I expected my final months of service to be blissful.
The shiny image of a confidant volunteer surrounded by jubilant African children, often portrayed in Peace Corps advertisements, would finally be my life. The arduous days would only be memories and everything I’ve worked hard for would finally come together.
Yet, this is life and not a movie, so the struggle is much more real than I could have anticipated.
Last week was an exceptionally difficult one, for no valid reason outside of the anxiety I create from within. With one group of students taking their exit exams, I have less to do at school and boredom seeps in unannounced and quickly. The extra time allows to me make countdowns – (as of today) 45 days, six weeks of school with two of them reserved for exams, eight double English periods, two to three trips to Maseru, 30ish runs, three U.S. holidays and one VRF. These countdowns squander away the little moments I should be absorbing and I am overwrought with guilt because of it. As much as I write about staying present on this blog, I am terrible at it and my mind wanders to what it will be like when I finally touch down in South Dakota or what I’ll eat that first night home. I want to make the most of my time here, but I am stuck in the excitement, and fear, of the next step and I am ashamed of where my thoughts go and that I prefer to be shut up in my house after school instead of playing with village children or sitting with my ‘m’e.
Guilt comes in double time, along with doubt, when I think about my contributions during the least two years. What difference, if any, have I really made? In this melancholic state, it’s hard for me to find one thing that I can hang my pride on. Sure, I have done good work and I’m probably just being too hard on myself because I actually have done a lot, but I thought I would feel better about the work I did than this. In addition, this week, one of my brightest students with great potential announced she wasn’t coming back to school next year. I know that she has problems at home (both her parents are deceased and she lives with her unemployed uncle) but when I talked to her she said it was because she was no longer interested in school and doesn’t see the point anymore. As I always do, I took this personally and berated myself for not doing more.
Then there is the fear. I act like I am OK with going home and not having a plan, but underneath those Zen ideals is deep-rooted anxiety. Leaving the Peace Corps feels a lot like graduating from college and there are ample opportunities to go anywhere and do anything. When I graduated, I thought I knew what I wanted and I took a job in Idaho and began to set up an adult life only to discover I was miserable. I am terrified of making the same mistake. For the last three and half years, I’ve wandered through life – stumbling, learning about myself and creating great stories – and I am not sure I am ready for that to end. Yes, I want to have a regular paying job and I fantasize about an apartment with a coffee maker, shower, bookshelves and plants, but agonize about the price of such life. Will I have to settle? Will I find myself in a position like I did in Idaho, the last few months in South Dakota and now, where I am not putting effort into my relationships and I am not proud of my work but just going through the motions so I can get to somewhere else? I don’t want to live like that anymore. I want to be happy with what I have where I am.
All of these apprehensions run through my mind like a 24-hour news network and dilute my precious time left. I am stressed and I am stressed about being stress.
Still, this past week may have been one of funk, I’ve learned in the last two years that things always do get better. On Friday, I co-facilitated a session at pre-service training for the ED 14s and it was reassuring. PST, in my opinion, is a great refresher for current PCVs because you get to share what you know, which you realize is actually a lot, and the optimism and hope of fresh trainees rub off. This is a pretty great group and it was nice to meet them, plus I really enjoy the ED 13s who are helping with training and it’s always a nice treat to see them again. (Side note: One of the trainees was wearing a Twins hat so I had to talk to him. Turns out, he went to North Dakota State and did a co-op at Daktronics in South Dakota, where I worked at as a marketing student for two years during college. We bonded over Target Field and downtown Brookings.)
After I went to Delia’s where she cooked me a belated birthday dinner and we watched new, like this season new, episodes of “The Mind Project,” my now favorite television show. We went to Mafeteng the next day to meet with a seamstress who I had make me a few things to take home. They were different than what she is used to making, but they turned out fantastically and I can’t wait to gift them. I also got to meet up with one of my former students and it warmed my heart to see her face again. She was my first friend in the village and she always looked out for me. She left months ago to get married and I miss her every day and she was the one who insisted that we see each other before I leave. I handed her a bag of clothes and shoes that I don’t plan to take home and then treated her to a new pair of sandals. Just to see her again wiped away much of the doubt I harbored the week before. When I returned home, the anxiety crept up but prayer and meditation soothed my heart.
This morning, the rain we’ve waited for for six months has finally come. It misted in the morning, allowing me a pleasant 10K run, and it is now pouring, which means I should curl up with a book and steaming cup of tea.
It was a bad week, but the weekend reminded me of the good that comes after the storm. There will be loved ones to comfort me. There will be reminders of my talent. There will be God’s guidance. There will be calm. I wrote this post mostly to acknowledge what was really bothering me and now these written worries aren’t so scary.
These days aren’t blissful, but they wouldn’t mean as much if they were.