Friday, September 25, 2015

9/25/2015: A year of difference

Today 2 years ago I moved from America to Mozambique to pursue a dream.
After a year of conflict and struggle and adversity, a year ago today I moved from my home in Xinavane to a new village.
Today I sit at my big screen display screen after coming home from working at American Eagle. Still pursuing work with the EPA, still looking for what this new dream might include.

Sometimes your world just changes and you roll with it. I just came back from Dallas visiting my "Peace Corps Best Friend." But really...a best friend you make in the Peace Corps is just a whole incomparable level of best friendship. I rose at 3 am to travel 3 hours by plane to spend 1 day with her. Hm. Just like in the Peace Corps. During my time with her, as always, I realized the past few years haven't been based on achieving one goal or another, they have been about the journeys I've been on. The places I've seen. The new push pins I can put on the map I plan on making.

Maybe I've been on the move a lot. Maybe I feel under employed. The relationships I have fostered in the past few years are like none other. My friends in Mozambique just sent a care package to me as I prepare another package to send to them. Maybe I'll only see them a few times in my lifetime from the this point forward, but we are forever engrained on each other's hearts because I took that brave step to board that plane 2 years ago. I can't think of anyone else I would go through such effort to see for only 1 day, but because we helped each other through our darkest days overseas and cheered each other through our brightest days, Jules will be that person. Because of where I've been the past few years, I know how important close relationships are, how important my family is, and I can proudly stand in American Eagle and say "you know what, life is just an adventure full of different journeys."

This time next year I could be a firefighter (no...but's hoping I am). You just never know what's going to happen and what could change your plan. I can only hope that the adventure continues, I keep growing, and one day soon I can take my family back to Mozambique with me and share with them a place that I still carry with me everyday.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Peace Corps Pets

My little girl Katniss (yes...she's a cat...) had to be left behind in Xinavane when I came home. I've been in communication with a company that will ship her. It costs about $2,000 to import a cat from South Africa. It's a lot of money so I started a GoFundMe.

Some say "why not adopt a cat here?" Peace Corps pets are special. Not that there aren't animals here in need of a loving home. But Peace Corps pets have been through the biggest adventure with us. Katniss was by my side on the days I wanted to give up, she gave me a reason to keep trying. She offered comfort on the days I missed home. She gave me entertainment and joy. I rescued her at 3 weeks old from a trash pile and offered her a life she would have otherwise never known. But she also offered me an experience I would have never imagined. My heart aches for her and I want to see her again.

I am sharing my GoFundMe here please share it

Saturday, April 18, 2015

4/18/2015: Owning it

It has been a while since I have posted here and wanted to share some empowering feelings I gained this past week.

Over the course of the week I had the opportunity to attend the RPCV Career Conference. While this conference is really designed to help us re-enter America and navigate the job market as RPCVs I gained something so much more.

Since coming home I have battled with my identity as an RPCV. I left my service early and suddenly, I feel I didn't accomplish all I had set out to accomplish, I didn't leave my village or return to America with any sort of pomp and circumstance or celebration, I honestly felt I wasn't apart of the returned volunteer community.

This week, for the first time since signing my COS papers in the Maputo office in Mozambique, I actually identified myself as an RPCV. Being around others who have varying stories of their service from great successes to struggling the whole time to being evacuated after being in country for only 5 months, everyone considered themselves an RPVC so I began to see myself as part of the community. Nobody in that conference cared that I left or why I left, they cared that I went at all and could understand where they had been. I became apart of one of the most important non-blood relation families I could ever be included in. I became an RPCV this week. I gained a family of people who understand the true pain I had with my struggles, the true joy I had with my work, the sadness I still feel when I see the pictures of my girls on my Facebook, the fact that part of my heart is gone forever and I'll always wonder "what if I stayed." I joined a family of people who know the struggles of "I learned so much, but that's not a marketable skill" and the joys of "One of my girls just emailed me, she turned down a marriage arrangement and is going to university!"

I am owning it. I am an RPCV. Whether I stayed a month, a year, 5 years, I got on that plane to go serve and that will forever give me this "badge" of honor.

It was so empowering to be around my "family" this week. We walk the streets and we don't have a uniform or a patch or any indication of where we went and what we did for our country and the countries we served. But we know what it takes and what it means, and we have each other to congratulate and support.

I am finally proud to call myself an RPCV and empowered to live a life that fulfills the passion for service RPCVs carry in our hearts.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Happy Peace Corps Week 2015

It took me some time this week to think about this post.
Peace Corps week is very bittersweet these days for me but with the roll out of the Let Girls Learn initiative I feel like I should share the importance of my experience and Peace Corps.

Girls around the world have a struggle we will never know. When I first starting talking to my girls in Mozambique, they were shocked that I was single, 23, university educated, and living alone on the other side of the world. My stories of my life and my family support offered them a light to another world outside of leaving school early and getting married to someone you may or may not love. Working with them through REDES (and other programs in other nations) girls learn about dreams they never knew how to pursue. It's not that my girls didn't want something besides early marriage, often times it was more they didn't know how to get something else. Programs like Peace Corps and Let Girls Learn don't plant dreams into girls' heads, they work with the girls to help them be empowered to achieve their own dreams. And there is something beautiful about that.

I didn't want to leave my girls. Actually, because of them, I had considered finding new ways to stay in Africa with a different organization. Their excitement and leadership and ambition was contagious and awe-inspiring. A big part of the Peace Corps experience, I think, has to do with the people you are working with, and my girls made my experience golden.

I miss them, and I often wonder what they are doing now. It's hard knowing that I wasn't replaced in my village and so they don't have a new inspiration coming into the classroom. But I know my time with them inspired enough of them to go out and start inspiring their friends to reach for the stars, and that's what being a volunteer is about...leaving a lasting legacy.

My girls (and the rest of my students) forever hold a special place in my heart...they were the light and joy of my job in Africa and I know for a lot of volunteers, their villagers or students are what makes the experience.

Go out there and inspire.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The Courage It Takes

I've been home for a few months now and I finally have the words I want to say about my decision to quit.

Everyone said I was courageous when I left. But to me, going wasn't the hard part. I knew I was always going to join the Peace Corps, I did everything throughout my life to get me there. I know it takes guts to drop everything and move to a developing country where you know no one, barely know the language, and have no idea what the culture will be like. That didn't scare me for a second though, what really took courage and guts for me was making the last call.

People really underestimate how terrifying and hard the decision can be to go back on everything you thought you hoped for. I don't plan. I don't know where I'll be next week, or next month, or next year. But I had this one to Peace Corps to a government job. Do you know how much fear and upset it can cause to suddenly not have that plan? To come home without a job, without an idea of what you want you do to or where you want be? The courage it takes to finally speak up after 7 months and say "no more" or to admit that the one dream I had turned into a huge disappointment and admit that I felt betrayed and abandoned by the people who were supposed to have my back.

The final call I made was beyond tearful. It's not that I wanted to leave, it's that I lost myself. I saw myself becoming so bitter, distrustful, paranoid, and hopeless. It takes courage to say "no matter what anyone says I can't do this to myself anymore." And I was nervous, I felt like I was letting myself and my family down. I felt like I was becoming the disappointment instead of someone people were proud of.

The past few months have been an emotional roller coaster and sometimes absolutely terrifying. I can't say I don't miss Africa, and that's why it took everything from me to decide to leave. I can't say I was happy to come home disappointed in myself and feeling like a disgrace. I can't say I was comforted by an unknown future. Everything about leaving my post in Mozambique was terrifying and to that wasn't helped by the fear of the stigma of a volunteer leaving early. We all have our own reasons for why we can't stay where we are. Like any other job, we all have our reasons for moving on.

It didn't take courage for me to go honestly, it took every ounce of courage I could muster to say goodbye to life I had made myself and get on that plane in Maputo and come back. I admire volunteers who have the strength to say "I can't take this anymore" and return rather than fight through the unhappiness they are facing.

All of that said. It feels great to slowly be returning to my old self. Since starting work at American Eagle again I have found myself becoming more outgoing again after 2 years of shying away from people and not trusting those around me. I'm laughing again like I barely did while I was overseas. I'm enjoying going out and doing things after so long of avoiding leaving my house. Because of all of that I can tell that it was worth all of the fear and pain involved in deciding to come home because I'm returning to Jessie.

Monday, December 8, 2014

12/06/2014: Why I don't say hello

I first need to remind you that this blog is a reflections of my own views and not every volunteer has the same experiences or opinions.

A while back there was a flutter of posts on Facebook about catcalling in the states and I wanted to share my story of being here.

I used to be annoyed by the catcalling in the states, offended and hurt. Then I came here. I'm not even sure my experiences are considered catcalling since at times it has led to me simply just not leaving my house for a few days. It became so exhausting, I did the only thing I could think of. Many people found my behavior rude. But it was all I could muster to enjoy the time I did wander into the village.

I stopped greeting people.

I didn't enjoy being rude. I like talking to people. I like meeting new people. But that was my survival tactic. Sure I never physically in danger, maybe one day someone could have crossed a line but I never felt like they would. But that doesn't make it less exhausting and less hurtful to have to hear crude comments from EVERY guy.

I don't mean a few men hanging out at the bar or the rare whistle from a passing car, or even the student with a little crush. I mean EVERY guy from the second I opened my front door to the second I got to the village and all the way back again. And FYI...there's a lot of guys hanging around out there.

I experienced catcalling in the states. And I hated it. But something about the way many of them talk to me here and the fact that they make it pretty clear it's because I'm an outsider, makes it feel so demeaning and offensive it ways it never felt back home.

My REDES friend and I talked about it because I told her it was one of the truck load of reasons I'm going home. And she even told me a lot of young girls just become used to it. But my fear wasn't getting used to harassment or even really the verbal harassment itself (though believe me, there are days it sent me home in tears hearing them calling out). It's what could potential happen to verbal harassment after one too many beers. Or the fact that these guys really don't have respect for young professional females that even harass the TEACHERS (which generally is one of the most respected professions here).

Maybe it was rude to never say hello, but the fact that going to the village sometimes put me on the verge of me that's more disrespective. A tough skin is important but at somepoint the words have to stop as well. It isn't just on me to develop a tough skin, it's on them to learn how to be respectful.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

11/26/2014: Home again, home again jiggity jig

It is with a heavy but relieved heart I share that I have resigned from my service and will begin the process home on December 8.
After months of conversations, debates, meetings, and heartache and additional recent personal struggles I came to the conclusion that I could not continue and be the best volunteer I could be.
Experiences I had during my year changed me, and that is bound to happen, but I was noticing they changed me for the worst, I stopped being the person I used to be and not in a great way. I used to be a person who went above and beyond and loved to be outside interacting with people...something I've hated to do for a while now. And I felt my village deserves someone who will give them 100%.
It is a heartbreaking decision. I love Mozambique and my various surrogate families. And I have been lucky to have 2 great villages of service. Maybe one day I'll be able to return for new service. But until then...Ja tenho saudades for my friends, my kids, and my villages.
I have learned the hard way this job is impossible if you don't absolutely love it and I will continue to cheer for the friends still serving.