Friday, April 9, 2010

Something of an odd duck...

Right out of grad school, I landed a plum job at a prestigious publishing house in my city. It was quite the plum: banker’s hours, full health benefits, very generous amounts of personal and vacation days, an excellent 401 plan with a full match (which we thought was a good thing at the time!) 

There was only one problem: I hated my job. I hated going every day, felt a ton of dread on Sunday evenings, and on many mornings, called a supportive friend to cry on her shoulder until I could get myself back to my work desk. I hated this job and everything about it: the business world protocol, offices full of dead air, the time-wasting meetings that went on ad nauseum, etc. And because I was working as a copyeditor/proofreader, I would have nightmares about mistakes on my job. After all, if you make a mistake when copy-editing a book, the lives on forever—or at least until the next edition of the book is printed. Believe me, mistakes in publishing are not easily forgivable and they’re quite costly. It’s not a good thing to make a mistake in an expensive book. My job made me a nervous wreck.

In any case, I hated it.

When I tried to explain my problem to a family member, it went something like this: Me: “Here I am with this wonderful job with this wonderful company with these wonderful benefits, yet I’m the most miserable girl on the planet. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME?”

See there? What is wrong with ME??

Through force of will, I stayed on at that job for 3 years.

So, here I am in Peace Corps—no! I’m not going there!—living in a living arrangement that I knew, on gut level, would not be good for me.

When we were given our site placements, we were thrilled and excited. (Most of us were thrilled and excited.) When handed my placement, I was very thrilled to learn that I would be working for a college—as that is what I do at home.

But as I read further, my stomach dropped a bit when I realized I would be living in the girls’ dormitory. Although I’d have my own room, I would still be residing inside the girls’ dormitory with them. And my stomach knew, at that moment, that I would not be happy there.

I commuted to college so I did not have the “dorm” experience. As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to enjoy living in quieter neighborhoods. So, I knew out of the gate that living in the dorm would not be good for me.

But my mind said, “Oh Karen, don’t be ridiculous. You’ll have the best of the best: your own apartment, indoor plumbing with tub and flush toilet, hot and cold water from taps in the bathroom and kitchen, etc. Don’t be ridiculous, YOU’LL BE FINE.”

And so, I’ve been trying to be fine living at the college in the girls’ dormitory. But I haven’t been fine.

It’s been pretty miserable, in fact. And it’s not of anyone’s fault and certainly not the college kids’. They are who they are: young, vibrant, energized, up at all hours, busy, busy, busy. And I, unfortunately: considerably older, needing rest, easily irritated by all of the clamor, well, you get the picture.

“But is it really that bad?” I keep asking myself. After all, I have my own room, a tub, indoor plumbing…

So, our Peace Corps supervisor comes along on a site visit to see how I am faring. I wrestle for weeks about whether or not I should raise this tiny concern, because really, how can I possibly complain? Before my supervisor’s arrival, I confer with other volunteers: “Should I say something?” I pray, I worry, I fret.

So my supervisor comes along, we have a nice chat, and then she says, “Are you comfortable? Are you having any struggles or concerns?”


And I tell her, I say it out loud: “I hate living in the girls’ dorm.”

And she does an amazing thing; I couldn’t believe it really: SHE VALIDATES MY CONCERN!! I couldn’t believe it! She was absolutely on my side!! She said, “We were concerned about the living arrangement when we made it for the former volunteer.” “I, for one,” continued, “felt certain it wouldn’t be appropriate.”

And then, much to my delight, she added, “I certainly couldn’t do it!”

At that moment, I felt delivered from bondage! Someone who understands! I’m not some type of freak needing extra consideration!

We discussed the pros and cons of my staying or moving and I was reluctant to move just yet (thinking that I, could still, force a solution and WILL myself into liking living in the girls’ hostel) and she left me on this note: “the one thing I will say is, that in the past, when volunteers have expressed concerns about living conditions and then finally move, they always wish they had moved sooner.”

And so she left me, and I began praying in earnest about moving (to move, or not to move).

Only a few days later, on my return from the primary school, I stop for a moment to enjoy the wild zinnias and felt the wind blowing through the trees. My heart filled with joy. I remained there for quite some time when it occurs to me: THIS is what I’m missing: quiet and solitude. And then I realized, this seemingly insignificant need could go a long way to making me ever-so-much happier in my days here in South Africa. Yes, I would see about moving.

So, all of this has been going on for awhile and I haven’t really said anything about it because, well, who knows what will happen, and I didn’t want to get my hopes up.

And here is a photo of my, oh please oh please, new home-to-be. Isn’t it a lovely? I know, I know, it’s a fixer upper, but I do so LOVE IT! I’m so excited and so happy, but am still trying not to get my hopes up.

So I’m exceptionally happy today because the security officer for Peace Corps drove down today, all the way from Pretoria, and gave his blessing. (I feel sure we can make this happen!)

AND, two of the three necessary bids for prepares have actually happened! (I thought this process would take FOREVER!) Both the college and Peace Corps are working hard for me to make this happen.

Dare I say it? I could live happily-ever-after in South Africa! We’ll see.

Soon, Karen


  1. YaY! I'll get to work on some curtains!

  2. guts don't lie!

  3. Thanks for the reminder that "guts don't lie."

    I have many, many lessons proving that had I honored my guts, I would have been happier and life would have been easier, yet, still, I persist. (I can do this, I can do this, I can do this...)

    My life's goal is to honor the guts instead of overriding them. (Self-will, anyone?)

    At least I get lots of practice!! :-)