(written in October/Nov/Dec 2012)
It's a funny thing, Peace Corps, or any experience living in another country. The fact that I have a blog when I never did before implies that this is different than my previous locations and endeavors.
Or maybe not. Maybe I'm not sharing more, just using a public forum as an efficient, reliable, and free way to communicate with people I'd otherwise be in touch with personally, over the phone, via gchat, or the swift ponies of the USPS.
But I don't think so. A blog is easy and efficient, but it hasn't wholly replaced other forms of communication. I've sent a couple hundred letters, and I make use of Skype, email, text messages, and the occasional phone call. I set up a blog before coming here because I thought I'd have things to say, things that might appeal to a broader audience. I'm not alone. Most of my Peace Corps colleagues have blogs; only a handful of friends at home do. Of those I can call to mind, most of those written by people who are currently in the U.S. were temporary records kept during travel, extreme pursuits (e.g. extended hiking trips), or--in particular--time spent in other countries.
Why is this? We expect the distant to be exotic, filled with spectacular detail. We imagine others will want to see it through our eyes, and that we will want to remember it in technicolor. Blogging is a form of accountability, forcing us to document the experience for others and for ourselves. In the Peace Corps, it's practically in the job description; our third goal is to share information about the culture and people in our country of service with Americans. We even include blog activities on our quarterly work reports.
However, this is not just an adventure, a trip, or an extended vacation. This is my job, and my village is my community. The people who make me crazy, touch my heart, and take my breath away are my neighbors, my co-workers, my family. This is where I live.
Yet--as I near 20 months here--it's still pretty wild. My village center sits abreast of a main tarmac road, and we get visitors fairly frequently. NGOs pass through to do one-off "sensitizations," as public awareness campaigns are termed, donations are channeled through the local World Vision office; researchers from a government ministry or the university stay overnight at our school while conducting field work in the area; the occasional tourist stops by on the way to or from Mpulungu, our port town on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. Every time these visitors stumble upon me, a sometimes-boisterous, sometimes-reserved white girl attempting to speak the vernacular and moving around at ease, clearly accepted as part of the surroundings, I can't help but gloat a little in my head: "Yep, I LIVE here."
What that means exactly, I haven't quite figured out myself. As I started whittling away at my last six months, I had to accept that my time here is limited. I won't always live here, so I must, as a friend advised, "suck the marrow out of each and every day." How much I must devote myself to doing something, to "making a difference," as they say, and how much I should simply soak in as much as I can, just wake up and experience what each day brings with no agenda. I don't know how to find the balance between those two approaches.
In Northern Province, Peace Corps Volunteers have a tradition of writing a final message on the walls of the provincial office bunkhouse when leaving the country. One person wrote in 2005, "Can you still feel the butterflies?" We start blogs because we want a way to record the butterflies, as we find them. Perhaps not just the butterflies we feel--the nerves as we enter the country for the first time, meet our training host family, watch the Peace Corps vehicle pull away after dropping us and our stuff off so that we can begin two years in our community--but the butterflies we find, too. The beautiful creatures that flit around before me on an almost daily basis, a visual representation of all the small miracles that are all around me. The paradox is that as I become more comfortable, I lose track of the butterflies. As Zambia becomes normal, I can forget what a privilege the opportunity to be here is.
So back to the blog--my accountability, my link to you. I hope that I can take advantage of the time remaining to share glimpses of Zambia, butterflies and all, with you. Then, when I have the chance to be with you in person, perhaps we can replace the keyboard and screen with some chocolate and mugs of tea, which also create a fabulous forum for conversation exotic and ordinary alike.