So, here’s the skinny. Right now John and I are in Pretoria although he is heading back to Hukuntsi Tuesday. I ended up having surgery on my broken foot (no need to worry, all is well) because it was not healing right and I really need to be able to run to complete my service in Botswana. Need sounds like a strong word, but it is important to realize that running is my main stress release and pain management tool (migraines & back pain). The Peace Corps is stressful. It is a roller coaster of emotions where you can go from feeling like you are having the best day of your life to having the worst day of your life and back to the best day in a matter of twenty minutes. The whole experience begins with leaving everything that is familiar and having an understanding of what the smallest interactions mean in our culture as well as being far away from my support network. Luckily my main support person came with me, but that in and of itself brings about new stressors. John and I have never fought so much in our relationship, although we have finally figured out ways to deal with the stress and things have come down to a seemingly normal level for now. We have built a support network with other volunteers, which is so much more important than I ever realized because there is someone else who understands exactly what we are going through. Initially I was not the type to reach out when I needed someone but I learned to get over that. Building a support network in the community takes a bit longer and although friends try to empathize I always feel like I have to think through what I say a bit more and friendship is different than in the US. Often the littlest things are the biggest stressors and most of them are cultural differences. One example is personal space. I know a woman considers me a friend when they grab my hand if we are going to the same place or if we are working at a computer side by side, they put their chin on their hand with their elbow in my lap. Sometimes this has happened with someone I have only known for an hour or two. This goes against a respect of personal space I grew up with. It has taken a while, but I am ok with it most of the time and take it as a compliment. When I am tired, stressed, have a migraine, etc. it is hard to remember some of the cultural differences and fight my trained cultural response and keep my emotions in check. It is also hard to be patient and remember that 8am often actually means 9am or even 10am and to gauge when it is worth bringing up the lateness such as for a scheduled meeting where someone traveled from another village and might miss their return transport and when it is not for times such as if I am being picked up at home for something that doesn’t have a negative impact other than irritation.
Just standing out in the community is also a stressor. There is a saying that everyone gets 15 minutes of fame, well we have 2+ years. Sometimes it is good, sometimes it is bad. There is no anonymity and people I have never met know my name and call me over to their yard. We live in a fishbowl. This means that if we walk by a friend’s house and do not stop by or if we do not take the time to talk to someone who wants to, people know immediately. People also make unexpected assumptions about us due to our skin color, such as we are rich, have knowledge about or can fix everything, and that no matter the problem we want to help. Sometimes this is an advantage and sometimes a disadvantage, but it is a hard transition coming from a larger population. If I am lonely, all I have to do is go for a walk and inevitably someone will stop and talk.
All right, enough prattling on.