I exited March much like a zombie might have with staggering strides haphazardly tramping forwards. Say that five times fast.
So, I understand why you might have a brainfreeze. I sure do. On a sidenote, I could not be happier that these last few days have invited me to cozy up in my favourite flannels.
I digress. Amidst the swirl of languages whirling inside my brain and chaotic thoughts of the ever-growing complexities surrounding my work here, it’s quite remarkable that this month reached a relatively tranquil denouemont. Clinging to the last glimmers of wisdom I’d carried throughout training, I decided it was high time I re-check my attitude at the door. Sometimes there’s no better cure than a positive change in attitude. Like I sort of alluded to in my last post, I think it’s easy to forget the things that matter most, when the big picture is being overshadowed by the demons of yore.
Having a friend outside of Peace Corps stay with me for a couple weeks provided fantastic perspective, and although I was not quite ready for it, invited a revitalization and addition of a word that I’d like to henceforth reclaim. Hijacking. And let me just start by saying, it always comes down to intention. The verb connotes the illegal seizing (of [countless means of transport]) in transit and force it to go to a different destination or use it for one’s own purposes. Thus, I think there’s plenty of room to rewrite it’s meaning to match my intentions.
Positive Hijacking: |paw-sa-tiv hai-g-ak-ng| verb: to create or cause a change of course with jedi-like ease resulting in a more favorable outcome. To, on one’s own accord, reframe or reappropriate the relative instructions given to ensure a better outcome with the least amount of negative consequences.
I know what you’re thinking… Great scots! Pam could be the next Webster… her definitions are boss. Hahaha… Just kidding.
I think one of the hardest things to do in another culture is to strike the perfect balance of assimilation and acceptance while also feeling satisfied with your social identity. If you’re not careful, nuances can dig their way to the forefront of your mind, and make it practically impossible to focus on anything other than what makes something different. If I were to focus on all of the little things that would be handled differently in the U.S. I would actually go crazy, feel completely out of control, and my bloodpressure would constantly be through the roof. There’s a doily on my wall that sums it up nicely, “you can do anything, just not everything”. This is crucial. To live successfully somewhere other than the environment you grew up in, you have to be able to look at the differences not in fear or repulsion but with modest amusement and a casual “hmmm”. There is no other way. However, there are times when bringing aspects of your culture into the discussion can be extremely valuable, and not intrusive or patronizing.
Cue positive hijacking.
The thing is, while I do a pretty admirable job of absorbing cultures and languages like a sponge, I am who I am. And sometimes it is perfectly okay to share my me-ness unapologetically. End of story. Thus, I’m shedding some of the anxiety I’ve been carrying around, constantly feeling like I’m walking on eggshells. I am not saying to completely disregard the world around you, by all means, flexibility is probably one of the most valuable traits a person can have in this particular context. However, I am telling you that it is also perfectly acceptable to be you in all of your wonderful you-ness. I’ve been struggling with this for a while because the gray line can often be misinterpreted as a complete disreard for someone else’s feelings. This is not necessarily true. And once you start peeling back the layers, you start seeing things for what they really are (at least in that moment). Man, this is the most roundabout way I could have gone to address this new beloved definition.
Utsini? Basically… I decided that so much of my time gets hijacked (most often positively) that it was acceptable for me to take equal part in hijacking things as well. This isn’t a perfect system… and the resulting consequences cannot always be known at the commencement of said hijacking. But, generally, things tend to work out in the longrun.
A perfect example of this was back when Lindiwe was visiting. (In fact, the birth of this fine terminology was this very event). The sports teacher had been planning an inter-houses competition… for a while, and because of the amount of rain that poured down in March, it kept being pushed back. Finally, the eve of this competition, and we’re having a staff meeting to prepare for the following day. This is when Lindiwe and I learn that we have been deemed the “Information Centre” and in charge of the “Records Committee”. News to us. That’s fine. See, hijacked. The ironic thing was, besides that, the so-called Information Centre had no information about what was going to happen… aside from knowning that there were Xnumber of events, and 8 runners per event. So we made up our own system. Positive hijacking. And I’d say we rocked at being the Information Centre.
I think what made this feel so empowering… per say… stems back to my earlier ramblings, about that fine gray line that we’re constantly teetering on. And I wonder if that line really needs to be there. When I first arrived at my site my outsider-ness was very evident. But now, I feel as much a part of this community as anyone else. I am a part of this fabulous team. It’s just a very comforting feeling because if you focus too much on the non-permance of your work/presence as a volunteer, then I think that gives way to over-thinking too much. I’m not saying to ignore making conscious and thoughtful decisions based on what things you introduce and work towards, but at the end of the day, life is uncertain whether you intend to stay somewhere one year or ten. I think I found myself stressing so much on the impact I might be having on the community, which created a lot of unnecessary stress, and made things much less enjoyable, and that’s what led me spiraling into a disgruntled existence.
This goes back to rule number four on the flipchart paper on my wall. “Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome”. Which might be one of the most crucial mentalities to have here. One of the biggest changes in myself (and perhaps evidence that I’ve adjusted to the Swazi culture even a little bit) is the fact that I do not need all of the ity-bity details to feel like things will work out just fine.
I organized a “basic therapy/counseling” training for my teachers, and the teachers at the high school this past week. I had to prepare food, organize the hall, and send out an invitation, as well as establish a date for the person running the workshop. But when it came down to actually “preparing” for it, I found myself thinking “well, it’s either going to work, or it isn’t”. Which, I think could be misconstrued as apathy. On the other hand, I feel like it’s just a more realistic acknowledgment of how much any one person can really control. I did all of the things I could do to ensure things would go off without a hitch, the rest wasn’t on me, and that’s fine.
In other news, the term is officially over, and I have a month before the students return. It felt a little bit like the last day of camp, waiting for the parents to arrive and take their children home. We decided to have one final movie night in the hall on Thursday, I showed “The Goonies”. I tend to dwell a lot on contemplating “who am I to these people?” and I think sometimes it’s easy to let doubt and uncertainty cloud the fact that you actually do belong. Both boys and girls rushed into the hall, pushing each other, and fighting over where they were going to sit. Once they were relatively settled, I put an annoyed look on my face. You know you have respect when you can get every student to stand up, file out of the hall, line up again and nicely re-enter the room. I’ve come a long way since those confusing days in the library.
How I feel while using Swazi Sign Language…
Because I can successfully convey a message to anyone, anywhere, like a walk-talkie version of “telephone”, without even leaving the comfort of my doorstep.
And on that note, I think you’ve suffered through enough jibberjabber for one day.