I have now been at site 6 months and lately with the second semester, I’ve sort of hit a wall. I’m not at the point where I thought I would be. When we had a seminar during training about the life cycle of being a Peace Corps Volunteer and I took note that people dipped at the 4-6 month of being at site, I thought things would be different for me. I thought I could keep that excitement that I felt when I first got here. But I haven’t. It hasn’t gotten easier. I’ve started getting involved with the English club, and while I’m looking forward to it, people have set expectations on what they want. I listen to my students and community members tell me their expectations and while I’m trying my hardest to fulfill those expectations, I have my own expectations to fulfill as well. Being a volunteer, even more, an education volunteer is tough and draining at the same time. 9 months ago, I didn’t know that my feeling of self-worth, especially at these critical moments would depend so much on others. There I was: the independent woman who didn’t need the approval of others to be happy. While I try my hardest not to get validation and approval from others, some days it would be nice to know that my efforts are being appreciated.
Rainy season has now begun and with that, it means that the phone network and power are less consistent and more sporadic. Thus far, there has been a 5 days without phone network so this means that not only can I not talk to loved ones back home, I cannot speak with my fellow education volunteers who know what I am going through. It was a lonely couple of days and I was in a sour mood for most of those five days. Most days, I love my site Chiri for its beautiful views and amazing people, but lately, I find myself loathing it. With every shirt that gets dirty in a matter of minutes, to every damn rock that pokes out, to hauling water from the well, to being physically drained after a load of laundry and even to my house being covered in rat feces every few days – I detest thee. It’s been difficult to keep up my perspective of why I am here and even more why Africa. My reasons for joining and for choosing Africa seems minuscule by the minute.
On Wednesday, the 25th, after the fifth day without network, I decided to pave some “me time” by painting my nails and putting on a facial mask. For those 30 some odd minutes, I had control over my life. I wasn’t thinking of school/students and whether I was failing them as a teacher, I wasn’t thinking of the stress that comes from being involved in two summer camps (one of which I am in charge of), I wasn’t thinking of anything but the fact that my nails looked magnificent. “Life happens when you’re busy making plans.” Damn right, it does! It later started to rain. Most days I tend to watch the rain drops fall and reflect but that day was different. I grabbed the kids and we danced in the rain. I picked them up, twirled them around and didn’t care about the fact that not only was I getting wet but I was also getting muddy. I danced, sang and waved at the high school students as they passed my compound. Letting go in that moment was exactly what I needed to feel a small fire in me again.
On Friday, February 27 and Saturday, February 28, those closest to the Jimma loop (which are 5 of us) met in Jimma for some good old Community of Practice. COP meant that we got to share our ideas on what has worked and what hasn’t worked thus far and how to move on to the next application. We spent a lot of time discussing our two goals: 1. Increase Student Success in and outside of the classroom and 2. Improve Teaching. COP came at a crucial time for me as I have struggled on finding my purpose again. With common miscommunications and misinterpretations between two cultures, especially two cultures that are so vastly unique, and with no means of an outlet, it’s easy to get burned out. No one said that teaching was easy but no one could predict how difficult teaching in a developing country would be.
I would say that while teaching is hard, there is still many to be taught. While I haven’t been having the easiest time in my very secluded site, it is still home for me. I am here to help but I am also here to learn from others. Harold Whitman once quoted, “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I love my students, my teachers and my community members. After all, love’s the best thing we do.