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,

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