A good friend of mine, early on, said he believed we volunteers were seeking something that the States could not offer; our common dissatisfaction with American life had brought us together.
I agreed. I went to Mozambique in search of more, and it turns out… My “more” was thrilling, but also frightening and traumatizing at times. It gave me a look at something I longed to see, but did not expect.
The more concrete tasks – learning to cart water, using it to wash the dishes and bathe, and cooking outside on firewood or a charcoal stove – were quickly learned. It wasn’t difficult to adapt to the minimalism of the life of a Mozambican; in fact, I rather enjoyed, and at times even preferred, that lifestyle. That wasn’t what started to stack.
It was the heavy stuff – 11-year-olds left alone for weeks, responsible for feeding their siblings; my students dying from unexplained illnesses; a dinner specially prepared for the man of the house, left untouched to cool and collect flies on his plate – that started to stack. Against me.
But now, six months later, I have to dig to recall the hard stuff, to remember what was wrong. It's selective memory at work – and also, numbing. At this point, the feelings and memories are fading.
But I know some parts won't fade. I think these are different for everyone – they’re the things that hit us the deepest, good and bad. They’re the things that we can’t forget even if we tried, because they changed us. They changed us in ways we didn’t think we could be changed.
I can’t speak for anyone else (though I encourage others to reflect on their own growth post-Peace Corps as well), but I can share two things that changed, fundamentally, for me. One of them I want to keep, the other I want to challenge:
Can you guess which I will keep, and which I will challenge? Drumroll please…
I’ll keep the first. I’ll challenge the second.
I loved the minimalism of life in Mozambique. It was liberating for me. It’s something I’ll hold onto.
But while I thrived as a minimalist, I did not thrive in solitude. During my first year, I felt awed and spiritual and whole. I was moved by the natural beauty of my home, and the culture of my neighbors, and the sensation of being a part of it all.
During my second year, that spirituality was practically nonexistent. The woman who had welcomed me into Mozambique in my first year (I called her my godmother, and she is pictured above) moved to a different city. I started traveling away from site more often, in search of something that I was suddenly missing, unaware I’d even lost it.
What I had during my first year that I lost in my second year was a sense of belonging. I felt very, very alone. I don’t wish that feeling on anyone. It brought out a darker side of me than I’d ever seen – fearful, volatile, even abusive at times. Teenage Katy, times ten. I was calloused. I was weak. I isolated myself. But underneath all that, I was actually just really freakin sad.
These days, I’m trying to move past that memory of me. I keep writing “timshel” on my bulletin board. That, and my favorite Harry Potter quote – “It is our choices…that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Sometimes I write it in Portuguese and hide it, in an attempt to surprise-attack my future self with inspiration.
For the first few months home, I was scared that whatever broke in me over there might never be repaired. Like I’d be flipping the light switch over and over, frantic – unable to ever change out the dead bulb.
But, “What is not expressed, is depressed.” I’ve let it sink into me and weigh down for too long.
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