In Peace Corps, perhaps more so than in other phases of life, it’s easy to get caught up in the negative.
Our conversation patterns fall into a familiar cycle of complaints, implicit or explicit, as we discuss the foods we miss, the aspects of our jobs that frustrate us, the constant shifting of Peace Corps rules, the lack of comforts we took for granted back in the States. It’s harder to remember the things we’re grateful for.
I have a confession: this year I planned not to celebrate the holidays at all. I’ve been pushing my budget and my energy both to the limits lately, and Thanksgiving, especially, has sounded more like a chore than a holiday.
But a friend passing by talking about her love of Christmas reminded me of how much I, too, love the holiday season, and a couple other friends decided to visit me for Thanksgiving despite my having flatly refused to join in on their initial celebration plan, and suddenly the season didn’t seem so bleak and difficult. I’ve spent a few days making holiday decorations and hunting down Christmas music, and just like that, I’m looking forward to the holidays. And just like that, I remembered that there really are a lot of things I’m thankful for.
Here are a few of them—one for every month I’ve been in Rwanda:
- Friends who refuse to let me be alone on holidays
- Furry animal babies who cuddle me and love me even when I’m grouchy
- Neighbours who invest in me despite the language barrier
- Local co-workers who are motivated and serious about projects
- Holiday foods—we won’t have turkey or cranberry sauce, but if we put a little effort in, we can have goat and mashed potatoes and maybe even pie
- My own compound with running water—I will never get over how lucky I am to have a private space with a good wall and water I don’t have to haul in jerrycans
- The internet—even if my access to it is limited and slow, I can still communicate with my family more or less instantaneously despite thousands of miles between us
- Books—I may be the only person in my village who owns books, and these gateways to comfort, escape, and enlightenment that I’ve regarded as a right for many years suddenly appear clearly to be an incredible privilege
- Beautiful things—this week it’s the paper snowflakes I hung from my ceiling and the candles I stuck on some empty bottles on my bookshelf; I’m mesmerised; I can’t stop staring; isn’t it lovely that we have the capacity to create and admire art?
- Cozy clothes—jumpers and leggings and socks and hoodies and all the lovely soft clothes that make chilly evenings a little better
- Coffee—in a country where coffee is an export crop but not a common drink, I can buy freshly roasted and ground coffee just a 45-minute bus ride away from my site
- Rainy season—honestly, during dry season I’d forgotten how beautiful my area is, but now that the rains have returned, the hills are green and the valley shimmers wet in the setting suns and the colours are vibrant without their dry-season coats of dust, and I find myself craning my neck to stare in all directions when I walk up the road
- My health—some volunteers have been sick more often than not here; I’ve only been significantly sick three times in the fourteen months I’ve been in country
- A long holiday—my mind and body are so happy to have a chance to rest a little before next schoolyear, and I’m looking forward to lying on a beach for a week in early December
Anyway, there’s my list. I hope you, too, have plenty of things to be grateful for and that you take a moment to remember a few of them this holiday season.