Friday, April 27, 2012

5 Weeks 6 Days left and I'm still not Mother Teresa

They say the first 3 months of service and the last 3 months of service are a roller coaster. I'd have to disagree with this statement and say that the first 2 4 months of service are a roller coaster, the last 3 months so far have been the most consistent... in fact this last 3 months feels like a straight, constant acceleration to hell.

The past couple weeks or so have been a slooooow painful blur of anguish, frustration, and mostly anger.  Nothing in Botswana has changed, except me. When confronted by a project I once long ago was involved in, I respond with a sigh, or a grunt, or a disinterested mumble if I have to do something. Even my facebook status updates and comments are filled with petty, unjustified digs at the people around me.

I had a wake up call yesterday. I have those periodically when a friend, stranger, family member slaps me upside the head and says, "hey! you! wake up!! you're being petty and we can't stand it any longer!"

I realized what was really bothering me: I'm leaving... and I can't wait to leave.

What bothers me isn't that I'm leaving, is that I am so head over heels ready to go. I joined the Peace Corps as an idealistic middle class suburban Jersey girl under the disillusioned idea that I was beginning my journey towards being the next great martyr for society, a new Mother Teresa, Mahatma Gandhi, that lady scientist who lived with the apes. I thought I would discover a new home, I would adopt a new family, I would learn the language, customs, cultures, I would come home with my suitcases delicately balanced on my head, wearing leathers, and dancing to the beat of African drums, one child on each arm. Instead, I came, I saw, I cowered. I peeked out from my fortress of solitude, with heavy double curtains to block out the hot african sun and peering african eyes, I saw poverty and my heart was overwhelmed. I did what I could, but there is so much need, it could never be enough. I can never do enough.

Here's a metaphor...
Last week, my parents' generous friends sent a box of children's toys to the school, including 7 plastic kites. Worried that the kites would walk off on their own, I decided to introduce the kites to the kids myself. But there are nearly 300 kids in that school, and I have 7 kites. Being great and generous and wanting to serve the poor is wonderful, but when approached by a crowd of hungry people when you only have 1 basket containing 5 bread loaves and 2 fish and no Jesus-miracle in sight... you have 3 choices:

1. give everyone a crumb and then get torn to pieces
2. leave the basket and run for your life before the crowd tears you to pieces
3. stay and turn those 5 loaves and 2 fish into feast yourself

The past 2 years, I have been defaulting to option #2. Leave the basket and run. Literally. I've been bringing in small programs, activities, and supplies and dropping them like a sniper would target a victim out of a large crowd, drop him, and move on. Why, just the other day, I brought in 2 footballs to the hostel students, all 100 of them, left them with the matron, and before the kids could see me, ran. Within days the balls were deflated.

I wish I had had more courage to stand and face the onslaught this past 2 years. Maybe, if I had opened myself and become more vulnerable, I would be prouder of myself, prouder of the village, closer to its people, more satisfied, more ready to go home. Instead, I'm ashamed. I'm not Mother Teresa. And I'm unlikely to reach her level of sainthood, at least not anytime soon.

Peace Corps has been a humbling experience. Even though people tell you your whole lives just how insignificant you are, somehow, you want to believe that you're special, that you can make a difference, that you can be the change. But effort after effort, you realize, the world is just too big. Yours is just a drop in the bucket of change. Not even Mother Teresa could cure suffering in Calcutta, she could only relieve it for some, but she inspired a generation.

Today, I am grateful for the efforts of the over 200,000 currently serving and return Peace Corps Volunteers, for all the missionaries, sponsors, volunteers, teachers, tutors, and after school program assistants I know who are doing what they can to contribute to that bucket, to help our society become the equal, wonderful, peaceful place I hope it can be one day in the future. It's salvation to know that my puny efforts are not all there is.

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