Sunday, June 10, 2012

“There is great strength in letting go to realize that our actual needs are few and that our journeys are many.”

I look back at my decision to come here, to join the Peace Corps, and I can honestly say that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. We joke that we all joined  to “save the children” or “change the way the school system runs” or “bring peace/water/education to some struggling community”, but is it really a joke? I didn’t come into this thinking I would read 200 books in two years but I essentially have. I didn’t think I’d be teaching six hours a week and spending the vast majority of my time avoiding the ridiculously intense African sun. But I also didn’t expect to meet so many people that would so quickly become my family. Nor did I predict the relationships and bonds I would form with fellow PCVs that I may only see every couple of months or even once a year. I didn’t see myself bonding with my counterpart and his family like I have or having his daughter trust me almost as much as she trusts her parents. I couldn’t have told you that I would miss the smell of clothes fresh from the dryer more than I’d miss running water or my beloved fountain diet cokes. Or that I, someone who generally hates talking on the phone, would choose sketchy cell service over electricity any day of the week.
So what was I thinking when I started the application process? Honestly? I was thinking that I was about to finish graduate school and after having spent the majority of my life in class, writing papers and studying for exams I had no idea what to do next.  Sure, I could go get a job, but doing what? I could continue on with more school, but study what? And then I saw the flyer on the door of Alfred Hall as I went inside to prep the lab for my next class. If I didn’t know what to do maybe someone else could tell me. What little I knew about the Peace Corps included the fact that you couldn’t just walk in and say “I want to go to Madagascar to study the lemurs and teach local children why they should care about the environment”. Someone would look at my work and education background, talk to me about my interests and goals and send me somewhere to do something I was reasonably qualified for. Seemed like just the push I needed to get me moving – somewhere, anywhere.
And so I ended up in Mozambique teaching biology to eighth and tenth graders in a villa about the size of the Costco down the road from my mom’s house. I live in a cement house that would fit inside your average American living room where I cook on a charcoal “grill” and get light from a solar powered bulb. My water comes from a pump up behind the school and I bathe with a bucket behind the house. My housemate is someone I didn’t even know existed before September 28th, 2010 but she now knows more about me than anyone else. My closest friends here, the people I would most likely confide in, are 12-15 hours away from me with less than reliable transportation. I went a year without seeing two of them.
But you know what I’ve learned? I can adapt to almost anything. I can learn a new language in nine weeks and starting teaching in it a month later. I can make a meal out of almost any combination of food items but still can’t seem to get a pot of rice to turn out right. I will gladly walk 6km to town just for a bottle of cold water but will usually choose a soda once I get there. Traveling eight hours each way for a weekend away is nothing if it means time at the beach with friends. There is not much more exciting that arriving in the city after six hours in the back of a truck to find a package from home waiting for you in an air conditioned office. Even better if it contains Nutella, shells and cheese, caramel Cadbury eggs or pictures of your best friend’s new baby. I’ve learned that I can get by with far less than I thought possible and that a bike wheel and stick can keep a kid occupied just as long as a fancy video game. I know that I am most definitely not the same person that left Colorado 20 months ago, or even 12 months ago, but that those changes might not be obviously seen. I know that I have the most supportive family and friends and I’m reminded at least once a week when I open a letter that people out there are thinking of me, praying for me and cheering me on.
So why did I come here? Honestly? Because I didn’t know what else to do to learn about myself. And I am again approaching that time when I will need to decide what I’ll do next, but now I know that it’s okay not to know. That it’s okay to take a risk and do something that may not turn out the way you think it will but that you will get something out of the experience anyway. Did I have to come half way around the world to learn these things? Probably not but it’s been an amazing journey and an incredible way to learn what I am capable of. And when it comes down to it I still don’t know anything for aure – why I’m here, where I’ll go next, what I want to do with my life -  but I do know that I’m the person you want with you when you get stranded in the woods!

*I couldn't find a song that truely followed my train of thought while writing this so I just let it be. any suggestions?


  1. LOVE this post and LOVED our brief chat this am! You're awesome Rem, counting down until December!

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  3. Actually, I got real close to the words you used here when asked how you are doing by a friend. Your latest post is a beautiful mix of honesty, maturity and, most of all, comfort with yourself.

    Maybe one of your early contributions when you return is to meet with some of my students: these folka are mostly older than you, and have decent jobs. But many are less certain about themselves than you are, and [much] less comfortable with what is not lnown.

    Your return will bring many gifts!


  4. "Never give up, before it's too late."
    -Martin Kippenberger

    Dad...think about it!

  5. whats that saying..."life is not the destination; its the journey"? something along those lines. anyways, this post makes me think about that. after our skype/text conversation yesterday and reading this post it makes me think how we're always looking ahead. where we're supposed to be is where we are right.this.second.

    my brain is fuzzy from a long day at work so what i'm thinking in my head isn't translating so well here, so i won't try to explain. just know that i love you and you're amazing. i cannot wait to see you in only a few short months. (oh yes, i will see you soon after you return even if i have to walk to colorado, though aren't we doing an East Coast tour?)

    You are a daily inspiration and I'm so proud to call you my Em.

    sending a million hugs