Random Thoughts After a Year in Africa

28 10 2011

So yea, wow. As of today it has been exactly 1 year and 28 days. I swear I’m not counting. I know this because I just recently checked my passport to see when I entered the country and it was September 24th, 2010. The actual day of my 1 year anniversary was spent on Zanizbar with Chris and Amber, so there really wasn’t a better way I could celebrate than hanging out with some amazing friends in tropical paradise. This time last year I was about halfway through training, and still anxious about what the next year of my life would look like. Well, I’ve discovered what life is like and finally after a year am getting comfortable with a routine. It is amazing for me to think back and realize how much my confidence in what I’m doing here has grown in just a single year. Many people have told me “it really sounds like you are doing much better!” They said that from the tone of some of my posts here on this blog as well as the Skype sessions and emails that it’s obvious I’m doing a lot better. The simultaneous collision of an array of things; a new country, a new culture, a new language, new friends, a new lifestyle coupled with a wide spectrum of feelings from a relationship on the rocks and the loneliness of my first Christmas/holiday season away from my family really tested my emotional limits. The combination of all these things seemingly hitting me at once was something that I hadn’t even been close to experiencing in the past. I can without a doubt say that the low point was January 4th, 2010. This was the day that my girlfriend called to tell me things weren’t working out, the day my house got broken into in which a lot of money and various other things where stolen, and only a week after my first Christmas with a bunch of strangers (eventually to be friends for a lifetime). However I don’t think this was just my low point; looking back on it I now see it as the turning point as well. It was the day I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself and concentrate on the job I came here to do and why I had decided to give up everything back home to come and do it. Coincidentally it was also the same day I started the P90X program. At that point I had noticeably lost a decent amount of weight, probably partially because if things like cow stomach were served at dinner in my host family. I would politely eat a bite or two then claim I was full, but I think that maybe it was also partially because of the stress during the first 3 or so months. I can probably attribute part of my recovery to an unlikely source, the one, the only, Tony Horton. I know it sounds stupid but after 4 months of living out of a suitcase in other peoples’ houses, I realized I probably needed a bit of structure to help me to keep putting one foot in front of the other and getting on with my job. No matter how I was feeling that day, Tony would be there to push me to perform at my best (or just try to sell me P90X every bars and recovery drinks). With motivational saying like “Hamburger, bad, fries, bad, coca-cola bad….. There I said it drink your water people!”, “X me baby”, “I hate it….. but I love it.”

Just recently I’ve been reflecting on my progress a year into service I guess I knew I was doing better, you know finally getting the hang of things, but I didn’t realize how unsure of myself I was a year ago. I have yet to go back and read any of my previous posts; I think that I’ll wait until I’m completely done with my service to go back and rehash my mental and emotional state at various points in my service. We did an activity similar to this during our in-service training in April where each volunteer would draw a line graph depicting how ‘happy’ or how ‘sad’ you were at various points in your first 5 months of service. For just about everyone it was a wild ride. But looking back at my old posts here will give me something to do when I’ll most likely be joining the ranks of the unemployed for at least a short while.

So I’m not quite sure where this post will go and I have a feeling that it may meander aimlessly but I’ll just try to get everything out on paper that is going through my head for the sake of remembering what the heck I was feeling. I’ve said it before and I’ll probably say it again, if it weren’t for my amazing family and friends, I’m not sure I would have made it. During some of my rougher moments, none of them thought twice about jumping on Skype at ridiculous hours of the night or shelling out the cash to call me on my phone here. I still remember how amazing it was last year to hear from my family on thanksgiving as well as from my two good friends Katie and Race. When you’re half a world away, all it takes to encourage and lift someone up are the small things, a text, an email, and if you’re really lucky I was, a phone call. Talking to people from home last year on Thanksgiving day, the day I arrived at my new house in the middle of the night without having a clue what exactly I was getting into was amazing and still think about how it really gave me an emotionally boost.

I can now claim that a year through service I’ve grown in so many ways which aren’t all quite apparent yet, but as soon as I realize them I’ll let you know. Because I mean, when people do things like join the Peace Corps, that’s what you do, “grow as a person” right? I guess I’ll have more insight into this question at a later date but I do know that being here has given me time to read no less than 30 books. You know the classics like Atlas Shrugged, Crime and Punishment, The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy, as well as the number one best seller of all time, the bible. Okay, well I haven’t actually finished the bible yet, but I’m 600 pages through and am aiming to get to the point where Jesus is born in a manger sometime before Christmas. Maybe I just think it would be poetic if my progress of reading the bible and the dates of the actual holidays were to coincide, but we’ll see. I’ve also had ample time to read several books on philosophy, which I will admit was absolutely and completely ignorant about prior to coming here. I’m blaming this on the fact that I was an engineering major and didn’t have a chance to take as many “interesting” classes as I would have liked.

I’ve also definitely increased my tolerance for the ridiculous. Things like goats pro-creating outside the classroom while you’re trying to teach, no big deal. Chickens hanging out in my courtyard when I get home? Standard. Poisonous black cobra typish snakes in my house? Yea, just get the broom and sweep him back out into the yard. Giant bugs? I eat them for breakfast. No not really, but compared to a year ago when I’d just jump a little schoolgirl every time I saw a bug, I’ve made tremendous strides. The guy in the bus lifting up the front seat, sucking gasoline out of a hose, and topping off the engine while we roll along at full-speed? You mean that’s not safe? Things like these happen on a regular basis and as crazy as it sounds, they just become part of life here. I’ve discovered that people, humans in general, can adapt to pretty much any damn situation they are put in if forced to. If you told me I’d feel this way a year ago I’d probably tell you to go to hell and that you were crazy. But here I am. The other noticeable change is my diet. I distinctly remember last year about two month into service near the end of training, just about flipping out when a girl suggested she knew “a good rice and beans place”. I was incredulous and thoroughly disgusted because the fact is that every other place that serves food here in this country is “a rice and beans place”. At that point last year I swore that I would throw up if I was forced to eat rice and beans again. When I first got to site, the amount of money (relative to my salary) that I spent on more American style food was completely astronomical. I did everything in my power to avoid eating anything remotely Tanzanian when I went into town, maybe partially because eating food similar to what I ate at home made me feel more at home, but also partly because I sure as hell wasn’t adjusted to the monotonous diet of the majority of people here. Fast forward one year. Guess what I crave every day for lunch? Rice and beans. Guess what I eat every day for lunch? Rice and beans. Ask me if I’d rather have anything else for lunch? I’d say probably not since the price is too good to pass up and plus, the rice and beans served by a particular mama in my village are out of this world. Guess what I eat when I go into town? Rice and beans. There is this one 24 hour high-class Tanzanian food place (useful after a night of a few Safari Lagers) that serves a killer plate of rice and beans. However in town I still do indulge myself and order the beef samosas with an ice cold coke. It’s gotten so bad in fact that these days when the guy who serves food there sees me walk in he knows exactly what I want and I just sit at a table and wait for him to bring me my delicious, delectable, heaping plate of rice and beans. And if I’m not feeling like paying the extra 33 cents for the nice indoor atmosphere of the 24 hour place, I go to little hole in the wall (literally, hole in the wall) place to eat….. yup, rice and beans. I can’t help but laugh at myself to see how I’ve done a complete 180. I think about how I got frustrated over something to stupid and how lucky I am to even be eating rice and beans when the majority of students at my school only have rice and beans for special holidays because of the cost. The students eat ugali which I’ve come to tolerate, if not slightly enjoy. To reiterate, ugali is similar to grits in the south except they are thicker, have less flavor, and taste slightly more like cardboard.

And so, I’ve been able to successfully adjust to most things but there are still two things I have yet to fully adjust to. The first thing is the concept of time here. I never thought of myself as anal when it came to keeping a schedule, but dear lord this is taken to a new level here. I kept telling myself to relax and just get used to it, but I’ve tried and I haven’t. I think it’s hardcoded in my American cultural hardware that if you make a schedule, it’s only logical to follow that schedule and show up at the appointed time. As many times as people here blatantly disregard meeting times and schedules, I still cringe when it interferes with something I had planned to do. Good news is that I still have a year to suppress this innate urge to be on time and do what’s expected of me, but I’m not sure if it’s worth trying to change at this point. The second thing that I haven’t gotten used to is the gross toleration for just about all forms of corruption. I’ve touched on this topic before but everything I see something blatant or hear of something going on, it just, to be frank, pisses me the hell off. I don’t want to go into details now, but maybe I’ll shed some more light on the exact things I’ve seen after I’ve finished my service. As I write this, I’m rolling into the end of school (only two more weeks!) and into the holiday season. What made me semi-depressed to think about last year is really quite getting me excited this year. For example last year on Halloween, I think I had a piece of old cruddy candy with my lunch, cow stomach for dinner, and maybe a warm soda to celebrate. Halloween is a completely foreign concept here and my Swahili was nowhere near good enough to explain why people dress up in ridiculous costumes and knock on total strangers doors and beg for candy. This year however, we are planning a costume party for a bunch of volunteers in town at a girls house who is an ex-Peace Corps volunteer but works for an NGO in town. I’ve been plotting my costume for the past three weeks and can’t wait to taste the spooktacular jungle juice while listening to Michael Jacksons’ “Thriller” on repeat. I mean, we’ve already started plans for a Thanksgiving feast somewhere in which we cook everything from scratch (yea, killing, skinning, and de-feathering the chicken) just like the real Indians and pilgrims did, all the while dressing up in pilgrim and indian costumes! Yea, maybe I’m a little too excited but celebrating American holidays while out of the country is a huge deal for people outside of America. As of now I don’t have any concrete plans for Christmas or New Year’s but I don’t have the extreme anxiety about being away from home for this period like last year. Not to say that I don’t miss home, because while I talk about being comfortable here now, I still fantasize about Thanksgiving next year with my whole extended family in which I drink loads of keg beer, eat appetizers and finger foods until I’m about to bust, then stuff as much turkey down my throat as humanly possible. Then just when I think I won’t be able to fit another thing in my already stretched out stomach, I down a least one or two slices of pumpkin pie (with whipped cream obviously). I then dream about waking up from my self-induced food coma only to gather around the oven like it’s the only source of heat in an arctic winter with my aunts, uncles, cousins, sister, and parents to cook frozen pizzas for a late night snack so that we’ll have enough fuel to sleep through another Thanksgiving Day marathon of James Bond. Wow, I think I just blacked out writing that. In addition to the eating festitivies, I will be able to actually watch a football game. No I don’t mean soccer, I mean good old fashion American Football. Hopefully I’ll get to catch one of my aunt and uncles neighbors sons (wow did you follow that?) games since he plays college ball now. That and hopefully and Eagles game. I can’t tell you how much it pains me to miss football season. However this year is exponentially better in terms of my ability to follow the one, the only, MICHIGAN WOLVERINES. This is another one of those things that probably doesn’t help me “integrate into my village” or learn more Swahili, but what I’ve learned is that I’m obsessed with Michigan Football and that it’s no use trying to fight it. If being halfway around the world can’t reduce my obsession (actually I think it’s making it worse) then I figure there’s no hope. I’m a nut when it comes to Michigan football and I’m completely aware. Thus far this year I’ve stooped to the level of loading espn mobile on my kindle and pressing “refresh” every 15 seconds. I decided that game was miserable and have been going into town more often than I really should. I’ve even stooped to the level of having my parents call me via Skype, point the computer camera at the TV, then let me watch it this way. This year we happened to choose the Notre Dame game to do this. Needless to say it was probably one of the single most exciting games I’ve ever seen in my entire life. I can also honestly say that I was scared that when I opened the door to my room that the unfortunate people who were my neighbors in the hotel that night would be waiting to pummel me for the noise I was making. I tried to keep it to a minimum, and I think I did a good enough job managing my craziness because they actually weren’t waiting outside the door to pummel be for the noise I was making. The game started at 8pm EST, which translates to 3am my time here. Thus the game ended at around 7:30am my time.

Anyway, I’m not sure where all this is going but I can now say that I have a year in the books. One more year to go. At this point I’m already planning the end of my service. Maybe this is jumping ahead but another one of my friends is in the preliminary stages of planning a trip over here to visit after I finish my service next year. I would officially finish my contract, then we would climb Kilimanjaro. I imagine this being a fitting end to my service, to end my time here in Africa climbing to the highest point in the continent then boarding a plane back to America just in time for the holidays and college football bowl season….

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6 responses

30 10 2011
Aunt Nancy, Uncle Greg, Gregory & Kailyn

LOL Glenn, I just always have them polish people on my mind!

28 10 2011
Aunt Lynn

Holt, this is an amazing recollection of your first year! I am so proud of you! Most of everyone who knows me also knows of you and your mission. If I don’t bring you up they do and want to know how you are and what you are up to. I can’t believe I am now telling everyone I am going to visit you in June… yikes!!!!! Thanksgiving is a very special holiday for our family and you were with us in spirit last year and I know you will be with us again this year! After my visit I may consider “Chattin with Cuch” although I am not too sure about large bugs and snakes being part of my life …..Love is with you always. xo Aunt Lynn

28 10 2011
glenn legacki

Hey Nancy,, you dissin the pollocks Line 6 of your reply accompolish.
You have some splaining to do.

28 10 2011
Jean Legacki

We are so proud of you! I know you are growing and learning new things every day along with your students. Anxiously awaiting our visit in June to actually see many of the things that your write about and meet your new friends. (Looking forward to the rice and beans!)
It will be an amazng Thanksgiving next year with you home and a part of the Legacki festivities!!
Love, MOM

28 10 2011
Aunt Nancy, Uncle Greg, Gregory & Kailyn

Glenn, Once again I read the entire post with intrigue, laughter, tears, happiness and some saddness (in regards to our nephew/cousin having to live amoung the bugs, snakes etc.). However, I am truly amazed by your wonderful outlook on this experience and how much you have grown as an individual in this last year. We are so proud of you and we believe there isn’t anything you can’t accompolish. At Campbell’s recent Sales Meeting in September, the guest speaker was the ex coach for the Florida Panthers and he made a statement that stuck with me and I shared it with Kailyn as she was having some struggles with the boot camp prior to joining the field hockey team for school and didn’t think she was going to make it through. The quote was in reference to the football players training camp experience. Here is the Quote: “The first week of training I thought I was going to die, The 4th week of training I wish I would die and at the end of training I realized there is nothing out there that could kill me”. I believe over this year, you have followed that quote. Again, we couldn’t be more proud of you and we can’t wait until you are home with us next year on Thanksgiving where we will stuff you until your stomach can’t handle any more and we will be there with aprons on to serve you “Frozen Pizza” while watching James Bond marathons and Football. We love you! Aunt Nancy, Uncle Greg, Gregory and Kailyn

28 10 2011
glenn legacki

Great Post! Ive copied every one and put them in your folder. Michigan Homecoming this weekend against Purdue…GO BLUE!

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