July 19, 2010

I Don’t Stand Out, But I Don’t Fit In…Weird

*Edit* AHH!  I didn't mean for the last line of this blog to sound like a passive-aggressive complaint that I haven't been getting enough letters!  On the contrary, I meant that I hope the letters I sent HOME to YOU start arriving soon! AHH!!!  Your letters and support are AMAZING and I would NEVER try to imply that you're not doing enough--you are all blowing me away with everything!  *big hugs all around!!*

Before beginning, I feel the need to apologize to anyone who actually reads all of my blogs and is growing weary of my frequent redundancy…I have no idea whether most people persevere through each and every one of my long-winded soul-purges, or just catch a few snippets here and there…actually, I kind of have no idea how many people read any of these at all, save for a few loyal friends (y’all know who you are!  Represent!!!  XOXO!!!!), but I like to pretend a lot of people read them…because, clearly, I’m not narcissistic enough as it is ;o)…but anyway, I’m trying to make each entry fairly coherent in and of itself, and all of my experiences are kind of intertwined, so the repetition is kind of inevitable.  Anyway…

As they say, sometimes you have to turn around to see how far you’ve come.  For me, this past week was pretty much a 180 degree shift from my past three months, and even I am shocked at just how far I’ve traveled—both literally and figuratively.  And, as is no surprise to those who know me or have been following this blog, this epiphany has once again left me with conflicting emotions—exuberant and unexpectedly confident at just how much I have adapted, but also almost inconsolably homesick, because of just how far removed from of my old comforts I really am.

There were three big events which triggered flashbacks that forced me to reflect back to the beginning of my service and my life in America.  First of all, as I mentioned in my earlier blog, because my PCV village-mate’s cat was sick and she had to travel to Gaborone for mid-service training (MST), I spent several nights last week cat and house-sitting for her.  And her house is worlds different from mine—nicer than any apartment I’ve had in the States.  Indeed when I first stayed there during site visit, there were several occasions when I entirely forgot that I was not back in America, only to be jolted out of my temporary mental retreat by the startling sound of an angry cow mooing or children singing and playing in Setswana.  As a result, I fully expected the same experience when I stayed over this time—comfort, security, and that feeling of “home.” 

But what caught me entirely off-guard was that I did not feel that way at all.  It wasn’t that I didn’t appreciate all of the amenities, which up until three months ago I took entirely for granted.  On the contrary, I think it will take good money to get me to turn down a hot shower ever again (pause to appreciate your access to hot showers…they’re pretty freaking amazing).  I relished each and every flush of the toilet, each time I turned the stove on and it actually worked, each evening curled up on the couch with a book or an episode of Gossip Girl (the Official television program of the Northern Delta.  Anyone not in Botswana right now is not allowed to judge…being here makes you do crazy, crazy things; bad TV is quite possibly the least concerning).  But the whole time I was there, I couldn’t shake the uncomfortable feeling of being entirely out of place.  Instead of feeling natural and intuitive, these things made me feel like I was staying in some sort of luxurious resort, not someone’s home.  I actually missed my one-room block house and all of my buckets—which is great, considering I’m going to live here for the next two years.  But it’s also quite disconcerting to feel so out-of-place in the environment that I have always considered to be my own.

So that was shock number one.  The second was a bit more subtle.  Although PST provided us with a great foundation to be rather conversational in Setswana, there are a few go-to phrases which come up time and time again and have become staples in my daily interactions.  Among those phrases is the following: Ga ke bidiwa lakgoa!  Ke bidiwa Gofaone, fela!  In other words: I am not called “foreigner!” I am called “Ho-fa-oh-nay” (my Setswana name) only!  Although lakgoa is not intended as an insult, seeing as I actually live here in Shakawe, I would prefer to be addressed by my actual name, instead of “out-of-towner.”  So, each time I pass someone on the street and they shout “lakgoa,” I bust out my crazyawesome Setswana and offer up this phrase from my playbook.  Despite my best efforts, though, I was beginning to give up—apparently lakgoa is just more fun or easier or something, because my name just didn’t seem to stick. 

Until I went for my most recent run through town.  It was astonishing—nearly every person I passed shouted out Gofaone or Gofa for short; almost no one called me lakgoa.  It was as though a group decision was reached; as though the community decided my hazing was over, and I could now me called by my real name.  Which is amazing—finally, I am not a foreigner, I’m being accepted as a part of the community.  But it’s also kind of upsetting.  After all, Gofaone isn’t my real real name.  My actual real name is Chelsea.  And although I am the one who decided to continue using my Setswana name, to help aid my integration, I miss being called Chelsea.  Being accepted as Gofaone is another step closer to integration in my village, but another step away from my real identity at home—both literally and figuratively.

My final shocking moment came from Canada.  Yes, Canada.  Each year, my NGO partners with an NGO in Canada called Northern Youth Abroad to host a group of 10 or so high-school and college-age kids for a month to volunteer and learn about the local culture and community.  Because of the similarity between Canadian and American culture, my NGO typically puts their PCV in charge of the group (my NGO has had several PCV’s before me).  I was quite nervous about this, seeing as I have only been in the country for three months, and my village for one month—who am I to try to show them around, when I myself still feel overwhelmed?  Except that apparently I don’t feel that overwhelmed anymore.  Seeing a group of people suddenly pulled from their own culture and dropped in the middle of Botswana, expressing the same concerns I once expressed, consumed by the same fear and homesickness that I once felt, and bewildered by the same things I was once bewildered by, made me realize just how many challenges I have already overcome, just how much I have already learned.  Being able to show them around town, answer many of their questions, and introduce them in Setswana to other members of the community—who already knew me, and carried on conversations with me in Setswana—made me suddenly realize how integrated I have already become here, even if I do still have a long way to go. 

But as with my inadvertent acceptance of my current house, and my community’s sudden acceptance of my Setswana identity, this realization also made me feel a greater gap between the “me” that exists here in Shakawe, and the “me” that existed at home—while my integration means that I am transitioning well into my new community, it also means that I have already changed enough that I will have to re-transition back into my old life.  I knew that re-integrating into American culture is a part of the Peace Corps experience.  After all, if you have to modify your identity in order to acclimate here, obviously it will have to be altered again when you return home.  But I guess I just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

So I once again find myself perplexed by the special kind of crazy emotional mood swing that only something like Peace Corps service can create—simultaneously lost and found, simultaneously home and worlds away from home.  And, as with all other shades of Peace Corps Crazy, all I can do is wait for this uneasiness to pass.  Which it will.  And probably sooner than I expect it to.  But in the mean time, I’ll just keep crossing my fingers that another one of your AMAZING letters comes soon, because hearing from you guys is nearly the only things keeping me from going insane or crying all the time!  Love you all and miss you more than you know…and I hope some of my letters start arriving soon—mail takes so long!!!


  1. I have something coming your way soon!! :) I hope it reaches you at the perfect time.. Miss you, INBBBB!

  2. Oh, Lindorac!!! Hahaha...I LOVE that we're back to being penpals! Even if my handwriting is unforgivably bad...lol. You've got one on the way as well (actually, maybe it's already arrived? Some others I sent at the same time have started trickling in...). You MUST help keep me up to date on our boys...mail is so slow, I STILL haven't heard the new album!!! AHH!!!! (-(-\)\) 4 eva!! Peace, love, and bullet-proof marshmallows!!!! Hahaha!! Can't wait until your letter arrives!! *hug*

  3. Hi Chelsea, I enjoyed reading your blog. May I use some of your cultural insights in a Botswana country brief (Powerpoint) I'm producing for US Navy men and women? I'll be glad to reference your blog on the additional resources slide if you wish. I'll send you a finished one so you can see what they look like (non-profit, academic use only) if you can email me.
    Kind Regards, Mark (Regional Desk Officer, Center for Language, Regional Expertise and Culture) mark.easterlin@navy.mil Pensacola, FL


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