Being in the Peace Corps for over 10 months, after this long, I've almost forgotten who I was and I'm starting to become who I'll be.
When I decided to accept my peace corps invitation back in february 2010, I remember thinking to myself, Hell, girl, this isn't going to be easy. But I consoled myself by telling everyone else, I'm not doing this for the day to day enjoyment, I'm doing it for who I'll be when I get back.
I can tell you now, after 10 months, the statement still holds true, but in a lot different a way than I expected. When I left Philly so many months ago, I left a confident, cocky, tight-assed, woman with a mandate to send a message to the world. I wasn't exactly sure what that message would be, but whatever it was, I figured, would be phenomonal, world changing, in-your-face type stuff. I was a rebel without a cause, a self proclaimed lonely savior of society, the bearer of some cosmic truth. I was a punk.
Today, as I sit on a friends' couch and contemplate the past months, I realize that I am no longer that woman. In a way, I am a deflated shell of that person-past. Here, I am nothing. I have nothing going for me. I have no special talents, I don't have a sparkling personality. I am neither respected for my skills nor admired for my intellect or humour or good will. My shortcomings are not only blown out of proportion here but take more precedence in the way I am esteemed by every person I pass on the street-- I am short, I am fat, I am asian-looking, I have no lineal claim to American identity, I am good for two things-- making babies and giving an african man a passport to the states. In short, I feel sometimes like a piece of meat.
Some women here have managed to rise above the catcalls on the street, the constant feeling of dirtiness and nothingness. Some people don't mind having to flirt with 10 different ment in order to get signatures. I feel like a dirty whore. Some people manage to laugh about the situation, some people find projects to get invested in, people to become friends with, a grant proposal or job report to become immersed in, children to bceome obsessed with. I see the children in my schools and towns, and their tattered clothes and greedy eyes, dirty hands, hungry hearts don't shake me up inside anymore. I look away, I avoid contact, I walk faster, I cross the street. I enter the schools and recognize children by their ripped clothes, the same pink underwear or old donated boy scout uniform they wear each day and I am thankful for the familiarity.
Before,everyday, I felt like I had a future. A place to be, a destination to reach, a rainbow at the end of my journey, and at the end of that rainbow, a pot of gold guarded by the soldier of hard work and good fortune. Today, my future is today's evening. My present is my past. My past is an unattainable blur. Each day brings small successes or great deflating failures. The unexpected can be adventurous, even if it is something as small as a bat in the living room, a knock on the front door, or a new flower on an old plant. I have become someone who turns to anyone and everyone for support and advice. I have become someone who strains to listen intently to every conversation, take notes on people's suggestions, and gives no advice, brags no success story, and has no words of wisdom. I do what I can when I can and on days where things are just not going right, I cut my losses short and head home for the bubble bath.
Progress to me means getting a ride out of my village with a different truck, rather than the same old naueating lifts. Progress means getting a gas tank with less than 48 hours of grueling footwork to get quotations, paperwork, signatures, and carbon copies. Progress to me means stepping out of a classroom feeling as though one student out there got something out my lesson, even if 10 failed to show up at all. Progress is learning Jessica's name and encouraging her to write even though she may be one of our worst students. Progress is receiving an email from an unknown stranger who found my blog or sitting in a bus next to an educated motswana and having a conversation about the village I'm in and receiving an unexpected blessing and word of gratitiude.
I came to school last Monday afternoon for English Club and found that not only the teacher I was working with wasn't there, but neither were the students. I wasn't suprised. I merely smiled at the kids milling around the school yard, sat down on an old tire under a tree, and opened a chidlren's book I borrowed from the local educaion center. I started to read "the Giving Tree" out loud and a crowd gather to look at the pictures and repeat every sentence I read out loud. It was probably the best English Club I've ever had.
I guess moments like these is what makes the Peace Corps the "peace" "corps." I'm finally starting to accept in my heart that to survive in this service, you have to give up all hopes of a grandiose and trumpeting celebration of the service of humanity and instead realize that it's the day to day life that matters the most here.