Tag Archives: Peace Corps

Joiwyn 2.0

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Cheer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope You Didn’t Miss Me, Too Much

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Reflections and Ramblings of an Anxious PCV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace Corps cycle of vulnerability and adjustment

My Brother Is Coming!!!

This is going to be the last blog post until mid-July because my brother is coming to visit!!! It’s also a bit unfocused and short because I can’t think about it too much without going crazy with excitement and homesickness.

I cannot tell you how excited I am to see him. It has been almost a whole year since I have seen any of my family. I fully expect to burst into tears when he arrives. I also plan on smothering him in enough hugs to give everyone I miss back home at least 5. I don’t think he’s as excited for that part as I am.

Let me tell you a little bit about my brother. If you don’t know me too well, you probably don’t know that I have 6 siblings. I have an older sister, two older brothers, a younger half-sister, and two step-sisters. With that big a family, the large age differences, and the crazy different family dynamics, we have some strange sibling relationships. I love all of my siblings. There was a time that I chose favorites, but as I have grown up, I’ve realized the value in each of my relationships with my siblings and I’m happy to have relationships with them all. I’m sure I will find a reason to talk about my other siblings in the future, but this post will just be about Nick.

Nick and I have always just clicked (at least I think so). I don’t remember a time where we fought or a time where I didn’t feel like he respected me and was fully there to support me. He has been the most helpful when it came to college. We would sit in his living room for hours talking about different paths I could take, different colleges to transfer to, and different degrees and jobs that I’d be good at. I still think he would love it if I switched to engineering and I’m positive we would have great discussions about math, but I also never felt like he didn’t support the paths that I chose.

He didn’t blink an eye when I asked him to be my power of attorney and take care of all of my crazy stuff at home (and I asked him right after he spent 12 hours driving to pick me and all my shit up from Montana). He also spent as much time and probably more money than I did preparing to come here last summer. I’m pretty sure I will owe him like $10,000 by then end of this. He’s the first person I called when I got evicted and the person who will call me when I’m having crazy emotional episodes of homesickness. He has heard me cry more than anyone besides my mom at this point and I’m pretty sure that that’s just been in the last year. But he’s been so helpful when I feel lost here. He helps me put everything in perspective and realize that I still have lots that I can accomplish here.

Since Nick is 13 years older than me and was the one watching me while my mom worked crazy hours when I was little, I grew up thinking of him more like a dad, than a brother. I remember him teaching me to ride a bike, and watching Saved by the Bell with me. We had great times. For a while, I even thought I would ask him to walk me down the aisle at my future wedding. Now I don’t want someone giving me away at my wedding. What am I? A piece of meat to be handed off to another male who will then own me? But anyway, that’s a tangent. Then he got busy with his own life and when we started spending more time together I felt like our relationship just gradually changed to being really great friends. I feel like I can tell him anything (and do) and I have no fear that he will judge me or react in a way I don’t expect because I know that he loves, respects, and supports me in everything I do. I couldn’t have a better person cheering me on from my corner.

So, naturally, I am SO SO SO excited to see him and spend two glorious weeks hanging out, exploring a bit of Namibia, and a bit of Botswana. Of course, preparing for his trip, I’ve gotten even more homesick since this is such a tangible bridge between my two lives. I’m also sure that I will be even more homesick once he leaves, but I’m OK with that, because I get to see my big brother in a week!!!

Yule decorations on shelf

Your Pagan is Showing

Tomorrow is June 21st! Do you know what that means? It’s Yule. Yule is the pagan version of Christmas. It falls on the winter solstice, which in America is usually the 21st of December, but in Botswana, its the 21st of June this year. As a pagan, I usually celebrate Yule by lighting a candle a day for twelve days on a Yule log, celebrating the twelve days as the sun god grows a year older each day until he reaches adulthood at 12, decorating the Yule tree and house, having a Yule feast, listening to Christmas/Yule music, and watching Christmas/Yule movies (which include the Harry Potter movies, duh!). This year, I have my friend Ashley celebrating with me. I’ve had some family drama, so I haven’t been able to fully immerse myself in it until today, but it’s happening. I have a little Christmas tree and some other decorations a previous volunteer left behind, so we decorated the house last Thursday. I have over 1000+ Christmas songs on my computer, so we’ve been plugging through those. We’re going to watch Scrooge tonight and hopefully another movie tomorrow (probably Ashley’s Christmas tradition of Love Actually). I made spiced cider tonight and tomorrow we’re making the poor man’s Yule feast. We bought a small chicken for roasting, some broccoli, and potatoes for mashing. I don’t have a Yule log, but I’m making do without. It’s a beautiful time of year (albeit a chilly one) and my weather here is very similar to winter in Washington during the mornings and evenings.

Having been raised with some Pagan traditions, I really only have secondhand knowledge. Also, paganism is one of those things that people either have no ideas about or know everything about, there’s not much middle ground. So I have been trying to do more research on my own. I haven’t done much research surrounding Yule yet, but I have heard that many of the Christian traditions surrounding Christmas are borrowed from Yule traditions which is why they are so similar. What I’ve been mainly focusing my research on is the Full Moon.

I have loved the Full Moon and Full Moon ceremonies for as long as I can remember. I have very fond memories of sitting by candlelight, reading a ritual, putting cleansing water on my face, drinking milk and eating moon cookies (good old chocolate chip cookies), and doing Tarot. Unfortunately, my mom lost the book with the rituals (her book of shadows) when we moved to Startup, 14 years ago, so since then we have basically just done tarot every once in a while on the full moon when we remember. I wanted to change that when I got here though. I have been making a great effort to celebrate the Full Moon every month. My ritual hasn’t really changed much. I recite something, light the moon candle, write about something I want to release, burn that, cleanse myself, and recite the last part. I follow all of that up with some great tarot readings. I love it. I have felt more connected to myself and the earth. Each releasing ceremony has helped me stop obsessing about something and let that blocked energy flow. It also brings me some nostalgia of times when my mom could sit down and share a piece of herself with me.

My mom is not very open about her religion. She was raised Christian and instilled with Christian values, but didn’t feel like they fit her. She never pushed religion on us and I think that I am really the only one trying to maintain Pagan rituals, but I always felt like it brought my mom and I closer together. I have also always been fascinated by the flow of energy, the elements, and the earth. When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with the pentagram symbol. I drew it everywhere, I had jewelry with it and even a purse. I decided that that would be my first tattoo when I turned 18. I got a pentagram with an illustration of each of the elements in each point with the word pagan in the center. Paganism is a large part of my being that I have not let myself be closed off by, but also not been very open about.

I have many religious friends and even more religious parents of friends. I had one of my friend’s moms say that I should get a tattoo of a rosary around the pentagram to save myself (as a joke) and another one say that she hopes God doesn’t know what I got tattooed on me. The pentagram is a risky symbol because people in America connect it with witchcraft and satanism. It’s a misunderstood symbol, but it simply represents the intersecting of the five elements: earth, wind, fire, water, and spirit. I don’t know why I was always drawn to this symbol above all others, but I was. Once I had it tattooed, I actually stopped wearing my ring, carrying my bag, and drawing it everywhere though; I didn’t need to, I finally had it expressed on my skin.

I don’t hide my tattoo, or that I’m pagan, but I also don’t sing it loud. I think of religion as very personal. I’m not looking to convert you, so I expect the same from you. It’s all just about how you need to reconcile those big philosophical concepts anyway. This is how I reconcile mine. So, happy Full Moon and Yule’s Eve tonight (June 20th), and Happy Yule tomorrow.

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. πŸ˜‰

Clouds and trees

What I Wish I Had Known (Part 3): Weather

Coming from Washington, I’m really used to one type of weather: rainy. When I lived in Montana, I got to experience a hotter Summer and a much colder Winter, but I was fully prepared for that and I had access and money to make apparel edits when needed. Unfortunately, I was not as prepared for weather here.

When we arrived in Molepolole, Botswana, it was pretty warm for most of the day, but colder at night. That was OK because I was coming from Washington Summer which was rather hot last year, but still not as hot as it gets here. I was also 280 pounds and had clothes that fit me well. I wore a zip-up hoodie almost every day and long pants or skirts. When I arrived in Ralekgetho in mid September for site visit, it was rather cold and windy for the whole two weeks. Ralekgetho is more desert than Molepolole though, so there was less of a wind shield and fewer things to retain heat. When I arrived at site officially in October, it was full Summer. Very hot and dry. We had many rain and lightening storms, but mostly just very hot days. I didn’t have electricity, so I didn’t have a fan. I spent most of my days in as little clothing as possible or in wet clothing. By November, I was also down to 240 pounds. My record high for Ralekgetho was 110°F.

I got evicted from my house in late December and I stayed with my best friend in Otse for 3 weeks. She lives in what we call Narnia. Her house is surrounded by orange and mango trees and grape vines, so she has a lot of shade. Her house was much cooler for those three weeks which were also in the high 90s/low 100s. In the beginning of January, it became apparent I couldn’t stay in Ralekgetho and I was put up in a hotel in Gabs until our In Service Training (IST). So I got to stay in an air conditioned hotel for two weeks before IST and the four weeks of IST. I really lucked out on not having to endure those six weeks of crazy heat.

When I got moved to Kanye in mid February it was already cooling down and I also have electricity, so I was able to immediately invest in a fan. I only used the fan for about a month before I no longer felt like I needed it. I also was down to 220 pounds at that point and my body had far less insulation than previously. It has been a nice couple months of being in the 70s and 80s, but these past two weeks have chilled considerably. Kanye is also a much different terrain than Ralekgetho. We’re in and on many hills here and it gets much colder apparently. The mornings have been in the mid 40s and the afternoons have barely gotten to the low 70s.

I am not handling the cold as well as I thought I would. I’m at around 210 pounds now and still losing, so I have lost 70 pounds of fat insulation and will be losing more. I also didn’t have a fan for most of the summer, so I had to endure the heat a little differently and I think I acclimated a little more. I also no longer have any clothes that fit me well. All my warm clothes are far too big, and I also didn’t bring a lot of clothes because I knew I was going to lose weight. Our houses are also made of cement and have no insulation, so they are often times colder than it is outside. Luckily, Peace Corps provided us with large and warm blankets, so I stay warm at night, but have the worst time getting out of bed in the morning. And this isn’t even fully winter yet. July is supposed to be the worst. My brother will most likely be visiting in July and my plan is to do awesome things with him, but otherwise spend the rest of July in bed or working out since the school takes all of July off.

Clouds and trees
Storm in Ralekgetho, Botswana

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™‚