Friday, February 26, 2010

“If I hate it, I can just come home.”

One of my favorite things to do to make my family laugh is to share my botched self-portraits.  I usually look goofy enough that I would never share with anyone else.  Well, today I'm brave enough to share: enjoy.  I'm supposed to be looking contemplative.  :-)

“If I hate it, I can just come home.”

This was me talking last year, when announcing to friends and family that I had joined Peace Corps. Knowing that I adore living in Louisville, KY, my friends and family often asked, “What if you don’t like it?”

And I would respond: “If I hate it, I can just come home.”

What a trite, silly, offhand comment to make: I didn’t have a clue.

First off, let me say, that since I’ve arrived in South Africa, there hasn’t been ONE DAY pass that I haven’t thought about going home. So why am I still here? Well, it’s complicated…

For one thing, when you become prayerful about your life and about your life's work, your decisions take on new meaning.  And with being in South Africa, it's not just about me and what I want anymore.

Another thing: There is a joke among some of the older volunteers that originated upon arrival into South Africa. The flight was so horrendous (SEVENTEEN HOURS!!), that several of us joked, “Well, I’m staying. There’s NO WAY I’m getting back on that plane!"

This joke kind of sums up my whole Peace Corps experience to date: I have overcome such obstacles and challenges that if I even think about returning home, there is always the thought to follow, “That would mean I have endured all this for nothing.”

And I have endured a lot—all of us have. It’s one thing to talk about immersing yourself into another culture, and it’s another completely to actually DO IT. It's one thing to think about leaving your family, your friends, your home, and your work and it's another to actually do it.  It’s difficult!

Here's anonymous quote from some PC literature:  "There comes a day when all of this suddenly becomes apparent, all at once.  Things are no longer picturesque, they are dirty.  No longer quaint, but just furiously frustrating.  And you want like crazy to just get out of there, to go home."  ---PCV, Peru

This was my thinking on Day Two at permanent site (September 19, 2009).  The good news about reaching this point, is that there is no where to go but up.

Also, since I have strong intrapersonal skills, in that I know myself and my limits very well, I knew I'd have a very rough first six months.  So I promised myself that I would stick it out for at least six months.  My "you can go home" date was originally January 31, 2010: my sixth month mark.

I had said all along that I would feel fine once my work began and I had a regular schedule.  And I still believe this.  Well, my South African schools have gotten off to a rough start.  While school was supposed to be well underway by the end of January, it has not.  So I bumped my "you can go home" date to February 27, which is tomorrow.

I remember once having a discussion with someone about the pros/cons of getting married verses only living together.  The person replied, "If you get married, all of the doors are closed so it's more difficult to leave the relationship."

I had never heard the marriage commitment explained this way, and it made sense.

So yes, tomorrow is my official "you can go home date."  If I weren't handed my work schedule, from both the primary school and the college this week, and if I hadn't seen my PC supervisor this week, I may have, indeed, have decided to go home.

Happily, this week, I have a clear plan of action and my work plan for the year and my PC supervisor validated, supported, and positively addressed many of my concerns.  She proved to me that she is my advocate and she wants ME to be happy, and I feel ever so much better having talked with her.

I have decided to "close the door"  on that pesky, persistent question of "Do you want to go home?" and commit myself to finish my service with Peace Corps/South Africa.

I feel already, like I've lost a hundred pounds!

Soon, Karen


  1. It's so good to see pics! I am glad you have resolved to stay and I'm proud of you for doing this thing that is so HARD. Congratulations. Talk to you tomorrow by phone.

  2. It will feel easier not entertaining that "should I?" question. During Swearing In, I remember thinking, "I don't know if I can do this or not, but I'll try!"

    Now I know I can--and will! Thato ya Modimo. (God willing) :-)