress. Life happens TO us a lot of the time and yes, we play a part in that, but in the end, we don’t control it.

On the other hand, I learned that there’s a lot I can control when I’m not a giant ball of anxiety and stress trying to juggle more than I should have ever tried to juggle. I learned to stop focusing on the reasons and excuses I had made in the past and to start focusing on the now and the how. I made so many healthy changes this year that I thought were impossible for me to figure out in the past. I learned to enjoy the things I couldn’t change and make the most out of experiences. I learned that my challenges don’t make me that much more interesting than my triumphs. I still need to work through them, but I don’t need to devote so much energy to them. I’ve learned that I can handle so much and that I should give myself a lot more credit, respect, and trust. I learned that even though I can handle a giant plate full of things, it’s OK to not fill that plate full and it’s OK to take downtime or time for myself. I learned that I will never be perfect, and no one is. I learned that fear can be helpful, but also harmful. And I learned that I really like who I am and I love who I’m becoming.

I’ve changed the way I think about myself, the way I treat myself, the way I think about others, my career plans, my attitude, and view of the world around me. I’m still recognizable, don’t worry. But I’m not as likely to take people’s shit. I’m not as focused on what other people think of me. I no longer feel like everyone’s feelings or opinions are more important than my own. I’m not willing to suppress my feelings anymore. I’m not willing to keep a wall around myself for protection anymore. I’m not willing to focus all my thoughts on the negatives and the things getting in the way. I still love to plan and think about the future, but now I recognize the importance of the present as well. I’m no longer tired and anxious all the time. I’m no longer worried about letting people in. I’m not as scared that I’m going to have a debilitating mental illness. I recognize that I’m enough in most cases, more than enough in many, and a little too much in a few. I’m not going to try to take up less space anymore or remain neutral to make everyone around me happy. I’m more comfortable in my own skin, less focused on the number on the scale, and more focused on being healthy and respectful toward my body. And Bethany says that I used to have a resting bitch face, but now I seem much more open and happy.

One of my biggest fears is that I will lose all this progress and growth when I get back to the states, but I’m learning that that would take a lot of work. I don’t think I can ever go back to the old Joiwyn; too much has changed in too many good ways. I love myself in a way that I was never able to find before from myself or others. I respect myself in a way that I’ve never felt before. I am learning to trust myself (that one is hard for me from years of gaslighting, but I’m getting there). I’m learning to stand up for myself and say no, in the big situations and small. I’m learning that I can be a good person, a thoughtful and kind friend, and a dedicated worker without treating myself poorly. I’ve learned that often times what I think others are thinking about me is my insecurities projecting on them and no where near their actual thoughts. Most of all, I’ve learned to be proud of myself. I’m proud of all that I’ve accomplished and all that I know I will accomplish. And I’ve learned that my pride and acknowledgement is the only one I really need. I’m tired of trying to prove myself to others. If they can’t see the great things about me, that’s their loss.

In the past, I would have joked about how arrogant I sound in this post. But now I recognize this as confidence and self-love. I hope we all can find that, because life is way too hard when you don’t like yourself. Trust me, I spent the first 21.5 years of my life there. It’s a pretty short time period compared to some others, and I know that I still have a long way to go and am still extremely young, but it’s never too early or late to recognize who you really are. I’m excited to see all the ways I learn, change, grow, evolve etc in this next chapter of my life. Here’s to a great year as a 23 year old.

Holiday Cheer

I’m to the point in my blog that I no longer remember what I’ve already talked about. So forgive me if I repeat myself!

It’s that time of the year again! Which means it’s simultaneously so hot I ask myself if I’ve died and gone to hell, while also being the holiday season. If you’ve seen me in from mid-October to mid-January (really everything stops after my birthday), you know that I take this shit seriously. While in Grad school, I planned a huge, but wildly under attended Halloween party, wore a Turkey sweater (his name is Gobble Gobble or Gobs for short) every day in November, made Thanksgiving dinner for my mom and brother all in dishes shaped like pumpkins, started the Christmas/Yule music and jewelry wearing as soon as Thanksgiving was over, and broke out my Santa sweater on December 1st. Those pumpkin dishes and Turkey sweater are some of the only things I left in America to be stored (besides 6 boxes of books). Priorities, people!

So, this may come as a surprise to you, but I care a little bit about the holidays. It does shame me to say that I do let the consumerism of the holidays take over, but it brings me great joy and happiness in a time of year that could otherwise be really challenging and depressing. So I’m writing it off as a good mental health practice.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that the holidays are not treated quite the same here. Botswana society is definitely not as consumerist and we also don’t share all the same holidays. They don’t celebrate Halloween (because, like people who have tattoos, people who celebrate Halloween must be satanists or witches). It’s a scary idea for people. They don’t celebrate Thanksgiving for obvious reasons and Christmas is celebrated, but it’s celebrated in churches and village gatherings, not under a tree and with presents. Although, all of these are generalizations; I’m sure there are some families who celebrate Halloween or have a Christmas tree. So their holiday season doesn’t start as early, but I was surprised to hear Christmas carols in the grocery store on November 1st.

Last year, the holidays really stressed me and made me homesick. At first, it was because they were my first major American holidays in Botswana and then it was because I was evicted and dealing with that stress while trying to celebrate Yule/Christmas. This year, it doesn’t feel as stressful, partly because they’re my last major holidays in Botswana (I should be in Australia for Halloween next year and back in WA by Thanksgiving.), but also, now that it’s been so long since I celebrated the holidays in true Joiwyn fashion, I don’t miss it as much. Don’t get me wrong, that doesn’t mean I’m not going all out this Thanksgiving and Christmas, but all out is going to look a little different.

This year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving for seven of my friends. I’m making a big Thanksgiving feast and we’re going to watch the Gilmore Girls Revival (again, priorities). I’m also going to be subjected to a football game because Bethany must watch it and I’m going to try to convince my friends to make Christmas/Yule decorations with me. I won’t have Gobs with me or my pumpkin shaped dishes, but I’ll have my Peace Corps family and some amazing food and that’s what really matters. I wish I could say that I’ll be able to bring back this non-consumerist attitude when I’m back in the States, but I make no promises. I doubt I’ll be as consumerist as before, but I think I’ll just have to find a happy medium between the two. Happy Holiday Season, Everyone!

Hope You Didn’t Miss Me, Too Much

Hey-yo! It’s been a long and intense few months and I have not been in the head space to write. My muse had run away, but now she’s back (she being my muse, Henrietta. She’s gender fluid, goes by Henri, but prefers the female pronouns.) I highly recommend getting to first name basis with your muses. It really helps the creative process. Anyway, things got a little too intense for her and she just needed a breather. I totally understand, but now she and I are back, bitches! And ready to tell you all about what’s going on! We’re back with a vengeance, so you’ll likely see a plethora of blog entries this week.

This blog entry will be more of an update and the following entries will be topic specific. So where to start.

Honestly, I haven’t really updated you all much since my brother’s visit. I wrote a blog about his and my vacation, but we were going to attach pictures and sorting through the over 2000 pictures we took got us a little distracted. Now I’ll just give you the highlights. Having Nick here was amazing. I loved being able to share my village with him, show him my home and school, and give him a glimpse of what daily life is like here. He’s the person I share the most with back home (besides mom, of course), so it was really fun for him to actually experience all the things I talk to him relentlessly about. We even stopped by my old village. It was my first time back since being evicted, so it was really nice to see all my friends and the kids. Kids would run behind the car yelling my Setswana name, “Kesaobaka, Kesaobaka!”. It was adorable.

We then went on my first vacation here! We went to Namibia where I got to see the ocean for the first time in a year. I didn’t realize how much living near the water keeps me centered until I lived in a landlocked state and then a landlocked country. I’m very excited to live so near the ocean again. We had amazing food. Nick spoiled me with food because he’s the bomb.com. Before we even went on our vacation we had dinner with my PC person, Bethany and ate strawberries that made us cry since we hadn’t had them in so long. While on vacation, I got delicious German food that reminded me of my mom, burgers upon burgers, delicious seafood (again landlocked places just don’t do it for me) and the most mouthwatering steak I’ve ever had. In retrospect, all of this amazing food is probably what sent my gallbladder over the edge, but it was already almost there. I’m just glad I didn’t have a huge attack while on vacation and I wouldn’t change a thing about the way I spent my vacation. We can’t live our lives on what ifs. And even though I’m an amazing cook, the food I eat here is nothing compared to what’s available in the states.

After Namibia, we headed up into the more north western part of Botswana, Maun. Maun is on the Okavango Delta. We went on a Mokoro boat trip and a bushwalk on what they call Tortoise Island. We saw lots of animals including an elephant that was only about 20 yards from us. It was my first time seeing any animals here since I live in the dry south. It was really amazing to see the animals in their natural habitat and to learn all the intricacies of the habitat.

Nick rented a car, and he drove us the whole time. It was very nice to be in a private car, but also a little challenging to get around in some of the sandier areas. Although the drives were long, I love road trips. I always feel really relaxed on the open road and I get a lot of great thinking time in. Nick and I are both pretty introverted and not really small talkers. So we would have hours of just silence and listening to music, or we would get into these great long and interesting conversations. I’ve always really loved our road trips together. I’ve never felt as comfortable on a long trip with anyone but him.

Even though having Nick here made me more homesick, it also made me re-look at where I am. It’s so amazing that I’ve already been here over a year and having him here helped me to see how much more I want to do here before I get home! It was so great to have him here and to hear his perspectives. The only thing that would have made it better was if my mom could have come as well.

After Nick left, my gallbladder flared up dramatically. I was in so much pain and so sick that it got to the point where I had to cut out eggs, dairy, gluten, fats, and most fruit. I was only really able to keep down oatmeal, carrots, and potatoes without being in more pain or feeling even sicker. I went in to Peace Corps about it a little over a week after Nick left. We immediately did an ultrasound and found stones, but then had to jump through the bureaucratic hoops. They sent me to a surgeon who said that yes, I had chronic cholecystitis and I needed surgery. Regional medical wasn’t convinced. They were so sure there must be something else wrong with me since I’m so young, but they didn’t put all the pieces together until I was in South Africa and talking to them directly. So it was over a month of me laying at home, unable to eat, work, or sleep because of the pain before they sent me to SA to take care of it.

Once in SA, I met with a surgeon one week, had surgery the next week, and was sent back to Bots a week and a half later. I immediately felt better. I was able to eat, I slept for days, and I just felt physically healthier. But I was still dealing with the emotional stress of being isolated in my house sick for over a month and then being isolated in guest house for 3 weeks. I felt so alone, stressed and frustrated that I had had to advocate so much for myself when it was clear what needed to be done. All I wanted was to come home, and get back to a more normal routine, (that honestly, I’ve never been able to achieve here with all the crap my service has thrown at me) and feel like a productive person again. I hate feeling unproductive and like I’m wasting my time and that’s what those two months felt like. I was so excited to be back in Bots and I thought that I would immediately be able to shift my mental state to a healthier place.

Both fortunately and unfortunately, I had two friends from America come visit me as soon as I got back. They actually arrived in Bots the same day that I did. I’ve known them since the end of my first year of community college, so five years. One of them and I have stayed in contact since then and the other ran in similar circles, but not quite the same. We have many mutual friends, but never really got to know each other. We’re like a Venn Diagram where our friend groups are the overlapping part, but we’re divide on the aides. Anyway, they are traveling the world together as a couple and I was a stop off for them. Originally, the plan was just for the friend I’ve stayed in contact with to come and another friend of ours was going to join him. I think things shifted when his girlfriend joined him and the time table moved up four months. This was a little inconvenient because A.) I had just had surgery and was in recovery and a slightly unstable mental state, and B.) I didn’t have the same kind of vacation time that I would have had in December. I was also only expecting them to stay a week or two. They stayed for a month.

It was great to catch up with them, but I’m the kind of person who shuts down emotionally around people I’m not extremely close with and so instead of processing all the emotions I had been battling with my surgery, I repressed them. We did have some great times though. I took them on a vacation with me and 5 other PCV’s to a place called Tuli Block. It’s on the mid-Eastern tip of Botswana and has a lot of wildlife. We went on three game drives (although I had to opt out of one because it involved a 5 K walk and I was still very much in recovery), and saw many animals including a giraffe, tons of elephants, lions, wildebeest, impala, zebra, kudu, etc. and a leopard that almost attacked our car. It was a really great vacation and a good time for me to not feel so isolated. Also, while my friends were here, I had a Peace Corps trainee shadow me for a few days. She’s really great and now lives just about 20 minutes from me. She attended my classes with me and we got to know each other a bit.

I’ve gotten very used to living alone, so it was strange having people in my space for so long. I expected that they might go out and explore some, but they really just stayed here and hung out. It kind of felt like I was married because I would wake up and eat breakfast with them, then go to work, and when I got back lunch would be ready. It had many benefits and many drawbacks. When they left to head to New Zealand, I had a group of PCV’s come over for brunch for the weekend, and then I had my house to myself for the first time in months for four days. After that, I went to visit Bethany the following weekend because she was heading to America for a vacation a few days later.

After Bethany’s house, I had to make another medical appointment because I’ve been having chest pains. I went in last Thursday and my doctor told me it sounds like I have a viral infection in my lungs. So now we’re waiting to see if it resolves itself and I’m trying to support my immune system as best as possible. Over the weekend, I met with a ton of new PCV’s and then Ashley stayed the weekend. So needless to say, I haven’t had a lot of time to myself lately. I’m still struggling to figure out my emotions right now because so much has been happening, but I’m doing a lot better then I was even a week ago. This post is kind of a testament to that because I am not good at blogging when I’m in a bad headspace. This coming up weekend will be my first weekend completely alone since before my surgery. I am so ready for a good introvert weekend and hopefully I can kick this virus out of my body.

So there you go, that’s what’s been going on with me.

The Reflections and Ramblings of an Anxious PCV

What do you think of when you think of Peace Corps Service?

It’s been so long since I first thought of Peace Corps, I don’t really remember the reason I wanted it so bad. I was 16 when I first started looking into Peace Corps. I was taking a sustainable foods class and I wanted to change the world. Maybe that’s where it started, my naive God complex. I wanted people to care about sustainability and protecting the earth. I was even thinking of being an agriculture volunteer because you only needed an associates degree and agriculture experience. Getting that experience was a little harder than I thought, so I went back to pursuing my psych degree. I put Peace Corps on the back burner thinking it wouldn’t fit into my life path again easily, but it was still interesting.

When I was applying to graduate school, I was thinking I might want a break. I wasn’t sure I wanted to go straight to school for another 4 years, because at the time I was planning to go straight to a doctorate in clinical psych. What could I do that had a succinct timeline to ensure I went back to school and didn’t just get sucked into a job? Oh, Peace Corps. So I started looking into it again. In the process, I found my Masters’ degree. I had no plans with this Masters’ degree. It was literally just my way of getting a Masters’ with my Peace Corps Service.

At this point, I really had no notion that I was doing Peace Corps for anyone but myself. I didn’t think that I would somehow be able to impart some great knowledge to this other population. I don’t think that highly of myself, really. What do I as a 20 year old (at the time) with a psych degree and odd job experience have that is going to somehow change the world? No, I mainly was thinking about what Peace Corps could do for me. It was a way to travel for free, learn about another culture, become more open minded and culturally understanding, challenge myself, and maybe help some people in the process. It was a way of getting away from American society to put it into perspective. I really was cynical and depressed by what I saw in the U.S. and I wanted to see how other countries did things differently. I didn’t see myself as brave for traveling to a foreign country (especially the big scary continent of Africa, as a lot of people viewed it) by myself. I didn’t see myself as an inspiration. I just felt like I needed to get away; to view things from afar in order to put them into focus. I didn’t have a picture in my mind of all the change I was going to make in this country, but I had an idea of all the change I was going to make in myself.

Even to me, this sounds a bit selfish. I’m using all your tax dollars to move to another country for two years and my main motive isn’t to “save” people? Why didn’t I just do some magic mushrooms and get back to life like everyone else? Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to help people if I can here, but I think there are enough white people who think they can somehow solve the worlds problems; I don’t need to add myself to those ranks.

Peace Corps is everything you expect, while being nothing like you expect. My Masters’ program and RPCV friends really taught me not to have many expectations when it came to my service, but of course I did. I expected to not have electricity, running water, or even a tin roof. I thought I’d be living in a mud hut, have to send letters home that would take months, only be able to talk to my mom once a week and everyone else rarely, and be shopping in a local market instead of a grocery store. I thought I’d rarely hear English, and have all these Batswana friends. I thought that I’d have these big PC projects that would make some difference in my community. I absolutely did not think that I would be teaching because that’s not a sustainable project. What happens when I leave? None of those expectations panned out.

A lot of people would say that that makes my service easier. I get to speak my mother tongue, I have all the internet and electricity I can afford, I rarely have to send letters, and I occasionally have running water. I’m living the lap of luxury. “Posh Corps” as some call it. Every PC service has its challenges though. It doesn’t matter what amenities you have in the end. And at this point, there are very few “traditional” PC services because the world is changing. Botswana is not at all what America portrays “Africa” to be in its poverty porn. Of course, I got more of a “traditional” PC experience in my first village, but that was cut short. In fact, most of my service has been interrupted by one thing or another. I don’t even feel like I’ve really gotten started on my service.

We’re about halfway through our service now and this is the time when our cycle of vulnerability chart says we should be going through our mid-service crisis or MSC as I call it. This is the time where people freak out because they feel like time is going too fast or too slow, they aren’t accomplishing enough, or they don’t know why they’re here. It finally hits that we’re in another country and we’re actually supposed to be doing something. I do understand why people feel like they have an MSC on the one hand, but I think for other people, it can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. We’re given this cycle of vulnerability chart when we first get here and people expect it to be true. Nothing about my service has followed this chart. But my service has been a strange one.

During PST, I dealt with my first unimaginable loss. My friend Sarah died relatively unexpectedly. Before that, the only losses I had experienced were grandparents when we had months if not years to prepare. Luckily, I received some great support from my fellow PCVs and I managed to grieve pretty well.

Fast forward a couple months. I’ve been at site for 2 months and I get evicted. Not many people have to leave their site and when they do it’s frequently by choice. PC is an isolating experience and frequently our homes are the only places we feel truly comfortable. It’s the only place we can be 100% ourselves and not have to bridge cultural differences or explain our behavior. Being kicked out of the one place that is your sanctuary in a foreign country is very unnerving. I came very close to packing my bags at that point. I felt like I had gone to so much work to integrate in my village and to really determine what Ralekgetho needed, I didn’t feel like I could do that in another village. That’s when the last expectation of doing huge projects and making giant differences evaporated.

I realized then that just being here; being a strong, independent, young woman; breaking stereotypes and expectations; and showing youth that that’s OK is enough. I don’t need to do some big fancy project to help people. I don’t need to build a preschool, or run a ton of glow camps. I just need to be me, to be open and honest, and to be willing to have open discussions with youth that aren’t very open here normally. So that’s when I decided that it was more acceptable for me to embrace the selfishness of my service. It’s OK for me to focus on my personal growth and myself, because otherwise, I was going to go crazy here. And also because that sets a great example of individuation and autonomy that isn’t normally seen here. I didn’t feel like I could completely commit to another project and have it yanked from my grasp again. So I had to distance myself a little more and also recognize that sometimes the small things can have even bigger impacts.

Moving to Kanye was very hard. I struggled a lot with the new village, the tight role that they tried to force me into, the expectations that were held, but not shared by my counterparts, and the fact that I was back to the beginning of my service while all of my friends were getting into the nitty gritty of theirs. I felt even more isolated and confined. Again, I started questioning why I was here and if I should keep trying so hard. It really wasn’t until May that I finally felt like I was settling in and finding my place. I had one great month of teaching and then we went into a month of exams where I had nothing to do. Then came July when we had the entire month off for winter break.

Unfortunately, after my brother went home the second week of July, I got really sick. I had been having symptoms of gallstones for months, but just trying to live with them. I really don’t like asking for help or seeing doctors. I consulted with my dad to make sure they wouldn’t kill me and then just tried to ignore it. However, it became apparent near the end of July that I needed to get them dealt with. I was so sick and in so much pain that I couldn’t even go to work when the next term started in August. It’s been a month now of very little symptom management and tests as PC decided what to do with me. They’ve finally decided to send me down to South Africa, where PC medical HQ is, to consult a surgeon and likely have surgery.

Yet again, I’ve had to put a hold on my service. It feels like one step forward and ten steps back. But this is the first challenge where I’ve had no thoughts of going home. Yes, it feels like I’ve done nothing tangible, but I’ve grown so much personally. And that’s what keeps me here. That’s what gets me through my service. Every day I become more of the person that I want to be. I learn more about myself and fall more in love with who I am. I’m becoming stronger, more resilient, braver, more understanding, and happier everyday. And I know that knowing myself is only going to help me understand other people better. I can’t even begin to help others until I can help myself.

So you don’t hear me talk much about my Peace Corps projects, or my Batswana friends, because I don’t have many. But I don’t have a lot of friends anywhere that I am. And I think it’s much more important for me to figure out how to be my own friend here. Maybe I should be trying harder to do creative projects like music videos with my kids or do GLOW camps, but I’m doing the best with the cards I’ve been dealt so far. My students and I have already had many great discussions about personal development, sex, and growth and if that’s all I accomplish outwardly, it’s enough. Especially since my inward growth game is so strong.

This still may sound selfish, but I think one of the most important lessons I’ve learned in PC is that you have to know yourself and take care of yourself. You can’t be an effective volunteer at all if you aren’t taking care of yourself, because Peace Corps is the hardest job you’ll ever love.

I’m lucky in how much I’ve learned in this first year and I still have another year to go. I know that I have even greater things ahead of me and maybe they’ll include more outward accomplishments as well.

Peace Corps cycle of vulnerability and adjustment