Being Alone

The summer before I left for the Peace Corps, in an attempt to learn how to be alone, I took myself on a date for the first time. I had just broken up with my boyfriend of two months and I was irrationally upset in the way that a person who did the breaking up has no right to be. Like every other break up, I regretted it almost instantaneously – a common theme in my love life. I’ve either stayed in relationships long after they were over, driven by the need to be wanted, or ended relationships abruptly, at the first hint of rejection. A therapist once told me that I have a “fear of abandonment,” brought on by a sexually abusive Imam at the mosque I attended, physically abusive parents and an angry father whose look of contempt holds a special place in my memory. As a child, I found love in the way my mother’s hands, before they became rough and calloused, massaged my back with Vicks after one of her abusive rampages. I still remember the way her hands felt, gently gliding over every cut and bruise, leaving behind a deliciously dull ache. My parents would tell me that all I needed to do was be a good girl and they wouldn’t have to “discipline” me anymore. Ironically, every time the Imam was done touching me in places that a 6 year old should not be touched, he would say indignantly “you’re a bad girl.” Now, I’ve become familiar with the lingering impressions of abuse that inevitably pervaded every romantic relationship that I’ve had; the elephant in the various rooms of my sexual encounters, mocking my attempts at feeling something real. But I digress. This blog post isn’t about the variety platter of abuse that characterized my childhood and shaped my love life. It’s about my attempt at working through those things and searching for that elusive sense of inner peace. It’s about being alone.

After I broke up with the aforementioned guy, I immersed myself in Peace Corps preparations. I obsessively scoured the blogs of current volunteers and made a list of all the things I needed to do to make my time in the Peace Corps less challenging. Among items like “Build muscle in arms so you can fetch water” and “Learn to swim!” (things I failed miserably at) I listed “Learn how to be alone.” I knew that in addition to giving back to the world, Peace Corps was a time of self-reflection and solitude – two things I dreaded. I was never a serial dater but I crammed my work/school/social calendar so that I was rarely ever alone. In fact, my perception of self was largely influenced by how other people saw me. Because of this, oftentimes, I felt like I was two different people: the one I presented to the world – confident, smart, and beautiful – and the one I kept hidden – ashamed, insecure and lonely. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to fulfill my Peace Corps service adequately if I didn’t learn how to be alone. And so, I decided to date myself.

I got ready for my first date just as I would have if I were going out with another person. I wore my “first date outfit”- a tight black mini dress with a cardigan over it – and I had the prerequisite first date jitters, worsened by the fact that I wasn’t sure how to act without someone mirroring back to me, without a guy telling me how beautiful/smart/interesting I was. I almost canceled on myself that night, but I didn’t. Two profound things happened that summer: 1. for the first time ever, I arrived early for dates. 2. I stopped looking for distractions and I slowly started enjoying the time I spent alone.

Fast forward to the present. I recently caught myself thinking I could be alone for the rest of my life and that would be fine. This thought popped into my head casually, like it was an item on a grocery list. Never mind that a year and a half ago, I almost canceled on a date with myself. In two weeks, I will be traveling around Thailand and Bangladesh by myself navigating a completely different corner of the world. Somewhere in the last year, between the solo candle-lit dinners and bucket baths, I became the sort of person who goes on trips by herself. Sometime during the countless hours I spent in my house alone, talking to myself (no shame), watching movies, cooking and reading, I became kinder and more forgiving. I realize now that I am made up of many incredibly attributes and many, many flaws; that the very thing I was denying was a pivotal part of what made me whole. I am not my past but my past has shaped me in ways that I am proud of. I know what it’s like to be neglected and it has only fueled my ability to love fiercely. I’ve been broken repeatedly but I put myself back together each time, stronger than before. It’s because of these experiences, not despite these experiences, that I am here.

I used to carry my past in designer luggage, hoping that the beauty would be enough to dull the ugliness inside. Now I wear my past like badges of honor and I show my scars unreservedly. I still have a long way to go in my search for inner peace but for the time being, the war inside me has subsided and I am content.

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CATS (Pt. II): The Answer To All of Life’s Problems

CATS (Pt. II): The Answer To All of Life’s Problems

(Read part I HERE.)

I got another cat!

Worried about your school being shut down and can’t stop obsessing over how to stop it from happening?
CATS

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& also, GOFUNDME (www.gofundme.com/latrinesforkps)

Having recurring dreams (or nightmares, depending on how you look at it) about babies and being pregnant even though you being pregnant at this moment is about as likely as Chipotle opening a restaurant in Uganda?
CATS

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Accidentally remember that Chipotle exists elsewhere in the world while writing a blog post?
CATS

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Having nightmares about being robbed in your house?
CATS

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Drunk alter ego hit on a bunch of 19 year old German boys causing you to wake up to mysterious text messages, phone calls and genuine confusion over someone named LEO?
CATS

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Can’t get to your pit latrine because a billion* ants have taken up residence on the pathway leading out of the back of your house so you have to pee in a bucket for two days?
CATS

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Ran out of money from your living allowance because you get paid in shillings and since the value of the shilling has dropped drastically (thanks, in part, to the dollar), all the stores (who conveniently pay their rent in dollars), have raised their prices and you’re counting down the days until you get paid so you can afford food again?**
CATS

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Realize that you’re incredibly turned on by guys who care about social justice and you’re suddenly overcome with the urge to hop on a plane back to the USA and kiss the crap out of a certain guy all because of a Facebook post?
CATS

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Feeling psychotic for creeping on said guy…and then admitting to it on a public blog?
Fuck it, CATS

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*NOT exaggerating

**NOT exaggerating. Also, someone explain economics to me because I don’t understand any of this.

One Year

One Year

November 12, 2015

Today is my one year anniversary of being in Uganda.
One year ago today, I arrived in Uganda.

No matter how many ways I phrase it, I cannot capture the weight of that statement in a sentence. Similarly, there is no way I can capture all of my feelings about it in one blog post. I can list the string of adjectives that float through my head when I think of my first year as a Peace Corps Volunteer but they mean nothing when they are untethered, without context.

Instead, I will simply say that I am happy.
Here’s to another year of the greatest heartbreak I’ve ever known and the greatest love story I’ve ever been a part of.

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Every once in a while, I find myself in a place where all my worries and paranoias become justified. A monster appears in my head and suddenly, I’m a failure in every aspect of my job. When I look at the library that I’ve been working on for the past month, I don’t see progress in the form of clean, termite-free bookshelves, I see a mess. I see 1,000+ books that still need to be organized and labeled. The blank looks on the faces of my pupils no longer motivates me, it haunts me. Surrounded by the sing-song accents of my fellow teachers, I become paranoid. What if my counterpart secretly dislikes me? What if the head teacher talks about me behind my back? In that moment, I’m convinced and it fills me with crippling doubt. I get nervous and I can’t contain my nasally American accent. No one understands me. I’m a foreigner, an outsider. For once, I don’t feel like I belong.

I give up. I lock myself in my house, feeding the monster inside me who whispers “you’re not doing enough.” I ignore mounting piles of laundry and dirty dishes. I lie in bed binge-watching TV-shows to quell the thoughts wreaking havoc in my mind. Inevitably, my laptop dies and I’m left to stare blankly at the shadows on the wall that are ominously taking the shape of my greatest fears. I am drained but restless. Sleep has escaped me so instead, I obsess. I think about the kids who come to school with no shoes on, their feet caked with mud. I think about the pupils who were just diagnosed with HIV. I feel helpless. My American privilege suffocates me and I feel guilty. I worry that the school will shut down, that I won’t reach my fundraising goal. I am obsessed with the project, trying to think of new ways to fundraise. I have nightmares about it. I can’t escape the possibility of impending failure. I feel as if I’m trying to stay afloat with legs chained to the bottom of the lake. I cry. I can’t even pinpoint exactly what I cry about but I start to doubt if I’ll ever find my way out of the darkness that consumes my mind.

I miss home. I miss the chill air and crisp freshness of autumn. I want to wrap myself in the ignorance that once coddled me. To shake of these thoughts, I fantasize about upcoming trips. I count the days until I’m in the company of Americans once again. But when I get there, when I’m surrounded by fellow volunteers, in a café that feels as if it was uprooted from America and dropped in the middle of a small town in Uganda, I still feel alone and the juxtaposition of both worlds leaves me feeling uneasy. I spend too much money on fancy coffee and numb my mind with mindless web-surfing. My former life taunts me on Facebook and I judge everyone on my newsfeed. I become the monster in my head.

I am acutely aware of every emotion. My body hurts. My shoulders burn from heavy jerry cans and an even heavier backpack. My feet are torn and calloused. Mosquito bites decorate my body.  I feel dirty and all my thoughts are irrational, but just like I still can’t cross the street without thinking about all the ways I could get hit and die, I can’t control them. All I can do is get to the other side. Eventually, I shake off the monster and I emerge, still aching, with a renewed sense of positivity that keeps me going until I find myself in this place again.

Latrines for Kyakatara Primary School

Hey guys, I need your help! As you know, like most places in Uganda, Kyakatara Primary School does not have running water. Because of this, pupils use pit latrines. Refresher – a pit latrine is a structure with hole in the ground that collects human waste products. The pit latrines at my school are becoming full and will last (at most) 3 more months. The head teacher and I have gone through many different avenues for help funding new latrines, all to no avail. If the school does not build new latrines when the old ones are no longer functional, it will be forced to shut down.

As a last resort, I have set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for new, cost-effective and sustainable latrines. You can find the page here*: http://www.gofundme.com/latrinesforkps. In exchange for your donation, my head teacher and I are offering authentic Ugandan crafts (and my undying love, of course). You can also support the project by “sharing” the GoFundMe page on social media and spreading the word. In exchange for sharing my page, you will receive a warm, fuzzy feeling in your heart (and my undying love, of course).

Just in case you need more motivation to support this project, here’s a list of reasons why it would suck if Kyakatara Primary School was forced to shut down.

  1. There are 576 pupils attending KPS. If the school closes, these children will have to find another school to attend.
  2. My school is located on the border of two different districts so some pupils walk as far as 4 miles (“and jump 4 streams!!”) to get here. If the school shuts down, these pupils will have to walk even farther to go to school and some may drop out entirely, perpetuating a cycle of illiteracy and poverty. Personally, I’m not a fan of either of those things.
  3. My wonderful teachers and head teacher will all be forced to relocate and leave behind their families.
  4. My life would become sad and meaningless. L
  5. This blog would die….and since you got this far, I’m assuming you enjoy reading my ramblings.

Anyway, here’s the link again, just in case you missed it up there.

*Can we all just take a minute and appreciate the fact that I didn’t make a single pun on that GoFundMe page, especially considering what a shitty problem this is?? I mean this situation is literally crap. Like, we’re in some deep shit.