Contents of this blog are personal, they do not reflect the views of the US government, or the Peace Corps.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Giving Thanks

The Latest

It’s been a long time since I posted an update about where my life is at now, and if I want to keep this blog alive, it necessitates a post once in a while. And, as a true lover of the cheesy, I can't picture anything better than a thanksgiving post covered in cheese.

The Search

I’m still on the lookout for a solid post-PC job. I’ve felt a lot of guilt over this, among other things, since coming back. Many of my fellow RPCVS have found semi-permanent postilions following their return to the US. But, I still haven’t. I’ve been searching a bit more diligently in the past week, and I’m keeping the hope that something awesome is coming. 

I spent 2 and a half months at the Blue Bench, an incredible Rape Crisis Center, filled with the most inspiring people I’ve ever met. I realized that, despite my respect for Barack Obama being a canvasser in his youth, I do not like community organizing. I do, however, continue to hold deep respect and admiration for the Blue Bench.  The staff are shockingly inspiring, truly wild, and genuine about who they are and their desire to change the world. Though I’m no longer an employee, I am utterly grateful that Blue Bench, and the people who came into my life.

My full time job, now, is substitute teaching. I spent a week substituting in an elementary level Special Education classroom. I had one college class on special education which did nothing to prepare me for the reality of several screaming children in one classroom that I was supposed to calm down.  But, honestly, it went great. A mixture of patience, compassion, and hardcore teacher voice seemed to work. There was one kiddo who notoriously hated all substitute teachers. Except me. Either my awkward charm or fondness of talking to people that don’t like me won out. Didn't think I'd get so lucky that I still love teaching kids, and am actually good at it. That's been a pleasant surprise.

I’m also working part time at a nonprofit I spent a lot of my youth volunteering at: The Butterfly Pavilion. I’m a birthday party/event coordinator. And I get to hold Rosie(the tarantula). I start on Saturday, and I can’t wait to go back. Over my middle school and high school years I accumulated over 800 volunteer hours while holding tarantulas and talking to people about butterflies. If anybody is still wondering why I am the jungle woman I am, wonder no more.

The Shift

I remember waiting for the shift in Peace Corps. I was waiting for the percentage of time I was uncomfortable to shift 100% to  a whopping 99% or maybe even 90%. Despite all my experience and the wisdom I assume I should have, I haven’t discovered a way to make this shift happen any faster. The only infallible solution is, in fact, time. Three months after coming home, the shift is finally happening. I feel a bit American again. I don’t feel weird for having electricity to leave my lights on past 8 pm. I don’t feel guilty when I take a hot shower in the morning. I’m still overwhelmed by grocery stores, understanding insurance, retirement accounts and taxes, but it’s not unbearable like it used to be. I think some of who I was in Peace Corps is permanent, but I’m finally finding a combination between jungle queen Beth, and Beth who lives in her parents’ house.

Part of the shift for me, this time around, has been trusting America again. I was here when something crazy happened. When huge populations of people lost faith in America, in their fellow Americans. When hate groups were validated. But, I was also here when people stood up. And continue to stand up, to show their voice, their support, their love, in every way they can. One of my friends cancelled all monthly media subscriptions to instead donate to these organizations:
I donated to them for his birthday too. I'm not saying this is a fail-safe donate here and you'll feel better about everything, but it is doing something, it makes me feel like I am fighting to make a difference, no matter how small.
I've been stunned by the election results. Scared, angry, but mostly stunned. Stunned into inactivity. And I've been impressed by those who stand up, especially now, when life still appears "safe". I'm impressed by the people who try to understand if this election really reflects the depth of hate in America, or perhaps has been misunderstood, as so many people have been, and continue to be. I can't say I know what's happening next with America in light of the election, and I'm honestly terrified. But, I can't fight when I'm scared. I can rally. I can remind myself of the similarities, of the love which these events have brought to light. Obama has made a lot of speeches recently, but one that struck me included the line: "Thanksgiving is a time to remember that we have a lot more in common than divides us." Let us hope so.

Giving Gratitude

I track my gratitude in a journal daily, to keep my mind focusing on positives instead of the negativity we feed ourselves, which the media perpetuates.  I'm sharing a selection of these daily fragments of gratitude. Certainly this concept is not unique, nor are many of the things I’m grateful for. But, they are significant for where I am at now. I hope they may inspire a sense of gratefulness in you, an eye of wonder toward everything positive that fills our lives. I hope we can find those similarities that give us strength. I hope you have a tasty meal tomorrow, and tell someone how grateful you are that they are in your life. Until next time ya’ll.

I’m grateful for
©      The home I have to come home to. I have my own space, and it’s warm and safe. There are a lot of people who aren’t so lucky.
©      The freedom to be and do what I want.
©      The Blue Bench friends I made.
©      The clouds being beautiful today.
©      My supervisor and friend saying they were proud of me.
©      The hot water working again.
©      My high school crew: amazing people who, despite our large differences, I still have a lot in common with.
©      Going to a museum free day with my parents.
©      Being single because I can take up all the space on the bed and only have to worry about my own feelings most of the time.
©      Getting a super snazzy thrift store jacket
©      People who are fighting for what they believe in.
©      My parents surprising me with a new nalgene because my old one was gross and smelled like bleach.
©      Going kickboxing with my friend and pushing myself really hard.
©      This cozy sweater which makes me hate winter a little less.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

One ending is another beginning July-October 2016

My feet are in about an inch of water. It rained hard last night, and no one has bailed the boat yet. It's raining again now. I have my umbrella up, but rain keeps dripping through a hole. The water makes a micro cascade down the umbrella's handle into my lap. The two women sitting in front of me have their umbrellas open too, dripping on my legs. The rain continues. My knees to my toes are wet too, but they'll dry when the sun comes out.
It's almost my last day in Wakapoa. Each time I do something, I feel an unbidden pang that it may be my last time. Getting in the school boat during a rain storm. Laughing with my friends. Picking up children and throwing them in the air.
These are things I might do in America, but never like this again. Wakapoa is special. It's confusing, and frustrating in some ways, but also stunningly beautiful, peaceful, and loving. People look out for each other here. Maybe it comes from a mutual understanding that things are rough, maybe not. I received priority treatment being the white volunteer. Who knows, I might marry someone's son and take them home with me, or might give them some nice american things. That's certainly a part of it. That's the part of my identity that was given the most attention. But, some of my Guyanese friends know me just as well as my american friends, and still accept, appreciate and care for me.
It's hard to say goodbye, knowing once I leave, I'll never have this again. That's a part of life. Things continue to carry on, and even if you go back to a physical place, things will have changed. But, this gives me an appreciation for all the time I've spent here, both good and bad. It has been the experience of a lifetime, and I'm going to focus on the positives. Though it breaks my heart to say goodbye, here's to the future, to making dreams come true.
Peace Corps was my dream for a very long time. And I guess this is what it feels like to have dreams come true. Proud, but also kind of confused, and drifting. Coming back from any adventure is hard. That's because essential traveling/Peace Corps skills aren't as helpful when living in first world America. No one is impressed with my ability to carry water long distances, or wash dishes by hand super fast. People look at me weird when I pop a blister with a knife, or gnaw on a chicken bone to get out the last bit of marrow. But, these are things I learned to do in my village. They helped me get by. But, I'm not living like I used to anymore.
Skills I needed to survive in Peace Corps are outdated. And the ones I used to have to survive in America faded. Such as driving a car without having anxiety, or being able to order something at a fast food restaurant where there are so many choices. Or even knowing what goes in a dishwasher. I do know how to make small talk for long periods of time with people who might or might not care about me, but I don't know how to find my ideal job, or where to park so I don't get a ticket. I didn't need those skills, but now I do.

It doesn't exactly surprise me that there's a high level of anxiety in America. Something that seems simple, like going to the doctor, is hard. Real hard. But its funny because water, electricity, and basic food is easy to find. But many intangibles are harder. Community doesn't exist everywhere. Being respected as a human, being understood doesn't seem as available now as it did for the past two years.  I'm blaming that on the exceptional people I was able to spend time with, and the culture here of dehumanizing people to make it easier to understand, to cope with. America is huge and thinking about the vast number of people, their hopes, their dreams, everything that makes them amazing, is frankly overwhelming. But, that's America. Overwhelming. Stunning. Do I dare say diverse? America is a bit of a mess, but it's where I'm from, and I'll always be proud of that.

 Change is inevitable, and it doesn't do any good to fight it. New dreams are on the horizon, begging to be chased. Maybe I'll succeed, and maybe I won't. But this is something I have learned from Peace Corps: the goal is what motivates you, but it's truly the journey which lets you grow. This is it. On to new dreams. Onto new journeys. My options feel limitless. It's terrifying, but ultimately empowering. The journey I left for 2 years ago has closed, and I know I'll always carry it with me. But, this journey all it's unseen curves and wildness, is just beginning.