I realize that this blog has mostly covered the Uplifting/Awesome/Fun/Positive aspects of our peace corps service, and maybe that is not being entirely honest. So in the interest of full disclosure and transparency I will share some of the negatives.
Leaving family: This doesn’t need to be explained. Yes, it is true that our kids were spread out over the country, in Atlanta, Denver and Charlotte, and so we didn’t see them every day; but we all talked and emailed often. And the truth was, at a moment’s notice we could easily travel to them. In Africa, we can’t be there quickly. To get to Botswana, we had to travel by bus and two flights, for over 30 hours.
Also, we can’t talk with our family very easily. Long distance charges are unaffordable, the connection is bad, and when you can find a way to chat, the difference in time zones is a problem. We feel separated from our kids and the rest of our family and it hurts. We also hurt for them because we know they miss us.
Leaving friends: In America we had lived in our last home for our entire married life, over 15 years, and we left behind many friends whom we truly love. Back in Atlanta, we got together on a regular basis in each other’s homes and sometimes out on the town. We dined together, drank together, played together, traveled the world together, and shared each other’s lives. We miss that. We miss them, and they miss us.
Leaving America: It is a cliche that you don’t appreciate the things you have until you do not have them, but it is so true. Many of things we took for granted in America are unavailable. We miss evenings of dinner at a nice restaurant followed by a movie. We miss clothes dryers, dishwashers, a car in the driveway to use whenever we want to (I am really tired of hiking everywhere). We miss the wonderful shopping malls back home, and the endless variety of choices in the stores. We miss cleanliness, air conditioning and central heat, screens on windows and grass in yards. I miss all of my favorite television shows too.
We miss fitting in: In America I walk through the shopping mall and no one really notices me. Here, everywhere we go, we are of great interest. 99% of the time the Batswana are nice, but I miss the anonymity of “fitting in”. We are gawked at, kids sometimes just stop and point. People ask us for money, people ask us for jobs, it gets old sometimes. We feel isolated at times. Fortunately we have each other.
We miss our hobbies: I am a skydiver with over 800 jumps and went to the dropzone almost every weekend. There is no skydiving in Botswana and I thought I could walk away from it and I would be fine, but after a year I realized that the desire to be up there in the sky with my friends is not going away. I also miss riding my bike. I have ridden over 30,000 miles on my road bikes, and Tish and I have ridden a lot together as well. It is a hobby, and also great exercise. I miss it (and I am gaining weight). Tish played ALTA tennis at least once per week and sometimes twice per week, for over 20 years. I know she misses the tennis and the social aspect of it just as much.
The work is hard: Tish had the most trouble in this area, mainly because she was at an NGO that already functioned at a high level and it was hard for her to feel useful at first. We have to find our own ways to build capacity and educate on HIV/AIDS, and quite often it is in ways separate from our job descriptions. We have to find those people and places that really need us. It is a challenge sometimes to find them, but is rewarding when you do.
Bottom line: Some of our younger Peace Corps volunteer friends need this experience on their resume, it is part of their career plan. That line on their resume, and the career it prepares them for is part of their reward; and even if they aren’t enjoying being here, they have that future career to look forward to. We don’t need this on our resume, we aren’t planning on a career in international development or global health. The only reward we will get from the Peace Corps is the experience of living in Africa and the feeling that we are needed and are making a difference. If at any point we think that we are not needed or making a difference, we might as well pack our bags and go, because why put ourselves through this if that is not the case.
Posh Corps: “Posh Corps” is a term to describe Peace Corps assignments where the living is easier than the stereotypical Peace Corps assignment. We had expected a harder life than what we are experiencing. We came ready to accept a mud hut with no running water and a pit latrine out back. As it turns out, we have internet in our home, hot running water, and indoor flushing toilets. I have heard Botswana referred to as “Africa Light.” Some would call Botswana a “Posh Corps” assignment but to those who think it is easy, it is not. We miss the USA and our family and friends that are back there, every single day. We are giving up something that we will never get back and that is time. Time with our family. So far we think it is worth it, but don’t kid yourself, it ain’t all easy.