Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Sound of Silence

Sometimes I think I should title this blog “the sundial blog” in that I only record the ‘sunny times’ here. When a number of weeks pass without a blog it’s usually because things are not so ‘sunny.’ I have been silent on this blog for the past month for a number of reasons. A week or so with no water, intermittent internet connection, rolling power outrages (usually at dinner time) are really not so hard to take anymore—most of the world lives without the steady stream of amenities that we are so accustomed to in the United States and I have learned to live without them too, thankfully for short periods of time.
            Friends who know me well know that I have an innate sense of direction—put me anywhere and I can usually tell North, South, East or West, take me somewhere once and I can find my way back. That is not true here in Botswana. My first week at site I became totally lost and had to call my landlady for help. I described where I was and she said “Just walk South.” The sun was setting and so I knew where West was, but when I looked in the direction that should have been South I was stymied. It just didn’t feel right. I know I am on the other side of the earth from where I grew up. I understand that although the calendar says May, I cannot expect to see Lilies of the Valley or peonies, I cannot even expect to see anything green… still, I didn’t expect to be so upside down…
            Eight months have passed since I stepped onto the red soil of Africa. We were told over and over that our first year would be difficult, a ‘rollercoaster’, that we would struggle to get things going at our site, to make connections and to integrate into the community. Then, somewhere around the one-year mark things will change, and everything will move along. What we were not told is that although we are volunteers, our workplace may think of us as their employees. This is truly upside-down, and something many volunteers have been struggling with.
            I have followed the advice of previous volunteers and found projects that I love, such as producing the volunteer newsletter and running writing workshops for both volunteers and students in my school. A number of my projects have not gotten off the ground, some have gotten off the ground and crashed back to earth, and some are stuck in some bureaucratic office somewhere. All of that is part of the landscape and can usually be attributed to cultural differences, but sometimes that landscape becomes insurmountable and one has to ask ‘did I leave my home and family to spend two years pushing a rock up a hill?”  This is when the Serenity Prayer should be put on the loudspeakers that roll through the village with announcements (African version of a town crier). Lord grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. It’s a great prayer, and the one I always say when I am asked (as is Botswana custom) to give the prayer before a meeting or after a class.
            What is missing from that prayer is what do to when you know you cannot accept the things you cannot change, and even if you have the courage, you cannot change them. What then? For some it means moving on, accepting the fact that the rock isn’t going to stay at the top of the hill and there are probably better ways to use your time and experience. Unfortunately for those of us who arrived in Botswana eight months ago, two of our group have had to make that difficult decision to move on. It is a great loss to us, and a personal loss to me. It feels upside down and inside out, and I will probably be silent for a while longer.

            view from my door May 19, 2012