I arrived in Africa two years ago, a wide-eyed, fresh-out-of-college, born and raised in Iowa girl, and I distinctly remember freezing through my first night, almost in tears, wondering why in the world Africa was so COLD! I grew up thinking Africa was hot, all the time. Silly me. There was so much I didn’t know….
I’ve learned a lot over the past two years, especially that Africa is NOT always hot. Especially the Kalahari. I’ve learned how to communicate with people 8,000 miles, studied a little bit of every South African languages (there are 11), and figured out how to cross cultural lines. I learned that I should have told my village I was a vegetarian, because goat meat is not very delicious…especially the liver and the nose. I’ve learned how to expertly pass off unwanted attention and proposals, and how to look a guy in the eye and destroy his dream of having a “white woman”. I’ve learned how valuable family and friends are, and how new family and friends can pop up in the unlikeliest of places-like at a gardening workshop. I’ve learned more about my passions and God’s plans for my life.
I’ve learned to sing, dance a bit, greet the chief, dress for a funeral, make a speech at a village function, hail a bush taxi, rush to the front of the bus line, make change in a complicated taxi payment transaction, never to go to the grocery store at month’s end, hide all my valuables while traveling through town, bucket bathe, garden in the Kalahari, teach crazed 12 year olds, beat off thieves, inspire adorable 5 year olds, mourn the loss of a family member from afar, wrangle the best spot on the taxi, say goodbye to my sweet little dog, manuever through a herd of cattle, kill scorpions, dispose of tarantulas, to drive on the left side of the road, what shaving my head feels like, cook pap, insure that the windows stay open on a bush taxi, chase out bats from my bedroom, dwell at peace with smaller spiders, ride in a donkey cart, overcome language barriers, love my African families, carry things on my head….I could go on ad nauseam. Peace Corps is a whole lot of learning, both deep things and shallow things.
I’ve come to understand discrimination and racism intimately, and it breaks my hearts. I’ve seen literally starving schoolchildren, and find joy when their eyes light up when they see me. I’ve understood loss, sadness, blessing, and great joy.
Peace Corps is truly a roller coaster ride…one of a lifetime. There are some days where I desperately want to pack my bags and head home, and others where I wonder if I can stay forever. Luckily the latter outweighs the former.
My Peace Corps journey isn’t over yet-I’ve got a whole year left to learn new things. Yesterday I learned how to wear a traditional Tsonga dress, and the day before I learned how to greet the entire tribal counsel (32 Indunas and the Acting Hosi of the Valoyi people). This strange-but-amazing adventure isn’t nearly over yet, and I’m glad. As hard as some days came be, I wouldn’t trade it for anything.