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Posts tagged ‘peace corps emotions’

Month 12: a year in and the happiest I’ve ever been

Exactly a year ago today, I arrived in Johannesburg, South Africa after a horrendous 16-hour flight. I had no idea what was next, but I was around 40 or so other Americans who were in the same boat. I was frantically anxious to know – anxious enough to misplace my passport and cell phone 20 minutes before checking into the airport, as well as spilling a whole cup of hot coffee on my skirt an hour before landing. (Some things will never change – but, truth be told, a lot has.)

This past year has been a whirlwind of ups-and-downs, strange and awkward encounters, love, soul-searching and an overflow of emotions I’ve never felt before. I’m going to try to tackle something I’ve thought a lot about during my first year here, but have a hard time putting into words: I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

That’s not to say I wasn’t happy in the States; I was extremely happy there. I was still doing work I loved and around people every day who pushed me, cared about me and were just all around inspiring people.

But this is a kind of happiness I’ve never experienced before. It’s something I’ve found only people who have spent a sufficient time abroad in a developing area understand. I’ll call this newfound emotion: “pure ebullience with a hint of peace and simplicity”.

I’ve heard that you will never feel more alive in life than you do in the Peace Corps, except when you have you have your first child or get married.

I believe it. I feel damn alive.

I do absolutely nothing on weekends. My best friends in the village are 10-year-olds. I’m addicted to Generations, a South African soap opera and can’t survive a day without it. I’m in bed by 9 p.m. every night. I usually can’t understand most of anything that’s being said around me; I have to force myself to not laugh. I now consider killing bugs an art. I can spend a day sitting on my stoop and watching the rooster in my yard, proving that it’s the dumbest animal on the planet. My life on paper sounds so, so, so dull.

Yet every day, I ironically feel awake. I feel like my heart is vivaciously pumping joy through my body. You know when you’re depressed and your heart feels like it’s just sinking in your body? My heart is the opposite – it always feels somewhat uplifted.

Even if I’ve had a stressful day, the sheer reminder that I’m in a different culture and country from my own fascinates me. I pick my brain, analyze and contemplate. I could be sitting in the back seat of a crammed 14 person taxi between three gogos, sweating with four grocery bags on my legs and still be content by just staring at the window at all the rural huts.

I’m always absorbing my surroundings. I look at all the people around me and think about the stories, the struggles and the lives these people live. I could sit in the village for a week straight and just watch the way of life. I’m cherishing this opportunity to finally experience how other people in the world live. The Peace Corps has complemented my curious nature and journalism background and will never get old. People are SO INTERESTING.

Everywhere I go, people are welcoming. Whether it’s a “Sawubona Mpho!”  or a smile, I can tell people are open to me being here. (Ok – I’m bluffing a little: Generally any interaction with a male ensues to sexual harassment. But I got tough skin; I can deal.)

My school’s staff has taken me in as part of the family; I can tell they genuinely have my back and care about me. My host mom welcomed me as one of her own. The Mathebula family considers me to be part of the family – I finally have siblings! This is a huge deal coming from an only child. I know love is seeping through my straw roof and Pepto-Bismol-pink colored walls every day (and a pleasant surplus of new spider friends).

My  learner Ayanda invited me over for lunch wither her Aunties

My learner Ayanda invited me over for lunch wither her Aunties (Aunt Grace on the left; Ayanda in the red). I was welcomed with open arms!

And most importantly, I have a sense of purpose. I know that by being here, especially after this country’s history, is changing perceptions. I am a white lady living in a black village, something that would never be seen in South Africa if it weren’t for the Peace Corps. I am showing the people I live amongst that we all share a common humanity, no matter where we come from.

My principal once stood up at a Peace Corps workshop – way, way back in the beginning — and mentioned that in the Apartheid era she was scared of whites. She then went on to say that every time Siyabonga (Will, my closest Volunteer) comes to my school to visit me, the learners see not one, but two white people that care for them, interact and play with them. We expose rural youth to some diversity that they rarely experience. I was so proud of her to stay such a profound thing in front of dozens of Americans and South Africans.

I know why I am needed here, so this ebullience never goes away.  South Africans always ask me, “Mpho, aren’t you bored? Don’t you miss home?” and I honestly tell them no. You don’t need a lot to be happy. You just need the right people with a hint of peace and simplicity: umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu — a person is a person through people.

My African name is Mpho, which is Sotho for “a gift”. But I don’t think I’m the gift. I consider this whole experience a gift.

In a year, I’ll have to face the hardest part of my Peace Corps service – saying goodbye. One year seems like a long time, but it really isn’t because this year has flown by.

I have no idea what the next year entails, let alone next week. I do know that I will continue to stay this happy and will continue to learn more about myself and our common humanity than I ever thought was imaginable. I’ll be sure to make this year count because it’s a time in my life I’ll never get back.

Congrats to my fellow SA 26s who reached the one-year mark. Ya’ll deserve a pat on the back!

Small heartYours in service (and half way there!),

Month nine: 20 reasons to be happy

Ngiyajabula! (I am happy)

I’ve been on a Peace Corps high this month. Maybe it’s because my projects are finally coming together and I am starting new things, or because I’m just stoked to be stressed again and getting work done. Eh, who knows, but I feel good. Here are a few concrete reasons with lots of !!!!!!!!:

  1. I accepted 26 kids from grade 5-7 to be my library monitors. All are excited and my grade 5 girls want to start helping me now! (almost ready to train them)
  2. I am helping coordinate a huge project to get 22,000 books from the American nonprofit Books for Africa shipped out here to 30 schools. It’s a nightmare, but also success will be so sweet when my school gets 730 new books. Fifteen schools from my area, who are involved with the DRF, a local nonprofit, will also receive some books. Likewise, I’m learning a lot more about my leadership style.
  3. I finished writing the Peace Corps grant for books project and called it “Project Amandla” Amandla = power; literacy = power. It felt good to write “academically” again.
  4. Allie, one of my oldest friends from back to the 3rd grade, is coming to Swaziland in July! She will be doing public health work for her graduate program at Columbia University. She’ll be here for six months. I have confirmed I will visit her right after my mid-service training in September and go to Swaziland straight from Pretoria. (For you Farallone View Elementary classmates – DUH, WADDLE WILL BE COMING! Bro #1 and Bro #2 on their first international adventure!)
  5. City Year South Africa Nelson Mandela Service Day is in a few months (July 18)!!!!!!!! Omg, omg, omg. The yellow bomber will make an international appearance!
  6. Amy and Sara – two of my childhood friends from smalltown USA Half Moon Bay — are planning to come in December and have been talking to a travel agent! I smile every time I think of the hilarity of this adventure.
  7. My dad and his girlfriend Becky are planning to visit March 2014.
  8. My counterpart is awesome. Just plain awesome, and I love spending time with her.
  9. My school has been working very hard to plan fundraisers for the books…on their own. Impressive.
  10. I have hair again. People have even complimented my luscious locks and Justin Bieber comb-over.
  11. My dad sent me my leather boots from America a couple months back.I AM SO GRATEFUL I have them for rain, mud, and the looming and dreadful winter that’s about to hit me.
  12. I signed up to take the GRE in September right before mid-service training. I have started studying and will at least rock the vocabulary section. Not to mention, I’ve finally figured out my future grad school plans. Holdin’ fast to dem dreams.
  13. My grocery store sells good instant coffee now (for a whopping 80R a bottle though…) and nutella. And ya wonder where my stipend goes?
  14. I love my students, although they were hard to adapt to. I have my posse of little buddies again — a majority of my grade 5 girls. My little buddies can always make me smile. Is it sad that honestly my best friend in the village might be a 10-year-old?
  15. I am planning to host a Grassroot Soccer Camp for grade 6 and 7 at my school during the June/July winter break and during my 24th birthday 🙂 – actually couldn’t think of a better birthday plan!
  16. I’ve almost been here for year and none of my relationships back home have changed. Shout out to everyone that still texts me daily and to those who receive sporadic voice notes from me on WhatsApp ( cough Amy…) Thanks for being so awesome, keeping me company and making me feel like I was still in the bay or LA.
  17. My PCV friends make me laugh every day about how absolutely ridiculous our lives are. Thank you, BlackBerry Messenger, WhatsApp and all those freakin’ amazing emoticons.
  18. Class is getting better. The kids are listening and some are even completing the work.
  19. The Peace Corps reimbursed me for 500R that was stolen from me in Durban (that’s like a quarter of our stipend and a little less than a month’s worth of groceries).
    Oh, and I probably should add:
  20. This place really feels like home now.

I am too all-over-the-place this month to coherently articulate my thoughts into a catchy blog post. Thanks for helping me, numerical list.

Yours in service,
Small heartLiz