connective elements healing

honoring creativity - restoring balance - embracing wholeness

By observing nature, ancient traditions explained all of existence through five elements.  

Connective Elements Healing aims to restore you to your true nature through five healing offerings -

BodyTalk, Coaching, Meditation, Reiki and Yoga. 

Filtering by Category: Reflection

100-100-100

  PC Life:  Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

PC Life: Mpumalanga Province, South Africa

“Draw a large circle on the piece of paper in front of you. Draw a smaller circle beside it. Label the smaller circle, ‘me.’ Label the larger circle ‘comfort’.” In March, 2017, a facilitator provided this exercise in an effort to depict the reality of Peace Corps and issued us a challenge to relinquish control in order to have a successful service in South Africa. Having now been in country for 20 months, the diagram of me existing outside my comfort zone accurately describes my life with control and autonomy sacrificed long ago. 

Today, I celebrate 100 days on my TB meds. As I glanced at my medication app earlier this week, I decided to honor today and my 100% compliance to my health regimen through reflection and writing. After my TB diagnosis several months ago, I discussed treatment options with the doctors. If I chose to forgo Peace Corps medical recommendations, including TB meds, I forfeited the right for medical coverage for TB-related issues that may arise post service, as well as potentially jeopardizing my ability to stay in country. Days before I started the medication, I made the conscious choice to balance the Western medicine approach with three new daily practices. I supplemented my morning routine with ACCESS, a BodyTalk technique that balances my brain and body, bolsters hydration and body chemistry and helps manage stress. In the evening, I stretch my toes and ankles in a technique I learned in Bali and fall asleep to an amazing guided meditation that is similar to what I imagine an Ambien to be like.

  Prompted:  Limpopo Province, South Africa

Prompted: Limpopo Province, South Africa

I’m incredibly grateful for my medication app. Its prompts have supported my medication adherence, increased my water consumption and highlighted serious side effects of my medication. I linked my mood tracker to a gratitude practice in which I paused three times a day to notice what I was thankful for. Last month, I noticed that my mood changed and realized I was marking “so-so” each of the three times per day. My affect had dulled and I was literally unable to feel joy. The colors of my life were muted. I cannot fully describe it, but it was a marked difference from my norm. I started to mindfully monitor this disconcerting occurrence. On vacation, amazing moments felt fragmented. Even when I was around children, I didn’t feel the joyful moments fully. It felt like there was an energetic block between me and happiness that I’d never felt before. I noted this and other symptoms in last month’s follow up appointments with the doctors.

Upon receipt of my blood test results from these visits, I was left with more questions than answers. Psychiatric side effects from my TB meds were discussed as common and the meds were reduced by half. 11 daily pills that include additional B and D vitamins, selenium and zinc, were added to my routine to protect my body from some of the effects the TB meds may be having. My blood tests came back negative for TB, positive for schistosomiasis, and my hormone levels were low. I’ve been told the negative TB result shows the medication is working (and my self care practices have surely assisted) and I have to continue on the medication. As I was just treated for schisto prior to starting my TB meds, the doctors decided I will await treatment at my Close of Service. It’s certainly challenging to wait six months for a treatment of a known parasite. I’m thankful to report that I have witnessed an elevation of my mood since the reduction of my TB medications and additional vitamins. Though I’m not quite back to my normal worldview, things are not quite as dulled as they were several weeks ago.

Through all of this, I’ve had the busiest period of my Peace Corps service to date. I hosted a graduation for my four Roots Tribe Yoga classes, distributed over 200 Mother Bears at 6 events, inspired a poultry project and gardening project to promote healthy living and economic empowerment to two groups of women in my village, facilitated workshops on safe sexual practices and pregnancy and HIV prevention and set boundaries on numerous occasions, including recently walking away from a particularly challenging meeting and saying “no” to a project. One of my goals for Peace Corps service was to acknowledge my ability to stand confidently on my own two feet in this world and recognize my own gifts.

 I now believe that I can not only confidently stand on these two feet of mine, but that I can venture forth through these last six months of service and into the next chapter of my life. This Peace Corps service has been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. Each time I barely got my head above water, another wave crashed upon me in the form of site changes, illness and trauma. You name it. I’ve faced it. I like to think that I’ve faced each situation with grace.

It is a huge relief that I have actually gleaned lessons from all of these trials.

It is in these last 100 days that I finally recognized my resilience. I recognize my strength, endurance and resilience and today, I celebrate them. ♥

Thank you for joining this chapter of my story. I aim to chronicle the journey of a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Africa and appreciate your support.


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.

Healing in South Africa

“Your Mom will come in with a necklace of chicken heads with the chickens’ blood dripping down her body.” “Don’t be scared, though you will be.” “People will drum and dance all night. You will not sleep.” This was the helpful advice intended to prepare me for what took place at my house last weekend.

  In Spirit -  Limpopo Province, South Africa

In Spirit - Limpopo Province, South Africa

In South Africa, great homage is paid to one’s ancestors and one’s whole life may be spent trying to placate them. When bad things happen, including illness, South Africans commonly point to the upset of the ancestors as to the origin of the bad luck. Through dreams or the intercession of a sangoma, a traditional healer, the ancestors may ask for a ritual ceremony. People gather for a lengthy rite and animals are, indeed, sacrificed in an attempt to settle the spirits and invite healing. Such was the case at my house last week.

  First Arrival  - Limpopo Province, South Africa

First Arrival - Limpopo Province, South Africa

The only regular traffic in my village consists of men driving donkey carts full of various hauls. One afternoon, I arrived home from work as a donkey cart full of wood was being unloaded in our side yard. Preparations for last Saturday’s ceremony had officially begun. The next day, two Gogos came to brew traditional beer. The following morning, my Host Mama smeared cow dung over all the concrete surfaces of our courtyard in preparation for the next day’s event. I had questions about every one of these actions and the only answer I received was, “this is our culture.” Left without answers and taking into account my sensitive and empathetic nature, I realized I had to ground myself. I consulted a trusted confidant in the States to ensure I was properly shielded from the influx of energies sure to ensue.

The day of the ritual was a semi-flurry of activity with plenty of last minute arrangements, as is characteristic of South Africa planning. Around 7pm, Gogos and village elders started to arrive. Thankfully, the tent had been erected, but the lighting of the tent had still not been sorted. As Gogos do, they sat on the ground instead of the provided chairs.

My Host Sister and I acted as hostesses as our Host Mama had not yet returned from the neighboring village. My Host Sister, having never attended such a ceremony was as lost as I was. We prepared tea and served scones to the guests. At one point, I was asked to wait on the room of sangomas. As I entered the room, a rush of energy almost overtook me. It wasn’t a collective energy, but coming from an undetermined source. I took a deep breath, got scolded for improper greeting, set down the tea and scones and left the room. Finally, my teenage language tutor and her friend arrived and provided some guidance. They told us the ceremony was to start at 10pm. As more people gathered, they brought blankets with them and amazingly slept amongst the noise as all of us awaited the event’s start.

  Dancing with the Grandmothers -  Limpopo Province, South Africa

Dancing with the Grandmothers - Limpopo Province, South Africa

Around 10pm, the drumming began and we gathered in the tent. For the next four hours, I witnessed, singing, drumming and dancing as the Gogos, most of whom I believe were sangomas, became possessed by their ancestors. The first, I thought, was having a seizure. Then I realized, similar to kriyas in the yogic tradition, convulsions ensued indicating the presence of the energy, in this case the ancestor within each respective woman. It was astounding to witness elderly women who were unsteady on their feet while walking transform into agile beings while dancing in their traditional outfits.  I have no idea what took place during these couple of hours, but it was captivating. Around 2am, I chose to retreat to my room after the eldest of the Gogos danced. In the sanctuary of my room, I burned sage, did some energy healing and slept for about 3 hours while the drumming, dancing, singing and the slaughtering of a goat continued on my doorstep. I awoke the next morning, performed my own morning rituals and readied for what became a whole day of interesting sights and sounds.

  The God Within -  Limpopo Province, South Africa

The God Within - Limpopo Province, South Africa

On Sunday, the only male of the group performed throughout the day. At one point, a young boy with Downs Syndrome rose from the crowd and was dancing with the sangoma. Their interactions were mesmerizing. Later in the afternoon, the sangoma led my Host Mama back to the tent where she collapsed shortly thereafter. She writhed on the ground while being tended to by several sangomas. As I sat with the young children of my household, the trauma-informed professional inside me was screaming to protect them from their mother’s convulsions. As I don’t speak enough Sepedi to have devised any explanation, the best I could do was rub their backs and concentrate on their heart chakras. As they took my Host Mama out of the tent, the enormity of what they saw hit them. I couldn’t do a thing. My elder Host Sister later told them that our Mama was just playing with her friends, which seemed to calm them.

The ceremony concluded as all South African gatherings do, with the consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. This is consistently my cue to exit. I withdrew to my room, burned some sage, turned on my Himalayan salt lamp and did some energetic clearing. Interestingly, my Host Mother lost her voice for the rest of that day. My host Sister lost hers the next day. I spent most of this week the sickest I’ve been in a long time, was unable to sleep nightly and lost my voice midweek. I’ve done daily clearing and kept up with my own practices. I took this weekend as an intentional unplug and recharge, clearing my schedule and resting to hopefully return to a more balanced state.

I’m incredibly grateful to have witnessed such a rich, cultural experience in such an intimate setting. No one has really been able to explain much of last weekend’s happenings. However, the energy spoke for itself and perhaps it doesn’t require further explanation. I don’t know if the healing ceremony was successful in quieting my Host Mother’s ancestors and providing her with healing. I felt compelled to write about it and share these insights as a part of my own healing and clearing process. ♥

 

I bow in gratitude to you for joining me during this chapter of service. I hope to shed some light on the emotional and spiritual journey of a Peace Corps Volunteer serving in rural South Africa. ♥

 

Should you wish to learn more about traditional healing, I recently read Susan Schuster Campbell’s Called to Heal: Traditional Healing meets Modern Medicine in Southern Africa Today and found it a fascinating read.

 

 

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.

 

TB or not TB? That is No Longer the Question

“I have the order here for your chest X-ray,” she says casually. “My what!?” is the only response I can conjure up, as the pit forms in my stomach. The well-meaning Office Assistant quickly realizes her mistake, that I hadn’t yet been told. She then says I have to contact the doctor. As I sit among my peers, I can’t hear their chatter. I can’t eat the sumptuous meal in front of me. Something is wrong. I know it in my bones. I try to reach the doctors. There is no answer. I receive a text during the next training session, “Megan, your blood test came back positive for TB.”

Tears stream down my face as my mind races and I enter go-mode. In the midst of crisis, my nurtured former Social Worker Self joins forces with my natured Planning Self, blazing a million steps ahead. Add to the mix my lack of knowledge about tuberculosis and I am adrift, out of my body, out of the moment. I think of long-term consequences, being labeled with a pre-existing condition. Questions abound, “Is this fatal? Will I live with this for the rest of my life? Am I infecting others? Where did I get this? Does this mean I’ll return to the States?” In the last several weeks, I’ve found answers to these questions. I’ve discovered resources. I’ve regained my grounding in many surprising ways.

  On the Horizon:  Pretoria, South Africa

On the Horizon: Pretoria, South Africa

I set out for my Mid-Service Training (MST) with what I thought was anxiety about seeing my cohort, the group of people with whom I arrived here in South Africa 16 months ago. The purpose of MST is to fuel Peace Corps Volunteers during a notoriously emotional slump, provide a midpoint medical check up and propel us to succeed in the second leg of PC service. In some ways, I look forward to the milestone and anticipated boost, but mostly, I feel I am lagging behind. Struggling to find my fit has been a theme during my service. On my third site, living with my third host family, not feeling like I quite fit into my assigned organizations and not feeling at home amongst my peers has been a challenge. What is supposed to be a time to recognize ourselves and our service quickly devolves for reasons other than the diagnosis I didn’t see coming. Maybe one day, post-service, I’ll speak more freely about MST.

Fast forward several days when I travel to the hospital for the aforementioned chest X-ray. Upon entering the room, I identify my anxiety and the friendly clinician tells me I have nothing to worry about. As I relay my blood result, she exclaims, “oh!” runs out of the room, rightfully returning in a surgical mask with a bit more hesitancy than before. Luckily, my chest X-ray is clear. Two days later, I’m offered a pamphlet on TB and 2 different treatment options. As I read about the symptoms of active TB, the fatigue and labored breathing I’ve been experiencing for the last several months jumps off the page. I urge further testing to determine my TB status, which is thankfully granted. The subsequent days are filled with multiple doctor and hospital visits, the low point being a lab tech pounding on my back for what feels like an hour in an effort to force sputum-producing coughs behind closed doors that earn me unabashed stares from the entire waiting room upon my exit (yes, as anxiety-provoking as wading your way through that sentence). Fortunately, my poor lungs are spared further trauma when I’m sent to the physiotherapist who administers proper sputum-production techniques over the next two days. I await results, which come back negative and point to a diagnosis of latent TB. I opt for the 4-month, rather than the 9-month course of treatment. I take half a dose, as instructed, and awaken at 3am with nausea, vomiting, vertigo and a whole host of misery that makes for one of the scariest experiences of my life.

A desperate call to my second Mama in the States prompts a even more desperate 4am call to the Peace Corps Medical Officer who at first diagnoses food poisoning, then tells me to refrain from my morning dose of the Rifampin and come to the office in a few short hours. I’m sent for a second opinion where we explore some of the other strange symptoms I’ve experienced over the last several months, including night sweats and joint pain. Additional blood tests and another sputum test is ordered.

As I await test results, the days and weeks go by, I am further disconnected from my village, my host family, my current projects and my support systems. My guilt mounts as I can’t effectively communicate my current health status, as I myself don’t have answers. Text, Facebook and WhatsApp messages increase as I press “pause” on my life. I experience some dark days as my fatigue is compounded by a lack of answers.

I bounce in and out of each of the stages of grief - denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, as I clamor to cope. From questioning the validity of medical tests to analyzing interpersonal interactions to feeling as if I’ve made a mistake pursuing the Peace Corps in the first place to finally recognizing the empathy cultivating within me for folks who endure chronic diseases, partner and family notification of medical issues and obstacles of all kinds. I dig deep to remain connected to the light within and around me.

I am diagnosed with shistosomiasis, the second most common tropical disease next to malaria, that somehow no one’s ever really heard of. Shisto, as it’s so lovingly referred to among those of us who now know it well, can live in the body for up to 40 years. The parasite can cause some major damage. Amazingly, the treatment is only one day, but as the worms die, the body can react in a variety of ways. I spend the next several days asleep. Doctors tell me it will be months for my body to adjust to life without the shisto present in my body. Unfortunately, that I have to start the TB meds before then. It's likely I won't feel like I've got my body back until the TB medication finishes. More days pass. During a follow up appointment at which I’m expecting my new TB treatment, I leave with a prescription for a broad-spectrum antibiotic because something is still out of balance. The doctor determines that I’ll try the 9-month treatment for latent TB once I finish the course of antibiotics. I’m told I can return to site.

Panic sets in. Many conversations take place. I decide that starting TB meds back at site, in light of my reaction to the last medication, is a non-negotiable. Living in a rural village several kilometers off a paved road precludes me from accessing proper medical care should another reaction occur. I will start the TB meds in the capital. The antibiotics are uneventful until I get what feels like a cold during the last two days of the therapy. The doctors attribute the symptoms to my body being “drug naïve” and the medication increased my susceptibility to illness. Three days later, symptoms disappear and I start my 9 months of TB medication without incident.

I return to my village this week, I speak with my current and former host families to notify them of my diagnosis, the reasons for my absence and my lack of communication. I fear stigmatization and blame and, instead, am greeted with acceptance, understanding and words of affirmation. The dynamics among myself and others in the village shift positively in the direction of curiosity and appreciation. I look forward to the work to be done, the relationships to be forged and health, wellness and balance to be regained.

Through these illnesses, I’ve learned to recognize my privilege. Many people don’t get treatment for latent TB. As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I need to take the prescribed medication to prevent my latent TB from progressing to active TB. After taking the regimen, there is a 90-95% chance that I will never get active TB in my lifetime. I’ve taken an active role in educating myself over these last few weeks. Spending countless hours of internet research combined with conversations with friends who have connected me with friends and relatives who have lived with (and survived) TB has been invaluable. I’ve had the luxury of a second opinion, self-advocacy, additional testing and support and urging others to listen to the wisdom of my body. Had I not had such a severe reaction to the first TB medicine, I would not have discovered the shistosomiasis and remedied symptoms that have been plaguing me for months, maybe years.

  Full : Pretoria, South Africa

Full: Pretoria, South Africa

As the last 50+ days have seen me hyper-focused on what’s wrong with me, Angels greet me along the way, stretch my comfort zone and remind me of what’s good. In an epic, yet very non-Peace Corps kind of day, I fill my belly with Mexican food and tapas, then digest before grooving at my first pole dancing class with two new soul sisters and dance the night away on table tops at a local pub. The level of empowerment from this combo is highly recommended. Why don’t we dance on more table tops, people? Days later, I attend a beer festival, odd for someone who doesn’t drink, I know. I go for the music and sunshine and am given the opportunity to dance my way back into my Self. A dear friend comments that she’s not seen me so happy in the last year and a half. I agree. Both days have been among the best I’ve had since arriving in South Africa. I am gleefully reminded of how much music and dancing juice me up and how much my heart yearns for time with soul sisters.

I’ve claimed that I came to the Peace Corps with tools I didn’t have when I burnt out of the helping profession. Admittedly, I haven’t been employing these tools as much as I could have. The day before I started my TB treatment, I integrated Access, a series of 5 energy healing techniques from BodyTalk, meant to balance the entire system, into my daily routine. I’ve also started listening to this chakra balancing meditation nightly right before bed. The acquisition of TB and shisto has been a wake up call on many levels. As I reground and more readily awaken to the present, I’m increasingly aware of the beauty and culture around me. I’m increasingly aware of the tools and I have at my fingertips, and recognize that it’s up to me to actually utilize them. I’m increasingly grateful for this precious experience that is my Peace Corps service, despite, and quite possibly because of, the twists, turns and myriad of challenges it’s thrown at me. And perhaps I’ve returned to my village from my Mid-Service Training with exactly what was intended, the treatment I didn’t know I needed, a reminder of what’s important and, indeed, the fuel to continue on this journey. ♥

 

This entry feels like a departure from my regular writing style. Gratitude to you for walking this journey with me. I aim to provide honest and vulnerable insights into my emotional and spiritual process that is Peace Corps, this 27 month chapter of my life.  All my love ♥

 

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.

Holding Patterns

I awoke this morning not in the best of moods. The weight of the last several weeks here in Pretoria has been enormous. I’ve been riding a roller coaster of emotions about things that I’m not quite ready to openly write about, but soon will. My morning practices wouldn’t budge the heaviness and a hearty breakfast failed to provide grounding. I took a walk to clear my head. With each step down the tree-lined streets of my guesthouse’s Pretoria neighborhood, I unraveled more and more.

My earlier morning rituals of meditation and Morning Pages revealed discomfort in the current limbo state I’m in and the holding pattern in which I find myself. I externalized the feeling and holding pattern, relating it to past situations – home environments that felt toxic, workplaces that failed to contribute to my ability to thrive and relationships that sapped my energy. From my writing, I thought, perhaps, that my current state of exhaustion could be blamed on the last few weeks in which I unexpectedly found myself in Pretoria. The time quickly lapsing, pushing me further and further behind in the programs and projects I tried so diligently to develop in my village. Not being able to communicate openly about what is currently happening in my life combined with physical and emotional fatigue has left me completely depleted.

In my Morning Pages, I brainstormed about activities in the States that typically fill me up, such as kirtan and ecstatic dance, and identified friends whose juiciness inspires. I deduced that my current lack of access to these resources had contributed to my current state. As my morning unfolded, I yearned to unthread the story of this troublesome state of being.

  Verdant -  Pretoria, South Africa

Verdant - Pretoria, South Africa

The brisk fall air here in Pretoria today feels unsettling to my vata. Perhaps my ungroundedness dropped my guard enough to listen closely enough to what was revealed during my walk. I thought about expectations of myself and my Peace Corps service and my current emotional state. I realized that the reasons for my disappointment lie in the fact that I expected these last 16 months to have gone differently. As I walked with that idea, I recognized that the heart of the disappointment is not due to external events, though it felt like many were tragic, but that the true source of my disappointment was that I’d bet on myself to handle things differently.

Years ago, I burnt out of the helping profession. I burnt out from life after infidelity broke my engagement and I sought refuge in a yoga ashram in Colorado. In the nine years since, I’ve developed self care tools, studied healing modalities and adopted new ways of living that I expected would buffer myself from trauma, bolster my abilities and lend to my thriving as a successful Peace Corps Volunteer here in South Africa. Instead, I find myself in a familiar state of depletion, exhaustion and burn out with 10 months left of service. As I walked this morning, I dismantled the notion that it is the external holding pattern of Pretoria or Peace Corps or difficult people sapping my energy.

The sun peeked through the foliage and warmed my face as the thought burst forth that my former relationships, living environments and workplaces did not construct the complex burnout of my past. I understood that these external forces were not and are not the holding patterns in which I find myself.

Rather, I am the one holding the patterns of my current state.

I am the one, due to the lay of my neural pathways, previous experiences and history, from my shadow and my trauma, creating the fog in which I currently exist.

I could easily wallow in the shame of this revelation. I could blame myself for the current state of things. I could chastise my weak will. I could blame myself for the time wasted and the choices I’ve made.

But here, on the fifth anniversary of my mom’s passing, I choose differently. I choose to acknowledge that I’m doing the best I can with what I have. I choose to give myself grace. I choose to voice that it takes courage to reflect and recognize our patterns. I choose to have the patience to sit with the patterns until they themselves dissolve. I choose to accept that I’m the one holding the pattern and that each moment is a choice.

There may be some moments that I may not be my best. I may not be the perfect Peace Corps Volunteer or yogini or authentic spiritual being. There may be times when I want to eat a bag of Simba, sleep too much, binge on mindless tv or trashy romance, ignore my mounting WhatsApp messages and to do lists and not leave the comfortable cocoon of my room and that’s okay.

The expectations I had of myself to do things differently this time around have been fulfilled. There have been so many times I’ve done things differently. I’ve set difficult boundaries. I’ve had challenging conversations. I’ve advocated. I’ve challenged. I’ve walked away. I’ve fought. I’ve made the tough call. I’ve backed down.

I set out on this tour of Peace Corps service to fulfill a long-held dream. I desired to give back. I hoped that this experience in South Africa would promote my ability to stand confidently on my own two feet in this world. In the midst of the experience, I feel like I’m changing. Some days I question if the change is for my betterment or if I’m devolving. I question whether I’m making a difference. Today’s realization that I hold the patterns, rather than external forces being the holding patterns is a priceless gain worth the weight of the journey thus far. ♥

 

Thank you for joining my as I wander and wade my way through Peace Corps service here in South Africa. I vulnerably process my emotional and spiritual learnings in hopes of feeling through, giving back and letting go. I bow in gratitude to you for joining 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.

Burning Expectations

Expectations I had for Peace Corps Service in South Africa:

*       for it to be joy-filled

*       for it to be physically difficult, but emotionally fulfilling

*       that I would be able to use my self care skills to buffer stress and trauma

*       that people would welcome me

*       that people would welcome my help

*       that people would welcome my perspective

*       that people would welcome my ideas

*       ***that I would be valued***

*       to learn a language

*       that I would make lifelong friend both in country and within the Peace Corps

*       that there would be continuity in my service and my projects

*       that I would love my host country

*       that I would make a difference

*       that Peace Corps would support me

*       that I would be kind

*       that I would be open

*       that I would bring an empty cup

*       that it would fulfill my dream

*       that I’d be able to let go of him

*       that I’d be able not to think about him

*       that I’d be able to move on

*       that people would value me

*       that I could bring my skills to make a difference

*       that I’d see interesting things

*       that I’d love it

*       that I had the grit to do it

*       that I’d learn to stand on my own two feet

*       that id be lonely

*       that my relationships would shift

*       that my relationships would change

*       that my relationships would stay the same

*       that I would be able to be here

*       that I had everything I needed to do this

*       that all the tools of healing and self care and introspection would serve me as I served others

*       to grow

*       to be a good person

*       to be a good Volunteer

*       to be an exceptional Volunteer

*       to let go

*       not to think about life in the US

*       to be in the same place for two years

*       to be hungry

*       to not have access to food and others

*       to deal with bugs, spiders, stomach issues and lack of sleep

*       to feel in danger

*       to be in danger

*       to constantly fear sexual assault

*       to bring my skills to Africa

*       to grow as an individual

*       to shave my head

*       to learn a lot about yoga, personal development and all the topics I yearn to know more about since I’d have so much time to read, write and absorb

*       to slow down

*       to release expectations

*       to be instead of do

*       that it would go well

*       that because I’d deferred my dream for 20 years and was finally leaping that now was the perfect time to serve in the Peace Corps

*       that I wouldn’t miss my relationship

*       that I wouldn’t miss companionship

*       that I wouldn’t care that he moved on

*       that I wouldn’t care that life in the States moves on (without me)

*       that I would welcome rebuilding my life

*       that people would come visit me

*       that these 27 months would mean something

*       that I would tangibly give back

*       that I would curb the burnout I experienced as a social worker with my healing tools

*       that I’d be proud of myself

*       that I’d be proud of my accomplishments

*       that I’d carry myself with grace

*       that I’d represent myself well

*       that I’d represent my country well

*       that I’d get so attached I wouldn’t want to leave

*       that I’d love working with kids

*       that I’d teach yoga in Africa

*       that I’d only need support a year in

*       that I wouldn’t miss the States

*       that I wouldn’t look back

*       that I wouldn’t be safe

*       that I wouldn’t be heard if something happened

*       that the Peace Corps has a history of dysfunction and I shouldn’t have high expectations for support or being assigned to a site that matches my skill set

*       that things would go well

*       that I would struggle financially

*       that my monthly stipend wouldn’t cover my costs

*       that I was going into service without expectations

 

I’ve felt the weight of the world on my shoulders for the last year. In my new village, I fell the weight of trying to save a village, which simply isn’t realistic. Though I set out seemingly without expectations, here I listed 85 stream of consciousness expectations in a matter of minutes.

 

How often do we enter endeavors with the weight of the world on our shoulders?

 

  Fire and the Mountain -  Taken in Limpopo Province, South Africa

Fire and the Mountain - Taken in Limpopo Province, South Africa

How often do we pile on the to do lists and endless expectations of ourselves until we are burnt up?

 

How can we free ourselves of the weighty, unrealistic demands we place on ourselves ranging from life changes to mundane, everyday tasks?

 

How can we, instead, grant ourselves grace and breathing room and ease and space?

 

I’ve felt the weight of the each of these 85 expectations and likely more I haven’t even listed. I vow to let these go. Right here. Right now. I want to make an inventory of expectations on a regular basis and let those go, too.

 

I don’t have to carry the weight of the world or a village or a person or a task on my shoulders, my mind or my heart.

 

I choose grace.

 

I choose breathing room.

 

I choose ease.

 

I choose spaciousness.

 

I burn expectations with the intention of grace and breathing room and ease and spaciousness, making room for what is, making space for what will be.

 

I let go.

 

I invite you to do the same. ♥

 

I’m actively processing my 27 months of Peace Corps service with a keen eye towards my emotional and spiritual journey. I bow in gratitude to you for joining 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.

 

Feeling through the (Festive) Holiday Season

Lately, I’ve felt ungrounded, purposeless, and, at times, angry. I’ve felt beside myself with frustration, questioning my reasons for being here. I’ve spun out so easily. I’ve felt lost.

I’ve felt this way for months. Just as I was finally getting used to my former site and community, the wind was knocked out of me and I had to move. Facing a holding period of 5 weeks in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, felt like a relief in some ways. Pretoria’s hot showers, flushing toilets, the company of fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, smoothies, hot yoga classes and physical therapy offering me daily massages bolstered me physically, emotionally and spiritually, lending to feeling the strongest I’d felt since arriving in South Africa 10 months ago due.

Then, I crashed.

All the grief of leaving the place I embraced as home came rushing over me like a tidal wave. It was compounded by the whirlwind transition to a place so different than my home of the last 6 months. I felt resistance to a new site, a new community, a new family. I felt trepidation about establishing a new home. As timelines entered the picture, I realized the holidays were quickly approaching. Spending my first holiday season alone in a decade furthered the swell. I panicked, yet I had no clue what really lied below the surface.

Today, it emerged.

One of the most painful memories of my childhood occurred during the holiday season, or festive season, as its known here in South Africa. As a single parent, my mom deemed my private, Catholic school education to be worthy of great sacrifice. I was on financial assistance and felt the struggle my mom incurred to meet the remainder of my tuition each month. Education in suburban Washington, DC-area private schools means being surrounded by some of the wealthiest kids in the country.

 "Shielded" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

"Shielded" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

One year during my adolescence, my mom faced a particularly dark period of her bipolar disorder. She holed up in her room nearly my entire holiday break. I felt so incredibly alone, so isolated, so incredibly scared.

After braving my “vacation,” I endured friends describing the gifts they received and the love from family and friends that they’d spent recent weeks surrounded by. I can’t remember how I responded to their accounts, but this morning, I came face to face with how I felt.

For months, fellow Peace Corps Volunteers have been discussing holiday plans detailing upcoming visits from friends and family or planned returns to the US to spend time with loved ones. I named my feelings upon hearing the first itinerary and scrambled to make plans, which have changed and changed and changed again.

These last couple weeks, amidst attempts to acclimate to a new site, a new community, a new host family and a new home, which have been fraught with difficulty, I have been trying to formulate holiday plans. I’ve experienced flights selling out as they are in my cart, accommodations booking and other logistics seemingly shifting abruptly. This morning, I felt at my absolute breaking point as my New Years plans dissolved. After a rush of emotions and a friend lovingly holding space for me, the truth was revealed.

I have been scrambling to keep loneliness at bay.

I have been pushing, pulling and dragging myself (and, unfortunately, others) through this emotional roller coaster of the impending holiday season.

I sit with the questions, what does it mean to spend New Years alone? What would it mean if I spent the holidays alone?

Tears streaming down my face, I sit with the hurt of that dark season of my youth in which I was so frighteningly alone. I sit with the notion that my family composition has always been different, yet feels so raw right now. I sit with the likely reality that no one will visit me here in South Africa. I sit with the fact that I miss my old host family and my former community.

I sit with the truth that my expectations continue to be dismissed, as the reality of this commitment differs so radically from its reality.

I sit with the discomfort of loneliness. I sit with grief.

I sit with all this and recognize it’s temporary. I sit with all this and recognize it’s all necessary.

I sit with the energy and weight of the holiday season because, for many of us, it is intertwined with extremes of grief, joy, obligation, loneliness, overstimulation, contentment, pain, anticipation, gratitude, expectation, disappointment and confusion.

I choose to sit with it all, filling myself so full I feel I could burst.

And, then, I exhale.

I let it all go.

 "Horizon" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

"Horizon" - KwaZulu Natal Province, South Africa

In this writing and reflection, my host nieces have knocked on my door twice to relay messages from my host Gogo. Each time, I was drawn back to the present, my Word of the Year for 2017. I’m reminded that there is hope here. There is possibility here. There is a desire for connection here.

I’ve been swept away by emotion these last few months, rudderless and homeless, living out of bags for the last 10 weeks. I was, indeed, at my breaking point this morning. I asked aloud, to myself, to the Universe, to God, “why can’t anything go right?”

Now, in this moment, here in the present, I realize that it’s all right. It is all right in this moment. It will be all right in the future.

As so much of my life right now is up in the air with the newness of site, community, family, home and to be confirmed holiday and vacation plans, I am reminded of the advice of my teacher in our last session before I came to South Africa. She invited me to refer to my inner map.

I realize that since my move, I haven’t been taking good care of myself. The chickens and roosters at my new home wake me throughout the night. My routines of nourishment and exercise are awry. I’m pushing and pulling for integration during a season notorious for inactivity here in South Africa.

Our inner maps yield the tools learned through our struggles with light and dark. We hold the wisdom within. It is our choice to speed through the holiday season in overdrive or pause and sink into the present, taking inventory of what is here.

There may be residue of the past gripping us tightly.

There may be expectations of the future clinging, too.

By anchoring in, slowing down, taking breath and taking pause, we may usher in all that is and live awake and aware here and now.

I invite you to take that moment of pause right now.

Carve out at least two minutes of quiet time. Sit comfortably and feel the stability of the ground beneath you. Close your eyes, if you are comfortable.

Take three deep breaths in through your nose, filling your diaphragm, and release the breath through pursed lips. Notice the rise and fall of your belly. Place your hands on your heart and ask yourself these three questions, giving yourself permission to sit with what is:

  •  What is present, right now, in this moment?
  • What is present for me in this holiday season?
  • What might I need to release from the past, present or future holiday seasons to make room for the fulfillment of my highest purpose?

As you are ready, take three cleansing breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth slowly.

Open your eyes and reacclimate yourself to this time and space.

You may choose to sit further with these questions or journal about them.

 

May you be at peace ♥

 

My deepest gratitude for joining me as I process the emotional and spiritual 27-month journey of Peace Corps Service here in South Africa.

 

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.

To Ufafa, With Love

You welcomed me, tentatively, into your sweet embrace.

Hesitatingly, you let me in.

 

Your beauty captured me at first sight.

And you invited me to behold the beauty within.

I saw you for what you are.

I saw beneath the surface and felt your pain

and you invited me to release

pain

trauma

expectations

heartache

heartbreak.

 

You challenged me to stand my ground

to hold firm to my own Truth.

 

As you revealed more of yourself to me, 

the inevitable colonial powers that be

increasingly asserted their claim.

 

Our light was too bright

for their darkness

held too firmly.

I felt the end was nearing

and I dug my heels in.

One last grip.

I wasn't ready to let go.

 

Tightly.

So tightly

held.

 

In some ways, it felt like we embraced each other.

One final time.

Before we both had to release.

 

To let go.

To exhale.

 

And then I was ready to walk away.

 

Just like that.

 

It was time.

 

It was magic.

It was fate.

It was karma.

 

That brought us together. 

That tore us apart.

That allows us both to walk away.

 

More whole.

More healed. 

More fierce.

Stronger because our paths crossed.

 

I can't explain our connection

but I know it was meant to be.

I am better for it.

I have to believe you are, too.

 

As I walk away, know that

I will carry a piece of you

with me, always.

 

I believe in your promise.

I recognize your pain.

I see you.

And I love you, 

even as it's time to walk away.

 

As I reflect on the emotional and spiritual journey of my Peace Corps service here in South Africa, I am grateful and honored 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.

Sawubona - I see you

There is no replacement for experience. She is a teacher like no other. We can learn something, read about something, know something all we want but until we experience something, we can never really fully realize it.

It took me a while to acclimate to properly greeting in Zulu. When I first got comfortable with my “sawubona,” hello in Zulu, I excitedly used it as I did my hellos in the US. As someone approached and was close enough to hear my voice, I would offer my “sawubona”. I quickly learned I was actually being rude in Zulu culture and people thought I was offering my greetings in jest.

Here, one waits until you are essentially in someone’s personal space to greet another person. If you are from the West and are reading this, picture yourself in this situation. You’ve made eye contact with someone, are approaching them and you cannot utter a thing until you are in each other’s close proximity. How would you feel? For me, this felt awkward. Despite learning early on in my Zulu language lessons that “sawubona” translates to “I see you,” I didn’t fully understand its meaning until I experienced it this week.

  Unfiltered -  Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Unfiltered - Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

Years ago, I fell in love with photography. I love the concept of capturing a moment in time from one’s unadulterated, inarguable perspective. I prefer not to edit or use filters on my own work, as I relish the purity of a moment as I saw it. I love the notion of not altering an image so that it speaks to the moment as it was. I appreciate other’s photography as an insight into their view of the world, the ideal way to walk in another’s shoes. As a visual learner, I think and learn best through imagery. Photography is a powerful medium of expression and the quintessential time capsule. This past week, it was an incredible tool for my own self-reflection.

I’ve hidden behind the lens for years, as I’m not the biggest fan of having my picture taken. Only recently have I succumbed to selfies and they usually feel more awkward that awaiting a greeting. A friend captured a couple photos of me on a travel adventure last week and I was awed in seeing myself in a different way. In looking at the pictures, I’m elated to say that I saw my own joy and light looking back at me. I saw myself happy.

  8 Months In -  Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

8 Months In - Taken in Eastern Cape, South Africa

I celebrated 8 months in country this week and I’m proud of the woman I see in those pictures. I’m proud of her for working through all the unexpected emotional and spiritual work of these last 8 months. Before coming to South Africa, I questioned my ability to endure the anticipated physical hardships of Peace Corps service. I was unsure that my being in my late 30s would allow me to get used to bucket bathing, pit latrines and living without running water. I feared that I’d never sleep during my service, as villages have a reputation for being loud and I have a reputation for being the world’s lightest sleeper. I’ve pushed through antagonism from sources that should be allies. I’ve dealt with discomfort and not knowing what is happening during nearly 95% of my day. I’ve worked through water and food scarcity, household repairs and cultural misunderstandings with a mindset of self advocacy, preservation and perspective. I’ve practiced radical self care, stretched myself far beyond my comfort zone and intentionally stepped outside myself and a fixed mindset on numerous occasions. I’ve felt deep compassion, empathy and despair, a loneliness I’d never anticipated and growth in ways I didn’t recognize I needed. I’ve witnessed a deep-set resilience among the people of South Africa. Grit conjured through history, the Apartheid and the HIV and poverty epidemics have left wounds that perhaps time, love, acknowledgement, forgiveness and empowerment may heal.

I set out 8 months ago for service. I set out to help, to give of myself and my light. I set out to volunteer. I never realized how much personal development was involved in Peace Corps service. It’s as if I signed up for altruism and instead received a perpetual period of introspection. I describe this Peace Corps experience as a roller coaster. The ups and downs are intense, drastic and frequent. However, I’m finally starting to feel as if I’m buckled in, secure and *gulp* ready for the ride. I’ve extended my support system and regularly identify and implement the tools I need to sustain myself. I’m proud of the woman who’s light I identify in the recent pictures. She recognizes that her liberation is bound to the work she came here to do.

Through experience, I now fully understand the reasoning and meaning behind “sawubona” and waiting to greet until I’m in one’s personal space. Being close and truly seeing is the only way we can witness another being. Forgoing the distance from me to you, I can see you.

It’s as if I’ve awaited this moment for years. Looking at those pictures were akin to that awkward approach, eye contact and all, patiently awaiting myself to enter my own personal space, until I could recognize my own company, my own reflection, my own humanity. Forgoing the distance between me to me, I can truly see myself.

It’s as if I’m finally seeing myself in this moment for the very first time. One of my intentions of my service is to stand with confidence on my own two feet in this great big world of ours. Though I recognize I have a lot more work to do until I can affirm the fulfillment of that intention, I’m proud to say that I’m on my way.

I invite you to explore similar self-inquiry. Though there are many ways to do this, here are two avenues in which to begin:

Gather several pictures of yourself. They may be recent photos or those from various chapters of your life. Feel free to either sit with your favorite journal or in meditative inquiry taking some quiet time to look at yourself in the pictures. Then, ask yourself what is reflected back to you. What you see? What emotions are present? What energy or messages do you hold about yourself?

Mirror work is another option. Stand in front of a mirror and look into your own eyes. This may be extremely uncomfortable at first, but this is some of the most profound work any of us can do. Ask yourself the same questions above. As you gaze into your eyes, what is reflected back to you? What you see? What emotions are present, what energy or messages do you hold about yourself?

At the end of your mirror work, you may practice one of my favorite affirmations from Louise Hay as you continue looking at yourself in your reflection and say: “I love you and I’m beginning to make positive changes in my life right now. Day by day, I will improve the quality of my life. It is safe for me to be happy and fulfilled.” You may notice emotions arising as you engage in mirror work. It may take several attempts before you adjust to mirror work. It’s all perfect and it’s all okay.

Finally, I’ve been sitting with the words of Aboriginal activist Lily Walker. May they likewise inspire you, “if you come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you come here because your liberation is bound up in mine, then let us begin.”

I aspire to relay the emotional and spiritual journey of my Peace Corps service here in South Africa. I am grateful and honored 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.

    

 

An Open Letter to the One who Cheated

I’ve spent so long so angry. So angry, I’ve blocked out love. So angry that it’s clouded the good. So long.

I’ve spent so long trying to punish. Trying to harbor resentment. Blocking my own freedom. Aligning with the dark.

I’ve forfeited so much time trying to punish. Trying to withhold. Any yet, I’ve been the one who has suffered.

 

I’ve spent so long wishing for a fairytale. Wishing for some magical lever to be pushed to make it all better. To start anew.

 

And yet, here I am, as I take a step back and look at my life, I realize that we were destined to walk in the footsteps of our fathers, our mother, their fathers, their mothers. Destined to play out the karma. Destined to live out the story of our ancestral pain and trauma.

 

I am the cheater.

I barely admitted it, but I am.

You are the cheater.

You barely admitted it, but you are.

I am the liar. You are the liar. I am in the wrong. You are in the wrong. The marriage was broken. The engagement was broken. The relationship was broken. I was broken. You were broken. The past was broken.

 

The presence is now.

 

The future is open.

 

How do we move on? How do we let each other go? How have you moved on? How have I moved on?

Where do things stand? What do you want? What do I want?

Who decides? Who forgives? Who moves on?

Why did it happen? Why does it still hurt? What can’t I let go?

Why do I cling to the threads of the past that make it so difficult to forgive?

What will make it better? What do I have to do to move on?

When will I stop hurting? When will I finally be free?

Of the Father. Of the Son. Of the Ex. Of my Burden.

When will the light shine through to illuminate the shadow?

When will absolution and forgiveness, true forgiveness, finally win out?

 

It pains me still to think about the hurt. The denial.

My intuition muted. The lies told.

At some point, it will dissipate, right?

 

I’ve spent too long holding on.

I’ve spent to long clinging to this hope.

I’ve spent too much emotional currency to cash it in on anything that matters.

 

At some point, you let go. At some point, you chose her instead of me. At some point, you chose her instead of my mother. At some point, he chose her instead of your mother. At some point, she chose him instead of your father. At some point, we all let go.

 

Maybe someday

I’ll finally

let go.

 

Gratitude for joining me as I process the emotional and spiritual 27-month journey of Peace Corps Service in South Africa. ♥

 

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.