Tag Archives: Fears

Joiwyn 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Let’s talk about sex, baby. Let’s talk about you and me.

I’m a little disappointed in you if you don’t now have that song stuck in your head.

I love sushi; everyone should know that. So I go to this place in Gabs called Ocean Basket whenever I get the chance. I’ve been there 3 times. The first time, I had this great time flirting with our waiter and from then on out, I would look for him when I went in. Recently I went in with two friends who are a couple. We were seated by THE waiter; I’ll call him T in this. T sat us, but he wasn’t technically our waiter. We were sitting outside, right by the door, so T had to walk by our table to get to his tables and then to get back to the register. Every time he would walk by, he would stare right into my eyes. It was the most intense eye contact I’ve ever had. I couldn’t ever keep it up as long as he could, so I would shy away with a little blush. When I would look up, he would still be looking at me. When I wasn’t completely distracted looking into T’s eyes, I was completely distracted talking to my friend about what she thought I should do.

Her boyfriend ended up leaving before the food came to go play rugby. Since I love sushi, I had ordered enough food for about 3 people and my friends had ordered about the same amount between the two of them. T must have talked to our waiter because he was the one that brought us our food. Once all the food was out and our table was completely covered in sushi, he asked if he should sit down and join us since we had so much food. At this point, I decided I had to give him my number, but was freaking out. So I texted Bethany who had been with me each of the other times I had been there. I told her that the waiter from before and I were having this intense eye contact session and I needed her help. The friend I was with said that calling it intense eye contact wasn’t enough and she could only describe it as eye fucking. She thought she was really clever, and still thinks she’s really clever, when she said that my eyes were no longer virgins. So, anyway, I took a clean napkin and started to write my info with sharpie. As I was writing it, another waiter came up to ask if he should sit with us because we had so much food. I scrambled to hide the napkin. The sharpie bled so much, I decided it was unreadable. So I crumpled that napkin and tossed it in my purse. I proceeded to rewrite it with a pen. I was annoyed because the pen stopped working part way through, so my J got an extra little loop at the bottom.

Now came the hard part of figuring out how to give it to him. What do you say when you’re sober and you’re handing someone your number. “Here, I wanted you to have this.” “I thought you might like this.” “Call me.” They all felt awkward and forced. I was still thinking about it as we packed up our leftovers. T asked if we were leaving and I told him soon. “Not too soon, I hope,” was his response. My friend and I sat waiting for our check; we had been there nearly two hours and all of our plates and everything had been taken away. It still took about a half hour before we finally asked for the check. T asked me if I would be swiping because then he could get my name and number from the receipt. I said yes, but I tucked the napkin in with my card anyway.

My friend went to the bathroom and while she was gone, T came out with the card reader. I told him he could keep the napkin in the most awkward way possible (my memory is a little fuzzy there as I’ve tried to block it out). I told him my Setswana name, that I live in Kanye and teach at the senior secondary school. He seemed a little shocked by the distance; it’s about two hours away. “Do you have to go back tonight?” T asked. I told him I did because I had to go back and take care of a dog. He laughed at that and asked what her name was. Then he turned to me and said he would call and that I was pretty cute. I told him that I’d like that and he was, too. Then he walked off forgetting my friends cash. He came back with a little flush saying he forgot. My friend and I got ready to leave as T went back to stand at the entrance with the other waiters. As I was leaving, we locked eyes once more. I turned around to find him still looking, turned back to my friend and giggled nervously. I looked back again and he was still looking and then we turned the corner…

He called an hour later when he was off his shift to give me his number and say he would call again. It was four days later when he sent me a “Morning beautiful” text. I was long since off my sexual tension high. I had realized that I didn’t want too much to come of this because not much could come of it. I would be returning to America next year and I’m not really someone to start something when I don’t see much future for it. Why go through all of that anxiety and complication for it all to end anyway? I responded asking how he was. He replied that he was good and said he wanted to see me. I didn’t respond. Ten minutes later, he texted again asking when I was free because he really wanted to spend time with me. Again, I didn’t respond.

I hated the idea of cutting it short because I really didn’t have any idea where it would go, but on the other hand, I’m not really interested in a relationship right now, especially one without sex and having sex in this country is extremely risky with the prevalence of HIV. So, I waited. I didn’t want to make a rash decision that I would regret. I really have only been asked out once before and at the time, I agreed at first only to later cancel the date after giving it more thought. I decided that this was a situation where I needed some advice from my big sister. After talking to her, my big brother, and everyone else that I know. I finally decided that the best plan was to turn him down. I hated it. I felt anxious all day thinking that was likely what I would be doing. I finally decided on the “you’re really sweet, but I have no time. I’m sorry I gave you the wrong impression. I hope we see each other around.” He responded minutes later, “Cold…!!! But I can’t say I didn’t c dat coming… It was going to b fun… I love fun… but thanx. C u beautiful lady.” I laughed out loud.

As you probably could guess, if you didn’t already know, I don’t have a lot of experience with relationships. I have been on three real dates and quite a few things that could appear as dates, but later turned out to just be hanging out with a good friend. My first date was when I was 18. I had just started at Evergreen and all my friends were in relationships, so I felt like I should try it. I started online dating with OKCupid. My profile said that I was straight because at the time I had only ever had crushes on guys, so I figured I must be straight. A girl messaged me and said that she knew my profile said I was hetero, but if I ever wanted to experiment, she thought I was really cute and would love to go out with me. I thought she was cute, so I said what the hell. We went on two dates, the second ending with my first kiss and then some. She fell off the face of the planet after that and I didn’t hear from her for nearly a year.

In the mean time, I had my third date. Again, I met someone through online dating, this time a man. We went on a very awkward and long date. In the end, he asked if he could come in, I said I was just going to call it a day. He then asked if we could go out again, and I said very awkwardly, “maybe” and jumped out of the car. After that, I decided that online dating wasn’t really getting me anywhere and life started to get a little hectic, so I deleted my profile. During that time, I discovered that I had a huge crush on a coworker. I told him how I felt, which led to most of my friends talking about how big my balls were. He told me that he didn’t reciprocate those feelings (I later found out he had a giant crush on my best friend) and we went on to just be really flirty friends who all our coworkers thought were secretly sleeping together. The women I went out with contacted me the summer before my senior year saying that she was sorry she had disappeared and she would like to go out again. At first I agreed, but then realized that I was nearly done with school and starting something seemed stupid. It wasn’t something I was looking for at the time.

Of course, I was still envious of all of my friends who would just meet someone at some function, or through a friend, and start this great relationship. I wanted something to just pop up for me and I felt like the reason no one was showing interest in me was because I was fat. I felt like I had to lose weight to get a date. I left Olympia and moved to Montana. At that point, it felt stupid to try to pursue anything because I was yet again leaving in just a year. I also was the heaviest I had ever been and the most insecure I have ever felt. I was going through intense episodes of depression and anxiety and was in no state to start a relationship. I did have my first kiss with a man though. I was out drinking and dancing with some friends. A semi-androgynous, Asian man-boy (he looked like he was 12), danced with me and then pushed me against a pillar to kiss me. He stabbed my closed lips with his tongue and when I opened my mouth, he told me to close it again and proceeded to stab me with his tongue again. It was a very strange experience, but it makes for a funny memory. But back to the point, I, yet again, just sat back and envied the people in relationships. But in the back of my mind, I kept thinking that it was only going to get harder as I got older.

My siblings have all gotten married in age order. My sister when she was 24, my oldest brother when he was 23, my other brother when he was 21 and then my step-sister when she was 22. My step-mom made a joke when my step-sister got married that I should be the next one, since I’m the next oldest. My other step-sister and half-sister have to wait for me. In my mind, a relationship is a given. When I was a kid and going into my early teen years, I was terrified of being alone. I hated being left alone in my house, especially after dark. I thought that I would never want to live alone and I didn’t even want to spend any time alone. I wanted to constantly be with someone. So, that kind of meant that I had to get married. Then there was the whole idea that I would be a great mom, so I had to have kids. Which then turns me to marriage, because it’s not societally acceptable to have kids out of wedlock. Then as a teenager, I wanted to be in a relationship mainly so that I would have someone to bring with me to my dad’s holidays because I hated those events. I never fell into a group to converse with, so I was frequently just floating around or reading a book. After that, I was in college, so now was the time to meet the one and get married because my older siblings were all already married and I was nearing the age my parents got married (they were 19 and 20). But this was also an easy time to not date because I was frequently taking over full time credits and working more than full time. Also, no one was asking me out and it’s not like I had the time to hang out in places to meet people. So then I turned to online dating. When that turned out to be a terrible time, I decided I would just let fate decide. I had enough going on, I didn’t need a relationship, except, time was ticking away. I was getting older and all of my siblings had at least started dating their partners by this age.

Choosing to do the Peace Corps, was essentially choosing to not be married by the time I’m 23. It was me choosing me instead of a relationship, which honestly is what I have always done. Yes, in the past, I was scared to be in a relationship. I was scared of rejection, I was scared that no one would find me attractive, and I was scared that I would open myself up too wide and never be able to put myself back together. Honestly, I was barely holding on without the added anxiety and stress of a relationship. I was filling my time so that I didn’t have to face everything that I had been holding in. When I got to Montana and I no longer had the support system I was used to, my grip started to slip further. I knew that I was going to go to the Peace Corps though, and I was finally going to take the time to work on me. At the time, I thought that meant losing all of the weight and that that was going to be the thing that changed my life. And sure, losing weight has contributed to it, but I also have just undergone so much personal and introspective growth, I don’t feel the need to grip myself so tightly. So, yes, I was afraid of relationships, mainly because I didn’t think I was good enough for anyone to love me. I don’t think that anymore. In fact, I’m getting a little full of myself these days.

But now, I also don’t think I need a relationship. And I also don’t see relationships the way I used to. I have never seen a real life marriage that I would want. I’m not saying that my siblings don’t have great marriages that work well for them, but I wouldn’t want those relationships. I don’t know that what I would want in a marriage can exist, but instead of settling for something I don’t want, I’d prefer to not get married. I honestly don’t see why I need to. I’m not even sure if I believe in marriage. Why do we celebrate and try so hard to emulate something so random as two people deciding that they like each other more than the other people in their lives? Why can’t we celebrate awesome things like getting a PhD? Or becoming the first female president? Or breaking the record for the number of cats living in a one bedroom apartment? Oh, wait, that doesn’t fit with my other points. The point is that I want to be a strong independent woman and I’m OK if that means no marriage. I’ve realized that I don’t really see biological children in my future either, so I could honestly live my entire life without a relationship. I’m not saying that I’m going to. And honestly, what does it even matter right now? I’m 22. I have so much time left to do something as mundane as marriage. I’ve got a lot of extraordinary things I want to do before that.

So yeah, I didn’t go on a date even though this was the first time I had had this kind of mutual attraction with someone. I’m sure my friends who have told me that I’m going to find some great relationship soon are disappointed in me, but honestly, I have too much of my own stuff going on right now to want a relationship and I’m glad I figured that out. Doesn’t change how horny this isolation makes me though. 😉

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.

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?

Pieces of me are slipping away

This is one of a few posts written while I could not sleep one night during my site visit a few weeks ago.

Everyday, I lose a little more of my American identity. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can also be kind of shocking and sad. Here everything is changing, now I just need to own these changes and decide how to handle them. Here are a few of the changes:

My name: In America, I’m known as Joiwyn or variations of that depending how close we are. I take great pride in having a beautiful and unique name and always having to explain it (it essentially means pure joy). And I love my name and would never change it. Here, my name is Kesaobaka or Kesa for short. It’s important to have a Setswana name to integrate better and also because a name like Joiwyn is hard for Batswana (the people of Botswana) to pronounce. Kesaobaka means I praise Him. I haven’t met anyone else with the name, so that better than being one of the 20 Mpho’s or many Neo’s of our training group. And I understand the message behind it, although not being Christian myself made me a little put off by it at first. I do love this Setswana name, but I often miss being called Joiwyn and feel like it’s a part of my identity that I’ve lost.

My language: In my village very few people speak English. So I’m pretty much forced to learn as much Setswana as possible. I really enjoy learning the language and being able to communicate with people here, but it also feels like I’m losing a piece of myself. I can’t communicate as fully in Setswana and went from having a rather large vocabulary to a very small one. You don’t realize how much comfort comes from speaking your mother tongue until you’re forced to use it very little and in very different ways to promote understanding.

My beliefs: In America, I held pride in owning who I was and freely admitting things like my age and my religion. Here, I’ve started to hide those things. This culture puts a lot of emphasis on being older, so my age loses me respect already even though I don’t tell people how old I am. Many people ask me how old I am and guess around 20 or 21. Which is strange for me since I’m America everyone guessed I was older than I am. I’ve started to say that it’s rude to ask your age in America and I refuse to answer. Religion is a similar issue. Nearly everyone is Christian and today I was told that they try to promote everyone to be Christian so that they can find their salvation. I get asked a lot what prayer group or church I go to at home. I answer honestly that I didn’t go to church and that I was raised with a different religion, but if they probe further, I say that in America religion isn’t usually an open topic. A lot of people keep their religion very private.

Food: I used food for comfort in America. I know it wasn’t healthy, but it was how I coped with things. Here I don’t do that because my comfort foods aren’t here. I’ve found that I eat far less here than I did in America, which is not a bad thing and have found other coping mechanisms for my anxiety or homesickness. I miss my favorite foods, but have also managed to lose 25 pounds because the food I eat here is actually a lot healthier than what I ate at home as well as the reduced portion sizes.

My family: I’ve found that I talk to my brother a ton more and my father quite a bit more since getting here because they both have strong Facebook messaging skills. Unfortunately, I’ve been talking to my mom far less and that has been a little hard. We used to talk on the phone everyday in America. I’ve barely talked to my other brother or sisters. And my friends have been a mixed bag. It’s been hard losing some communication, but what’s even worse is the way people here try to fill the hole. I’ve loved having host moms, but I don’t want to replace my mom. I didn’t come here to get new families, so it’s just felt a little overwhelming having new people to answer to and having these expectations wrapped around me. That is why I was a little worried about my forever home being another home stay, but after talking to my supervisor, it sounds like that is less of a concern.

And lastly my assurance: I’ve been a student for the last 5 years and I’ve known how to do that. I’ve been good at that. I don’t feel as sure that I’ll be good at this. As the first volunteer in my village, I feel like the village is expecting me to make all of these great changes and solve all of these problems and I’m just worried that I’m not actually going to be able to help at all. I’m more worried about failing than I’ve ever been before, but on the flip side, I’m not even sure if I can fail here. Isn’t my just being here making an impact? I’ve always been a worried person raddled with anxiety, but this is a whole new level. Every activity has a new level of anxiety attached to it.

However, I know that with everything I lose, I gain something else. I think my biggest worry is that I will change so much here that I won’t fit into how people see me back home. Change is not inherently bad, as long as I make sure to keep hold of the things that are most important to me.

Cows on dirt sidewalk by wall

I’ve acquired a fear of being trampled by a herd of cows

You may find this amusing, but death by cow is far more common than you realize. Never the less, I do get laughed at here if I approach the cows too gingerly. But I’m getting ahead of myself, first I should explain where these cows are. And the answer is everywhere! Here’s a cow, there’s a cow, oh there’s a goat, another cow, ooh, a donkey, don’t forget the flocks of chickens everywhere as well. I think I’m still getting ahead of myself. Anyway, it is very common for all sorts of animals to be on the loose here. I actually have never really seen any animals fenced in anywhere.

On the way to Ralekgetho, we would drive by herds of cows, donkeys, or goats and every time my supervisor would say Botswana is a cow country, Botswana is a donkey country, or Botswana is a goat country. They are everywhere and frequently hold up traffic. In my village, it seems the fences are more common to keep animals out of yards than in them. The school is fenced all around and yet, somehow, the goats or cows find ways in to eat the little grass we have. The headmaster of the school will ask the boys of one of the classes to go scare the cows or goats out of the school yard. There are also tons of chickens wandering around with their little flocks of chicks following them.

Unfortunately, because there really isn’t any other noise in the village, I’ll be laying in bed and hear a cow or donkey right outside my window. The other night it sounded like a donkey was dying outside my window for what seemed like an hour, no sign of it in the morning. Tonight, there were at least two roosters having a yelling contest a few houses down. You’d think that since I grew up on a hobby farm I’d be used to animals by now, but like I said, you hear them so much more here. In America, there are other noises drowning them out.

Here, there’s nothing. There isn’t even the buzz of electricity. You can hear so much more and while we’re on the topic, see so much more as well. I’ve seen more stars here than I could imagine in the sky and even caught a solar eclipse by accident. Living in places like this definitely change the way you see the world.

This One’s For You, Sarah

A few days ago, I learned that one of the most beautiful people I know passed away. It came as a shock to me and is one of the most challenging things to face when you’re living across the world. Sarah was battling Leukemia, but the last I heard from her, she was in remission and looking toward the future. In our last conversation, a week before I left, she told me that I inspired her and she was going to live vicariously through me. She said she had a new drive to help people and live life to the fullest and was even talking about going back to school for her Master’s degree. Sarah was an amazing, kind, beautiful, thoughtful, and courageous woman. She was always trying to help people and be the best person she could be, and she inspired me to do the same. I remember our time together so well and am heartbroken we don’t have more time together.

Losing someone always makes you question life. This is the first time I have wavered at all about moving to Africa and pursuing this dream. After talking to my best friends back home and here, I realized that was just grief talking. I am loving it here, and the best way to honor Sarah is to continue pursuing the dream that she wanted to live vicariously through. I know that this is what she would have wanted and I am inspired by her to continue to live my life to the fullest and be the person she saw me as. I know that this is the type of thing Sarah would have loved to have done if her health had allowed it, so I think the least I can do is dedicate my service to her. I have a purpose now to live my life in a way Sarah would have been proud of each and every day. I’ll be better about being gluten free like she told me to be millions of times, I’ll stop procrastinating as much as I do (like she told me to do a million times), and most importantly, I am going to try to touch others the way she touched me. After all, that’s really all we can hope to do in our short life times. Sarah was always in my corner for the most important things. She told me I was wise beyond my years when I wrote about being fat shamed on the street. She was always cheering me on when I decided to pursue grad school and Peace Corps, and she always told me that she knew I could accomplish my goals. She made me a better person and I always want to remember that. It’s only been a few days, so I know I am not done grieving the loss of such a beautiful soul, but I also know that she accomplished something in her short years that some people don’t accomplish in their lives of over 80 years. She inspired people, and expressed a love and kindness that I’ve known from few others. I cherish every friendship I have, and see how each and every one of you has inspired me. I hope I can inspire you, too.

You Can’t Live Your Life in Fear

I get this question or variations of this question a lot: Are you afraid? My brother, Ivan, even asked me the other day why I was watching so much X-Files when I was about to move to a place where I would probably have to go outside in the dark to go to the bathroom. My answer to these question is pretty simple, no, I’m not afraid. I don’t think you can live your life in fear. How limiting is that? I can’t limit myself by being afraid of new experiences. There are millions of people who have lived long, full, and happy lives in Africa. And yes, there are lots of killer animals and diseases, but that’s just a small part of the amazing journey that I am about to embark on. Also, I’m a pretty smart person, I don’t think I’m going to put myself in too many unnecessarily dangerous situations. Of course, I’m sure that I will come across some scary experiences, but that’s just a part of life.

Of course, as I get closer and closer to my departure date (just fifteen more days) I get a little more anxious and nervous. I’m not scared, but it is a little unsettling going into a situation like this where you can really make no assumptions or expectations for what your life is going to look like for the next two plus years. It’s also hard to have so much still to do and so little time. I’m feeling the pressure to get packed up and have everything in order, but that’s not quite possible yet. There is also the added stress of making sure I see the people I love before I leave and getting some good quality time in. I’ve already had the beginnings of goodbyes and am not looking forward to the really official ‘I won’t be talking to you for months’ goodbyes that are coming. I can’t even begin to think of how hard it will be to say goodbye to my mom when she drops me off at the airport. But as Winnie the Pooh said, “How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”