Since I’ve been here, there has been one phrase in particular that I’ve heard over and over. “Your Peace Corps experience is what you make it.” This is something that I recognized to be true, but also took to be very general, almost cliché advice. However, over the past few weeks I’ve grown to find that to be truer every single day. It’s so true that it doesn’t just apply to my service as a whole, but it applies to every single day. I’m realizing that more often than not, the kind of day I have is directly related to the kind of choices I make. Recognizing that is often the first indicator of what kind of day I’m going to have.
On the bad days I often find myself slipping into a mentality where I see myself as influenced by my environment. I feel like being here weighs on me, and I usually give in to some kind of escapism. Usually this means that I retreat to laying out the couch and watching some type of TV show or movie. On the surface, this doesn’t seem so bad. But usually I’m just kind of hoping that the world around me will slip away for a while and that I’ll become unaware of my situation. This often keeps me from doing anything productive. And when I fail to do anything productive, the descent back into reality is always a painful one. I become very aware of how far from home I am, and I don’t see the point. What’s the point in being so far away from home and familiarity if you’re not going to do something worthwhile? It’s become clear to me that this lifestyle isn’t sustainable, and I won’t be successful in my service if this is how I live my days.
On the good days I usually see myself as influential to my surroundings. Usually good days involving running, working out, reading, writing, or doing significant work at the clinic or school. These days are still very challenging, but I am often very thankful for the challenge; I would even say I welcome it. These are the days where I feel like I’m growing, changing, and preparing myself for a better future. I’m able to see the challenges to come as manageable, and I look forward to my future with great anticipation. I typically find myself to be much more confident on these days. Confidence goes a long way here. One of my fellow PCVs recently wrote that “Peace Corps service strips an individual to their core.” That being said, self-confidence is a necessity here. If you don’t have it, you’re forced to try to develop it. Otherwise, you’ll most likely be miserable.
The problem that I’ve encountered now is that knowing about this pattern isn’t enough. Living passionately will never be formulaic. It’s still so incredibly easy to come home after work and simply give in to escapism. If you really stop and think about it, life is full of ways that we numb ourselves. There are many things in life that aren’t inherently bad, but when we give ourselves to them, they become crutches. I’m becoming more and more convinced that living positively and passionately is a choice. However, it’s not a simple choice. It’s not choosing to run, write, and be productive. It’s choosing to be proactive in pursuing whatever it is that will make you happy. Unfortunately, we often mistake what makes us happy for what we most immediately want. If that were the way to go, I would be seeing some of you in about 48 hours. Sometimes being happy takes looking a little deeper. I may not want to go for a run right now, but if I do I know I’ll feel better about myself, and I’ll get a little endorphin kick as well. The bottom line is that I feel that trying to be happy takes being introspective, incredibly honest with ourselves, and having the will-power to make things happen. Some days I succeed at this, and others I fail. C’est la vie!
I'll soon be heading back to Gaborone for a few more weeks of training. Although I'm not looking forward to 8 hours of sessions per day, I AM looking forward to hot showers, hot meals (that I didn't have to cook), and some quality time with my fellow PCVs. I've been told that the period between swearing in and IST (the period of time that i'm now finishing up) is often the hardest as a PCV. There is the large amount of time before you go home, your service is really ambiguous, and it can be quite lonely at times. Right now I find that I have to tell myself to just put one foot in front of the other sometimes. That may sound a bit sad, but when I think about it that way...every step is leading me a little bit closer to a future that i'm very excited about. I'll still have my bad days, i'm sure. But my hope is that, in a general sense, things will begin to get easier with each step I take.
(The article I mentioned is by Ross Szabo. It’s well worth the read if you have a free moment. It may be primarily about Peace Corps service, but there is definitely something in it for everyone: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/