The Path Less Traveled

19 05 2012

So I realize it’s been a while since I’ve posted last.  I actually had a blog post all written up on my computer and was just waiting until I went into town to post it.  However, I just received a message from an old friend who is doing similar work as me and making some of the similar sacrifices that are fairly rare with people our age and I realized that what I was about to post seemed extremely negative.  Okay maybe not negative, but maybe lamenting the fact that I was here in Tanzania.  I’m not sure how it comes off most of the time, but as I’ve said before, I don’t (not even a little bit) regret my decision to join the Peace Corps.  Of course I don’t always realize how I sound when I writing because I usually just let my thoughts flow onto the page (or into the computer) and write what I’m feeling or what is going through my head at the time.  I do admit that more recently I’ve had more dreams about being at home, and that I can’t lie about.  The funny thing , and I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before, is that when I was there in America, I would sit in my cubicle and daydream about living the simple life in some mud hut in Africa, teaching the next generation of Nobel Prize winners, and basically changing the world.  What I’ve discovered however is that changing the world isn’t as easy or as glorious as it’s made out to be, or at least was made out to be in my head before I got here.  I don’t know what I really expected, but I thought that kids would flock to the classroom, starry eyed, taking in all the wealth of knowledge of I was willing to give them and that things would be just grand.  In reality, probably about a quarter of all my students never come to class or flat out skip my class.  The thing about being the only teacher who actually follows the schedule here is that the kids know exactly when I’ll show up to teach so for a large group of them they know exactly when to leave the classroom so they don’t have to sit through a period of mathematics.  There are literally students, who after I overhear their conversations, learn are actually kids that should be in my class but that I have literally never seen them, not even once.   Add to this the fact that as of recently, my house has in fact been broken into, or rather snuck into, at least 5 times that I know of and you could say it’s been a slightly trying past month.  I’m 99% sure it’s kids, most likely kids from my school because things like candy and magazines from America, money, and various kitchen utensils were stolen.  And before you ask “Why don’t you lock your door??”, the answer is that I lock the several doors that it takes to get into my house but that doesn’t stop them from climbing through the bars in the windows that aren’t close enough together to do any good.  And to top it off, just recently a teacher at my school tried to seriously injure a student and had to be removed from school premises by the police.  Oh, and he also happened to be a friend of mine.  This series of events again makes me ask myself the question that I’ve asked myself countless times before, “What the hell am I doing with my life over here?” I then get to the point of daydreaming about life in America.  But then I realize “Hey, just before I got here, wasn’t I dreaming about life over here in Africa?”  So back to why I decided to scrap the majority of my previous post, and quit my moaning and complaining.  My friend sent me a message that contained the following sage wisdom (I hope he/she won’t mind me using it since it’s anonymous; it’s just too good not to be shared):

“Whether you choose the status quo or the path less traveled, I think the key is to just fully commit to whatever you (choose to be) are doing.  Enjoy it, don’t spend it wishing you were doing something else.  I think it’s this discord that prevents us from bringing Joy, Peace, and Love into the world, which I think is our entire job here on earth, as you once told me, living how Jesus lived.  And the only way we can do that is to be alive in whatever it is we are doing, from the simplest thing like washing the dishes to the grandest thing like speaking in the courtroom.”

I have some pretty amazing friends huh?  But I truly believe the above is absolutely true.  The timing is funny because I just read some of the similar advice recently from a book called “I’m a Stranger Here Myself” by Bill Bryson.  The gist is that life is too special to wish you were doing something else all the time, because in the end, you may find that you’ve wished your whole life away.  I really do believe in what I’m doing here.  Whether what I’m doing is making as big of a difference as I’d hoped for is another question, but judging from the students reactions, telling me they will miss me and that the school will miss my laughter and that they want another volunteer just like me to come in August (when the newbies get here), I think I can safely say I’ve at least made a year or two of school more enjoyable for a handful of students.  Heck, I’ve even learned another language, another way of life, and made a whole new group of friends so in the grand scheme of things I can’t get too down on myself.  It’s amazing that every time things aren’t going well here, I get a boost of encouragement from someone back home, like they have me hooked up to some type of device that monitors my mood and sees that “oh geez, here he goes again having second thoughts, I’d better pull him up by his shorts and remind him what he’s actually doing there.” So from here on out, I’m really going to concentrate on my job here and try to keep myself totally immersed in it and enjoy every second of it because as I know, and as other volunteers have told me, you’ll miss it.  I know this is true, but every time I dump that cold bucket of water over me at bath time or every time I bite into yet another mouthful of tasteless white bread and/or rice I think to myself “Are they really sure I’ll miss this?”

All this being said, there is a practical reason for at least thinking about what I’ll do when I get home.  When I do get home, I’ll need a place to live and a way to feed myself.  I don’t yet know the exact date of my return, but if all goes well it will be October 26th (1 day before Michigan Football places an 8:00pm prime time game against Nebraska at Nebraska).  I find myself increasingly (more than I normally did last year) daydreaming about hot showers, Asian cuisine, delivery pizza, cold weather, FOOTBALL, and being home for Thanksgiving and Christmas with my family.  I’ll even have moments where I bite into a spoonful of rice, beans, and hot sauce and close my eyes and imagine it tastes like a Chipotle burrito, or I’ll take a sip of an ice cold coke, close my eyes and imagine I’m sitting by the pool on a hot summer day, or the other day when, even though I live nowhere near a source of water, swore I caught the scent of seawater on the air and closed my eyes to imagine myself relaxing on the beach in Ocean City, MD.  Home is so close at this point that I can literally taste it and smell it.  I think part of it is that currently many of my good friends who arrived in country 3 months before me have received their “COS” dates, that is their “Close of Service” dates, meaning they know the exact day they’ll be leaving the country.  As I mentioned, as practical matter, I actually do need to start thinking about what I’ll do once I get home.  I’ll have no house, no car, and only a bag or two full of clothes.  I’ll basically be wiping the slate clean and starting over.  Luckily I’ve had no shortage of friends and my sister who have offered to house me until I can get back on my feet.  Once June hits, I’ll start getting my resume together and at least start browsing the job market.  I’ve mentioned it to a handful of my friends and family, but I’d actually like to get a job with the Home Depot in a mid-career rotational program.  Before I left this was one of the places that I was seriously going to apply to if the Peace Corps thing didn’t work out.  I’ve got several friends who work there and absolutely love it.  I know, going from the wild and wonderful life of a Peace Corps volunteer to working at Home Depot corporate sounds like an odd decision, but like I said, my friends who work there say it’s challenging, filled with smart people, and that it’s a lot of fun.  As part of the rotational position I’m thinking about, you get to work hours in the actual store, which is a super cool idea to me.  My buddy told me that last year he got to work every Friday in the actual store and helped with the Christmas tree display which again sounds like something awesome.  To wear a pair of work boots, jeans, and gloves, helping to unload a truck full of Christmas trees, helping some family pick out the perfect Christmas Tree (a tree even Clark Griswold would be proud of), wearing a tool belt and pencil in your ear (because I feel like I’d need to measure or mark something), sounds great to me.  Call me crazy, but we’ll see how it all turns out.  This is just one scenario but who really knows what the heck will happen once I get back.  I just feel like I have this clean slate, this fresh new perspective, this refreshing feeling, and that I can start from scratch and really do whatever I want.  I can’t really describe the feeling but before Peace Corps I always had this anxious feeling, maybe I was scared I wouldn’t have the guts to actually go and do something like Peace Corps, but I knew that it was one of my life goals. I put a lot of things on hold and hesitated to make any long term commitments because I always had that urge in the back of my mind to one day eventually live overseas, and now that I’m almost through, I feel like I can just be a lot more content knowing that a huge life goal of mine is nearly accomplished.

Aside from my musing about the end of my service, I’m hard at work trying to make the most of my last few months teaching.  My students have only about 1 month (edit: 2 weeks) remaining before they take their “Mock” exams.  These are similar the “pre-ACT” tests in America.  They are basically identical to the tests that will decide the rest of their life in October to get them comfortable with the format as well as to be able to diagnose any weak points that they can still get help with before the actual exam.  I think I mentioned before about two weekends a month I’ll have extra study periods on Saturdays where students can come to get help.  On the teaching front, it’s business as usual.  However, I still find it amazing how comfortable I’ve becoming teaching classes of up to 60 students and speaking in front of people.  Before joining Peace Corps, this was a weakness that I fully recognized and hoped that I could improve, and I’m confident that I’ve improved many times over in this area.  Along those lines, I’ve also applied to be a “Welcome Host” for the newest Education training class that will arrive in Tanzania in early June.  My job would be to basically help the 40 or so new volunteers get from the airport to the facility in Dar es Salaam where they’ll spend their first week getting briefed on what exactly to expect in Tanzania.  Most of my duties will be to answer as many questions they have as humanly possible.  It may seem like a small job but I can assure you that when my group of trainees came in there was an endless supply of questions about life here in Tanzania.  In addition, I’d have the opportunity to co-facilitate a session with the Country Director of Tanzania on “Professionalism within Peace Corps Tanzania”.  I’ve submitted my application and suggested lesson plan, so I’m crossing my fingers that I’ll be chosen (edit: I was selected!  I’ll be working with one other volunteer to help transition the new training group of volunteers into Peace Corps life). 

Outside of work, I’ve been training for the Ruaha Half-Marathon.  I know I talked a big game about doing the Kilimanjaro Marathon but the timing just didn’t work out and the distance to travel was just too much.  However, I’m 100% committed to doing this race later in the month.  A big group of mostly the people I hang out with in town have signed up for it.  It’s the inaugural race, so I can officially say I’ll be a part of the first one ever run.  In addition, two of the other volunteers birthdays fall around the same time so we are trying to do a post-race BBQ somewhere in town.  It may well be the last time that a lot I see my friends before they start to make their way home and complete their service.  Along with eagerly anticipating the race weekend, I’m counting down the days until my parents/sister/aunt/aunt’s friend/sister’s friend come to visit, which is only a month and a half away (edit: one month).  I haven’t seen my family in person in over a year and I can’t describe in words how much I’m anticipating them coming and seeing them as well as showing them where the heck I’ve been living for the last two years.  My Aunt however has instructed me that I’d better try to get rid of any type of creepy-crawly animals around my house in the village before she visits, so I’ll be busy working on that :)

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One response

19 07 2012
Lawrence F. Lihosit

It’s never too early to think about the Third Goal. Check out Peace Corps Experience: Write & Publish Your Memoir. Oh! If you want a good laugh about what PC service was like in a Spanish-speaking country back in the 1970’s, read South of the Frontera: A Peace Corps Memoir.

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