Blurry photo syndrome

Have you ever taken a photo of a beautiful sunset, or moon, or landscape? When you look at that photo again, have you ever felt like it accurately captured the beauty that you saw?

Of course not. Sights so naturally beautiful were never meant to be captured and preserved, they are meant to be experienced. This is precisely how I feel about my experiences abroad, and especially my service in the Peace Corps. This blog in general will be like that photograph of the sunset, an attempt to give the onlooker an idea of what it was like to see the orange, purple, and pink sky.

I left for the pre-Peace Corps staging event two days after President Trump’s inauguration. The day before I departed, I attended the Women’s March on Washington. It was a blessing and a curse for this event to be so close to when I was leaving the US for two years. Many of the most important women in my life gathered in my hometown to practice our civil right and duty to make our dissenting voices heard. The women around me at the march were inspired by speeches encouraging all of them to be active in writing and calling their congress people, campaigning for candidates they believed in, and continuing to attend protests and demonstrations. As I stood there, prepared to leave the next day to embark on a two-year journey outside of the country, I felt like I was leaving at a time when America needed me most. Those around me left the march with a fire in their bellies; I left the march feeling like I was abandoning my duty to fight for my ideals.

Luckily when I got to Philadelphia for the two days of staging before we left for Johannesburg, I found that I was one of 34 people that felt the exact same way. Those two days were the beginning of cultivating our new family. It recently struck me that we have all developed such strong relationships so quickly. As we have left for our individual site placements, we are facing the reality that we are about to be apart from each other for as long as we’ve known each other, and with the help of WhatsApp voice notes, becoming even closer.

While cultivating my new family within my cohort I have also been integrating into two host families. One during the two and a half months of training, and the other now at my permanent site. My host family during training was so similar to my family at home. As people were running around the kitchen boisterously yelling things in Setswana to each other and laughing and singing and dancing, I was reminded how confusing and intimidating my own family at home can be for the exact same reasons. Once I made this realization I felt so much more at home there.

Sadly, I had to leave my training host family to go to my permanent site. Luckily, my new host family here has given me a warm welcome consisting of overflowing plates of food, energy drinks, and laughs. The transition to living in my permanent village has been slightly easier as I have already gotten used to the small differences in life-style here from the US, such as bucket bathing, frequenting the latrine, and learning the absolute necessity of having ironed clothing. At the same time, there are still the very real challenges of meeting everyone in my community, finding my place in my host organization, and building lasting relationships.

Leaving my host family during training and moving to my permanent site, I can’t help but be reminded of when I left my family in the US to come to South Africa. My worries now are not too different to the worries I had then: being confused by a new culture and new people, trying to find my place in a different group, and making connections and friendships. Over the past 10 weeks of training I have experienced how these things become easier with time, and while they are still frustrating, technology, in all of its magical wonder, helps me remain connected and supported by the people I love. Whether they are in Baltimore, Pretoria, or elsewhere in rural Kwa-Zulu Natal.

Admittedly, I haven’t been too vigilant about keeping up/starting this blog during training because there wasn’t enough to write about, while at the same time there was too much to write about. It has been a really overwhelming two and a half months, but I am excited to be at my site and to put everything I have learned to good use.

In my subsequent posts I will be sure to mention more of what happened during training throughout my anecdotes from site, attempting to capture the uncapturable!

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