‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is do dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary.’
Henry David Thoreau-Walden
I’ve said before that many people join the Peace Corps for reasons far beyond the perceived altruism. The reasons vary from person to person and situation to situation. Personally, I think there is a lot to be gained from being so far removed. I am relatively sure that it’s of no surprise to many of you that the pace of life is much slower here. It offers plenty of time for contemplation and reflection, which, as an extroverted-introvert, I take full advantage of. I feel as if I’m in a position to take the necessary time to evaluate many different aspects of life; both within society and within my own life. Being far removed from your own culture allows a certain perspective that people rarely experience otherwise. Although Thoreau, and Transcendentalism in general, can be a bit exaggerated for my taste, it does a fine job of expressing the belief that we don’t always evaluate our own lives as much as we should. I’m of the opinion that we’re a part of a culture that has learned to busy itself with a lot of activities that are, in the end, meaningless. Unfortunately, I’ve integrated into a culture that shares this trait. Botswana doesn’t share the break-neck pace of the American lifestyle, but it has a seemingly infinite amount of bureaucracy and a fascination for social hierarchy. Needless to say, this often causes me great frustrations. One of the primary reasons that I left America was to separate myself with this endless cycle of busying oneself with the American Dream. I appreciate the themes of solitude and self-discovery in Walden, and it’s something that I’ve been searching for since I left. Unfortunately, this is a difficult task in a society that, in my opinion, is obsessed with it’s façade of social hierarchy. It turns out that separating oneself from society is a rather difficult task. After all, most people are a direct product of their environment.
So, it seems that despite being thousands of miles from home, I’m still set against my surrounding culture. At the heart of solitude and self-discovery, there is a search for truth. What I’m finding is that, much like the bureaucracy of my new culture, there is a lot of meaninglessness to work through in order to approach matters of truth. I think Thoreau says it best:
‘Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through Church and State, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality and say ‘This is’, and no mistake. . . be it life or death, we crave only reality’
Recently, I was standing at the top of a hill (or should I say THE hill) in a village called Kumekwane. I watched closely as life went on below. I saw the cattle grazing, children playing, and adults walking up and down the dirt road. It was as if life was moving forward, but nothing was really happening. It was a very organic type of experience, and I came to the realization that life will always move at the same pace. We may find meaningless work to busy ourselves with while in search of the American Dream, or we may find ways to circumvent responsibility and do nothing of any consequence; both are merely our own poorly constructed facades. I’m beginning to think that shaking off these constraints is key to really living life. Either construct is working against the natural order of things. I’m hoping that this realization will help me to rid myself of the realms of my life that are meaningless, to busy myself with what is meaningful, and in doing so, become ‘awakened’:
‘We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.’
Beethoven-Fantasia in D Minor