Monday, February 13, 2012

A Discovery: Lessons Learned

In all honesty, I was more than a little anxious about moving to a new site. I was not looking forward to learning a new community, trying to integrate again, and starting back over from scratch. Looking back, the first two months at site were my hardest in Botswana and the thought of having to relive them was quite daunting. But, alas, these were the cards I was dealt so I was going to do my best to make the most of it. I owed that much to my service and to myself. What I realized in my first two weeks in Gabane is that I have learned a lot more in these past ten months than I could have ever imagined and that this experience has been invaluable (especially for anyone pursuing global health/development work).

I now know what it takes to really delve into the issues of a community and its people. I know the questions to ask and how to phrase them in order to get the information I need within the confines of cultural norms and impediments etc. I know the right people to go to in most situations and no longer need to go from person-to-person and wade through the nonsense associated with red tape and interminable levels of protocol in Botswana. Integration is easier because I am more confident with the language and with how to talk with locals. I am not afraid to talk to passerbys, to joke with people when they ask for money ("mpha madi"), or invite myself (or others) over for tea. What took me two months (or longer) to figure out during my "community assessment phase" has taken me less than two weeks in this new environment. It has gotten easier and it all makes more sense this time around. I have learned how to navigate the system and life in Botswana. These were skills I had not realized I was cultivating.

So the lesson I have learned that I wish to bestow on my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers (and others) is this: Even when you think that you are not getting anything out of your experience, and even when you feel like you are wasting time and not being fully utilized, keep your chin up! The reality is that you are getting more out of it than you could possibly imagine. There are skills and lessons and discoveries tucked away that you never dreamed were being realized. Don't give up, believe that it will be okay, and just trust. What you are getting out of all this may not be uncovered until later but, trust me, it is happening. I have been constantly amazed by all that I have actually gained.

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