Oh what a year it has been, friends. All I’ve figured out in my year of service thus far is that I have next to nothing figured out. That I know very little about the world, other cultures, languages, and about the diverse ways one can live (survive and thrive) as a human in the world. I know I can only truly know myself and my lived experience, and as for everything else, I can try to understand only with intelligence and empathy. I’m not sure if all I’ve learned, felt and experienced this year can be put into the right words… but after a few months of neglecting to finish this post that’s been in draft mode, I’m putting my reflections out there.
Disclaimer: The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.
12 Things I’ve Learned in 12 Months
1. Trust yourself and check your privilege
Making the decision to commit and apply for a position with the Peace Corps was a big deal for me. I wanted to serve with everything I had, but I was wracked with what if I fail, can’t handle the stresses of service, can’t handle life in a very rural or surrounded by suffering or poverty etc. etc. I fought back my fears with talks with RPCVs, other friends and supportive people in my life. I didn’t; however, leave with parade of loving cheerleaders walking me to the airport. I didn’t come with that much support or faith from some loved ones that this was the best decision for me professionally and personally- but I committed and flew to Uganda to serve anyway. I trusted myself that service to my country by serving in Uganda as a Peace Corps Volunteer was the right choice for me. And I haven’t looked back since … And, I also came into my service with a load of privilege. I am still learning what it means to serve as a PCV with the privileges I hold, and what it means live and work in Uganda in the post-colonial context (more on this in future posts). Privileges I was born with like how I was born able-bodied, white, healthy, and into an upper-middle class family, and privileges I’ve obtained (through some previously stated privileges) like my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. Even getting the opportunity of serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer is itself a privilege (anyone else remember those steep medical bills for med. clearance?!) , and the more I check and acknowledge my own privilege and impact of my presence in Uganda the more genuinely I can serve.
2. Patience makes a PCV
When I started service I used to get impatient quickly when meetings started 2 hours late, or not at all, and when projects or events were delayed or cancelled. I’ve questioned my life choices when my public taxi broke down and left me to simmer with frustration then exasperation on the side of the road for 4 hours into the night… I’ve most come to adjust, to anticipate the worst happening and plan for it, I’ve learned to let the small stuff go because I know of the big stuff. For example, when I get food poisoning, thank God it’s not malaria! Or when I get giardia, thank God I could call my counterpart to help get medicine because I couldn’t venture too far from my pit latrine! Service requires patience. Patience for the highs, the lows, and the slow. For me, things at site move at their own pace, often times, at what I consider a slower pace. I cook food slowly, I travel slowly and cautiously, I start and implement projects slowly (and with patience)- I make slow work for me!
Ladies from the women’s group made a makeshift fire in the blink of an eye! All they needed was a match! Amazing.
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3. Be intentional
It’s easy for me to neglect to greet neighbors if I’m having a difficult day, get frustrated with co-workers who have neglected to do work I’ve asked for help with, and even to hole-up inside my compound all day just because I can work from home. On the flip side, I’ve come to realize that if I act with intention, I don’t regret my actions. To balance my days where I just need to block out the chaos, drunks shouting, and wailing children, I also go out of my way on other days to just be with people I care about. Sip some juice with my favorite shop lady or make plans to teach my neighbors how to make American pancakes on a charcoal stove. To balance the days when I’ve worked non-stop all day or cannot stare at my electronic grant application any longer, I set aside time to paint, garden, journal or go exploring.
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4. Don’t take yourself too seriously
As someone who holds herself to high expectations… this was and sometimes is hard! I love to put everything I have into work and serving others, and be as professional as possible – and I expect the same from my co-workers. On the other hand, Peace Corps work includes a lot of fun and games and I’m so glad to get to be my silly self at work sometimes! Because those who know me personally know that I am a goofball.
Me just being my dorky self at site
Nusula dressed up like me for a skit on malaria prevention. She’s killin’ it!
5. Cook and cook and cook
I’ve found so much joy in cooking here at my site and I never knew that was possible. Yes, it is almost a necessity since there is almost no read-to-eat food available in my village. Cooking from scratch is on some days a fun experiment and other days a healthy routine that I truly enjoy. It makes me feel a sense of connection with the earth as well. From seed to fruit I get to enjoy the process of helping grow a lot of my own vegetables. In fact, without my garden and my chickens, something deeply special would be missing from my site experience.
From the garden
Tastes so good!
6. Share the knowledge
I have jumped at the opportunity to stay involved within the PC training context and have applied for training positions on top of the work I do at site. These opportunities have brought joy and a richness to my experience as a PCV. As a Health/W.A.S.H. trainer, I’ve loved being involved in supporting and helping train the new cohort of health volunteers. Another one of my favorite activities at site is to simply be a resource and to share the knowledge I’ve gathered with others. Whether that be from sending other volunteers electronic resources or sharing my experience, I love to be helpful (surprise surprise!!).
7. Habits can be healthy
I’ve set goals for myself this year which include more yoga, reading, taking my multivitamins (haha) and eating healthier. Thanks to my M&D for sending me some Nike shoes since I lost my battered pair of too-small sneakers months ago! 8. Relationships are everything
I went into the Peace Corps not knowing anyone in my group, and Pre-service training was quite the overwhelming whirlwind. I felt like a hamster on a wheel (not sure if that metaphor makes sense!) trying to get to know everyone all at once, especially at our training center. Friendship is not a race and finding a “group” doesn’t matter. Friendship is about who “sees” you and your heart and who chooses to embrace you – during your sick, upset, and grumpy moments and during your best and bright moments. Friends are the ones who love you when you’re crying or laughing (or both at the same time). They are the ones who are happy for your successes and empathize when you have failures – or feel like one!
9. Language is a key
The more I learn in Luganda (which is very little these days but I still use what I know on a daily basis!) the more connection I build in my community and with the women and children I work with. I started learning Luganda over a year ago and I think that the key to connecting with someone from a different country, culture, and language than you starts with an attempt to learn their language. Even if you botch it, you’ll be surprised at how much it can touch their heart. I can just see it on someone’s face how delighted they are to hear to try to speak their language (even if I blow it!).
10. Read more
A few months ago I picked up a book called “The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran which is one of the most beautiful and moving books of poetry-like passages I think I’ve ever read. Each sentence seems profound and I’ve re-read passages from his books over and over again to gain more insight from them. I highly recommend reading the book if you get the chance (his passage on “Love” is for sure online and Google-able! Reading, as well as listening to audiobooks and podcasts, has helped keep my intellectual side and imagination active!
11. Take Care
Take care of yourself and your space. Some days I feel like I have to stay home and tidy up and do laundry for an entire day or two. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do any productive work until I clean, wash all my laundry, bathe, mop, filter and boil drinking water (to survive by the way!) and organize everything in my teeny home. Some days I do all of that and then feel too tired to then lesson plan or go check in at work, and thus collapse onto my foam mattress and call it a day. Sometimes it’s taking care of all of these little necessary things that puts me back on track to be focused and present when it comes time to get my community public health educator work accomplished!
My PC kitchen! A rare glimpse of the kitchen desk in an organized state!
Dry season is coming! Eventually most of this will be filtered and boiled for my cooking/drinking needs
12. Treat people with grace kindness
When life or people hand you lemons, or throws them at you, what is the point of throwing them back? Why not find the silver lining in the sour gift and make some dank enhanced lemonade based on what you need, whether that be ORS one day or Waragi the next! Reacting to other people’s negativity with more negativity just isn’t worth the effort. Kindness brings about kindness and I always try to show people that I have love for them even when it’s difficult. I’ll sign off with a few beautiful words about kindness Credit to the Instagram @bkindtoday:
“Kindness is more than deeds. It is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person.”
Until next time. With love,