Monday, December 21, 2015

Six Months Happy

The decision to become a Peace Corps volunteer was not an easy one. In fact, when I received my invitation, I immediately doubted myself and decided to decline the invite. I was worried about being lonely, sad about missing out on events at home and unsure about my ability to live in a foreign environment without any of my modern amenities. I'm glad that, over the course of seven days last December, I struggled with the decision and ultimately went down the road of the unknown, the adventure and the challenge.

Despite often sharing the highlights of my life here, its not always easy. I've given up certain creature comforts: running water, coffee without the grinds, clean clothes that aren't covered in a layer of dust, electricity and exchanged them for solar showers, one cup French presses (I realize this is still a luxury and I'm so glad it made the packing list), language barriers, solar panels that barely work in the rural haze, and hand washing that leaves a trail of soap on everything I attempt to wash. Its been six months of change, adaptation and resiliency.

Some days here are easier than others. Some nights the bats living in my roof don't keep me up all night, the children don't start pounding on my door to play at 6 am, the zem driver actually has exact change and I can readily find a source of protein in village to accompany my heaping servings of carbohydrates. On other days, everything feels like a struggle. It feels like the country is fighting against us.

I'm lucky and spoiled in village. I have friends who have become family, a wonderful house which feels like home and a community that welcomes me with uncharacteristic Beninese smiles and open arms. I am blessed.

Being a Peace Corps Volunteer has been deemed "the toughest job you'll ever love," and I couldn't agree more. There are highs and lows. There are days that move so slowly, but then the surprise as another week passes by. I've learned a lot about myself, being independent and most importantly, how to ask for help. But by all means, this is not a life for everyone.

The Peace Corps is a choice. We are volunteers who choose to serve 27 months in a foreign community. We accept these challenges and are forced to create our own tools to overcome them. Just as we can choose to be here, we can choose to leave.

One of the hardest things for me here has been watching, talking and listening to my friends who decide to terminate their service. I fully respect their decisions; this is not an easy job, an easy place to live and its not for everyone. But as another person leaves my little Peace Corps family, its like a piece of me, and my experience here, gets ripped away.

I think its important to remember that everyone coming into Peace Corps has their own goals, motivations and experiences. Its crucial to recognize that you are in control of your own happiness. As I sit here, swinging in my hammock in Adourekoman, I can't imagine being in a better place. For others, too many days bring unsurmountable challenges.

I think the point of this post is two-fold. First, for anyone interested in the Peace Corps, you will, like I did, probably read countless blogs and articles about the PC experience. These will be both positive and negative. Until you try, however, they will not be yours. Trust yourself, take the risk and enjoy the ride.

Second, I am not one to easily admit failure.  I believe in countless second chances, working to rebuild the broken, and that there really is a light at the end of the tunnel if you keep trekking forward. Being in Benin has made me realize that certain things are not in my control: travel can take hours due to potholes, electricity in the nearby town can be out for days, and, in a village where people tell time by the height of the sun, I can rarely expect anyone to be "on time." If you join the Peace Corps, there is a way out. As much as you can provide for your community, its important to know that you, and your happiness, come first. I credit those who realize that this is not for them and, at the same time, mourn their absence.

Over the past six months, my PC family has dwindled, but my Beninese family has grown exponentially. I have found strength that I didn't know I possessed and been blown away by the people I've met on this journey.

As I hit the six month mark here in Benin, and look forward to everything that 2016 holds, its important to reflect about what you're doing and what you could be doing to become a happier and more fulfilled person. Sometimes its in the unexpected places, like a little village surrounded by crawling hills in rural Benin.

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