As 2012 ends, I’m spending a bit of time reflecting over the events of the last year. 2012 was my first full year as a PCV, living in South Africa in my tiny rural village. It’s been filled with incredible challenges and delightful surprises. I’ve been pushed beyond my comfort zone and tested nearly to my limits. I’ve also seen the joys of helping my villagers learn sustainable skills and have been amazed at the many times I’ve been welcomed with open arms. Through my struggles against racism and harassment I’ve learned a lot about myself and the society I live in, and I’ve grown stronger and more resilient.
I can’t easily summarize the past year. It’s been an adventure, an unending roller coaster ride. As soon as I think I’ve figured things out, life takes a sudden turn and I’m thrown off balance again, attempting to recreate a new equilibrium. It’s been a challenging year, but I’ve loved it. Peace Corps really is “the toughest job you’ll ever love.”
Through my blog, you’ve been able to follow along with some of my adventures, but you’ve only seen a small portion of my Peace Corps experiences. I am still surprised by things, almost on a daily basis. I joke that Africa never ceases to amaze me, and even after a year and a half, it’s still strikingly true.
One of the most amazing things I’ve been a part of in Peace Corps is my school’s gardening project. They have embraced my “new” permaculture methods that I’ve taught through various trainings, and my school was fortunate enough to be named a finalist in the EduPlant school gardening competition. Though our learners struggle to perform sufficiently and we are desperately under-resourced, my school has found pride in itself through the garden, and we are becoming a leader in the area, all through the hard work of the educators, learners, and community members. Other schools have started to look to my poor, small, very rural and under-resourced school, in search of training and advice for their school gardens. Home gardeners in my village have not only attending trainings and applied the new techniques, but they have also formed their own organization, the Tirisano Home Gardeners, and have started searching for funding-all on their own. And numerous PCVs have turned to me for advice, and several have asked me to visit their sites and hold trainings.
Most people join Peace Corps and spend two years working on projects they enjoy, but aren’t always passionate about. Others use their already-existing passions to improve and educate their communities. I am one of the few blessed enough to find their passion in Peace Corps, and now I know what I want to do “when I grow up”. This year has been an incredible journey towards this realization, and I now understand why the Lord led me to join the Peace Corps. I’ve also made the difficult decision to stay for a third year, heading to KwaZulu Natal, the polar opposite of where I live now. Leaving my friends and family for another year was a hard choice, but after much deliberation and prayer, I’ve realized this is something I need to do. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’m listening to the Lord and trusting in His wisdom for this.
Living alone in a rural African village has allowed me to take the time to examine myself, my inhibitions, and my personality. Looking in a mirror at yourself can be hard, and confronting the shortcomings in yourself is even harder. I’ve faced some of my worst fears here, physically and emotionally, and started to examine where those fears come from and why I have internalized them. A lot of interesting things have emerged to me, and I’ve realized how things in my past have affected who I am today. I could have lived my entire life avoiding this process, feigning busyness. However, through Peace Corps, I’ve been able to examine myself and realize many things I ignored about myself for years, in hopes that I will emerge as a stronger, more confident, open-hearted, resilient person after my time here.
PC has changed me to the deepest part of my being. I feel more connected with my “fellow man” and truly feel their pain and their joy. I’ve been moved to tears more times in the past than in all the years before combined. Empathy is a powerful thing, and it has helped me to understand what life is like for people around the world. Empathy has vitally changed my life. When I return to the States, I simply cannot return to the life I had before. It would be like sticking a square peg in a round hole. I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I’m very excited to see what 2013 holds for me.