A hard pill to swallow. Initially before coming to Cambodia, I thought I’m going there to use MY background knowledge in Public Health to help spread important health messages. I will gain so much from this experience. I will grow as a person.
Upon the cusp of the sixth month in country, the desire to think about MY wants and MY need to make sure every effort put into the community was perfect, instilled a constant feeling of anxiousness.
Will the students think I’M a good teacher during English/Health Club? Will I do this, that, and this too, plus that and 100 other things that will make ME feel accomplished?
ME ME ME ME ME ME. (As my friend John would say)
Rather than just being present in the moment and allowing situations to occur naturally; I had to make sure everything I did was calculated and would result in something meaningful. Not realizing, ANYTHING that happens here can be meaningful depending on how one looks at it. I had to learn how to give it up. Give up control and fear of failure. I had to give up allowing my introverted personality control how I interact with others. Lastly, I had to give up worrying about my impact as a volunteer and focus on just being present and the rest will follow.
For instance, one day I went to the market to pick up some fruit. A woman passing by began to admire my hands and told me how beautiful they were. I told her “I have lazy hands, but your hands are more beautiful than mine. Your hands show that you work hard”. The women surrounding us thought it was funny. Probably because the way it translated in Khmer could probably be an insult (let’s hope not) or maybe having lazy hands is just that funny. But this random anecdote is one of the reasons why service is more than living in conditions of hardship. It’s those little moments when you connect with those around you and forget that you’re even speaking another language.
Letting go of the need to control every situation has brought peace of mind to service. Don’t get me wrong, if I could control being woken up at 2:00 am by a crying baby or rats chewing through my mosquito net in order to tuck me in at night I would. It can be a constant struggle wondering if this drop in the bucket is actually making a difference. As of now, I’ve adopted the frame of mind to live in the moment rather than thinking of the next or the previous. I wouldn’t say I’ve perfected it, but I’m actively working on it!
These jumbled thoughts are all to say that while development is an important part of Peace Corps, there’s more to service than building 1,267 squatty potties or what service can do for you as the volunteer. And it only took almost seven months to realize this. It’s the random awkward moments when you’re holding an educational session on pregnancy danger signs and a yeiy (grandma) feels comfortable enough with you to snap your bra while you’re struggling to speak Khmer. Or forgetting to bring $10 to the wedding and your family covers it for you. Or scolding your students multiple times during camp to the point where you think they’ll never speak to you again but then they write the sweetest letters that legitimately make you cry (thug tears though, always). For me, it’s all about those intimate moments that are not quantifiable.
Giving up control is helpful with anything in life. We can’t govern every aspect of our lives and that’s okay. We can plan, but we should be okay with the possibility of situations going the exact opposite of how we’ve envisioned. Learn to ride the wave rather than wonder what’s creating it or when the next wave will arrive. And when the wave crashes, because that’s what waves do, remember waves will always rise again. Be patient, be present, and don’t be so hard on yourself!
Recently, I just read The Alchemist and basically became Paulo Coelho’s publicist because I’ve been promoting his book like it’s the next best thing since the invention of sliced bread.
Reading this piece of work helped me come to so many conclusions about love, life, and where genuine joy comes from. That being said, I’ll leave you with this Quote:
“Because I don’t live in either my past or my future. I’m interested only in the present. If you can concentrate always on the present, you’ll be a happy man. You’ll see that there is life in the desert, that there are stars in the heavens, and that tribesmen fight because they are part of the human race. Life will be a party for you, a grand festival, because life is the moment we’re living right now.” – The Alchemist