My weekends are no longer my own. It took a lot for this American woman to finally relinquish her autonomy. In fact, it took nearly seven months of fighting in country, but today, the light bulb finally illuminated.
I set out with the best of intentions each weekend to live similarly as I did in the US. Weekends in America have always been characterized by sleeping in, vegging out, tackling chores, recuperating from the previous week and preparing for the week ahead. Much room is made for “me time”. Not so here in South Africa.
Peace Corps Volunteers often explain that the first three months of Peace Corps Life, Pre-Service Training (PST), are intended to make volunteers “Africa tough” and prepare one for their subsequent two years of service. PST resulted in my tangible disdain for the phrase Africa tough. My tipping point occurred on a seven-hour van ride traversing some of this country’s most scenic terrain. The smile on my face spoke of my contentment. A fellow volunteer close to the end of his two years of service, noticed my expression and asked why I was smiling. In explaining the source of my elation, he said, “don’t worry, you’re sure to lose that happiness in the next two years”. Speechless at the time, his words have echoed in my heart and mind many times since he uttered them 5 months ago.
I can choose to harden to my life’s experiences, whether here in South Africa or elsewhere. I can choose to meet the jaded and be, likewise jaded, or I can choose differently.
Years ago in my former life as a Social Worker, colleagues would often remark on how I responded in crisis. When people react and increasingly gear up emotionally, I tend to gear down. My upbringing, temperament and spirit naturally choose ease. In some instances in my life, that has indeed escalated situations with some people, but I maintain my integrity and my composure. When the out of control are given time and space, they usually calm.
Sure, I can choose to become Africa tough. I can choose to be incensed at the pandemics of poverty, HIV, ignorance and trauma. I can allow them to permeate my spirit, settle in, fester and harden me. I can choose to internalize the events taking place in the States both personally and politically. I can react with anger, spite, jealousy and hatred. I can meet that fear right where it exists. I choose.
I choose to meet that fear with love - it’s the most revolutionary thing I can do. Today, I choose love. Today, I choose to consciously soften.
A dear friend reminded me this week of the importance of softening - the importance of softening to the people in my life who hurt me willingly and those who hurt me unknowingly. It took me a long time to become the vulnerable creature I am today. I’d proudly say she’s anything but Africa tough. I relish the sensitive, vulnerable, empathetic and open woman I’ve worked diligently to become.
I sat with all of this this morning and decided that I wish to open and soften to this entire experience of service and the changes taking place, both internally and externally in my life. I finally relinquish control.
So, this morning, when I’d planned to spend the day catching up on my to-do list and my Host Mama told me we were going to a traditional ceremony in 45 minutes and to wear a skirt, I obliged by speed-bathing, donning my new Zulu beads and the requested skirt and proudly stepping forth as Africa soft.
I invite you to grab your favorite journal and a pen, carve out some me time if you can and reflect on these prompts:
In what areas of your life are you feeling hardened? How might you be meeting fear with more fear? Anger with more anger?
In what areas of your life might you soften?
What are the conscious ways you are willing to soften?
Who might be willing to support your softening? Might you enlist them in helping you choose to gear down, rather than amp up?
What is one way that you’ll choose to consciously soften today?
This is a collection of writings that chronicles my Peace Corps service. I aspire to relay my emotional and spiritual 27-month journey here in 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.