Thursday, September 18, 2008

Taking the plunge...again

A ship in the harbor is safe, but that's not what ships are for.
~ William Shedd

Today I officially join the Peace Corps as a trainee, the first big step into the next two years of my life. It is fitting that three years ago today I took another big step as myself and a dozen friends threw ourselves off the 218 m Bloukran's Bridge in Storm's River, South Africa trusting our entire lives to a few hundred feet of bungee cord and a set of cloth harnesses. Though certainly not equal, both these experiences represent conscious decisions I have made to not let fear or uncertainty hold me back from experiences which might help me grow and challenge some of my fears.

In joining the Peace Corps today I am certainly forcing myself out of my comfort zone and into an experience which I know will be incredible because it is going to challenge me physically and emotionally and mentally from the very first day. Living with a family that is not my own, who do not really speak my language, who eat food that I don't even recognize and who are probably a little freaked out about hosting me too, not knowing a single person I am going to be spending the next three months's incredibly intimidating and incredibly exciting too.

My overall ambitions for the next 27 months are fairly simple. I want to completely open myself to the experiences which come along, especially the difficult or frightening ones. I want to give as much of myself as I can to help the people in my village help themselves by identifying ways to improve their health that are both culturally appropriate and feasible without continual external aid. I want to work as hard as I can to understand health and illness from their perspective and find solutions and ways of sharing knowledge that respect these perspectives while also presenting plausible alternatives. And I want to continue to tackle new fears head-on and overcome them and grow.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Countdown to Cameroon

I officially have two weeks left before I begin the next 27 months of my life! At this point I've gotten past most of the anxiety about being away for so long and I'm excited to get back to Africa! I have very little idea what to expect from Cameroon or the Peace Corps (probably overall a good thing) but I'm really hopeful that Central Africa will be every bit as wonderful as Southern Africa was.

Anyone who has spent any amount of time with me this summer will know how much I agonized over what to name this blog...I enlisted the help of several friends and family in brainstorming for a clever title like my friend Liz's, the PCV in Benin who got to name her blog 'Benin There, Done That.' Or the Cameroon PCV (who I can't wait to meet) who already has a blog called 'That's What She Said.' The competition was pretty tough and at times I doubted if I could even write a blog if I couldn't even come up with a catchy name...

In the end I've decided to go for idealistic instead of clever and borrow some lines from a wonderful Nigerian poet, Ben Okri. These words depict so much of what I love about my experiences of Africa so far -- the amazing hope and joy that people seem to be able to effortlessly create in the face of what I -- and I think most Americans -- would consider incredibly depressing and hopeless circumstances. While I doubt that I'll profoundly change the world by spending two years in the Peace Corps, I do not doubt that my life will be changed and inspired by the experiences I have here. I hope this blog will be a way for me to include some of you in these experiences, both in the moments of difficulty and frustration as well as the moments of hope and inspiration.