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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

What I’ve Gained So Far

Seven months ago, I wrote a blog post in a sleepy stupor of the things I felt I was losing being here. I talked about how I felt like I was losing valuable parts of my identity and I wasn’t sure at the time what I was gaining, or how to cope with that. That was very valid at the time and having only been here two months, I understand where my head was at, but I’ve been here nine months now and I feel very differently. So I wanted to write a post about the things that I feel like I have gained.

The biggest thing is knowledge of myself. I would have never known how resilient I am if it weren’t for this experience. I have had many very bad days with the death of my friend, being evicted, family drama, and other crazy experiences, but I have barely wavered in my conviction to stay here. I knew I could handle a lot, but I didn’t know the full extent of that. Not that I actually know the full extent of it now, but I definitely have a broader picture of it. This also is not saying that I handle all situations perfectly and without throwing my version of a hissy fit, but I still handle the situations in some way and that’s resilience.

I also never realized how introverted I really am. I think that introversion has acquired this negative connotation that it is equal to being asocial and a loner. I was always so busy in the states that I could equate my moods to being stressed, anxious, and overworked, but here I’ve discovered that there are just times that I need to be alone and have control of my own space. It refuels me and re-balances me. Of course, you all know that I am a very social person and that hasn’t changed. I just need to take more time for myself than I’ve ever allowed before. I always thought I would hate living alone, but I love it. Not sure how I am going to go back to co-habitating.

I’m also learning to cut myself more slack and stop being so self-critical. I’m learning to trust myself and not dwell on and over think everything. Notice that I use the present tense here. I’m still learning things. It’s not in my nature to let myself off easy.

I’m learning more about my passions and what I really want to spend my time doing. Yes, sometimes that is binge watching Veronica Mars in a week and then wallowing because I finished it and there isn’t more to watch. But sometimes it’s working on an idea for a novel, helping students who are oppressed for a part of their identity, learning to play the harmonica, challenging myself with crazy puzzle challenges, exercising, teaching myself French, or cooking awesome meals. I was always so busy in the states that I never took time to do many things that were for me; everything was about school, work, or the people around me. There are also things that I’ve realized I want to start doing with my time, but don’t have the resources for yet. I have the green light to use the schools ceramics wheel and kiln, I just have to figure out a time I can go in to do that. I am also trying to see if I can use the school sewing machines to alter my clothes and get more creative with that. I have all these clothes that are too big now and I need to find a way to keep them useful.

Budgeting has never been a strong suit of mine, but I’ve been kind of forced to get better with that since I make so little. So that’s a great skill to acquire.

I’ve also acquired a lot more confidence. A big part of that is because I have lost 65 pounds. I hate that my confidence and self-worth has been tied to that, but when you are bullied and ridiculed you’re entire life for something and then you start to find a way to get rid of that offending part of yourself, it’s a big confidence booster. I honestly can look at a picture of myself from before I got here and see that I was beautiful the way I was, but also be really glad that I’m no longer there. I could go on about my weight loss for a whole blog post, and honestly probably will in the near future, but that isn’t what this one is about.

In America, I was a total night owl and usually didn’t even get into bed until 10 or 11 pm. Here, I have to force myself to stay up. It’s 5:30 here and all I’ve wanted to do for the last hour and half was to get into bed. Honestly, as soon I am finished writing this, that’s where I’m headed. Most of the time I just lay there for four or five hours because I have intense insomnia, but hey, there’s still something nice about getting into bed before it’s even dark out.

I’ve also always been terrible about keeping a routine. Even something as simple as brushing my teeth was a challenge. I was the type to just wake up and leave, no need to spend time getting ready. I’ve always wanted to be better about routines though and luckily, I’ve been managing those very well here. My dentist will be proud. πŸ˜‰

I never thought that I would enjoy teaching. I’ve always been told that I would be a good teacher, but have revolted against that because I’ve felt like I could do many great things and teaching isn’t my passion. I fully respect teachers and have many friends who are teachers or going into teaching, but I also feel like teaching is one of the professions that women are often pushed into. Anyway, I’m not interested in teaching grade school, but I have been considering becoming a professor (not until I’m like 50 or 60 and have traveled the world and worked for amazing organizations like the U.N.). I also wasn’t sure that I would enjoy teaching since I have massive stage fright. I’ve discovered that I really do enjoy it, though. My classes are going really well and I’m happy to have this experience.

Honestly, I think I’ve gained a lot more than this, but it just got dark outside and my bed is calling my name. So that’s all I’ll say for now. Thanks for reading!

P.S. I’m super proud of the fact that this is three weeks in a row of actual blogging. I think I can keep this up πŸ™‚

New Year, Fresh Start

Well, I probably should have written a post a while ago, but a lot has been happening and it took me a while to wrap my head around everything. I’ve been in Gabs for the past two weeks while I wait for training to start. If you read my last post, you know that I’ve been evicted and was in the process of getting a new home in my village. If you follow my Facebook, you know that I have since found out the house I was to move into has fallen through and now I am in Gaborone waiting to find a new village because they couldn’t find me any other housing in Ralekgetho. Now that the situation isn’t as fresh, I think it makes a funny story, but I’ll save that for when I get home.

So, anyway, I am not only houseless, but also villageless. A lot of people at this point have asked me why I’m staying. Many people have left and a lot of people here have said they would have left if they had to go through what I’ve been handling. It’s actually been kind of challenging staying in the hotel that the people who are ET-ing (Early Terminating) are also staying at. I spent two weeks listening to people tell me why they were going home and that they were surprised I would stay after dealing with the already challenging aspects of my village and then being evicted and having to relocate and people trying to decide if they want to stay or go home. This was especially hard because I was trying to actively listen and help them while they were talking themselves into leaving, staying, and then leaving again, without feeling like leaving myself.

The truth is, I have thought a lot about ET-ing, but in the perspective that it really isn’t something I want to do. It’s just one of those things that you have to consider when you’re in these situations here. When I first got evicted, I was upset and wondering if it was my sign that I wasn’t meant to be here, but that thought went away pretty quickly. There are of course reasons why I feel like I don’t need to be here. In a lot of ways, I feel like Peace Corps doesn’t really need to be in this country. I feel like we have been here long enough and that the country is developed enough that we aren’t really needed. In a lot of ways, I feel like Peace Corps is used in this country as a status symbol and a way for the country to get more funding. Most villages here request Peace Corps volunteers because they want to have an American (and are usually disappointed if they’re black) in their village. Of course this isn’t always the case and just because they don’t need us, doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff for us to do. However, I am also always questioning why I am here and whether I am perpetuating a stereotype that white people are smarter and therefore are the only people who can solve the problems in Africa. And why did I decide that I was qualified to come and help a country with a problem that I haven’t even studied? I don’t have a public health background. What kind of expertise do I have to really help the people of Botswana, that the people of Botswana don’t already have? Why can’t they help themselves? Even with all of these questions and internal struggles I have with myself, I’m not ready to go home.

I came here for more than this idealistic image that I was going to be some sort of savior. I came here to learn about another culture, help under privileged populations, learn about my culture through others eyes, process my own knowledge and opinions of my own culture, learn more about myself, make growth and positive changes for myself that I didn’t think were possible in the toxic environments in America, and broaden my horizons. I wanted to have knowledge and experience beyond my little American bubble so that I could understand more about what people in this world are going through and how they’re culture and views affect that.

In these nearly 6 months, I have learned so much about myself, America, and Botswana. I have grown in ways I wasn’t sure were possible. I’ve accomplished goals that I have been struggling with for years. And I’ve already touched people’s lives around me. I’m not ready to go home, because I’m not ready to stop this journey. I want to see how healthy I can get living in the desert without a car and eating a diet that is nearly all unprocessed foods. I want to see how many more mental health changes I can make to eliminate even more stress, anxiety, and insecurity. I want to challenge myself in ways that aren’t possible in America. I want to read fifteen books a month and not be falling behind on other stuff. I want to learn how to really live on my own, budget for myself, cook for one person without wasting food, and finally get some routine in my life. I want to use this opportunity for everything it’s worth.

My next village may have even fewer amenities than my last or it could have way more. Hey, maybe I’ll have running water and electricity. The village could speak more English than my last village did. It could have more infrastructure than my last village. Ooh, it might have some form of transportation besides hitch hiking in pickups that look like they may just break into a million pieces in the middle of the ride. Maybe my school will have more corporal punishment, or maybe it won’t exist. Maybe there will be more than one hundred students and seven teachers. It might even be a Junior or Senior secondary instead of a primary school. We really have no idea, but it also doesn’t matter. I didn’t come here to work with one specific population on one specific issue. I came here to work in Botswana wherever they needed me. Wherever I am, there will be challenges, but another word for challenge is OPPORTUNITY!! That’s all this is. It’s just an amazing opportunity to learn, grow, and make an impact in a different place. So, no, I’m not thinking of going home. Even if I wanted to, I have no money, so I would just be couch surfing until I got a job. Why not stay in a safe, secure, and beautiful place for two years and have a little more money and experience when I come home instead?

It’s Beginning To Look A Lot Like Christmas

I hope you all laughed at that because it looks nothing like Christmas here. Although, in Letlhakeng where I was for the weekend they have a really bright white road and rocks and if you just squint right, it looks like snow. Then you also have to find a way to reconcile why it’s 95 degrees and it looks like there’s snow on the ground, but the world isn’t perfect, so you just have to do your best.

The weather is one of the biggest factors for why it doesn’t feel like the holiday season. It’s too hot, dry, and sunny for me to feel like drinking hot cocoa and preparing for a turkey slaughter. Obviously, those aren’t going to be part of my holidays for these two years, but they’re just a few of the things I took for granted back in America.

The holidays come with a lot of homesickness and that’s OK. They should, it means I have something at home worth missing and that is the most beautiful thing that I will never take for granted again. I want to acknowledge my homesickness, because as John Green so eloquently wrote, “pain demands to be felt”, but I also want to acknowledge that my homesickness is just one small part of my experience and I have so much to be grateful for here. I had a whole post written about my cynicism, annoyances, and homesickness, but in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I decided to write this one about what I’m grateful for instead. That doesn’t mean I won’t be posting a cynical one in the future, but you all get a small reprieve from my negativity for now 😊

So here are the many things I am grateful for this year:

My family. Both blood and built. I’m grateful for all of you and wouldn’t be where I am without you. I especially want to thank my mom and brother and two best friends Melanie and Bethany for all of the support they’ve given me through this adventure. My whole Peace Corps family is amazing and Thanksgiving was a little more bearable after we made an amazing Thanksgiving feast complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, glazed carrots, peach crisp, and much more.

I’m thankful for hot showers and bath tubs. I don’t have either in my house, so when I’m off to a training or visiting a volunteer with more amenities, I am sure to be in the shower/bath at least once a day.

I’m grateful that my school has electricity and I’m able to charge things there. I really only miss having my own electricity occasionally. I’ve grown very used to it already.

I’m grateful for my health and that I am able to just keep getting healthier. I’ve lost 50 pounds since getting here and can already feel the small changes that makes. I still have a ways to go to be to the physical fitness and health I want to be at, but I’m grateful that I’m able to make healthy and positive changes.

I’m grateful for my literacy. I can’t imagine not being able to read. Which brings me to my gratefulness of books. Books can bring you into such an alternate universe, and make you feel an amazing array of emotions. I’ve read 40 books since getting here and it has truly helped with my homesickness.

I’m grateful for the people in my village who really want me there and are making positive changes already. Even though it seems my supervisor is not at the same level of distaste for corporal punishment, my counterpart may be able to still help me abolish it. When I first met with my counterpart, he didn’t think we would be able to eliminate corporal punishment, or that any of the teachers were at fault for the poor results of the school. It’s very common here to blame the students, saying that they aren’t trying to learn, so how can the teachers teach them. Since that meeting though, he has brought up eliminating corporal punishment in a staff meeting with no provocation from me and told the teachers during a test results discussion that they must be doing something wrong and they all need to reevaluate their teaching strategies. These two small changes are huge here! I’m so happy that after only 2 months of knowing my counterpart, I’ve been able to plant little seeds of change.

I’m grateful for a roof over my head, and water to keep me hydrated. That’s more than a lot of people have and I am extremely lucky to have both.

I’m thankful for my resilience, openness to change, and drive. I know my drive can seem extreme and overwhelming at times, but it has helped me accomplish so much in my life. I am extremely happy to always be motivated for positive change.

I am grateful for the earth and how much shit it puts up with from us humans. I only hope I can help to protect it as much as possible in my short life.

I’m grateful for the insanity of time. Even when I think time is going to move so slowly and I’m going to be somewhere forever, I look at the date and realize I’ve been here 4 months. Time here is very different than at home because life here is so different, but I love that it’s been 4 months and that I still have 23 left.

I’m thankful for a lot of small things that makes America my home and I can’t wait to be home, but I’m also so grateful for this experience. It was definitely not the Thanksgiving I’m used to, but homesickness or not, I’m really happy here. I love that I’m doing something so out of the box and even if it’s not everything I thought it would be, it’s life changing.

Boredom Has Struck

This post was written on November 1st

I knew it was just a matter of time before my newfound relaxation was going to turn into boredom, but I was hoping I’d be able to stave it off for a bit. Unfortunately, it’s here. Yesterday was Halloween and it felt very strange for me to not be celebrating. So instead, I spent the day contemplating what I could be doing in various places in my house. Laying in bed, “maybe I should just keep reading”. Laying on the floor after doing sit-ups, “maybe I could watch a movie”. Sitting on the couch after my computer died in the middle of the first episode of ER, “maybe I should cook something, I’ve been meaning to try to make kettle corn”. Standing in my kitchen after deciding to not make kettle corn and instead eat a cookie, “I guess I could write some letters”. And so on and so forth. It got to the point where I couldn’t wait until it was dark and I could go to bed without feeling bad about myself.

Part of it is the heat, when it 99°F outside and my plaster house retains the heat so it’s really like 105°F inside, it’s hard to want to do anything. It’s also that this is more free time than I’ve ever had. When I was a kid, I was always at work with my mom and busy. When I started college, I was taking 20 credits and working four jobs. When I was in grad school, I was taking more than a full time load and working. I don’t know what to do with myself when I’m alone with this much time. There isn’t anywhere in the community I could go either unless I want to be ridiculed for my lack of Setswana at some random persons house because all the people I know are gone on the weekends.

When I’m bored in the states, I eat. I’m trying really hard not to do that here because it’s really not healthy and I don’t want to lose my momentum of losing weight (I’ve lost nearly 40 pounds). I tried filling my time with extra exercise, but there are only so many squats I can do when my legs are already tired from trudging through loose sand all week. I’ve been reading a lot (5.5 books this week alone), but that’s a lot of new information for my mind to assimilate, so I can’t fill all my time with that. I can watch about 2 movies before my computer battery dies, so that doesn’t get too far. And then once it’s dead, I can’t easily work on my community assessment or writing. I’ve been writing Christmas cards, but I get terrible cramps from my shoulder down through my wrist if I do that too long as well. I can write these blog posts, communicate with friends, and play solitaire on my phone, but my phone battery only lasts so long as well. So now I spend a fair amount of time chasing flies around my room trying to kill them and I’ve taken to learning all the solitaire games in the According to Hoyle book. It’s keeping me occupied for now. Maybe I just need to get a little more creative with how I occupy my time. Hey, I’ve got 2 years to figure it out, right?

It’s a Village Life for Me

Well, I’ve officially been at site for nearly two weeks (probably two by the time you read this). It’s been an interesting beginning. With a village this small and underdeveloped, they’ve never really encountered a white person or an American before. So I’ve kind of become the village show pony. This week we had two major events: a Kgotla meeting with the Vice President of the country and a torch lighting ceremony for the 50th anniversary of Botswana’s Independence. Both of these events were opportunities for the village to dress me up, make me sing and dance, talk to me in lots of Setswana that I couldn’t understand, touch my tattoos, and make me sit right in the front of everything. Both events made me very uncomfortable, but I’m glad my village is trying to accept me as one of their own and hopefully my newness will wear off a bit and they won’t all be touching and grabbing me. Setswana is probably my biggest challenge though. I managed to test as intermediate high at the end of training, but that really didn’t prepare me for speaking it here. Everyone talks very quickly mixing all their words together making it impossible to differentiate them and when I ask them (in Setswana) to repeat what they said slowly, they just change what they’re asking to fit their limited English. So I don’t feel like I’m learning any and I don’t know how to respond to something I don’t understand. Since my village has an extremely low percentage of people who speak English, even the kids who are supposed to be learning it in school for up to 7 years already, I’m definitely going to need to keep working on my Setswana. They say it’s the easiest language to learn and I’ll be fluent in the next two months! We’ll see about that.

Otherwise I’m just in my community assessment, so my days aren’t very busy. Once my Setswana is better, I plan to visit every family’s home and interview every member of the village! I think that would be a great way to get the whole community involved and hear what everyone thinks of the village. Currently, I just go to the school every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday. I stay long enough to charge all of my electronics and chat with the teachers. When everyone else is busy, I study my Setswana, read, or work on my community assessment. On Wednesdays I go to the clinic to help with anything they need and chat with the nurses. They disperse their HIV medications on one of the last Wednesday’s of the month. In the evenings and weekends, I do my chores like washing the laundry, cooking, sweeping, bathing, etc… and I do lots of reading (I’ve read 4 books since getting here). Sometimes I’ll write some letters (I’m trying to make that a daily thing) or watch a movie, but I mostly read.

I also hosted my first visitors this past weekend. Mike and Marcy who are volunteers I shadowed with in a nearby village called Thamaga. They came over to help me hang my bug net, some picture, fix a couple door locks, move my gas cylinder outside, and help with some other household mends. My house feels so much more like home now! I was very happy to have some friends over who are so amazing and kind to help me! The next step for the house is to have my landlord and a roof guy come fix the roof so that when the wind comes, it doesn’t blow off (right now it lifts about 4 inches with big gusts of wind).

Overall, I’m settling in very well and I’m extremely excited to start my projects! I really feel like this is the perfect village for me and I can’t wait to see how these two years go! What an adventure I’m on!

Outside of building

Oh, that’s a scorpion

Well, it’s been a week since I swore in, packed up all my belongings, and headed to Ralekgetho. Of course it was my luck to start getting a stomach bug during the move and keep it for the whole weekend. That didn’t stop me from getting settled though! My house is called a two and a half because it’s two and a half rooms. On the left is my bedroom, it’s the newest room to the house and the plaster keeps shifting and crumbling off. It’s really fun when it’s one a.m. and I notice that’s happening because it falls on my face 😉. The middle is my small kitchen, and the right is my sitting room. I’m lucky to have a new house and the freedom to make changes. They’re also very helpful when I notice things that need fixing. My roof had some holes in the tin sheeting where my room would have flooded if the rain came, but they’ve already patched those up. When the wind really hits the roof it likes to lift up 2x4s and all about 4 inches. So hopefully my roof doesn’t blow off. But otherwise it’s very nice. I’m allowed to paint, so I’ll be doing that soon and as my landlord gets money he’s going to make improvements. I may even have electricity by February!

My furniture is very nice. I have a couch, desk, chair, bed, wardrobe, kitchen cabinet unit, and stove! When I get electricity, I will also be getting a fridge. I can’t quite decorate yet because the walls get too hot. Sticky tack, and tape both melt with the heat of the walls and they’re plaster so I can’t put in small thumb tacks or anything like that. I’m going to enlist some friends to help me drill into my walls soon though, so that should help. My landlord essentially said I can make any changes I want as long as they look nice enough to keep for the next volunteer when I leave.

I don’t really have a lot of bugs because it’s so dry here. So I have the occasional fly, some worse than others. Otherwise, I just have some ants, the occasional chicken, and today I found a tiny scorpion in my kitchen. So I guess I’ll have to watch out for those.

So that’s a little taste of my home in Botswana!

Joiwyn in Peace Corps Shirt

The 5 things that had nothing to do with why I joined the Peace Corps, and the 5 that maybe did

This post was written on October 13th.

It’s half past seven on a hot Tuesday evening. I’m laying in bed in a wet t-shirt, drinking ice water, and listening to the occasional Christmas song as my phone shuffles through my music. I’ve just finished packing all of my possessions in preparation to move to my site on Thursday. Today was our last day of training and tomorrow we swear in as official Peace Corps volunteers. We did it, we made it through training. Now we get thrown into the ocean to see if we’ve learned how to swim from the countless lectures we’ve gotten on how to doggy paddle. I think this is a perfect time to think about why I joined the Peace Corps, but first, let’s talk about what didn’t contribute to the decision.

I’m constantly asked why I joined the Peace Corps, even from other volunteers. I have yet to really figure out my answer, but I can tell you what didn’t lead me here and maybe a little of what did.

  1. I did not join because I thought that I was going to be an invaluable help to a whole community. Yes, I do think I can help with some things, but not really any more than a local could. The only difference between me and a local is that I was raised in a different culture. Just because my culture does some things differently and perhaps better (although absolutely not in every case), does not mean that my presence is going to change that much here. The main point is that I am not so full of myself that I can say I am really going to be able to help that much. I can try and I want to, but I am by no means an expert or that special. I have a lot to offer, but so does the next person. All I can hope is that my presence touches some people in a way that makes them empowered to help themselves and their community.
  2. I didn’t think that Peace Corps was a great way to get sent to another country and just drink and travel all the time on the governments dime. Some people do, it’s not as uncommon as you’d think. There are volunteers who barely show up to work, play the system to get out of things, and just spend two years breaking rules and being a bad image for who Americans are. These volunteers are not only wasting Peace Corps training hours and money, they’re also making it harder for future volunteers in their village.
  3. I didn’t join because I thought America was the best place on earth and I wanted to make sure other countries knew how awesome we are. In fact, I was really unhappy with a lot of what happens in America. I was tired of the ways we did things and hoping to learn more about ways to improve America. Surprisingly, in the short two months I’ve been here, I’ve started to realize that America is not as bad as I thought it was in many regards. We have a long way to go, but not quite as long as I thought.
  4. It wasn’t my intention to use Peace Corps to boost up my resume. My resume is already pretty impressive for a 21 year old and I honestly heard before I left that Peace Corps can hurt your resume. I don’t know how you can make this choice to sacrifice your American life for two years just to build up a resume. We don’t get paid enough for that.
  5. Lastly, I know I didn’t join the Peace Corps because I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with my life. I’ve known since I was 16 the basic idea for my career and it hasn’t changed that much. I thought my plans would stay pretty solid throughout my Peace Corps service, but was open to them changing if that’s where Peace Corps took me. And maybe they have, I’m starting to think of international work focusing on reducing the stigma associated with mental health now. But I didn’t join the Peace Corps because I felt lost.

The following are some possible contributing reasons for this choice:

  1. I want to grow as a person. I want to become healthier mentally and physically. I want to learn things I don’t know. I want to experience things I can’t experience in America. And most of all, I want to learn how to be a better person and how to control my insecurities and issues that haunt me from my past. I wanted to get away from my norms, and the controlling grip, expectations, and pressures of people in my life and American society as a whole, to help me accomplish these goals on my own.
  2. I wanted to learn about another culture and in the process, learn more about my own. America really is the melting pot and different parts of America have really different values and ideals. I’m learning about Botswana culture, but I’m also learning from my fellow trainees (nearly all volunteers) about other parts of America.
  3. I wanted to expand my experience by working with other cultures on issues such as mental health and education. As America has so many different cultures and populations, I think it’s extremely important to be open to these other cultures and be culturally sensitive when working with hot button issues like culture.
  4. I wanted to get away from America so that I could see what I take for granted and learn how to live more simply. We are so inundated with these contraptions, technologies, and material things in America. I wanted to know what it was like to live without those things.
  5. I wanted to take a break from school that was meaningful and productive. I didn’t want to just work a meaningless job that didn’t give me any fulfillment. I wanted to do something that was important and made some sort of impact. Even if it is small.

So really, I’m selfish in many ways. I didn’t make this choice with no benefit to myself. I came here to learn from the experience and hopefully someone else can learn from me. I’m not brave, I don’t think it’s brave to leave my privileged home to learn how to live less spoiled. The only difference between me and the locals in that sense is that I have been exposed to privilege where they’ve never had the opportunity. I just can’t imagine living in a world and not knowing how others who are less privileged live. How selfish would that make me? We live in a bubble. The only place that matters is the space around us, but there are people suffering all over the world. Botswana is not the poorest, or least privileged country, but they definitely have their challenges. And yet the Batswana are so happy, friendly, and welcoming. You may come over when they’re eating their last piece of bread, but they will break that bread in half to share it with you. We take for granted all the spoils and material things in America, but why do we really need all that stuff? Does it make our lives more meaningful to live lavish life styles when other humans are suffering? We don’t just live in America (I definitely don’t live in America right now), we live on Earth, together. One world, one species and that’s what matters. Our sex, gender, sexual orientation, race, socioeconomic status, religion, physical and mental ability, location, etc… none of that matters. All that matters is that we work together to make the world a better place for everyone. That’s really why I joined the Peace Corps.

Joiwyn in Peace Corps Shirt
Joiwyn
Three friends in front of peace corps sign

I get by with a little help from my friends

Well, I’m coming to the end of training and am about to go into my cultural immersion phase. The current and previous volunteers refer to cultural immersion as lockdown because you’re not allowed to really leave your village for more than just one day grocery shopping trips. So as I head into lockdown and all of my fellow PCVs and I go off to our respective villages, I think it’s a perfect time to reflect on the friendships I’ve made here.

There were 78 of us when we started and have since become 74. I have made many great friends who have helped me rejoice in my triumphs and supported me in periods of grief, homesickness, and frustration. My five best friends here even helped me chop off all of my hair; thanks Bethany, Evan, Brenna, Fatima, and Brad! There are a few who stand out, but I cherish them all. Training has been an extremely frustrating process because there has been a large lack of communication throughout the entire system and that has lead to a lot of chaos and disorganization. So it’s been extremely helpful to have friends and peers to commiserate with.

You’re most likely going to hear me talk about Bethany a lot. So I might as well give you an idea of our friendship. You’ve probably already seen posts and pictures of the two of us, may have heard me mention her in blogs, and if you’ve talked to me recently, you’ve probably heard me at least mention her. I would definitely say she is my best friend here. We of course get tired of each other occasionally and need a day or two without each other, but otherwise we are pretty much always seen together. People refer to us as soulmates, peace corps spouses, and besties. If we’re seen alone, we’re constantly asked where the other is. I’ve even had people tell me they didn’t want to do something with me that would make Bethany jealous because they’re scared of her. There was a joke going around that she and I were the only couple who got placed in villages near each other because all the other PST couples have been separated across the country (she and I are only about an hour and a half away from each other). She has been the most help while I was processing my grief and processing the changes I would need to make for my village, and she has been a huge supporter for me while I’ve been losing weight and trying to battle with some old scars that have come up with the emotional strain of this experience. I am really lucky to have her and we already have it planned that after lockdown, I’ll be spending a weekend a month with her. Today she made a joke that she bought us ice cube trays because I’ll be over so often. I know that she’ll keep me in check and I’m really lucky that our last names are the same, so we were assigned seats together on the 15 hour flight and a room together during orientation. Otherwise, I’m not sure we would have approached each other.

I could talk about my friends all night long, but I’ll save that for conversations we can have personally. I’m lucky to have so many people to reach out to here because it is a very stressful and emotional time. You never really realize how many emotions can bubble to the surface at a whim until you’re in a completely new and challenging environment. It makes the love and support I get here even more important. It also makes the love and support from you all more important as well. I love and miss you all, but overall, I’m having the time of my life here πŸ™‚

Blogging

So, I’ve gotten a few concerned messages this week because the last two blog posts that went up were not on the happier side. I really appreciate the support, but I also want to make sure everyone knows why and how I’m using this blog. I also want everyone to know that while your support is always welcome, I will ask if I need help and I have asked when I needed outside support.

My blog holds many purposes. Mainly, it’s a place for me to document my Peace Corps experience. It’s also extremely cathartic and helpful for me in the processing of all of my new experiences. Especially since I can’t really talk to a Motswana about these experiences and the other volunteers are also going through stressful and challenging times. So this is a way for me to vent some frustrations, rejoice in triumphs, and voice my experiences. It serves as a place I can keep you all apprised on my life here, and makes it easier for me to keep in contact with you all because you have an idea of what’s been happening here. Ideally, you’ll be keeping up on this and won’t ask me questions like, “So how was Africa?” There is no way I’ll be able to sum up my two years to give you the succinct answer you’re really looking for with that question. So this way, you already have some of my stories and experiences and we can build our conversations from that.

When I write the posts it is usually about a week before they go up. This is because I send them to my brother, he reads through them to make sure I haven’t said anything terribly stupid and check my grammar since I’m already forgetting English, and then posts them. This can take a while because he already had a lot on his plate before I asked him to essentially become my life manager. My blog is not always top priority, which is extremely understandable. I also on occasion get hit by a giant fit of inspiration and write 5 blog posts at once. That’s what happened with this last batch and he didn’t have an order to go on, so two that were not the most uplifting ended up back to back. I promise you, I am not terribly depressed or upset. I’ve just got a lot to think about and am trying to fully process everything as it comes.

I love being able to share this experience with you all and I love your feedback, but I want to make sure you know that I will reach out if I need encouragement or support. I am not trying to look happier than I am and I’m not trying to complain about any experiences. I am just trying to be authentic with everything going on and share true experiences. I don’t feel the need to always have one emotion and I hope that I don’t worry you too much by expressing the whole range. I love you all and am so lucky to have people who care so much about me.