March 12, 2017
I made a conscious choice to walk away from everything I’ve known. I made a conscious choice to make a contribution of service to a country in which I’d never set foot. Here I am, nearly two months later with the opportunity to reflect, an opportunity to look back, as I hear the sounds of village life drawing me into the present moment. I hear the neighbor’s children giggling. I hear the cows mooing. I hear the soft breeze rustling through the trees. I hear the sound of my tin roof crackling under the blazing South African sun. I see my just hand-washed laundry blowing in the wind. I gaze over the fields of my village, the hills in the distance, the nearly cloudless sky. It seems so peaceful. From the outside, the view is one of pleasure.
However, over the last two months, I’ve surfed what seem like relentless and endless waves. Waves of emotion, new experiences, relationships, learnings, mistakes, heartbreaks, angst, despair, grief, excitement, fear, excitement, fear. It is difficult to sum up this experience of walking away from all that is known to venture into the depths of all that is unknown. It’s amazing how much life can change in such a short period of time. As I take a deep breath, fill my lungs with this South African air, I feel the concrete under my seat, I orient back to the scenery and I exhale for I know this reflection is necessary to process all that has occurred over these last seven weeks and six days.
Walking away from a beloved and from the West Coast was heartwrenching. TSA didn’t understand my process and put me through theirs. My bags were wiped down for bombs while I tried to catch my breath amongst the fat tears rolling down my cheeks. I spent 9 days on the East Coast with so many other of my beloveds. My soul sisters, my blood relatives, my adoptive family and teachers. I said goodbye to them all as I Marched on Washington, as I dined and shared tears, as we recollected our collective history, I readied for this new chapter.
Anniversaries and dates of significance are not lost on me. I reported to Philadelphia for Peace Corps orientation on my former partner of nearly 10 year’s birthday. I daydreamed of our home near the ocean that I’d absolutely fallen in love with and recounted the years of memories. Daily in Philadelphia, I could feel anxieties reeling their ugly heads. I tried to put my best foot forward as I waded through the seas of my emotions and those of my 33 fellow cohort members. We broke ice and bread together. We geared up for the journey. Bonding with some on the airport floor, I felt a wellspring of emotion that an early morning meditation and Morning Pages session gave voice to. Being scheduled to fly to South Africa on what would have been my mom’s 67th birthday was also pressing on my heart and mind.
Making the long flight and then being introduced to 20+ new faces of Peace Corps Staff upon arrival was overwhelming to say the least. Battling fatigue and jetlag, little issues spiraled and the South African ground beneath my feet seemed to virtually disappear. After a myriad of speeches about how these 33 people would become my new family, the scramble to build relationships began. In the last several weeks, some of these relationships have flourished, others have already fizzled out.
Transitioning to a homestay in a semi-rural village, I feel as if I’m replaying my karma by living with a single woman with one daughter who lives in a different part of the country. The overlay of my upbringing is imprinted deeply upon this experience. I’m sorting it out, giving it breath and resisting the storytelling.
In these few weeks in South Africa, I can already feel this country working me. With the country’s trauma lying close to the surface, it reminds me of the soul work and reflections on Cambodia. I’ve awakened and exercised some of my gifts already. I’ve shared meditation, yoga, Reiki and other self care with my new cohort family. I’ve honored my daily meditation and Morning Pages practice. I’ve found a place here, though not yet a home. I’ve used my crystals, Angel cards, and built altars from stones and gifted origami on the days we’ve covered tough topics in the classroom. I’ve shed many tears and had many revelatory conversations.
I’ve become frighteningly comfortable at peeing in a bucket, pooping in a hole and bucket-bathing in a plastic basin. I regularly exterminate the termites in my bedroom and ignore their neighboring spiders of all shapes and sizes. I’ve slaughtered a poor snake, splattering its blood all over my bedroom floor before it was burned and stoned to double-death in the backyard by my host Mama. I’ve been hungry to the point of pain more often than I’ve been satiated. I’ve been fed by those who were strangers only six weeks ago. I’ve found solace amongst my family who were strangers six weeks ago.
I’ve witnessed gorgeous sunrises, cathartic sunsets and soul-shaking lightning storms. I’ve acquired a new name (Mapule, which translates to “rain” in Setswana, the local language. Rain is seen as a great blessing here.) which every being under 10 years old loves to holler as I meander down the dirt paths of my village. Their smiles and open hearts remind me to return to that inner girl I somehow forget about so many years ago. She begs to tell her story and re-embody herself once again.
I’ve rekindled my inner fire in more ways that one, channeling my creativity into developing activities on HIV for young people, mentoring and building relationships with a few local girls and fulfilling a long-held dream of joining the Peace Corps.
Tomorrow, I travel to the site and organization that I’ll serve for the next two years. Adjacent to a renowned Buddhist Retreat Center, I’m trying to enter the experience with an empty cup, ready to learn and grow, letting go of expectations and fear. As I breathe in this new adventure, I consistently remind myself of the importance of the present moment - THIS moment. I constantly remind myself that I am living in Africa. I repeatedly remind myself that I am acting upon a dream that is now my reality.
Through the hardships, I remind myself to return to my body. Through the emotion, I remind myself to breathe and then breathe again and then to, again, breathe.
Time flies when you are disembodied. It flies when you are outside of your precious heart. Through breath, I invite myself to return to this precious heart, this precious body, this precious moment – for it is all we have.
How might you remind yourself of this precious moment?
Try this simple meditation.
Close your eyes. Feel the ground beneath you.
Take a deep breath through your nose. Fill your lungs completely.
Exhale through pursed lips, as if slowly blowing out a candle. Deeply inhale, again through the nostrils, filling the lungs and your diaphragm completely.
Feel the ground beneath you. Exhale through pursed lips. Take one last deep inhale, filling the lungs.
Exhale through pursed lips. Say to yourself, “THIS moment”.
When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.
Use this meditation to invite yourself back into your body, back into your breath and back into the present moment.
This is the first in a collection of writings that chronicles my Peace Corps service. I aspire to relay my emotional and spiritual 27-month journey to South Africa. I am grateful you’ve chosen to join me. ♥
The content of this website is mine alone and does not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps, or the South African Government.