Sunday, October 21, 2012

A Visit from the Travel Bug

About a month ago, a Peace Corps Volunteer who lives near me sent me a text message asking me if I'd be willing to give a man a place to stay for the night when he passed through Kang. He was also a guest staying at her place, as they had arranged his accommodation in Motokwe through Couch Surfing. If you're unfamiliar with Couch Surfing, check out the website here. It's a great idea & of course, I'm a registered Couch Surfer too.

I agreed to allow him to stay at my house as he went about his journey in Botswana and upon his arrival, I could tell he had seen a lot in life. His name is Scott and he came to Botswana with the idea of biking across the entire country. When I asked him why he decided to bike across Botswana, his response was, "Because all of the guidebooks say you shouldn't do it."

Talk about adventurous! Scott was a very pleasant guest and I was happy to have him stay in Kang. I took him around to see the local clinic where I work, the few shops we have to purchase food and other items, and discussed a few cultural beliefs. It's amazing to see how much I actually know about Botswana and the culture when I'm talking to someone new to the area…

We made a delicious meal, watched "Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory" with my sisters, and stayed up the whole evening looking at pictures from his adventures and swapping stories about life.

I was amazed at all the things he has done and seen throughout his life. Each picture was more beautiful than the next and of course, each was accompanied by a delightful story. My heart was so content listening to this man - hearing how much of the world he had experienced with of his own five senses. What an amazing joy!

He asked plenty of questions about what I'm doing in the Peace Corps as well - and part of me began itching to travel around the world without any restrictions. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of all the countries he had traveled to…

Scott and I enjoyed breakfast together in the morning, packed his bags with food, and said our final goodbyes. He was off to his next destination and enjoying the journey along the way.  I truly love how a stranger can become a friend in such a short time!

After I watched him bike away from Kang, my head started spinning with different thoughts about traveling the world and making an impact. As he biked away toward the unknown, I found myself walking into the clinic where I will be every day for the next year and a half. My life seemed a little mundane from that perspective. However, after some time, I realized how fortunate I am to have the best of both worlds.

I am still young. I can still travel, explore, and play in other countries. I'm able bodied, fortunate to come from a good background, and full of energy and enthusiasm. The world will continue to be my playground for many years to come and there's no reason to be jealous of Scott's adventures. It's his time to play and explore… my time is yet to come.

Now is my time to really participate in something incredibly unique. The Peace Corps allows me to become integrated into a community, love a host family like they are my own, and learn about all the cultural norms. There are events I am welcome to attend that a tourist would never have the chance to see. People confide in me with their issues on a level I could never establish as an outsider. My time now is to fully appreciate the opportunity I have been given because not many people are given this kind of chance. 

Upon my original application to the Peace Corps, I always knew that was what I was looking for. A chance to really get to know people, to become a part of their lives, and to help them with whatever they need. I knew that then and I know that now.

Scott & I before his departure from Kang

It's just that sometimes, when your mind begins to wander, it's easy to become jealous of all the play and travel that others get to do. I couldn't be happier for Scott - and wow, does he have great stories to tell. I'd really like to encourage you to check out his blog. Some of his entries are very long, but this one is particularly about biking across Botswana. Check it out!

Adventures come in many shapes and sizes. My adventure for today is to fully absorb all the Peace Corps is offering me - and whenever possible, I plan to fill more of my life finding adventure across the globe.

Love & Light,

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Smell of Death

Skeletons are easy to find in the desert!
Living in the desert has been quite a different experience from living next to the Rocky mountains. The land is arid and flat. I've grown accustomed to seeing the sky around me in every direction. There are no more mountains to use as a landmark, hence the reason why I don't have a great sense of direction anymore. North, south, east, and west all seem to blend together unless I take the time to realllllyyyyyy stop and think about it. 

My village is smack dab in the middle of the Kalahari Desert which creates a whole variety of issues for any living creature out here. Sand covers the land in Kang, sharp thorns bury themselves in the sand awaiting the next victim, and during the summer months the sand feels similar to lava. I'm yet to discover much to love about the sand. 

Water shortages occur on a weekly basis and the water will be out completely anywhere from a few hours to almost a week. People store water while the precious resource is around to utilize during the dry periods. But what about the animals? 

Dead donkey found in my village 
Livestock dies on a daily basis. There isn't nearly enough water to supply livestock with water during times of drought, so animals will start to wither away and die in the desert. Encountering entire carcasses, limbs of an animal, or the picked apart skeleton seems like a normal part of my every day life. One day, I found five dead donkeys, a dead cow, and a few dead chickens around my village as I was going about my normal routine. I hope that I never see more than that in a single day... 

My least favorite part about all of this is the stench. Birds flock from all around to peck out the eyeballs, pick apart the bodies, and feed on the dead animals. Carcasses lay around for days and weeks at a time, rotting in the harsh African sun. It's easy to tell when a dead animal is around; I always smell it before I see it. The sun here is so brutal and the breeze is a foreign friend. However, when the breeze does come around, it brings the smell of death with it. It's an unbelievably horrendous smell that I hope no one else has to experience; the smell lingers in your nose and reminds you of how precious life really is. No water? No life. 

Thank goodness I'm able to find and store water for myself during these dreadfully hot summer months, but the poor animals aren't quite as fortunate. 

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Countdown is Over

As I prepared to leave the United States, each tear I shed was a painful reminder of the reality I was facing: I was going to devote the next 26 months on my life to service in the Peace Corps. 26 months away from friends and family, 26 months away from everything I've ever known.

I remember laying in my room at my mom's house in the weeks before my departure and staring at the walls around me. There was a large world atlas hanging above my desk and regardless of my mood, just one glance at the map was enough to make me weep. My eyes flashed from Colorado, my precious home, over an entire ocean to an unknown country, Botswana. The sheer distance on the map created an extreme amount of anxiety and fear.

I was leaving my whole life I created in the States to venture out into the unknown.  Sounds romantic, I know, but once you actually take the steps to move forward, it can be overwhelming to digest. Life as a Peace Corps Volunteer has been an incredible challenge, to say the least, but somehow I've gotten past most of the pity parties and sleepless nights and I find myself today at remarkable check point:

I've been in Botswana for six months!

I find myself wondering how I've been here for a half a year already - but when I take a moment to reflect about just how far I've come, the six months seem to make sense.

Upon arrival, the new culture overwhelmed me and I never knew the right things to say or the proper way to act. I had no sense of the cultural norms, I could barely utter hello in Setswana, and I didn't understand much at all about the political system. To put it bluntly, I didn't know much of anything when I stepped foot into this country. I was just a bright-eyed, over-achieving American woman.

Oh, how things have changed.

Thanks to the Peace Corps staff and my fellow peers, we were drilled with information for the first several  months about language, cultural integration, and skills development. My mind was overloaded with new ideas, opinions, and tactics to approach any situation. With all my new information, I settled into site, found a way to apply my recently acquired knowledge, and developed relationships with people that will last a lifetime. A timid and apprehensive young woman stepped onto the plane in the States, but I'm confident that a new woman will be returning home in 2014.

I'm not the same woman I was six months ago, which most people would expect to hear. But what amazes me to this day is that I will never be able to fully express my transformation to anyone, regardless of how many words and phrases I use.

Living in Botswana has opened my eyes to a whole new world of understanding and appreciation. I have the ability to teach people that humanity has more similarities than differences. People unveil their hearts to me about problems they are facing and situations where they could use my assistance. Rural environments force me to look at my personal behavior and lifestyles. Medical cases in the clinic help me see what's absolutely essential and how much money we waste on western medicine. Parenting styles make me question my morals and beliefs about how to raise children to be respectful, caring individuals. Educational systems create questions in my mind about inequality and access to a better life.  Unique opportunities are presented to me on a daily basis and everything I once knew has been questioned. I am pushed each day to evaluate who I am and how to become a stronger woman to serve the people in my village.

Someone once told me, "the days will be slow, but the years… they will fly." I believe that this will be the case for the entirety of my service and I've already found that my countdown is over. I'm no longer counting down the months until I'm going home. Now, I find myself counting up from the day I arrived. "I can't believe I have been here for six months, I only have 20 months left."  I'm well aware that 20 months is a decent chunk of time, but with the way that things have been going on this side, I am certain that the time is going to be slipping away quickly.

I'm afraid to blink and miss any of the beauty I am surrounded by, so at my six month mark, I'm making a point to become fully aware of the importance of each new day. Life is patiently waiting for us to open our eyes and embrace the beauty hidden amongst the chaos. Each day is a gift and an opportunity to look back and reflect upon just how far you've come… Stop counting down to the next "big event." Immerse yourself in the present moment and find joy in life  as it is now.

Six months has come and gone in a hurry. The next twenty are going to do the same. Now is my time to stop counting down to my homecoming in 2014 and use the present moment to focus on all that I want to accomplish as an individual. I want to do as much as I can, while I still can. Nothing in life is guaranteed and I owe it to myself and those around me to live in the present.

I've come so far in six months - I can't wait to see what the rest of my service has in store for me!

Love & Light,