Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Homesickness

I don't often express feelings of homesickness. Perhaps this is because I have felt so blessed to be in Botswana and to be doing the work I am able to do here so it seemed petty to talk about being homesick. After all, I signed up for this, I even extended my contract to stay, so any longing for home is of my own making. But today I feel like sharing that homesickness does not evade me, even if I rarely mention it.

So why am I choosing to talk about it now? In part for future Peace Corps Volunteers so they know it is normal to feel homesick. Even if you love your life, as I do, there will be days when you miss home and that is okay. In part for posterity. This blog is a documentary of my experience in Botswana and homesickness is part of that tale. And, finally, in part to explain a few things that I have been mulling over these passed months...

During Pre-Service Training (PST), we tell trainees that it's important to live firmly in this world and to avoid trying to straddle two places at once. Basically, we tell them that it will be important to detach somewhat from their lives in America and to start forging strong connections in their host country. This really is an effective method because it helps ground you - you gain strength and independence, you push yourself, and you bond with your cohort. Your cohort will be the people that genuinely understand what you are going through and will be your sounding board, your shoulder to lean on, and your loudest fans since they understand the value of even small successes. Not to mention, your cohort is in the same time zone as you are so it makes talking to them all the easier!

So what happens when your cohort goes home? This is exactly what happens when you extend your service - your biggest support system in country, the people that you grew to love and respect and see as your allies in Peace Corps, are no longer there. That is trying on a psyche. You have to learn how to navigate this experience in a new way. While you remain deeply grateful to everyone that has remained an active part of your extension year, you become increasingly aware of the distance and, surprisingly, to the fact that people are moving forward in their lives. Looking at the photos your cohort uploads is different now since they no longer resemble your own - pictures of small children are replaced with new pets and hiking spots. You are happy for them, just as you were happy for the friends you left before, but there's a new sting to it.

And what happens when you allow yourself to start looking ahead to jobs and returning home because that actual date starts looming ever closer? Well, you stop heeding the advice of fifty-one years of Peace Corps Volunteers before you and start straddling two worlds again. As you're roasting away in over 100 degree weather, you daydream about snowboarding and snowmen and snow days. As you spend quiet nights at home with a book or your favorite new television show (The Newsroom), you also tab through photographs from three and four years ago with friends who don't even live in that town anymore and think about how great those times were (even if you know they wouldn't be the same today). You allow yourself to miss things and you lose focus on all of the greatness of living and working abroad. In a country that you love, no less.

This is where I sit today, pondering all those things as I watch the rains clear from outside my window. The sun is shining and there is beauty all around me.

Somehow even just typing this has been cathartic. It has reminded me that I have a conscious choice about my own happiness and my own thoughts. And this is the cycle of a Peace Corps Volunteer and of a development worker living abroad. It is a constant rededication to the cause and to yourself. It is important not to forget where you come from because that is where you gained the power and strength of conviction to come this far. Being homesick means you had a life that was worth longing for. That is something to be grateful for and to be embraced. What matters most is how you move forward. I have six months left of my extension contract and I intend to focus on Botswana - on the work and on life - so that, one day, when my mind wanders back here, I will be homesick for this country too.

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