“I’m very tired.”
I find myself saying this often. Before I came to Rwanda, I envisioned myself surrounded by new friends, confidently exploring a new environment, eagerly practising a new language.
What I didn’t take into account is that being in a new place with new people and a new language doesn’t make me a new person. I’m still me.
Peace Corps doesn’t change that, and Rwanda doesn’t change that.
But it does force me to act like a different person, pushing me out of my comfort zone a hundred times a day. And yet while it can force me to make small talk with strangers in a language I barely understand, it can’t take away the fear I feel while doing so, and that is exhausting. Every day I see more clearly the sharp discrepancy between who I am and who Peace Corps would like me to be.
Peace Corps would like me to be bold and outgoing, ready to talk to anyone and everyone—but I’m not. Some days I think I’ll shatter if one more child yells at me from the side of the road.
Peace Corps would like me to immerse myself in my host family’s daily routine–but sometimes I can’t. Some days the anxiety and feeling of being and outsider are so overwhelming that it’s all I can do to greet them politely before I lock myself in my room.
This is not to say Peace Corps is too much for me. I can do the tasks required, but I pay a price for that functionality.
Some days I pay that price in tears or headaches or trembling hands. Some days I pay that price with exhaustion or a petrified mind, unable to process information or form coherent answers.
Every day is different. Sometimes I talk to people even though I’m shaking, and sometimes I laugh when everything in me wants to cry. But sometimes I stay on my bed all afternoon, and sometimes I walk away without answering so I can break down in private.
I’ve spent the last month searching for ways to cope with this dichotomy between who I am and who I need to be to succeed here in this new world.
Coping strategies are hard during PST. I have little to no control over things like my schedule or diet, extremely limited free time, and a timetable that changes frequently and often without warning. My private space is limited to my bed, and my activities are limited to things I can do there or that I don’t mind people watching (working out on my porch ended after five minutes when a handful of neighbours lined up to watch). To make it worse, I feel guilty if I spend more than a few minutes at a time in my bedroom—I should be integrating, right?
I have to find the things I can control, the things that make me feel most like myself, and fit them like glue into the cracks of my life to hold myself together.
Things like reading, posting on Instagram, watching movies. Things like texting friends and family, listening to familiar music, writing.
Right now the thing holding me together is NaNoWriMo. Usually it feels like one more obligation in a busy schedule, but now it feels like a goal I’m actually competent to achieve, an outlet, a way to feel like myself while I’m stretching and bending to fit into the Peace Corps mould.
Ndananiwe cyane—I’m very tired.
But I’m also many other things, even if sometimes I forget them. I’m also strong and brave and curious and eager and truly glad to be here.
Being in a new place doesn’t make me a new person, but it does add things to my essential self, and I think this change, this constant growth, this struggle to discover what is me and what I can change—this is also a beautiful process.