Tag Archives: Challenges

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.

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

Love Can Conquer All

I found out about the Orlando shooting around 5pm my time yesterday. As soon as I found out, I was horrified. My stomach knotted up, I felt nauseous and I was filled with anger. I don’t get truly angry often and very rarely to the point of nausea and crying, but I was outraged. How could someone enter a place of joy, community, and acceptance and butcher over 50 people leaving another over 50 harmed? How is it even possible for one man to do that? I was so angry and hurt and I didn’t know what to do with that anger. I called my mom because I just didn’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t stop the tears and I couldn’t relinquish the anger. We talked for about an hour. We talked about how that could have happened anywhere and it could still happen anywhere. We talked about how I could be in a gay bar one day and another shooting could happen. We talked about my decision to finally come out to Facebook as pansexual (instead of just the five people who read this blog). She congratulated me and concurred that now, more than ever, is a time to stand proud for who I am. Most importantly, we talked about anger, hate, and discrimination. I told her that more than anything else, I wish I was in America right now to stand proud with my LGBTQ+ community and rally and fight for our rights and lives. But in the end, it’s not about fighting, it’s about loving. Finally, my anger started to ebb.

A man who can mentally make the decision to walk into a bar with semi-automatic weapons with the intent to kill people who’s lifestyles were not the same as his, obviously has something going on in his brain that I can’t understand. Maybe he had a past trauma that has affected him, maybe he was born with some gene for bigotry, or maybe he had an influence pushing these ignorant beliefs at him until he succumbed to them. I will never know, but what I do know is that I would never want to live a life with that much hate in my heart. For that reason, I feel sorry for him. I wish his life had been filled with joy and love for all of humanity, because, I can assure you, it’s a much easier and lovelier existence. I, in no way, am condoning what he did. He committed a horrible, outrageous act of hate, but for me to turn that hate around on him, would only hurt me, not him. So instead, I am going to extend love to him and his family, and everyone who was affected by this tragedy, because that is the only way this kind of change can come.

This was a horrible act of violence toward the LGBTQ+ community, but it was more than that. It was an act of violence towards humanity. People do not choose their sexual orientation. I did not wake up one day and say, “Oh, I think I’d really love to be pansexual and feel the need to hide any romantic relationships I’ve had with women so that I don’t get judged by my religious and ignorant extended family and society.” Why would I choose that? And more importantly, why should it matter? My being pansexual has not affected anyone else besides the people that I have been romantically involved with. I have tons of female friends who are not worried about me pushing unwanted sexual advances on them, because not being heterosexual, or in other cases not being cisgender, does not make us rapists. First and foremost, we are human beings. We don’t decide what race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, sex, gender, or even religion to be. I think that we are born into this world with our brain thinking one thing, and maybe our body doesn’t match that. We can choose some things, like to change our gender or religion, but those choices are what we really are in our brains not something that we just decide on a whim. We find the things in life that fit us best. I didn’t grow up thinking I was pansexual, but through years of exploring who I am, I discovered a term that fit me better than anything else. Because that is what these things are, they’re labels. We label ourselves and are labeled by others to fit into categories. But first and foremost, we’re human beings. We all have that in common and we are all just trying to live the best lives we can live. So why is there so much hatred? Why do these labels matter?

Trump is stirring up this hatred toward “the other”. What is “the other”? If we’re fighting against everything that makes us different, we’re fighting against everyone. No one has the exact same opinions, thoughts, feelings, history, etc… as you. We should be embracing our differences and learning from each other instead of trying to make everyone conform to one set of ideals. I can understand wanting to be like other people. I can understand envying someones body type, or their social class, but I would never want to be straight just to fit into someones outdated beliefs. I would never want to be a man, just so that I wouldn’t have to face the misogyny and sexism that I do. I would never want to have been raised in an affluent family, just so that I could have never struggled with money. I wouldn’t even want someone else’s body type at this point. I love who I am and I love the things that make me different from others. Life would be so boring if we all had the exact same skin tone, eye color, sexual orientation, job, religion, etc… Why is that a world people want to live in? Unfortunately, with the way America is going, wanting to be who you are can also lead to fear. Fear that someone is going to bring a semi-automatic to a concert, church, night club, school, movie theater, really any place with a large amount of people being who they are. We are being taught to fear who we are or others who don’t fit a mold, and that isn’t OK.

The United States of America is based off of immigration. We should be celebrating that we are the country of freedom that people want to, or wanted to as the case may be at this point, live in. We are supposed to be a United People with individual rights, responsibilities, and freedoms. Now I know that the right to bear arms is one of those rights we were founded on, but when someone has the ability to extinguish 50 people’s right to live, that’s no longer promoting freedom. Our country has gone from one of freedom and liberty, to one of fear and hatred. We fear and hate what we do not know. This goes both ways. People who are being oppressed and attacked fear and hate their perpetrators and people who are oppressing and attacking, fear and hate their victims. How do we stop fear and hate? By educating ourselves and others. By getting to know people who possess a trait that you don’t understand. By listening to our children, siblings, friends, neighbors, and communities speak about the love they possess for another human being instead of listening to hate speech or choosing passages from an outdated and very subjective book that fit the hate you want to spread. We should all be embracing our whole identities, but more than that, we should be embracing our humanity.

I know that bigotry, ignorance, and hate are not that easy to extinguish. Definitely not as easy as the 50 lives that were taken yesterday, but we have to try. We have to try to spread the love that we have and show that “the other” is not something to fear, but instead something to learn from and get to know. We can’t accomplish this through hate or fear; you can’t eliminate a flood with more water. We have to fight hate with love. I love all human beings, but I would love them even more if they took the time to educate themselves and those around them. Love can win.

Something else that we can do that may have more immediate effects, is to work on policy change. We need to make gun safety our biggest priority. We are only half way through the year and we have had 173 shootings. 173! This is insanity to me. We are not safe anywhere with semi-automatic weapons on the streets. How is this acceptable? I don’t know a lot about politics and I don’t know a lot about policy change. Even still, I have hope and enough knowledge to know that this can change. We can be the change that we want to see in the world if enough people stand up and make it happen. I am going to educate myself on politics, policy, and everything else I can get my hands on surrounding this issue. This is not just an issue of LGBTQ+ rights; this is an issue of human rights and gun reform. I hope you decide to take action as well, even if that is just you educating yourself further and those around you. Don’t just say “praying for Orlando” and forget about it a week later. MAKE CHANGE!

F.L.Y. (First Love Yourself)

Since finally writing openly and honestly about my struggles with weight, I’ve opened the flood gates to my emotion and vulnerability and I really hope that there is no going back. I never really realized the wall I had up until I got to the Peace Corps and finally discovered that I had built this giant barrier to keep myself from becoming vulnerable. Maybe this seems like a surprise to people because I’ve often been told that I seem very open and honest, but I haven’t been. I’ve thought about emotional issues until they’ve turned into unrecognizable mush that no longer contains the emotional vulnerability which allowed me to talk about them impassively. I went through the skeletons in my closet and sucked the emotional marrow out of the bones so that I didn’t feel like I needed to hide them anymore. I didn’t need a closet, I could just leave the skeletons laying out for all to see because I could no longer be affected by them. And on the outside they still look like these crazy situations, but all the vulnerability was gone. I wrongfully thought that I was empowering myself by being emotionally disconnected. I was repressing who I was to fit the bill of what others wanted me to be. The opposite of empowerment. I did this because I was taught that vulnerability was weakness. Emotion was weakness. Sensitivity was weakness.

It wasn’t just the people around me telling me this, although, that often hurt the worst. It was society. To be a girl is weak because we’re emotional. “Oh, it must be that time of the month because you’re being an emotional bitch.” “You’re taking everything so personally.” “You’ll never be taken seriously if you’re so emotional.” We’re taught that emotions are to be kept private. I kept them private and I stuck them behind a wall to fester and grow until I realized that I was hurting myself trying to tuck them all away. I hid the hurt and insecurities that stemmed from years of being told that I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, fat, emotional, sensitive, a bitch, controlling, loud, and annoying. I hid the hurt and insecurities of constantly feeling like I wasn’t good enough. I thought that there must be something terribly wrong with me to have this many faults. There couldn’t be anyone to love me because I was so flawed and also so fat (because only skinny women are attractive, of course). I was so caught up in all of these negative ideas about myself that I let them shape who I was. I let them seep into my very core and change how I perceived myself and the world. I stopped trusting myself because I didn’t think I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, fat, emotional, sensitive, a bitch, controlling, loud, or annoying, but the people around me did, so I must not be able to see it in myself. I have trouble making the smallest decisions because I’m so worried about what other people would think of those decisions. Sometimes, I’ll even reach out to get input about a decision and then feel like I must be annoying someone with such a trivial concern and then I’m riddled with guilt for being such a selfish pest. It didn’t matter that most of these things were told to me by the same 2 or 3 people. What mattered is how much influence those people had and how often they would say negative things with very rare positives.

I didn’t want to share how I felt about it because it would confirm that I was selfish, needy, attention-seeking, emotional, sensitive, and annoying. I also never wanted to put anyone else in an openly bad light. I didn’t want the people that hurt me to know that they had hurt me because that vulnerability would be a weakness with them and they would poke and prod that soft spot in my armor until I bled out. They wouldn’t reevaluate themselves and see where they hurt me or were insensitive, they would just react defensively and I would be in an even worse place. I have tried to just learn how to roll with it when I get a fat shaming comment on Facebook or a message that picks at those old scabs. I try to just ignore the new hurt that they inflict because I honestly don’t think that they see what they’re doing. I don’t think they see that what they’ve said and how they’ve acted has affected me and I don’t think that they would be open to reevaluating themselves. Change can only happen if you accept it and want it.

So I’ll keep trying to ignore the comments. I’ll keep reminding myself that their actions reflect them and not me. They often come from a place of insecurity in themselves when they make these insensitive and judgmental remarks and I am sure that I have also been guilty of doing that on occasion. It’s hard to not lash out at others when we’re not feeling safe in ourselves. I’ll keep ignoring the comments and I’ll keep working on breaking apart my wall and not letting myself retreat back into a shell when I feel vulnerable. That’s only hurting me.

It’s no longer about the comments that other people make, now it’s about the comments I make. As they say, you’re your own worst enemy. There is nothing that anyone else can say to me that will be worse than what I’ve told myself. I have beaten myself down countless times and I’m done. I’ve grown, learned, and worked fucking hard. I now can look at all of those negative comments and see the amazing positives in them. I’m selfish because I recognize that the only person who will be with me my entire life is me and I have to be happy with the decisions I make. I’m needy because I recognize that I have needs and I go out to try to fulfill them. I’m not sitting around waiting for a shining white knight to save me, I’m taking care of myself. I seek attention when I need companionship. I’m fat, so what? When did the size of my pants become anyone’s business? All it measures is the vessel I’m living in, not who I am or my self worth. It’s a fucking number for god’s sake. I’m emotional and sensitive because I’m human and I have empathy and I care. I think that is a beautiful thing and I wish everyone could say that. I’m a bitch, controlling, and annoying because I’m a strong, opinionated female who isn’t willing to crumble to societal norms. I think that being motivated, driven, and knowledgeable of what’s needed in a situation should be praised, not belittled. I’m loud because I know that my voice deserves to be heard as much as any other. I also know that I am not alone in this. I’m not the only human trying to figure this whole life thing out and I take comfort in that. I never wish bad experiences on people, but if you’re trying to work through negative experiences, remember you aren’t alone. There are people all around you trying to find themselves as well and we can and should all support each other.

I’m angry that I have had to fight for this. I’m angry that we still have such discrimination and negative judgments towards others. I’m angry that we haven’t figured out how to live in a world of authenticity and acceptance of all. But more than that, I’m happy and proud. Despite all of the negative things life has thrown at me I can finally say that I love myself. I love my body for all the beautiful things it can do even if it’s not a size 2. I love my mind because I have been able to learn and grow in such amazing ways and I know that that will never stop. I love my personality because it makes me someone that I want to interact with and it attracts some of the most beautiful people in this world. I love me because I am a person deserving and worthy of love. I am enough.

Weight Loss Is A Mindf***

***Please excuse the profanity in this post.***

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I planned on waiting to write a post about my weight loss until I had a more exciting mile stone accomplished. I thought I would write when I was below 200 pounds, 100 pounds down, or had accomplished my goals. Something that was more impressive and would make me feel better about myself. This is just one reason why weight loss is a mindfuck. Why should I have to wait to share my journey until I reach some unwritten number that will all of a sudden have everyone be proud of me? Why does it matter what other people think of my weight loss anyway?

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I have always been overweight. I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t self-conscious about my weight. I have also always been an emotional eater. When I was upset, I turned to food and that created a vicious cycle of hating myself for being overweight and eating those feelings. I was always comparing myself to my skinny step-sisters and feeling down on myself for not looking like them. My dad told me he’d give me $100 if I could get to 100 pounds when I was 11 (I already weighed at least 150 pounds). I started getting pregnant jokes when I was 13. That same year I had someone put their hand against my stomach and make a sucking sound; when I asked what she was doing, she told me she was giving me liposuction. I lost about 30 pounds right around when I turned 14. I dropped down to 190 and was so proud of myself. At the time, I had been doing weekly weigh-ins with my doctor. I went in one week and they told me that it turned out their scale was broken and they weren’t positive that my last few weigh-ins had been accurate. I gained all the weight back and then some. I was at 260 pounds when I was 15. I felt huge, was constantly self conscious, and felt so abject. I didn’t know how to lose the weight, everything I had tried had failed.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

When I was 16, my dad suggested I do the HCG diet. I lost 30 pounds and got down to 230. Of course, I gained all of that weight back because that diet involves you injecting your stomach with pregnancy hormones and only eating 500 calories a day. You’re only allowed to do the diet for 30 days at a time and you’re not supposed to workout at all. It definitely wasn’t about healthy lifestyle change. Throughout my time at community college, I fluctuated between 240 and 260 pounds. I was so busy taking 20 credits and working 4 jobs, it really wasn’t possible for me to live a healthy lifestyle. When I moved to Olympia, when I was 18, I was able to start losing again. I was making positive health changes, but I was also living with a hyper critical roommate who I hid food from. In the Summer of 2013, I had my tonsils removed. The combination of the weight loss I had already achieved and not being able to eat for two weeks put me down to 211 pounds. I was extremely proud of myself, but shortly after that, I became a manager at the movie theater, a teacher’s assistant at the local elementary school and was taking 20 credits. I was working 65 hours a week and going to school full-time. Again, I didn’t have the time or energy to make a healthy lifestyle and my previous weight loss hadn’t been because of making healthy habits, it had been because I felt watched by my roommate. I gained all the weight back. By the time I moved to Montana, I was up to 270 pounds.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

Before I even started school in Montana, I was called a fatty by a guy driving an old beat up RV when I was biking home from the farmer’s market. I was so scared that people in Montana were going to judge me based off of my weight. It was my first time moving to a place where I knew no one. I didn’t think I was going to make friends easily, or be taken as seriously by my peers. For me, my weight has always been tied to this idea that I’m lazy and I don’t take care of myself. It’s what was drilled into me by society, the people around me, and even parts of my family. I have always thought that people’s first impressions of me would be negative because I am and always have been overweight. I’ve always thought that if I could just get below 200 pounds, everyone would like me more and think more highly of me. I’d be able to prove to my old dance instructors, the costumers at my theater productions, my family, and everyone around me that I am not lazy and that I do care what I look like. But that shouldn’t be the motivation for weight loss.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

When I left for Peace Corps, I was at 280 pounds. The summer before I left was one of my happiest because I finally stopped caring about weight loss and just ate all my favorite foods because I knew I was going to miss them when I got here. But the moment I arrived in Newark for our staging, I was filled with anger at myself, disappointment, and fear. I, yet again, had to make new first impressions with people I was going to be interacting with for 2 years and yet again, I hadn’t reached my goal of weight loss. I was going to be judged and isolated because I was fat and now I was also fat and surrounded by fit, active people.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

When I arrived in country, I was dead set on not eating gluten, dairy, or eggs. My host mom didn’t really know how to cook for that, so she made me the same meal over and over. I wasn’t a big fan of Setswana food, so food was no longer a comfort for me. I really was only eating about one meal a day during PST. It definitely wasn’t the healthiest option for weight loss, but it is what started my weight loss here. But I also didn’t feel as stressed as I had in the States. I felt more secure because I knew Peace Corps was paying me what I needed and taking care of any medical issues that might arise. I didn’t feel like I needed to be as in control of everything as I needed to to survive and live the life I wanted in the States. I finally felt safe, secure, and nearly anxiety free. By not being stressed and not stressing about weight loss, I was actually able to start losing.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

In our first week, before we even got to our host family houses, I had lost 7 pounds, two weeks later I was down 17 pounds and by the end of PST in October, I was down 33 pounds. When I moved to my site in mid October, I started cooking for myself, was eating much better, walking much more, and drinking much more water. I kept losing weight. By the time I was evicted, I was at 225 pounds, 55 pounds down. Then I was evicted and no longer felt secure. I wasn’t sleeping well, I was stressed, and I was in Gabs, so I had access to comfort foods. I didn’t gain weight, but I stopped my steady loss. I plateaued and didn’t know how to get out of the plateau. Since I had so many other things to worry about, I tried to just stay happy that I wasn’t gaining, but deep down, I was mad at myself again. Why couldn’t I keep it going? Was I going to plateau here because this was about the smallest I was able to achieve in my adult life? What was I doing different that was making it so that I wasn’t losing anymore?

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

At that point, I started posting progress pics. I felt like I needed to motivate myself to keep losing weight and I needed that reassurance from other people that I had accomplished something already. I talked about my weight loss more, but only by saying I had lost weight and showing how I was physically getting smaller. I didn’t want to post about what I was doing to lose the weight or anything like that because weight loss is one of those things that everyone thinks they’re an expert on. They’ve read these articles that say you should do this. Or are you sure you’re being healthy? That one is my least favorite. You can’t win because you’re either unhealthy because you’re fat, or you’re unhealthy because you’re losing weight too fast. For some reason, weight loss is an area where everyone feels it’s OK to comment and to tell you how to do it or that you’re doing it wrong. I did open myself up to that by posting progress pics and luckily most people I know are very supportive, but it’s still hard to hear the comments about how I was beautiful before or I didn’t need to lose weight. When you start losing weight, these comments come out, but when you’re overweight, no one says you’re beautiful and you don’t need to lose weight.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I did occasionally have people tell me that I was a good role model for young girls because I was confident despite the fact that I was overweight. I wanted to be that role model, but in all honesty, that confidence was a facade. It did make me think twice about trying to lose weight though. Isn’t trying to lose weight buckling to the societal pressure to be a skinny size 2? Aren’t I working against body positivity by trying to lose weight?

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I was in a weight loss plateau for 4 months. Those 4 months were some of the hardest because I felt like I failed… again. Yet again, I started to lose weight, but didn’t manage to lose it all. Why can’t I ever finish this battle? The answer is that I will never finish. Weight loss, healthy living, and body positivity will always be a part of my life. I may get to a healthy weight and stop thinking about the next pound I need to lose, but I will always have to be working toward a healthy lifestyle. It’s not something I’ll ever be able to turn off because I will likely just add weight back on. And it is OK that this battle will never end as long as it isn’t obsessive.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

Lately, I’ve felt obsessive. I’ve started exercising more, reducing my food again (not in a healthy way), and freaking out about every pound. I bought a scale when I moved to Kanye, whereas I had been using the clinic scale once a week in Ralekgetho. I started weighing myself everyday to track my progress and if the scale went up the tiniest bit, I would be down on myself. I know rationally that there are so many factors that make your weight fluctuate from day to day, but I stopped being kind to myself for that. I got obsessive and started thinking about what I did the day before that made that number go up. I’ve started to lose weight again, but am so worried about hitting another plateau that I stew and stress over it every day. I’ve started to look to when I can post the next progress pic so that I can get recognition from others that I’m doing good instead of posting them to show how proud I am of myself. I’ve been obsessing over the next mile stone that I can share with people instead of being present and happy with how far I’ve come.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

I’ve decided to make some changes. The first is to constantly remind myself that I am enough no matter what the scale reads. I am an amazing human being and I don’t need to let a number bleed into every opinion of myself. I am more than my insecurities. I’ve stashed my scale away in the closet and won’t be using it again until the beginning of June. It’s time to stop looking at the number on the scale and letting it dictate my life. I’m also going to stop thinking about the amount I eat, and instead look at what I am eating. I’ll eat if I’m hungry, but I’ll eat foods that will nourish my body, not my taste buds. I’m going to keep working out because I love that I’m getting stronger. I can do 25 full pushups in a row now, when it was hard to do just 5 two months ago. I won’t be posting progress pics to reach a certain number of likes, but instead because there’s something I’m really proud of that I’d like to share. I love to hear that I am inspiring people, but I want to make sure that they know that I’m human like everyone else and weight loss affects me psychologically as well as physically. It’s time I take a little step back, but also a little more control and stop letting weight loss be such a mindfuck. Instead of focusing on weight loss, it’s time to focus on healthy living.

Weight loss is a mindfuck.

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™‚

Bad At Blogging

I’m sitting at my computer on the dining room table, finally blogging again. God, it feels nice to have a real keyboard under my fingers instead of my tiny iPhone screen. You’d think that I would have gotten better about blogging as soon as I had my WiFi installed and could go back to using my computer, but no, I’ve still sucked at blogging for the past month. But don’t worry, that’s all about to change. You may be asking me, “But Joiwyn, you’ve said this before. How do we know this isn’t another false promise?” Well, loyal reader, it’s changing now because I’m starting to actually feel happy and stable (both physically and mentally) for the first time in many months and I feel strongly that I will be able to actually maintain a steady routine of blogging.

See, my life has been quite the roller coaster since my eviction. I thought things would immediately become more stable once I moved to Kanye, but, boy, was I wrong. When I moved to Kanye, I was so excited for the new start. I thought my school was going to be amazing because I was going to be able to apply my educational background and passions, I thought my house was going to be amazing because all of a sudden I went from no amenities to all of them, and I thought the village was going to be great because it’s filled with more educated people and English speakers. Of course, those things are great and are affluent here, but I didn’t think about the many possible downsides of all of that.

The school is great because I finally get to apply my background to my work here, but I went from a village where I was able to make my own projects and I had tons of counterpart support to a place where my job was already prescribed to me with no thought of whether that job would actually be good for me and my counterparts have a very sink or swim hands off attitude. I was very resistant to teaching at first because I don’t see that as a sustainable job for a PCV, but that is the main expectation my school has for me. It really wasn’t until this past week that I realized how fulfilling I actually find teaching and how this gave me a great platform to help the youth. I’m not saying I want to be a teacher when I get home (maybe a college professor, but no grade school please), but I do think it is a good fit for me where I am right now. I had to drop my resistance in order for me to actually realize my full potential in this job.

My house is amazing, but I am and always have been bad about setting limits for myself. So being in a great house with WiFi and electricity, I can get really caught up in watching Netflix or YouTube videos all day. I also have the ability to freeze ice cream which is never a good thing. I’m finding that I’m reading less and eating more because I have more amenities and that’s not what I want. But that isn’t the house’s fault and this gives me a great opportunity to learn to limit myself before I come home to unlimited possibilities and opportunities to mess up my routines in the States. So I’m back to being happy about my house.

The village is great, people are very friendly and there are many shops and places to walk. Unfortunately, that friendliness very often turns into harassment. I’m not used to street harassment or catcalling because it very rarely happened to me in the States. I attribute that both to where I lived and also to the fact that I have always been overweight and unless I was being called fat, I wasn’t really addressed by strangers on the street. I’m getting used to harassment and just finding ways to cope with it, but I still find it challenging. Having shops has also been a bit challenging (along with having a fridge) because my food budget has doubled. I love having more options, but I miss having savings. We’re getting a raise though! I’m about to be getting $250 a month instead of $200! I’m learning how to plan meals better though and budget myself as well. So those are both helpful challenges. I’m figuring adult life out, you guys!

Anyway, so I’ve had all these challenges and I’ve been looking at them negatively, but that’s changing! I don’t write much when I’m feeling depressed or just down. I just don’t feel inspired when I’m not feeling great. So, since I’ve been feeling down for a while now, I haven’t written a lot. I’m not down now, though, I’m on an upswing and I feel like this is going to be a long lasting upswing. So I am recommitting to blogging. I will be writing one a week (I hope my brother also recommits to posting them, but he’s a busy guy). So you should see one a week and if you don’t, blame Nick πŸ˜‰ I’m sure there isn’t a soul reading this blog that cares how often I post, but I do. So I’m going to do it! I’m going to end this one here though because it’s dark out and the mosquitoes are swarming me like my family swarms the raspberry cream jello. Lots of love from Bots!

What I Wish I Had Known (Part 1)

I’ve been a little down the last couple of weeks, so I haven’t been good about blogging. Sorry! I know you probably don’t really care, but I said I was going to be better about it, so I care. This post is going to be a little long and as I started writing it, I realized it was going to be far too long. So it’s actually going to go out in installments. This first will be mostly about my job. The next will be about cultural differences and I’ll try to get it out in less than a week.

This series of posts is mostly aimed at the new trainees coming to Botswana in July/August. I promised them I would write a bit about what it’s like here, what I packed, etc. So, it’s aimed at them, but will also be pretty informative about what my life is like here for all you curious friends and family out there.

I’m going to get extremely real in this series of posts, so I just want to put a disclaimer that these are my perceptions and feelings toward my service currently. I do know many volunteers who agree with me on many points, but I really can only speak for myself and my one perspective out of the 120ish volunteers currently in country. I also want to make a point that this gives you an idea of what your service could sort of look like, but everyone has completely different services and faces many different challenges. So I don’t want you to read this and start building expectations that this is exactly what your service will look like. This is my service and no one else is going to have the exact same experiences as me. So here goes.

Here’s a look at my job, both what my job would have been in Ralekgetho and what my job is here in Kanye:
I’m what’s called a life skills volunteer in the Youth in Development sector. I’m in a unique situation because I’m going through a second community integration phase right now. While my fellow volunteers are really getting into their jobs, I’m still trying to figure out what my job is going to look like. That being said, because of my unique circumstances, I’m able to tell you about two very different Botswana experiences.

In Ralekgetho (my first village) I worked at a small primary school of only 160 students. That’s the smallest school I’ve heard of here. I refused to teach because I didn’t think that was sustainable or useful when what I’m here for is to help with HIV/AIDS work. The main thing we’re supposed to do in schools is help them to implement a curriculum called living or life skills. In the primary school level, it’s mostly about self awareness, self-esteem, and other basic mental and physical health topics. It really isn’t until standards 5-7, which are the last three grades at the primary level, that you go into more HIV related topics. A large issue we face here that the national language is considered English and so their standardized testing is done in English, but more often than not, the students are taught in Setswana and their English is not good enough to read the tests. This can lead to students failing out of school and falling into more risky behavior which can lead to HIV. So we are expected to help rectify this situation a bit.

So this is what I had planned for projects: I was going to start 3 English clubs, one for standards 1, 2, and 3, one for standards 4 and 5, and one for standards 6 and 7. I was also helping the health post in my village and they wanted to do monthly health talks for the community. So the standard 7 teacher and I had planned to teach the standard 7s a health topic and have them lead the health talks for the community. My tutor in the community wanted to start a girl guide troop and I have a lot of experience as a Girl Scout for 11 years, and the founder and leader of a large troop of 30 girls for 3 years, so I was going to help her with that. The community seemed a little disjointed from the school, so I was planning a monthly newsletter to share more of what was happening with the school and community as a whole. I was also planning monthly events to address vision issues in the school, oral hygiene, gender based violence, etc. I was also planning to fix up the school library, have library hours to talk to students, and start reading clubs.

I had a lot of plans and normally I wouldn’t try to start so many different projects, but I was really able to integrate in Ralekgetho and had many people who wanted to help with these projects. So I had a lot of hope that they would be sustainable and successful. Since I had to leave that village before I was able to begin anything, we really have no idea how successful I would have been. I’ve heard of volunteers who’ve had 20 or so ideas and not a single one was successful in their service. There are just too many factors involved to really know if something will take off. Ralekgetho was also one of the few sites that had never had a volunteer before. So I was really starting everything from scratch.

Kanye is very different. First off, I’m in a senior secondary school, so I’m working with form 4 and 5 students (11th and 12th grades). I am teaching, more like facilitating, 14 classes a week on guidance and living topics. So similar to the living curriculum for the primary school, just more in depth and we have a whole period to discuss the topics instead of just infusing it into other lessons. I also have office hours to work with students one on one for guidance and counseling. On top of that I am facilitating a club called teen talk and helping with the PACT (peer approach to counseling by teens) club. I’m also assisting a local man in starting a youth center. Besides the youth center, I am just filling in the shoes of the previous volunteer. I never really had interest in teaching, but my counterparts expected me to just do what the previous volunteer did. They had already made a schedule of my classes before I even moved here.

In Ralekgetho, I had all the control over my job and here I have no control. In the end, this job is going to be more applicable to my education and career pursuits, but is also less free and open for me to make my own path. In many ways, I feel like I am just acting as another guidance and counseling teacher. So I feel that this job is less sustainable than what I was doing in Ralekgetho. In Ralekgetho I had other teachers and counterparts who were equally as invested in the projects with me. Here, I am pretty much on my own with my projects. When I leave, what I’m currently doing is not going to continue. My teen talk club won’t continue, and my classes will most likely be dispersed amongst the other two teachers, but many times they don’t actually attend their own classes as is; other things seem to take priority. So the amount of teaching will also go down. It’s challenging to think that I won’t be making a real impact in the school, but hopefully I’ll be making a real impact with the students.

No matter what your work looks like here, you’ll have less control than you’ll be used to from American jobs; you just have to find the little things that can keep you going. For me, it’s knowing that I can be a positive influence to my kids. I can help that form 5 who’s being bullied because he comes off as gay (which is further complicated by the fact that any form of sex besides penile/vaginal intercourse is illegal here), or that student who wants to know how to make it through school when she feels all her motivation is gone. I can be that non-judgmental active listener, that I’ve never seen anywhere else in this country. A lot of the time, people just need validation, and I can give that. If that helps a student to succeed and in turn help or influence someone else in the future, I’ve made a sustainable impact. That’s what I have to hold onto.

Watch for my next post on cultural differences! (It is now available here.)