“I feel like it comes easy to you. I feel like you’re just meant to do something like this. I just don’t know if I am.”
I remember during pre-service training a volunteer in my cohort told me that through her tears of uncertainty about this experience. I was flattered at the time but tried to assure her I struggle in my own ways. Comparison will always be a thief of happiness.
I know I have a leg up because of what I went through prior to joining the Peace Corps. After death took two of the most important people in my life I learned fast that everything is temporary and nothing is promised. Especially not power in our villages or water for our cisterns. 100% of the time the future we have generated in our minds does not come to fruition. Something may happen as you wanted, but never in the dreamlike fashion it does in our head. This goes for both our desires and worst fears.
For an American, some obvious tests of this experience are the lack of material goods and the discomfort. None of those things bother me, at least not for more than five minutes. In short, things just aren’t that bad in comparison to what I’ve gone through before.
I’ve put on a straight face for so long now I feel like I have a reputation to uphold with the outside world. I mostly struggle privately, although I’ve been known to speak openly about my personal hardships in hopes to open the conversation to uncomfortable topics we’re subconsciously trained to avoid. The past two months have been a test. In bullet form, these are some things I’m dealing with.
- Intense guilt coming home to my village after vacation
- Admission into a hospital from an unknown illness
- Substantial construction work on my home that caused multiple safety concerns
- Feeling ostracized and disposable
- My mom coming to Comoros! (a later blog post to come on this)
- My mom leaving Comoros
- Threatened on public transport
- A home burglary while I was on the property
- Moving houses across my village
One day in mid-January I had a feeling. Anyone who knows me knows I listen to my intuition. It’s proven its viability to me over the years when I used to push it away. Other than a low-grade fever I had no real valid symptoms. Thankfully, our medical doctor at the time took precautionary measures and picked me up from my village and brought me to the capital. While we drove, I started to feel guilty and paranoid I made her come almost 3 ½ hours round trip for nothing.
This illness was unlike anything I’d experienced before. It came in intervals. I felt terrible the whole time and had a constant fever but I referred to the worst points as “episodes.” I would feel it coming on as if I were watching a wave tower above me before it crashed down. After ruling out malaria and getting my blood taken twice, the results showed nothing. After a long, tiring day of tests and needles, it was decided I should be monitored in a hospital overnight. This was worrisome for me. I didn’t know if it was precautionary or if something would turn for the worst.
I was hooked up to an IV and felt hollow and weak. Around 4 p.m. I had an episode that left my vision blurred and I couldn’t do anything but close my eyes and think for hours. I realize now this was when my fever climbed to 104 and that is why my vision was obstructed. My fever remained here for the rest of the night. It was good I didn’t read until afterwards what was happening inside my body when an adult fever gets that high. My vitals were out of whack and were recorded every 15-30 minutes throughout the night and tested 2-3 times each time for a precise reading. It’s not like I was able to sleep anyways. My autonomy was stripped from me. Me and my IV bag needed a person on each arm to carry me to the bathroom. I needed help with everything that process entails, if you want to go through it in your mind.
I often tried to put myself in my dad’s shoes when he was sick. This was the first time I truly had a glimpse into what it must’ve been like to unwillingly give up bodily functions you’ve lived with your whole life. And even then, what I experienced was miniscule and just a shaving of what he felt. I think about death more than the average person. I realized through this viral scare that I’m not ready to die but I’m at peace with when it’s my turn. It was beautiful to have those moments with myself and I’m proud of it. I’m proud that the fear of death doesn’t live inside me or dictate what I choose for myself and my life.
The past two months I’ve probably accumulated 3+ weeks in the capital due to medical and security holds. I could probably write a brochure about all the different hotels, what rooms to frequent and which to refuse. A few weeks back when a large sum of money was stolen from my bedroom while I was there, a switch flipped inside me. Along with various other problems with my current living situation, it was best if I found a different place to live. I decided that I couldn’t ignore a lot of the things I previously made excuses for. I wrestled with this decision for a while. I have always been more comfortable dealing with the demons I know than risking what I have in hopes that the grass will be greener.
I was in love with life in Comoros and in the Peace Corps. There were so many moments a day I’d be reaffirmed of my decision to leave everything I’d ever known for this. The past two months I’ve hardly been in my village, I’ve lost those feelings and I’m ashamed at how down I’ve felt. The past two weeks have made me realize I am a volunteer that thrives at site amongst the mango trees and with a baby on my hip. I have grown accustomed to the mundane chores and the innovation day to day life involves. Once again, a lot of my autonomy was stripped from me.
I used to get troubled watching how the attitudes of volunteers, myself included, would change after a trip to the capital where more things are readily available. Immediately after a trip of treating ourselves, the next day more things would be wrong, uncomfortable, or just not good enough. I couldn’t help but pair this with western society drilling our minds with the interdependency of happiness and material goods.
It worried me how easy it was to be woeful when everything’s been taken care of – money, fast food (pizza mainly), a good bed with air conditioning, a shower, and running water. I was sad to not have the life I had anymore but even more frustrated I wasn’t being appreciative for what my current situation was in this hotel. I was getting mad at my sadness instead of being patient with what the past two months had built up for me. This time has shown me that I’ve made a lot of progress but I still have a long way to go.
About halfway through last week I woke up and decided things should be different. I woke up and chose to appreciate the little things like health, safety, and education. Little things to us reading this on a computer. Things that are available and expected just because of what soil I was born on. Things that are so easily taken care of for me just because I’m a U.S. PCV. Little things that are actually big things. Substantial opportunities absent or out of reach for so much of the world.
One thing I always can fall back on is gratefulness. If you succumb to your situations – no matter how good or bad they are, can destroy you if you’re not careful. And if they take the light out of you, they win and you identify as them. Life is not and will never be about just happiness. It’s not sustainable or plausible. Everything has something to teach you.
I’ve realized I would rather end it all than believe my life has some sort of predetermined destiny. To think there’s a hand in the sky placing our thieves and viruses like puzzle pieces is almost unbearable for me to think about. I don’t know what to credit for giving me these trials that are so uniquely specific to what my human needs to grow through, but for the sake of this blog post’s reading time, I will save the extraterrestrial beliefs and just call it “the universe.” The universe had to get creative with me. And I’m sure it’s far from over.
I received a call yesterday saying a new home was found for me in my village. I will miss so much of what I’ve nurtured and created for the past six months but I’m looking forward to falling in love with life here again.
Follow the butterflies and trust your angels.