I stepped into this experience acknowledging a few truths. The most important being that I could be certain of nothing; that despite entering with knowledge from experience & research, this adventure would be completely unique. Attempting to cloud my time here with expectation would be a disservice to the to the opportunities that lie just below the surface. At six months in I remain uncertain and that is okay; it keeps the thrill and giddy wonderment alive. I have however come to know a few things…
- The problems you dealt with back home cross the border with you – and new ones make their way as well. I worked to solidify many facets of my life back home prior to leaving the country for the mental clarity it would provide. It was wonderful; I found the strength to have difficult conversations, reinforced relationships, took care of my financial responsibilities and followed through on my commitments. Yet, it’s easy to think that life is on pause while away when of course it’s not. Accepting what you cannot change takes on a whole new meaning here.
- It might be fair to state that Peace Corps volunteers over exaggerate about certain things; volunteer to volunteer it makes light of the situations and allows us comic relief. A volunteer talking to anyone else will serve to freak them out. Volunteers just have to live through whatever they are dealing with for however long it decides to last and hope they either see a competent doctor or the symptoms fade quickly. I cannot share the experience of others but its when I am sick that I desire to return home the most. I have to remind myself throughout what is likely a multi-day extravaganza of disgusting sickness how awesome service is when I am healthy.
- Peace Corps, for as communal and a shared experience it is, is also very personal. One reason a lot of information is hard to find is because each individual’s service is just that – individual. No one wants their specific circumstances to obscure the notion that service unto others is not worth pursuing. Any act of service is worthwhile – and even when it seems to go unnoticed, it doesn’t. To quote a Pulaar proverb “every little tree gives its little bit of shade”. Every act contributes to a better and more loving world; I urge you to find how you can contribute in your unique way.
- Development work seems impossible when you cannot be taken seriously because you are attempting to communicate important ideas with the language proficiency of a toddler. In one of my first meetings with important community health figures the president of our health committee could hardly contain his amusement at my effort. The meeting was meant to be a discussion about what we might be able to tackle together but ended up being a round-about explanation of what Peace Corps is and why I am there. To say the least, we got nowhere. We have since been able to move forward and find solutions for effective communication but not before it came with its share of frustration and doubt.
- It is important to care and advocate for oneself here. Senegal, I have come to learn, is a tough love country; you might have people in your corner but are likely not to receive the kind of attention your emotional state might yearn for. To maintain my mental and emotional health I wake up naturally, practice yoga, take care of my hygiene, maybe make a cup of coffee, tea (or moringa milk “latte”) and choose an essential oil to set the tone for my day. In the evening I reflect on my day through writing and usually get through a few chapters of the latest book; an indulgence of the soul. An hour or so worth of self-care a day can make all the difference and I believe consistent practice is better than sporadic or “earned” self-care. You deserve to feel healthy, centered and empowered every day - no matter what that might mean for you during service or in life.
- Forgiveness also takes on new meaning here. First, forgive yourself for your mistakes; past and present. During hot season I spent a lot of time with my head in the clouds as I gazed through the branches of a mango tree. Sometimes I would sink into a deep meditation. Other times my mind would race as subconscious or suppressed memories vied for attention. With little else to do I gave each some space in my consciousness and learned many lessons. I had to be kind and forgive myself for a lot of things; it was hard but healing. I would have never expected that to be a result of presence; if you find this tidbit interesting, lose connection and practice secluded stillness. Also, get back to me on that; we might be able to have an interesting conversation about the mind.
Anyway, I make mistakes every single day, but I laugh through those I can and learn from what I cannot. Second, forgive those around you. Forgive your peers and forgive those you serve. We are all just wandering around trying to figure each other out; it takes time, so be kind and retain perspective.
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.