Thoughts at one year

Thoughts at nearly the one-year point:

What should be my first meal at home? I guess that depends on what airport I fly into. If it is Pierre, probably Pub 34 with the family. I can get sweet potatoes and one of those giant beers, Boulevard most definitely. And the popcorn. Maybe I will fly into Sioux Falls. I literally dream about the salad bar at Minervas. The big blocks of cheese  you can just cut off a hunk from. We could do beers at Monks afterward, they’ll probably have some winter lagers. Oh, but what about cheap Mexican? My body physically craves unlimited chips and salsa and enchiladas covered in too much cheese. What about Sannaa’s? Her tabouli haunts me. But then there is my longing for sports bars. Maybe, if I chose Sioux Falls, I can convince my picker uppers to take me north for a veggie wrap and crisscross fries at Cubbys. Oh, to be in Jackrabbit territory again. Still, I may fly into NYC and do a few days of holiday bliss there. I could cap off another return with a meal I had there two years ago: mushroom burger, fries and peanut butter shake at the Shake Shack. Or just do pizza. I want delivery.

I am not a great volunteer. I don’t try hard enough. Everyone around me – in Lesotho or other countries – seems to have amazing projects. Am I really doing all that I can? What if I just waste these two years, trying “to fix” myself? This is my one shot to do something great and maybe I am blowing it by constantly tripping on my own faults. Is there still a chance for me to have that big project? The one I can show off as a trophy back home to prove that this wasn’t a two-year vacation but a productive retreat into the world? No, I am being too hard on myself. Again. I am doing the best I can and not all volunteers fall into perfect projects. In fact, the ones I read about in PC-written newsletters are perfect scenarios. Most volunteers are not that lucky. You are trying and you are a benefit. You are a good volunteer.

What should I do when I get home? I know that there is still plenty of time to think about it, but only if my answer is, “get a job.” If it is school, then I need to plan now. Should I go back to school? Do I want to go back? Not really. I am tired of being poor and would like a steady income. I would also like to be settled for a while. Plus, the thought of exams and papers is about as enticing as looking at spreadsheets all day. So, what do I do? Reporting? I guess, but, again, not sure I want to. At times, it is a fabulous, rewarding career. Most times, it makes me hate myself. I don’t want to go back to that. I want to write. Am I good enough? Probably not, but maybe I owe it to myself to try. I want to continue to help people. Maybe a non-profit. I could tell stories, using words, social media and photos. I could travel, have decent hours, take up hobbies. Unlike reporting, I wouldn’t worry about hate emails in my inbox while showering. I wouldn’t work myself up in a panic cold calling a source because they “probably hate reporters and think I am the worst human being for prying into their life.” Instead, I could work for an organization with a good reputation, one people are willing to help. It would be a happy place with lots of Macs and white walls and creativity. Likely in NYC or DC. But can I really get a job like that? I like to believe, with my experience, yes, but I can’t. Maybe I need to go back to school. I should start studying for the GRE. Yes, I will take it next winter. Great. I can do this. I will do this. Should I start tonight? Nah, I have a new issue of PEOPLE to read. I’d rather get a job anyway.

Hmm. Had another dream about the guy from high school. I had a crush on him in the sixth grade that morphed into ridiculous daydreams throughout middle school. My freshman year, I took a class with him and realized he was a tool. Was over that three-year infatuation in about five minutes. Where are these thoughts coming from? It’s funny how people from high school are frozen into what you knew of them back then and, no matter what new information you have about him or her, that idea will never die. I wonder if people from high school think it is weird that I am in Africa. Oh, gosh. Next summer is 10 years. Will anyone mention my name? Will there be conversations like, “So, did you hear that Heather Mangan is in Africa? She is so much cooler than we ever thought she was. And so pretty. Wish we were nicer to her.” I wonder if that guy will be there? Would his 28-year-old self like me at 28? I like to think so, but I wouldn’t be interested. I still think he is a tool. What is he doing now? I think I saw him at SXSW last year, but didn’t say anything. Yeah, I’ll Facebook stalk him.

I will miss this. I will miss the quiet morning walks to school, staring at the sun as it topples the mountains. I will miss young children greeting me with “I love you” because it is in the only English words they know. I will me simplicity. The calm. Genuine kindness. The feeling of contributing something to world. Seeing these faces every day. Oh, goodness, how I will miss these people. A year ago, they were strangers but now they are family. Can I just leave them, knowing I will likely never see them again? I can’t stand to think about it. Someday I will have to live it. Now, I don’t need to think about it.

When I get home, I am going to spend a week, maybe two, just watching television. “How I Met Your Mother,” “Glee,” ”Parks and Recreation,” and “Community.” I will get caught up on my favorites. Then, I will watch anything slightly interesting on Bravo and the Food Network. I hope “16 & Pregnant” is still on then. It will be around Christmas, so I will watch all of my favorite holiday movies and curl up near the fire for primetime airings of “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.” At some point, I am going to just put on QVC and watch all of the American goodness.

What if I don’t fit in? What if this experience has changed me too much and I feel like an outsider amongst my family? Is that possible? Have my selfish motives driven me a part from my family, making me an outsider. I can’t admit that if it is true.

I am not looking forward to when, in the middle of the night, nature calls and I have to get up and go into another room. I really like just hopping out of bed, opening the lid to my bucket, doing my business and then sweetly reuniting with my blankets.

These mountains never stop being beautiful. The happy moments are happier with time. I feel at home. I no longer feel awkward and strange. Weird moments are for laughing. These people are my people. This is my home. I act Mosotho. I am Mosotho.

Am I getting older? My hands look that of an 80 year old. I want to feel pretty. I want an expensive haircut, a stunning black dress, knock out heels and shimmering makeup. I have NEVER wanted those things.

I am right where I need to be.

One year meets most volunteers with a wall, and I am no exception. Approaching one year in country, I was down and fazed. I was not sad, but not happy. I couldn’t pinpoint the source of these feelings and, after talking with other volunteers going through similar emotions and thought patterns, I chalked it up the anniversary. Above are the thoughts that have ran though my mind, often several times. I can’t explain how I’ve felt, but you can see for yourself that many songs were playing to create this general malaise.

I have lots of hope for year two. There will be challenges and struggles, like in the first, but what is new is comfort. I understand this country, my job and myself more now. I have that as a weapon. It will be a good year.

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts at one year

  1. I shouldn’t be so utterly amazed, but I am. I could have written this blog entry, down to the sentences, “I want an expensive haircut, a stunning black dress, knock out heels and shimmering makeup. I have NEVER wanted those things.” I am a Peace Corps volunteer in Armenia, serving with Dave and Judy Smith, who were in Niger and evacuated. (They follow your blog, and Judy sent me this link.) I know that volunteers often face the same challenges, but wow. You have said everything I want to express, in this one entry. I have not had a chance to read more of your blog yet–I wanted to comment first. But I will. I will probably read all of it. Please don’t freak out. Just know that there are other volunteers (and probably other “normal” people), out there in the world, who feel just like you do and have the same questions and worries, and they (I) just want to see how you deal with it, in hopes that it will give them (me) a little guidance.

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