For Every Closed Door…

  

There is an open window somewhere. An open window & hard goodbyes. 

As I sit here one month away from my departure back home I am filled with more emotions than I know what to do with. While my heart still aches from the goodbyes I said over two years ago, I know I will see everyone again so soon, & that brings me so much joy, like an unbelievable amount of joy. I dream of hugs, exchanging stories, laughter and so much love to be shared and I can’t even sleep at night because I’m so excited. But that’s not the only thing that keeps me up at night… I also think about the tough goodbyes I will have “this side”. I think about the stories I’ve created, the laughter and love that I shared, and how quite possibly, these hugs will be our last.  

Peace Corps is funny. It’s an experience unlike any other, incomparable to any other. It’s a program that takes you out of everything you know & puts you somewhere where you know nothing. I guess it’s not surprising why so many people are like, “so why did you do this…?” But somehow, you take this place you know nothing about & you make it home. You establish routines, you learn the culture, you learn to make-do, & you create relationships, bonds, with people you often have little to nothing in common with.

A lot of Peace Corps that is publicized is the amazing projects that volunteers do all over the world, as they should be because well, they’re amazing! In my service I had a few successful projects, yes, but my favorite part, the most rewarding and influential part, has been the relationships I have created. 

So here I am at the end of my service, excited beyond belief for the reunions, the running water & all the food that awaits me, but I’m also a little heartbroken. I despise goodbyes, my stomach turns to knots, my palms get all sweaty, & I try to think of the right thing to say but it never comes out like I hoped. When I said goodbye two years ago, it was terrible, yes, but I knew I would see you all again. This time, that is not a given circumstance.  

Funnily enough, the bonds I created have been with people half my age. People who don’t have What’sApp or Facebook. People who can’t afford stamps to send letters or airtime to make international phone calls. People who can’t write, who can hardly speak English. So I worry, because these are relationships that mean so much to me, that have kept me alive these past two years, these are relationships I don’t want to lose.  

Last week during PACT Club one of my favorite girls (yes, teachers totally have favorites) was really quiet throughout the whole meeting. She’s usually very vibrant, contributing great ideas and comments, but Thursday she just sat in the back. Afterwards I went & sat next to her & I said, hey you’re quiet today, everything okay? She looked at me & said she was very sad. I asked why and her sweet eyes filled with tears and she looked away & quietly said, “I can’t imagine a day when you’re not here, I don’t want you to leave”. I swallowed my own tears, hugged her, but words escaped me, because I am leaving, and I can’t promise to stay in touch because she’s not online, because not even her mother has a phone.  

This is the part where faith comes in, & I have to keep reminding myself of that. I have to have faith that the relationships that mean so much to me, also mean as much to them. That maybe my students will continue to excel in school and apply for the scholarship I keep telling them about to study in the states, and then they’ll look me up and we’ll be reunited. Or maybe years from now, when they’re grown, they’ll look me up on Facebook or whatever we’ll be using then, and say, hey! Remember me? I’m a big fancy doctor, lawyer, teacher, pilot… I have to have faith that even if we never get the opportunity to speak again, they’ll hear my voice when someone offers them drugs, when they’re pressured to ditch school, when they’re being asked to have unprotected sex in exchange for money, clothes, airtime, whatever. I hope they think of me when they pass Form 3 or when they get their first job & know how proud I would be of them. I hope they already know how proud I am of them, how much I love them, & what they mean to me. I’m going to spend this last month making sure of that.

To all the people that question why Peace Corps? Why did you do it? This is why. Because although it hasn’t been easy, I have met people, created relationships that changed my life and the gratitude I feel for this experience is in unexplainable.  

I’m not exactly sure what’s next for me. I’m going to get home, visit my family, move back to Pensacola, and start applying for grad schools. I’ll be applying to schools all over the country in hopes of pursuing a Masters in School Counseling. I don’t know what school I will end up in, what state I’ll build a life in, but one thing I know for certain is that no matter what or where, I’ll always carry a little of Botswana with me. I’ll always have Kelebogile, Lentle, Thati, Maatla, Keletso, Gontle, and the rest of the students/children that touched my life, near & dear to my heart.       
 

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I Learned Self-Love in the Peace Corps

“You yourself, as much as anybody else in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.”  – Buddha

 In a world full of tabloids, movie stars, Victoria Secret models & even social media, we spend so much time looking at the lives of others. We gawk at their perfect hair, their flawless skin, their size 2 bodies. We lust after their glamorous lifestyles, their houses, their cars, their clothes. No matter how many times we’ve been told that the images are retouched or that the models were in hair & makeup for hours before the shoot, we still compare, holding ourselves up to an unattainable standard.  

 I grew up frizzy haired & “squishy” & like any other adolescent girl all I wanted was to fit in. I spent endless hours in different salon chairs trying to get the look I saw in magazines. I bought clothes from Abercrombie & Hollister not because they were made for my body type but because that’s what was “in”. The fads of course came & went & bless my soul I tried to keep up. Stumbling along from bangs to ripped jeans to nose piercings – the whole time searching for validation, trying to fit in.  

 Somewhere between high waisted shorts & crop tops, I received my Peace Corps invitation. The moment I landed in Botswana I was stripped of all the comforts I knew. I was stripped of all familiarity & I was left naked – a chance to create myself, to find myself.  

 Botswana’s culture is very heavily male dominated & there is a true struggle for gender equality. As a young, white, woman, I faced an enormous amount of aggression. Men of all ages professed their love for me without even knowing my name, everywhere I went there were catcalls & shouts of “baby, baby!” I had never felt so objectified in my life. The women offered no comfort in that most didn’t see anything wrong with the behavior & because of another cultural norm, they also felt the need to comment on every aspect of my physical appearance. Many times I was called fat, if I had a blemish it was necessary to call attention to it, my clothes could be considered dirty & my hair was often referred to as “not nice”.  

 At first I was shocked. I had never been subjected to this type of behavior & I didn’t know how to react. As it continued I became angry. I felt like a giant play toy, not like a human being. But eventually the anger wore off & I was just left feeling hurt. All of my flaws were constantly being pointed out & living the Peace Corps lifestyle, I often felt grungy, dirty & just gross. I found myself searching for the same validity I had been searching for for so long. I was searching for a stamp of approval, an invitation to sit at the cool kids table, I was searching for confidence.  

 I can’t quite pinpoint when it happened, I think it was a gradual process… but eventually I had this realization. A light bulb went off & I knew that I had been searching for validity, for acceptance, from all the wrong people. The person I needed to impress, was me.  

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.” – Brené Brown

 In order to love ourselves, we have to forgive ourselves. Nobody is perfect & everybody makes mistakes but we all have a chance to better ourselves, to grow – I think that’s the beauty of life. I learned to appreciate my flaws. I learned to love my frizzy hair & my “squishiness”. I learned that it’s okay that I’m not good at geography or that I don’t know much about politics. It’s okay that I can mess up an instant pack of soup & that I laugh at my own jokes. I have learned to love me for me.

 We are all our own harshest critics & we are all told not to be selfish & between those things we are supposed to find a recipe for self-love. In a world full of comparison & judgment it can be so incredibly difficult to do so. I think self-love isn’t about thinking you are the greatest human in the world, I think it’s about knowing that you’re not & being totally okay with that. I think it’s about being able to see the beauty in being alive & realizing what a gift that is. I think it’s about recognizing your potential & believing that you deserve the chance to reach that potential.  

 I still love reading magazines & pinning my favorite styles on Pinterest. I love following other bloggers & I adore seeing posts from my friends. Self-love not only gave me a deeper appreciation of myself but of others as well. We are all living, just trying to do the best we can – what’s not to love about that?

 My self-love journey began in a bucket bath in Botswana but it’s far from over. Self-love is a life long journey that I’m so excited to be on. I encourage you all to fall in love. Forgive yourselves for all your flaws & fall in love. Fall in love with yourselves. Fall in love with your souls. Fall in love with all that makes you who you are. We are all worthy of love & who better to give it to us than ourselves?

 The women still comment & the men still catcall but these days I just laugh. I tilt my head back & laugh because I no longer seek their validations. I no longer let anyone have control of my happiness because that job is all mine. I have found a way to be happy with who I am, to love who I am & I’m going to continue to fight for that. I am alive & I am trying. Oscar Wilde said, “to love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance” – & oh how excited I am for this rendezvous.  

My Village – My Neighborhood

At our recent all volunteer conference my friend & I were talking about how we hadn’t updated our blogs in months. We chalked it up to it being because we were so integrated that things just seemed normal to us now – so normal we couldn’t justify a blog post about anything that was going on…

Imagine. Bats flying through your living room on a nightly basis, not having a shower for two months, taking hitches in the bed of a truck cozied up next to a goat & giving the birds & bees talk so often it comes out like a rehearsed monologue. All of these things that two years ago I couldn’t have dreamed up if I tried.. Seem normal. 

With our Close of Service conference coming up next month it has finally hit me that my journey is slowly but surely coming to an end. As I look forward to all the hugs & food stateside, I’m also trying to take in everything that I have loved so much about this experience. 

Walking through my village is like walking through a neighborhood. Every path you take is someone’s front or back yard. Every stranger you pass is instantly a friend – or like we say this side “a home boy/girl”. Every child is accompanied by at least one or two comrades looking for their next adventure or game. When I first moved to this neighborhood I stuck out like crazy.. And although they gawked & pointed, my neighbors quickly assured me I was one of them. From walking me home when I still couldn’t differ between the two main dirt roads, to my landlady introducing me as her daughter, to the kids always ready to include me in whatever form of entertainment they’ve come up with for the day – I am apart of this neighborhood. 

My walks to school are filled with shouts of greetings & everyone, I mean everyone, knows my name. Sometimes, even though I’m usually grungy & stinky, I feel like a celebrity walking the red carpet. They yell my name & wave & the little ones will run to catch up to me so that we can walk together. In conditions where it’s so easy to feel lonely or alone, all I have to do is take a walk around my neighborhood to realize that I’m not alone, I’m surrounded by love. 

The love that my neighbors – especially the young ones, my students, have shown me is a love i’ll carry with me for the rest of my life. They have cared for me & protected me & the impact they have made on me deserves a blog all on it’s own. 

And although it has made for minimal personal space & a big lack of privacy, I have loved being apart of this neighborhood. I love the sound of my name being shouted, the sound of footsteps running to meet me & the warmth I feel just from taking a walk around the ‘hood.  

 

An Ode to Teachers

When I was in the first grade I had a teacher who showed me that anger
& discipline can be expressed in many ways; she never raised her voice once & each of us respected her tremendously. Thank you, Mrs. Leonard.

When I was in the third grade I learned that with age comes wisdom, but not defeat. Thank you, Mrs. George.

When I was in the fourth grade I learned what it meant to look up to
someone, I learned compassion & kindness. Thank you, Mrs. Smith.

When I was in the sixth grade I learned what it meant to have comrades, & how much further you can go when you’re not alone. Thank you, Mrs. White.

When I was in the seventh grade I learned what passion was, & how
important it is to chase your dreams. Thank you, Mrs. Tipton.

Through high school I learned how to balance & prioritize, I learned the importance of dedication & to never let anyone but yourself decide your fate. Thank you Dr. Beger, Mr. Higgins, Mrs. Hammer, Mrs. Carson & Mrs. Johnson.

& Through each summer I learned a sense of adventure, responsibility &
most importantly, how to remain a kid at heart forever. Thank you, Ms. Carolyn.

From the very first day of school, bottom lip quivering, knuckles white from clutching our brand new lunch box in our shaky little hands… to the day we cross that stage, long robes, square hats, & giant grins plastered on our faces, we are students. We are students of teachers. We are students of teachers who deserve a bow, deserve to be honored, or at the very least, deserve a pay raise.

I’ve had just a taste, a smidgeon of a taste of what goes into being a
teacher & I have to say.. holy cow!!! Not only does it drain every bit of energy you have, but it requires creativity, patience, discipline, & tenacity. It’s about making the lesson sound fresh & new, even if you’ve just taught it three consecutive times before. It’s not getting discouraged when you’re grading papers & the averages are lower than expected. It’s constantly coming up with new ways to teach the material so that those averages go up. It’s about sending your favorite student out of the class for disturbing others, even when it breaks your heart.

Our teachers work so hard to educate us, to prepare us for the big world that lies ahead. They pour their hearts & souls into molding our minds, hoping that they can make a lasting impression…or at least get us to pass their class. 😉 They’re the true MVPs.

Mrs. Tipton once told us to never ask someone how they are doing if we
don’t have the time to hear their response. It had nothing to do with
theatre or the play we were currently working on but it has stuck with me through all these years. You never know what’s going to stick with
students, what will reach through our hollow skulls, but those things that do, they matter, & they’re important & regardless how small, they impact us in unbelievable ways.

So I just wanted to say thanks. Thanks to all the teachers I’ve ever had & thanks to all the teachers that are. Kudos to you guys, I think you have the hardest, most important job in the world.
Here’s to the teachers!

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Ngwaga o Mosha – Happy New Year!

I’ve been throwing ideas around for several days now trying to answer one question… How can I possibly write a blog post that does 2014 adequate justice?

To say it was life changing is accurate, but stereotypical. To say it was one of a kind is true, but aren’t all years? … So what I can say for now, & try & explain in a page or so is that 2014 was beautiful, terrifying, exciting, fulfilling, strange, adventurous, it flew by & it dragged on, it taught me new lessons & forced me to put into practice lessons I have been learning my whole life, it brought new friends, it showed me my true friends, it gave me a potential career path, it allowed me to be comfortable with myself, even outside of my comfort zone, it let me explore parts of the world I could have never imagined myself in & it reminded me how lucky we are to live on this earth & have the ability to see & experience all that it has to offer.

Whew. Isn’t that a mouthful? And even still, sitting here rereading that super long run-on sentence I’m thinking of things I left out, things that even as I rack my brain for the perfect way to illustrate it, were so personal or so surreal that I can’t put it into words. 2014 was good to me, I mean really good… It was my only full year, 365 days of being a Peace Corps volunteer on the unbelievable continent of Africa, in the tiny country of Botswana, in the even smaller village of Phitshane Molopo. In those 365 days I often found myself, whether it was during hand washing my clothes to hang them on a line to dry, bathing myself in a plastic bucket no bigger than arm’s length, walking the dirt roads next to cows & goats, greeting ladies who are dressed from head to toe in matching traditional prints in a language that I had never heard of before my arrival, or watching the magnificent sunsets over the vast desert landscape where I’m like WOAH! I LIVE IN AFRICA! & Then a giant grin slides on my face & I think how lucky I am.

A lot of Peace Corps volunteers will say how difficult this experience is to explain to someone who hasn’t done it. I wish that wasn’t true because there’s so much of this experience I want to share, so much of this experience that I wish everyone could see what I see & feel how I feel. I think that’s what makes this journey so personal. Of course there are so many PC Volunteers across the world that can relate to my 2014, but I’m the only one who was there for it all, all 365 days. Sometimes I was the only one, talking myself through tough decisions or laughing at my own jokes (embarrassingly enough). Sometimes I found myself knee deep in admiration for the people of my community who welcomed me with open arms & through time, trusted me & began to depend on me. Sometimes I was humbled beyond belief by the number of people who reached out to support me through the journey, through care packages, letters, texts, emails, whatever it may be. & Sometimes I was shocked at how quickly my new friendships strengthened with my fellow volunteers; how going through something so wild & experiencing so many new things together would bind us in a way I know will last for a lifetime. Through each “sometimes” I tried to share a little bit of my journey, with each blog post or uploaded Facebook photo I try to show a little bit of what it’s like, what I feel. But at the end of the day I have to agree with the rest of the PC Volunteers, you have to experience it to truly fully understand it (which I encourage all of you to do! Apply to PC today!) My answer to why it’s so difficult to portray is part the cultural practices of your host country that have to be experienced to be understood because explaining them in words makes you sound like a loony… & part because something happens internally to you during this experience. It breaks you down, it builds you up, it strips you of comforts, it fills you with passion, it shows you what’s important & it shows you who you are.

In 2014 I got to do a lot of cool stuff, see a lot of cool places, but that was my favorite thing, I got to learn who I was. I’m not saying I have it all figured out, oh no, I’m faaaar from that, all I’m saying is I have a little bit better of an idea, & I have 2014 to thank for that.

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P.S I got to finish out this awesome year by a trip with some of my closest PCV friends. We visited Durban & Cape Town (both in South Africa) & had just an amazing time!! If any of you are looking for your next vacation destination I HIGHLY recommend Cape Town. Beautiful oceans & mountains & so much to do, a really great vibe. We got to surf, go wine tasting, visited cute little markets & even climbed one of the mountains called Lion’s Head. Although the trip up greatly tested my physical capabilities, it was one of the greatest experiences I’ve had! The climb was so worth it as soon as we got to the top, taking in one of the most breathtaking views. I truly felt like I was on top of the world!! We had music & grapes & not enough water but stayed on top of the mountain playing “eye spy” with the entire city of Cape Town. It was truly incredible. As was our entire trip. The perfect end to the year.

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Christmas Time in Phitshane Molopo

“O wa kae?”

“Phitshane!”

“Pitsane?”

“Eeee!”

“OK are!”

“Phitshane, Phistane Molopo?”

“Phitshane? Nooo Pitsane!”

“Wait, what?”

Fifteen months in and I’m still getting rides to the wrong village – not hearing the difference between PITsane and PHITshane but once I finally make it, it feels like I’ve made it home.

Thirteen months ago after driving for nearly a full day, passing what seemed like endless cornfields and vast amounts of nothing else, I was dropped off at a cement house with a tin roof. The deep red of the sand nicely accented the pale pink of the house paint and the blue cloudless sky made way for the sun to shine powerfully onto that tin roof, causing it to radiate a heat that was hotter inside than the one outside. Each day was a step outside my comfort zone, trying to navigate the small village that didn’t have any street names – or streets for that matter. I was overwhelmed and a little nervous that although the tall trees were beautiful, they all looked the same. That the “river” was dried out and so were the standpipes. That the general dealer didn’t have much more to offer than maize meal and a grocery store was two hours away. And everywhere I went everyone knew my name but I struggled remembering just one. But it didn’t matter whether I knew their name or not, when someone saw me circling the same tree over and over, they showed me the way home. When I ran out eggs, they borrowed me some. When water was out for three weeks, they showed me how to store it and ensured me I would never go thirsty. It’s these people, my community, that make Phitshane Molopo home.

In a land so far away from everything I know, everything that’s familiar, I’m so lucky to have been placed in a village where I was welcomed with open arms and quickly made apart of the community.

As we creep into December and head straight for the holidays it’s easy to come down with a big ole case of homesickness. Last year as I faced my first Christmas away from home I missed the lights, the trees, the decorations, the spirit and of course my loved ones. But last year I was surprised to find that my celebrations, although not traditional to me, could also be very special.

My landlady had invited me to celebrate Christmas with her and her family. She told me someone would pick me up after they had their family meeting that day. In the late afternoon a car full of strangers that were only strangers for a few short minutes picked me up. We rode out to the lands and when I arrived I found a house full of family. They oralated as I arrived and my landlady beamed as she introduced me to everyone as her daughter. Come to find out they had all waited for me to arrive to eat so soon after, we broke bread. I was served way too much food, shook hands with many, and exchanged greetings with mouths full of seswa. After dinner I was courted from group to group. I played football with the kids, danced with the girls, shared a cider with the grown-ups and listened to traditional tales told by the basadi bogolo.

My heart was so full and so warm. It wasn’t the Christmas I was used to but at the end of the day, I was stuffed, showered with love, and happy.

Christmas was my first experience that made Phitshane feel like home and there have been countless other experiences since then that have reiterated that feeling. A year ago I was uncertain and nervous but today I feel integrated and confident as I walk along the dried out river, seven kids in tow, exchanging “Dumelas” with my neighbors, my community.

And I’m always as proud as ever to tell anyone who asks that I’m from Phitshane. Except now I always add the Molopo, you know, just in case.

HAIR.

As a young girl I had hair that reached the bottom of my back & was twice as wide as I was. Even on a soccer field full of adolescents in the same uniforms of jerseys too big for us & socks pulled up to our knees, you could identify me by the mass of hair that followed me as I tripped over my own cleats. As I reached the awkward stage of middle school years I did everything in my power to turn my frizzy locks into the hairstyles I saw in the magazines. It should come to no surprise that I failed. Instead, I had done so much damage to my hair that the only way to salvage it was to start over. It wasn’t until I saw my long locks on the floor & left the salon with a bob that ended right under my chin, that I began to appreciate my curls.

It’s rare that a day goes by where someone doesn’t touch my hair. The kids love to braid or twist it, the grown ups like to check for tracks (regardless of how often I assure them my hair is my own) & everyone likes to ask questions about it. They’ll ask me how I get it to be so soft, how I get it to be so long, have I ever cut it, I once had a man ask me if I was biracial because my hair had two colors in it… They are amazed by these cells that grow out of my head & of course they are, my hair is different & in a land of very little diversity, different is new & interesting.

Some days, like after a long day at school, walking home in 100 degree weather with primary kids jumping up to take pulls at my hair isn’t my favorite thing. The stares that follow me as I move through the bus rank, tired & just ready to get home can be trying. When I’m sitting on a combi & answering for the 8934th time where I’m from & what I’m doing here it can be draining. However, through all of these circumstances I must always remind myself that I am unfamiliar, & unfamiliarity, in a country where so much is constant, propels curiosity. I know that when I am at home & I meet a foreigner I naturally ask them all those same questions unaware that maybe they’ve been there for a year already & have perhaps answered those same questions 100 times to 100 different strangers. But we as humans are naturally curious & I love that my hair, my skin color, encourages that curiosity in the beautiful people of Botswana.

I appreciated my hair that day as I watched the hairdresser sweep it into a pile on the floor, but I didn’t know that one day it would provoke questions that created a better understanding of Americans, that it would give me the opportunity to put a smile on a young girl’s face when she tells me how beautiful my hair is & I can respond with, “not as beautiful as yours”. I appreciated it, but I didn’t know how much it defined me. My whole life I have been recognized by my hair but here it identifies me. It identifies me as a foreigner, it identifies me as different. So regardless of how difficult it is to wash my hair in a bucket, I am forever grateful for these frizzy blonde curls for instigating curiosity, questions, & often even friendships.

Ps. Speaking of hair & friendships, here’s one of my favorite gals, Gontle, before & after she left me style her hair. Y’all shoulda seen the smile on her face when she saw her new ‘do in the reflection of my bedroom window.

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my new best friends ;)

We all know Peace Corps life can be a lonely one. It’s why we take such refuge in the relationships we are able to build with our fellow PCVs. It’s why we spend a large sum of our allowance on airtime to text each other and bus fare to go and see each other. However, vacation days run low, the network goes down, and you will finish the season finale of your latest media binge. As you lie, listening to the pigeons land on your tin roof, you wonder what to do next. Then, all of a sudden you hear “ko ko, Tapiwa!” followed by snickers & the sound of scurrying.

They say life begins outside your comfort zone and I think we can all attest to that saying by being here. For me, it has taken that lonely Peace Corps life to really push me outside of my comfort zone, and it is there where I open the door to the snickering and giggling, even if I rather just stay inside and eat Toppers instead.

I open the door and hiding behind it are my best friends. They’re covered in dirt, their clothes torn or tattered, and are all under the age of 13. They immediately bombard me with requests for a ball or to play the “hand clap game” or just the standard “how are you”. Before I know it, I end up in the middle of a football game, followed by a relay of coloring and finishing up with several games of telephone – made even more entertaining by the language barrier. And all the while, Gontle has braided my hair, Thati has beat me in an arm wrestle, Bonolo has unbraided my hair, Michael pulled at my arm hair, Pearl has braided my hair, Tshephang climbed on my shoulders and Tshenolo unbraided my hair. When the sun starts setting they all gather my things on the stoop and the younger ones give me hugs and the older ones give me high fives. I return back inside to my Toppers, but now I’m grinning from ear to ear.

A couple of hours with them, engaging in human contact and interaction is all I need to bring me out of my slump. I may be twice their age but these kids make me laugh, they remind me of the beauty of an imagination and they keep me humble because they show gratitude for even the smallest things. Plus, they always play with my hair and who doesn’t love that?

It’s easy to be brought down by the loneliness that can arise from our conditions, but the kids in my village always bring me back to life. Even on my hardest days their silly dances and extravagant games can bring a smile to my face. They are my entertainment, my confidants. And even if they only see me as the Lekoa with the cool Football, to me, they’re my best friends.

happy birthday, america!

holidays are usually the toughest part of a peace corps volunteer’s service. they’re when we get homesick, when we reminisce, when we crave traditions. today, happens to be one of my very favorite holidays. & today, i am absolutely homesick, i’m reminiscing on past celebrations & i’m craving the beach, fireworks, hot dogs & hamburgers on the grill, & cold ones in the cooler. but on this particular day, i’m also feeling extremely proud.

many of us volunteers say we had no idea how patriotic we were until we left america. i guess it’s similar to the saying, “you never know what you have until it’s gone”. now that we’ve been dropped into an environment so different from our own, we, i, have learned to appreciate all that comes from being a citizen of the good ole US of A.

there’s comfort things like insulation, high speed internet, & a variety of foods & beers. but there’s also heavier things. there’s our education system, our diversity, our work ethic. there’s our job opportunities, our efficiency, our democracy. there’s our accessibility, our history, & there’s our freedom. our freedom of speech, of expression, of religion. our freedom to be who we want to be & our freedom to do the things that we want to do.

it’s this & so much more that makes a person like me, on the other side of the world, jump at any opportunity to scream that i am american. it propels us volunteers to sing loudly any patriotic songs we can think of on a 17 hour bus ride. it’s what makes my favorite article of clothing my USA flag bandana. it’s what we mean when we high-five & say “merica” after anything remotely related.

peace corps goal two states, “to help promote a better understanding of americans on the part of the peoples served”. this has easily been one of my favorite parts about my service. i absolutely loveeee getting to talk about america & some of the questions are quite entertaining. i’m most often asked if i personally know beyonce or justin bieber, or if i can bring a shirt back for the stranger who’s name i don’t know but just happen to be sitting next to on a combi. but i also get to explain the simple brilliance of a grilled cheese sandwich, that there’s more to the US than new york or california, what it’s like to wake up on the beach, how awesome american football is, how it only snows in some parts of the country but making a snowman is super fun & how country music makes you feel good all over.
& even more importantly i’ve gotten the chance to talk about equality, equal rights & women political leaders. i get to talk about our ban of corporal punishment & scholarships for academic achievers. i get to talk about opportunity. & for the most part, people are interested, even if i’ve never been to obama’s house for dinner & even if i don’t know lil wayne’s favorite color.

so yes, today i miss my great country, more than usual. but i am also so proud that i get the chance to represent it each & every day. i’m so honored that i was given an opportunity to serve that country & so incredibly grateful for all the men & women that made the united states what is today. land of the free & home of the brave.

so happy birthday, america.

“there ain’t no doubt i love this land, god bless the USA”

may with the mullers!

for as long as i can remember, may has always meant the end of a school year & the start of a summer vacation. i was so lucky to experience that once again this year, & trust me, the consistency was so appreciated.

may was just, AWESOME. i closed out term 1 with grading a handful exams which i didn’t mind doing one bit cause not only did i get a better look at where my students stand academically, but also because i was helping fellow teachers out, & through that i made some stronger connections, which makes me really happy.

after exams were graded, my PACT club embarked on planning FUN DAY! fun day is a day at the end of the term where the students get to enjoy themselves & well, have some fun! my kids did a tremendous job with a full set list of rapping, dancing, traditional performances, & dance battles. it was awesome & definitely a great, FUN, way of finishing out the term.

after the last day of school, it was time for my mini summer vacay! the anticipation had been killing me, but also getting me through the last month. they say all the excitement leading up to a big trip is sometimes just as fun as the actual trip, & my excitement was real. i was getting to see the mullers for the first time in a year & my momma for the first time in nine months!!

when the day finally came to fly off to cape town, i could barely contain myself. so much so, that our big plan to meet at the gate in the johannesburg airport was swallowed up by nerves, causing my family to nearly miss their flight & inducing our big reunion on the airplane with two minutes to take-off & my mom’s first words to me being, “kim kelly, i’m going to kill you!” hahah but all ended well & we were on our way!

let me preface this next segment with warning y’all about how absolutely obsessed i am with cape town, south africa. like literally, it’s perfect. each & every day i was taken away by the beauty of this city.

we hit the ground running exploring cape town on our very first full day. we saw table mountain in all it’s glory without a single drop of fog in the sky. we also visited hout bay market which was this neat little market on the bay with tonssss of food & little shops. in the next few days we proceeded to see all of the major attractions. we saw the waterfront, camps bay, robben island, long street, we went wine tasting, we saw the cape of good hope & we ate & we drank & we were merry. cape town has SO much to offer & although we tackled a good chunk of it, there was still so much left to do & see. we were really lucky with the weather since it is now our winter on this side of the hemisphere, & we got a whole week of sunshine & a second week of late afternoon sunshine. it truly was great. & as obsessed as i am with this city, i still have to say the best part was getting to spend time with my family.

i’ll admit, all seven of us in one house for fourteen days was, how do i say this, tight? haha. but i think we can all agree that that’s norm for the mullers, & without a little bickering & quarreling it wouldn’t be a family affair. 😉 but i loved having breakfast every morning together, & sharing clothes, & watching a bad movie, getting caught with wine on the beach, playing cards, passing the “hat”, having security come repeatedly cause we can’t figure out the alarm, photo shoots, inside jokes, celebrating when the driver says he’ll come & pick us up, laughing so hard we… & well, just being a beach family. 🙂

a lot of times during this experience you get this feeling, where your throat starts to tighten & your stomach drops & you think that everyone is moving on without you. this trip i was reminded that no matter how fast or where you or everyone around is moving onto, the people who love you aren’t doing so without you, they’re still gonna be there, right next to you, when you finally get the chance to be together again. laughing at all the same stupid jokes & arguing over which road to take. that was such an awesome epiphany to have & something i am so grateful for.

i’m also grateful that my family flew hours & hours to meet me. that they spent so much money, took time off work, drank instant coffee & did everything they could to send me back to botswana prepared for the next 16 months that lie ahead. i am so soooo incredibly lucky to have such an amazing support system, & to be a part of one great gene pool. 🙂

everything about may rocked. & i feel really good. coming back after such an awesome vacation was a little tough. but i was quickly welcomed back by students, my teachers & my neighbors. they wanted to know about my journey & they assured me i was missed, & that, that felt a little like coming “home”.

i’m ready for june now & term two & lots of new projects & attempting (crawling) my first half marathon. i’m feeling rejuvenated & supported & grateful & i have the mullers to thank for that. ❤