Monday, April 11, 2016

The Juggling Act

I attended circus camp as a child. I don't really remember how it happened, or why my mother decided to leave me in the care of an actual bunch of clowns, but that summer I found myself thrown into the world of Barnum and Bailey. The camp was held in the great Hall of the local Historical Society, a dated brick building, covered in creeping vines and hidden behind large oak trees. It's a magnificent structure, a remnant from an era of prosperity in what is now a crumbling area of town.

Boring is one word that you can't use to describe a circus. Over the course of two weeks, I learned how to tight rope walk, use stilts, walk on a rolling ball and balance on a see-saw like device they called a rolla-bolla. I remember falling off the thigh high rope, getting discouraged, but always hopping back on, determined to make it across to the other side. While I finally mastered the walk, stilts and loved the rolla-bolla so much I made my parents install one at home, I struggled to grasp the art of juggling.

Although not necessarily a circus act, we are were taught how to juggle. The progression was simple in concept: scarves, balls, rolling pins and finally the PhD level flaming swords (just kidding! There was probably a waiver for that!). The scarves were easy. Color coded, we learned how to let our hands do the work, waiting for the scarf to glide gently down to its position, ready to be tossed in the air again. After scarves, the balls proved to be a whole new challenge. I couldn't keep them in the air. I literally couldn't keep my eye on the ball. They tumbled to the ground, rolled away and I felt like a failure in the clown world. Luckily the circus was not my first career choice.

I learned a lot at circus camp and find myself reflecting on my failure to keep those balls in the air. We all have those moments; when there are only two balls, it's easy, one for each hand. At three, we have to divide our attention even more, always at risk for things to come crashing down.

While I still haven't mastered the balls or graduated to the pins, I've become a much more confident life juggler. We hear so much about finding work-life balance, making time for friends, family and ultimately reserving time for yourself.  Peace Corps is no different.

In some ways, being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a nonstop circus act. As the only white woman in my village, I am always the object the interest. People see me trying to "tight rope" the fine line between my 24/7 job, my personal life, my friendships both among other volunteers and members of my community, and the life I left behind at home. It truly is 27 months of juggling.

Luckily, I enjoy the circus. And I've been keeping busy (and somehow managed to keep all the balls airborne). Here are the highlights:

- Over the past month, I've weighed almost every child under age 3 in my community to assess rates of malnutrition.  This involved 6 am appointments with my Mother Leaders and lots of sleepy babies who weren't happy being hung from a sling in my front yard. Good news: almost every child is in the 80th percentile or higher!!

- As part of World Malaria Month, I have surveyed over 200 households in Village to determine mosquito net needs. We plan to do a large distribution in May after doing capacity building exercises for Malaria prevention behavior change with my women's health group. This new women led Malaria team is my sustainable approach to disease eradication in Adourekoman.

- Plans for girls camp (GLOW) are well underway. The grant that was submitted was approved and volunteers have already applied to participate. Now it's just lots of logistics, shopping and prep!

- I attended a Peace Corps nutrition summit and started a small scale moringa garden with children in Village. Now that the rains have arrived, everything is turning green and I'm excited to see some progress with the garden, despite my black thumb.

- Saturday was the lancement (kickoff) ceremony for my Amour et Vie team. Local authorities and elders showed up to support us and over a hundred women and children came to learn about Malaria prevention and dance to celebrate. I gave a welcome speech in Idaasha and now everyone in the commune thinks I'm fluent. Sorry to disappoint.

- After months of discussions, I finally submitted a grant to bring solar power to our health center. This project will provide lighting, refrigeration for on site vaccines and a proper delivery bed for our maternity. These much needed improvements will drastically change the quality of care we can provide to the community and I look forward to not having to hold a cell phone flashlight during births or suturing. Stay tuned for how you can help make this a reality!

It's been a wonderful couple weeks and I've loved spending time in Village, making new Peace Corps friends and truly launching into important programming in my community. Juggling is a joy, and no matter what happens to the balls in the air, I'm proud of my progress, integration and the amazing opportunities of this magical experience. 


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