As a Peace Corps Volunteer, you are the driver, the passenger and the whiny children in the back of a long road trip. You guide yourself, you make decisions, you have days when all you want to do is whine and wonder why you are here. These are moments that amount to lessons – tid-bits of wisdom that you will forever live by.
As I come up on 365 days in my site (my second site, after a site change) and bump into the COSers leaving this week I find myself reflecting a lot on this past year of service. It has been a life changing year and one of personal growth and change in more ways than I could even have time to describe on here.
I want to share some life lessons that I have learned in the past 20 months, especially in the last 365 days.
Always fight for what you believe to be right
To get to where I am today I had to fight fire with what felt at the time like 37.6 gallons of water. On more than 5 occasions I have luchar’ed (literally translated to “boxed” as in boxing match) to shape my service into what I wanted it to be. I have fought against policy, cultural barriers, taboo perceptions and a lot of misguided ignorance to get to where I am. I fought to bring Health Education to a rural site where no health education had gone before. I fought against peace corps to get in. I fought against misconceptions of others to be happy. I did all of this because I understand the importance of following your heart over logic. In today’s world it is easy to get carried away with doing things the way everyone else does because it’s easy and the path has been carved. Learning to find the courage to take the unbeaten path was the best thing I have learned how to do here.
You are stronger than you give yourself credit for
Our weaknesses lie in our fear – conscious or subconscious. As a Peace Corps Volunteer you are forced to face fears you didn’t even know you had. You are told to lead a commission meeting and structurally reorganize a commission you know nothing about – no questions asked, do it. You are forced to be “the one that doesn’t belong” for 2 years - eventually you adjust. You must eat what is put in front of you for fear of offending the only possible allies in your community. You must travel to places unknown and trust your instinct on getting there. You are forced to attend rituals such as funerals, weddings and baptisms while feeling completely awkward because you are the only one not participating – no one told you how to act or do.
There comes a point where you stop feeling like you should know what you’re doing and you start realizing that because you aren't native it is okay for you to continue to stand there, with poise and confidence, and know that your presence says more than any “acting” could.
You’ll look less like a stranger if you just go with it
When you are thrown into an event with resistance you are showing that you A. don’t want to be there, B. don’t want to participate or C. don't really care to integrate.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer one of the biggest skills we learn is to just go with the flow – if and when you do, your integration level will be amazing! If you are pulled out to dance, do it. If you are told to attend a 9 day grieving event for someone who died, just go.
Never throw yourself full throttle into an idea
Those of you who know me know very well that this is what I have always done – I now see that to do something well we must always wait for the right moment to implement the next step of our idea. Nothing can be developed full the way you envision it unless you give it time.
You are the creator of your own destiny
We all base our decisions on our own life experience and how they have helped us move forward or backward in life. Because of this we tend to agree and not agree with others’ choices and lifestyles. On paper, it makes sense to calculate carefully how to live a “good” life. However, what I have learned is that you cannot deny the feeling you get about something. If you feel that there is injustice in the world and are unable to sit tight without doing something about it – do it! Just because logic and reason are what distinguish us from other mammals does not mean we still don’t have their instinct. Follow your heart and you will live a happy and peaceful life knowing that the decisions you made, you made for you and nobody else.
Every decision that you make and its result will influence any upcoming forks in the road you must choose to follow or avoid.
So, I ask you this….You’ll be the only one going through your reel at the end – how do you want to feel when you’re watching it?