I must admit to feeling a twinge of “I’ll show them—I’m running away!” teenage-style angst when I first began packing. I hate to say it, but there is definitely something vengefully satisfying about the idea of throwing everything in a suitcase and sneaking away. After all of the work I had done to get there—all of the waiting and training and homesickness—only to be treated the way I was. It was nearly impossible, even being the optimist that I am, not to be overwhelmed by frustration and bitterness that it would all end like this. But after weeks of turning it over in my head, I knew I had no other choice.
I hastily bustled around the room and sifted through my belongings—though I had settled on the decision days before I was set to leave, I knew once my bags were packed, there was no going back, so I put it off until the last possible minute. Despite the emotions firing inside, it was impossible to keep my mind from drifting back to the last time I had packed like this. How odd that I had been so concerned with deadlines and order and structure, and making sure not to forget anything—when at that time I really had absolutely no idea what I even needed. Yet upon leaving Botswana, I was so unconcerned with any of that—if something made it home, it made it home; if it didn’t, it didn’t; things are just things, after all. I thought I knew that going in, but I really knew it coming out. In fact, as sorted through my filthy clothes and sand-infested shoes, determining which to leave and which to attempt to squeeze into the remaining space in my bags, I was struck by just how much I had learned—about myself, about life. About the importance of friends and family. By this point in my journey, the letters of support meant more than anything else. And even they were only physical manifestations of the amazing people that I am so blessed to be surrounded by.
The process of reassembling my things was remarkably cathartic, and by the time I was struggling with the zippers and smirking as I attached my luggage locks (who would really want to steal anything that had been in the Kgaladi for the last 4 months?!), I was entirely overtaken by a confident calmness; no bitterness or ill feelings at all. Really, even though things didn’t work our exactly as I had expected, I had grown more than I ever could have imagined. I was more committed to my ideals and goals than ever before—even if the execution would be a little different than I originally imagined. If it meant pushing myself even further outside of my comfort zone, burning through my savings, and distancing myself farther from most “sane” people, who consider even Peace Corps service to be “out there,” the bottom line was that Botswana was not the right place for me, and if I had any chance of staying true to myself, I had to follow my heart. And it was clearly leading me out of Botswana. And, really, I was grateful that I realized when I did.
I don’t know if my perspective was distorted or if it was genuinely true but my bags felt a lot lighter on the way out than on the way in. And although I accepted offers to help a few times (I’m strong, not stupid!), on the way out, unlike on the way in, I had the strength to carry it all myself.