Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Round 2

            The New Year signals new beginnings; hence we all make resolutions that many break within a month.  For some of us in the PC family this year really signified a new beginning.  Four of us moved sites with the start of 2013 due to various reasons.  For me, moving to a new site about half-way through service has been a mix of positives and increased challenges.
            When people first asked what I thought about moving sites I didn’t know how to answer.  At times it felt like going up a hill on a roller coaster.  Even if you’ve been on it before, you get excited for the thrill of the upcoming drop.  On the other hand I felt like I was a character in the old Mortal Kombat video games with the announcer yelling “Round 2.  FIGHT!”  And you know what?  Both of them turned out to be pretty accurate.
            Let me just start off by saying that PC is right when thinking a site change should be one of the last resorts to aid volunteers in their service.  Yes, there may be instances where it has to happen which can vary from programmatic to security, but having changed sites I do firmly believe it should not be a first choice.  Not only is changing sites a hassle logistically, but it also takes a toll on the volunteer.
            1.  Being homeless.  Changing sites won’t happen overnight.  Most of us who changed recently were living in Gabs (guesthouses, house sits and Kgale View) for at least a month.  Living out of a bag for a few days in a lodge is nice.  Doing it for weeks on end is taxing.  Yet this only hints at the emotional toll of moving villages. 
            2.  Saying goodbye.  Even if nearly everything is going bad at site, there are still a few people or things you have grown fond of in your village.  These things/people are part of what we use for support and comfort.  You have to let them go.  For me, I enjoyed the work I was doing with the kids at my school, and had some good relationships with a few teachers I worked with.  And now I have to rebuild those structures in Gamodubu.
            3.  Starting over.  At least for me, changing at half-way, it seemed all of the projects I started in Kaudwane finally were getting going.  The school garden had gone from non-existent to having over 20 growing plots.  The PACT club started meeting even with me gone.  And other teachers just started taking up some of the projects I was the lead on.  Now, I get to start that whole process over again.
            4.  Ok.  Passing all of that, you now have a site, a house and you get to move.  This is exciting if only for the sake of having a place to call home.  But then you reach the final hurdle.  Understanding people.  Even if you didn’t have the best relationship with your counterpart/supervisor/organization, odds are you knew their work styles and how to work with them.  Now you have to learn that with new people.  You have to go around and reintroduce yourself to everyone; explain who you are and what Peace Corps is.  This, combined with hurdle three can make it seem like the time at your first site was wasted.
            However, not all is lost!  Even if you find yourself starting over, many things are going to be easier this time.  You have experience working in an organization, you understand protocol better and you were able to test ideas to gauge what works and what doesn’t.  This is invaluable and will aid you in getting up and running. 
For example, in Kaudwane it took almost a month to get the PACT club going due to getting permission, recruiting kids, finding a meeting space, and other details.  When I got to Gamodubu I knew my hurdles and within one week the school and I started 3 clubs.  And remember those programs/ideas/activities that fell flat?  I know we all had something just not work.  Well, now you know better and can focus on doing those that did work.  It’s easy to streamline activities since you already have experience of knowing what failed and what worked.  You can cut the bad and focus on making the good better. 
While I do think a site change was the best choice for me, it was hard to leave Kaudwane.  I will miss the kids and the friends I made.  But I’m excited to put what I learned during that year to use in Gamodubu.  It all goes with the PC motto of having no expectations.  You just have to deal with the hand you are dealt and try to turn that pair of twos into a full house.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Goal 4

                You know what I discovered today?  Writing the intro to these blogs is hard.  I already have plenty of ideas for content, but can never quite figure out how to introduce the topic.  For today’s post, I think I will go with a story.  This morning I ran to Gabs to do some paperwork with the Min of Ed.  I was cutting through the Parliament grounds on my walk from the bus rank to Main Mall (I had to swing by Botswana Power Corporation) when I realized I was not even thinking about where I was going. 
This does not mean that I was lost.  It was one of those moments that showed me that I had a small sense of belonging.  It is those random moments that catch me off guard that remind me of the progress I made and that I am considering the place I live the place I belong to (at least for the moment).  It reminded me of when I was in Spain and watching the weather report.  At first I thought who cares how hot it is in Spain.  Then I realized, o right, I do.   What I am getting at is, today I had a moment where everything just seemed to click for an infinitesimal span of time.  These are the moments that really make Peace Corps service worth it and show you how much you have grown as a person.
See, wasn’t that a nice story?  Uplifting and such?  Well, then a bit later in the day I almost got pitched out of a donkey cart several times (the guy really could not control his animals well).  These moments make you frustrated, scared (lots of thorn bushes I almost fell into) and just plain weary.  And when those pile up without any of the “clicking” moments, it makes it hard to remember why you stay in Peace Corps. 
So, with that long preamble out of the way, let me introduce the topic of this post.  Goal 4.  This is what I use (and I think many others too) when I need to refocus and remember why I am here (or just distract myself from the bad).  In Peace Corps, our project framework has three goals:

1.        To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
2.       To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
3.       To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of all Americans. 

Goal number one would be the work that we do.  Educating on HIV/AIDS will ideally create a better informed populace that initiates behavior change to combat HIV/AIDS.  Goal two would be those long, often tedious, but very rewarding conversations with people about how not all Americans have money.  There are poor people.  I don’t know celebrities.  Goal 3…well you’re reading it.  Most days this is enough.  Meeting these goals (or even just one at times) will give you the strength to keep going.  But there are plenty of times where you need something more.  That is where goal 4 comes in. 

4.        Meet personal needs and desires for self-improvement.

This is not an official goal of Peace Corps, but I think it should be.  We judge our numbers in people reached with HIV/AIDS messages and behaviors changed.  And Peace Corps recognizes that this is best achieved with small groups at a time or even individually.  Well, no matter what, there is at least one person who will always change, you.  Having personal goals is something people should always have anyway.  But it is so much more important when in Peace Corps.  With how many days frustrate and exacerbate PCVs, this is one of the ways we can have something tangible to focus on that is in our control. 
                And these goals will vary from person to person.  Some people want to start doing yoga more.  Some want to learn a new language (which will also help with the rest of your service).  Some just want to do some self-reflection and focus on where their life is going from here.  All of these are great goals that can keep you sane, give you something to strive for and be very rewarding.  So I thought I would share with all of you some of my Goal 4s.  Both met and ones that I still am planning to meet. 

·         Read more for pleasure.  I really wanted to catch up on reading I wanted to do but have not yet had time for.  And the books have ranged from academic to idiotic, long to short, fiction to nonfiction, contemporary to classics, and good to bad.  And trust me, not all have been winners.
·         Write more.  This one I was meeting, then stopped meeting, then met again.  When I first came here I was journaling every day.  Between that and the blog I was getting tons of writing done.  Then the journal petered out.  At first I was frustrated with myself that I fell off the wagon.  I was still updating the blog, so that was something.  Then someone told me about how they noticed that they only kept a journal updated when they were angry, or something new and exciting happened.  And it made sense why I stopped.  Everything seemed more normal, and I was coping better with the expected anger that arises from cultural differences.  In a way, my lack of writing was showing my comfort.  So I stopped beating myself up over it.  And then along came NaNoWriMo and I wrote a novel.  And now I am writing articles fairly regularly for our monthly in-country PC newsletter.  So, goal met.
·         Make new friends.  If I was going to be working and living in a new place for a couple years I at least wanted some new friends out of it.  And I definitely have gotten some that I plan on being friends with for many years to come.  Sure, I will not stay in touch with a lot of people after PC, or at best sparingly.  And I have accepted that.  It is just the way life works.
·         Not surrender my old life.  When I came half-way around the world, I was worried about what might happen to my relationships with friends and family back in the US.  Also, I hoped that I would get to continue doing work that was important to me.  Well, I can say that for the most part I have kept my relationships in the states strong (some better than others).  Also, through the Peer Support and Diversity Network that I am on, I have been able to do similar work to what I was doing back in the US and that I find personally satisfying. 
·         Broaden my horizons.  I wanted to experience new things in Peace Corps.  And I have.  I have learned how to live without electricity or running water.  I have done the world’s largest bungee swing.  I went Quad biking and sand boarding for the first time.  I swam in a cage with sharks around.  And I plan to go scuba diving for the first time in April in Mozambique.

Still working on:
·         Read 300 books during my PC service.  I had been delaying putting a number for this one, but now I am declaring for the world to see that I am shooting for 300 by the time I finish PC.  Right now I am at 185 books read.  With well over 200 days to go I think I can still make the 300 mark with how fast I read.  Wish me luck.
·         Edit the novel and figure out what, if anything, I am going to do with it.  I haven’t touched my novel since I finished it in November.  But I do really like it (at least the initial draft) and want to see what it could look like after I polish it up.  I think February might be my editing month.  I gave the rough version to some people, and one of them has gotten me feedback so far.  Hoping to get it from a few more and then go from there.
·         Marathon.  Yeah, I said it.  Marathon.  I just found out about this yesterday actually, but I am going to do it.  It is in Gabs during the first week of May.  AKA, right before I come back to the US for a visit.  So you all can hold me to it starting now.
·         Figure out the next step.  I have this part of the way done.  I know I want to go to Grad School.  I have a general idea on what program/programs I want to apply for.  But by no means is the list finalized.  Nor have I figured out exactly where I want to work both in between Grad School, and afterwards when I am pursuing the Ph.D.  So I still have some stuff to figure out there.

And with that I think I will wrap up the blog for now.  You can probably look for a new post in a week or two.  I am working on a piece for our newsletter that I want to post on here when it is done.  And if you feel up to it, comment on what would be in your “Goal 4.”  Both met and still working on.  It is nice to know what people are up to.