In Botswana, few people have cell phone plans. We buy airtime, use it up and buy more. There are different cell phone companies that we use – Mascom, Orange or Bemobile. I use Bemobile. It has this great service on the weekends where I can call other Bemobile users for free. I use that time to catch up with friends—both volunteers and locals.
Being in contact with other volunteers can be a source of both great support and also confusion about one’s service. It is nice to know that others can understand what you are going through to some extent. However, seeing what other volunteers are doing can make you question your own service, asking things like:
Am I going enough?
Am I being lazy?
What is wrong with me that I have not been as “successful” within my own community?
Should I change what I am doing in some way?
Conversely, you can get great ideas to use in your own village based on other volunteers’ work.
In America, we are used to measuring success by the same barometers as other people. We (well, some of us) had steady jobs or we attended school. There were concrete ways to know if we were doing what we were supposed to be doing. That concept does not apply to Peace Corps service. What works in one community could be a terrible idea in another. So it is not possible—nor is it healthy—to judge oneself and one’s work based on that of other people.
But we are human, so inherently we find ourselves doing just that at times. And that has brought about a surprising, but nice realization for me: I will not be the best at everything I do. And that is not only okay, but actually quite beautiful. I am surrounded by people who are more intelligent, innovative and experienced than I am. There are times when I am the more intelligent, innovative and experienced person.
I was talking about this (on my Bemobile free weekend time) with a fellow volunteer yesterday. We were both remarking on how lucky we are to have been able to do everything we wanted in life. We graduated from college, studied what we wanted, and can return to the states and pursue any career path we choose. How unbelievable is that? There are few people in the world that can claim that. We both realized that Peace Corps is the first time in which things aren’t quite going according to plan. And thank goodness for this experience to show us that…to make us okay with the unexpected, okay with redefining success.
At one point, my friend said that we may not end up achieving what we “set out to do” in Botswana. That made me pause and wonder what exactly it was that I set out to do. Surely I wanted to help people. Surely I knew that I would grow in the process. But I am a better human being now than I was before I came to Peace Corps. I can say that unequivocally. I am kinder. I am easier to work with. I appreciate more and worry less.
It’s not just Peace Corps or Shoshong that has brought about these changes within me. It is also the self-learning I have had time to do while here. A while ago, I wrote about wishing that I would find the right religion for me. Although I wouldn’t define it as a religion, I have found a philosophy that fills that void. It is called Taoism. There is a peace in my life that I never experienced before. I encourage everyone (of all religious and spiritual backgrounds) to read the Stephen Miller translation of the Tao Te Ching.
The main philosophy of Taoism is to understand the way of the world and work within it, rather than against it. When those negative questions come into my head, making me wonder if I am “doing enough,” I attempt to recognize where they come from…an American-imposed notion of success that I can shrug off anytime. And I shall.
Although PC Washington may measure my service by the number of people I reach each quarter, I will not. I will measure it by smiles, by the children that run after me knowing my name, by the people who say thank you, by the times locals confide in me, by the joys of weddings and funerals and dancing, by the all-encompassing love that this world has to offer.
So, “how do you measure, measure a year? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee? In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife? In 525 thousand 600 minutes? How do you measure a year in the life? How about love?”