Blessings in Disguise

When I started to fill out my application for Peace Corps in October 2010, I didn’t do it lightly.  The idea had been sitting in the back of my mind, and eventually I couldn’t ignore it anymore.  I prayed about it, asking God if it was His will.  I was a little bewildered because I thought if God was going to call me to live abroad, it would be as a missionary, not as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  However, after some time, I finally submitted to His will and sent in my application.

When I came here two years ago, I was adamant that I would only spend two years here.  I couldn’t extend for a third year….it was not an option.  Two years, done.

Surprise!  I’m extending.

Life has a funny way to changing your plans.  And by that, I mean God’s plan is often different from my own, and sometimes I even choose to follow His plan, rather than mine.  When I was considering extending, I prayed and prayed, trying to find out if this idea was my own, or God’s.  And since I’ve moved to my third year site, I’ve been wondering that again, and praying more and more about it.

You see, I was under the impression that if I *chose* to extend, God would make my life easier.  I would have a good org, better living accommodations, and be able to do exactly what I wanted to do.  But it hasn’t worked out that way.  My organization is just fine, but it hasn’t been perfect.  There were some serious problems with my first home, but I have since moved.  And thought I do get to draw up my own job description, more or less, I do have to work within the tribal authority I work for, which isn’t without its own bureaucratic problems.  It hasn’t been easy.

Then again, God never promised it would be.  He wanted me to stay, not that doing so would be easy.

However, as my life settles into a new normal, I’m starting to appreciate this blessing God has given me. Maybe a blessing in disguise, but a blessing nonetheless.  One thing I’ve learned in the past two years is that I am extremely lucky (blessed) to be an American.  Even though my family wasn’t exactly affluent, I’ve been afforded many opportunities that people in my host communities never had, Peace Corps and all its difficulties included.

Through all the difficulties of leaving one community and figuring out how to live in another, I have received many little blessings.  Mostly I ignored them, as much as I hate to admit it.  I was too focused on what I hadn’t been blessed with….rather than what God was blessing me with.

Now, as I begin my third year, I am going to intentionally try to focus on all the blessings I receive every day….big ones, little ones, and even those ones in disguise.  God brought me here to teach me something, and I’m still learning.  I know this year won’t be easy, but I am trusting in His plan.  And I know I can lean on Him when things get though.

-Jen

Gratitude: Day 27, 28, 29, and 30

Sorry for the delay in posting…

Day 27: I am thankful to be living in a country that is so welcoming. Being given a Setswana name by my first host family was an important moment for me, made even more so by the meaning of my name. My name is Keamogetswe, which literally translates into “I am welcomed”. I have been welcomed into my PST host family, my village, my permanent host family, my school, and into the Tswana culture. Yes, I have battled against the lingering legacy of Apartheid, but generally I have been received with open arms. We might not be able to communicate well, or understand each others’ cultures, but I feel welcome and at home in my community, and I am very thankful for that.

Day 28: This is definitely a little Posh Corps, but I’m thankful my host family has a washing machine. I did a fair amount of laundry by hand, for almost an entire year, before I learned how to use the host family’s washing machine. But once I started using it, I couldn’t go back. Do you know how much work scrubbing your entire wardrobe by hand is? And do you know how much more efficient a spinner cycle is than wringing things out by hand. Not a lot about my site is Posh Corps standard, but the washing machine is, and I enjoy it!

Day 29: I am thankful for the people who care enough to be kind. Random acts of kindness have happened many times during my service, and sometimes it’s exactly what I needed. Whether it’s a free ride across town, someone buying me a colddrink on a hot day, someone helping me carry a heavy bag, or strangers-turned-friends inviting me to their home anytime I need the creature comforts of the modern world, the kindness I’ve seen in SA has been overwhelming at times. A lot of people here don’t have much to spare, but Ubuntu is strong, and they show how much they care through their kindness. Ubuntu is the cultural phenomenon found in Africa that states that “a person is a person through other people.” In Tswana it’s “motho ke motho ba batho ba bangwe”. It means that I am the person I am because of the acts and influences of other people. I couldn’t be ME if you weren’t YOU. Ubuntu makes this country better, and creates acts of kindness that stun me, amongst both the black and white populations.

Day 30: I’m grateful for you, all the people who read my blog. I enjoy writing about my experiences in SA and as a PCV, and I am glad I can share what it’s like to live here, doing what I do. Knowing that people care enough to read my blog gives me motivation to keep writing. There are so many incredible, mind-boggling, and crazy things I experience here, and being able to share them with you, my readers, allows me to do my part to help complete Peace Corps’ Third Goal: Sharing my host country’s culture with people back home.
-Jen

Gratitude: Day 22 and 23

Happy (belated) Thanksgiving!

Day 22: Though I miss my American friends, family, ease of life, and traditions on holidays, like Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the experience of living in an isolated village. It can be frustrating, but I am grateful for the challenges of my Peace Corps life. I appreciate that few people in my village speak English, and that when I’m in my village, I am 100% removed from First World South Africa. Some days it frustrates me, or makes me homesick or lonely. But living in a isolated, rural village is making me resilient, self-reliant, and stronger in my relationship with God. It also makes me realize all the blessings I have in my life now, and the plethora of blessings in my American life. Two years of isolation from my culture and my comfort zone are turning me into a different (and better) person, and allowing me to develop a whole new comfort zone.

Day 23: In honor of my PC Thanksgiving, which was held a day late, I am very thankful for my fellow PCVs. SA24, my cohort, is an amazing group of individuals that has become a family of sorts. My fellow PCVs have been an invaluable support system for me, and I’ve found some true friends. I spent Friday with about 20 other PCVs in Kuruman, celebrating an American style Thanksgiving. Though we are all from different backgrounds and belief systems, it was an incredibly day. I feel equipped to handle the end-of-year school challenges because I know SA24’s got my back if I stumble and need help. When we met in Washington DC in July 2011 for staging, there was scarcely a need for ice-breakers because we immediately became a group. That hasn’t changed in the past 16 months. My service has been enjoyable, largely due to the support from SA24. You guys rock!
-Jen

Gratitude: Day 20 and 21

Day 20: I am thankful for my host family. When I had my final placement interview with Peace Corps, I was asked whether I was willing to live with a host family or not. I honestly wanted to say no, but I knew PC would be a good learning experience if I allowed myself to be pushed out of my comfort zone, so I took a leap of faith and said I was ok with it. Of course, living with a host family has been difficult at times, I am happy to have a host family. They help me to integrate into my community, provide entertainment and a social life, make sure I am safe and healthy, and help improve my language skills. I feel safer knowing that they are watching out for me. Even though I have my own exterior room and space, it is nice knowing I don’t have to come home to a lonely place. Yes, sometimes my family drives me nuts, but overall they are pretty awesome. I am very glad I stepped out of my comfort zone and said yes to having a host family!

Day 21: I don’t mean to sound cocky, but I am thankful that I am good at learning languages. You see, in SA, PCVs usually don’t need to learn the language well because so many people speak English. I am the exception because very few people in my village and my host family speak English, so I MUST speak Setswana. Sometimes this can be frustrating, as I’m sure you can imagine. But learning more Setswana has allowed me to become more integrated and more accepted in my community. The locals are very enthusiastic when they hear me speak their language and they are quick to realize that I don’t speak Afrikaans. I am by no means fluent in Setswana and will never be, but the language skills I do have are invaluable. I can learn more about this culture through learning the language, and my host mom gets soooooo happy when she hears me speaking it!

-Jen

Gratitude: Days 18 and 19

Day 18: This is something I had never really considered before, but I am thankful for street addresses, in America. Street names, house addresses, postal delivery…seriously, this is an amazing thing. I am asked by PC to provide an address when I travel in country, but sometimes, that scarcely exists. For example, my school’s address is Stand xx, Maebeebe Section, XXXX Village. That may SEEM like an address, but if you stood in my village, there are no streets, signs, indication of section, and house/stand numbers are randomly painted on the walls of houses. The infrastructure simply isn’t there in rural areas. Also, actually figuring out a physical address can be headache-inducing. And postal delivery? Ha!! I think it exists in places like Pretoria or Cape Town, but I’m willing to bet you pay for it. If you are well off, you have a postal box, but likely share it with other people (I share mine with 2 other PCVs, and apparently a church?). I have to travel 42km to get to mine, which means that only happens 1-2 times a month. You’d be surprised by the number of people who don’t have a mailbox. I have no clue what they do in terms of mail. But man, the mail system here makes me very thankful for the USPS, and for MEANINGFUL home addresses/street names/house numbers.

Day 18: I am grateful to have been taught computer skills from a young age. I started using computers in school in Grade 1 (1994-ish), so I learned how to use a computer from 6-7 years old. I remember the first time I used the internet, in 4th grade, and having no idea how to use the “address bar”, but quickly figuring it out. Using a mouse, keyboard, turning on a computer, saving documents, surfing the internet…these are all things I can do as naturally as breathing. But the teachers at my school here have only been exposed to computers in the last few years, and most are terrified of them. I have to teach them how to hold a mouse, what right click means, where the space bar is, and what the Start menu means. Sometimes I really struggle to teach these things because they are second nature to me. I was taken aback when I first started teaching computers to South Africans because I literally had to start with “this is a mouse. It’s what you use to select something.” I know that’s a bad explanation, but that illustrates my point-I don’t know HOW to teach some of these things! I see how timid educators are around computers, and how much they struggle to do things, and I’m very grateful to have been taught computers from such a young age. It makes for a much easier life in this world of ever-changing technology.

-Jen

Gratitude: Day 15, 16, and 17

Day 15: As far a PCV living quarters go, I have it pretty good, and I’m thankful.  I have a nice, big room with a fairly new ceiling and a window or door on every wall.  That means I can almost always get a cross breeze.  Some PCVs are in tiny rooms and can hardly host one other PCV, and some only have 1 or 2 windows, and I have to imagine their rooms are boiling how right now.  My living quarters aren’t perfect: sometimes chunks of the wall fall down in my kitchen area, I get wind scorpions on occasion, my electricity is not stable, and I don’t have running water.  But I do have a yard tap (can’t drink from it, but can use it for all my washing needs), which means I don’t have to haul a wheelbarrow to a communal tap.  Some PCVs have their own houses, or two-three rooms, but my room serves me just fine and gives me enough room to stay sane!  For that, I am thankful!

 

Day 16: I never thought I would say this, but I’m thankful for burglar bars.  What with the crime rate in SA and the fact that I have more wealth in my room than almost everyone in my village, I am a target for crime.  But with my windows and door secured with burglar bars, I feel safe.  I feel secure at night, when I hear drunk men hollering outside.  Someone could still break in if they wanted, but they’d have to cut through my roof, and my host family would probably notice.  I am very grateful for the peace of mind my burglar bars give me.  Also, I can lock my burglar door to keep curious family members out while still having a nice breeze.  Another added benefit. 🙂

 

Day 17: I am thankful for the motivation of the school’s garden workers.  Without the garden project, I probably would’ve thrown my hands up in frustration by this point.  Most of my work is with the school garden, and it’s having an impact on my community.  It makes me happy to see a patch of brilliant green when I walk to school, and I love purchasing veggies from the garden to support the project.  Seeing the joy on kids’ faces when they get to help in the garden is one of the best rewards of my life.  And visiting villagers to see their new home gardens made me want to cry for joy.  The garden project has been an incredible part of my service, and to have such dedicated and hardworking gardeners and educators has been a true blessing.

-Jen

Gratitude: Day 13 and 14

Day 13: As summer heats up here, I am thankful for my hammock more and more everyday. When I first came to SA, I pondered about whether I should bring my Mexican hammock or not. It’s heavy and somewhat big, and I didn’t know if I would have a place to hang it. So I reluctantly left it at home, and regretted it as soon as I saw my exposed beams at site and felt the heat of an African summer.Fast forward a year, to my visit home last June. One of the first things I did was to dig through packed up stuff until I found my hammock, and it was priority number one on my packing list. I quickly hung it up in my room upon returning to site, and have used it a lot since then. It’s sooooo cool and relaxing, and when I have visitors, I sleep in it and let them have my bed (unless they REALLY want to sleep in it). When Tumi visited, I don’t think she got out of it for hours on end! 😉 I’ve spent so much time in it in the past week, since it’s gotten hot, and it’s been amazing.

Day 14: Even though it’s something almost every PCV in SA has, I am grateful to be at a site with electricity. I know some people romanticize the PC image of a night spent reading by candlelight, but this is the 21st century, and electricity is pretty standard for PCVs worldwide. That being said, I have spent some nights reading by candlelight. My electricity is far from stable, and high winds, rain, or nothing at all can knock it out for an undetermined amount of time. Regardless, I am very grateful to have electricity. I am glad I don’t have to stoke a fire to warm up water in the morning, or rely on paraffin to cook food. I’m glad I can turn my light on to battle bugs and other such critters, rather than fear the unknown in the dim candlelight. And I’m glad I usually don’t have to worry about knocking over my candle and setting my room on fire.

But I really do get a kick out of having a Laura-Ingalls-Wilder-esque candleholder, one with a handle to carry around with me. Oh Peace Corps!
-Jen