My simple village life allows me to take care of myself in a way I’ve never done before. It’s one of the best, totally selfish things about joining the Peace Corps. Here are twelve favorite things that I get to do for myself:
Water. I drink so much water. Now that it’s hot season I’m drinking at least 4 liters a day. On some boring days drinking water is my main activity. My skin is better; I’m fitter, healthier, less hungry, and more awake. Madzi ndi moyo! (water is life)
Cooking. I cook! I have ample time to experiment and create some rewarding meals. I cook real, grown-on-a-local-farm, picked-that-day healthy foods. I eat fruit picked from outside my house. Even my sodas are made with real sugar. Whole Foods has nothing on my village market.
Exercise. Though I really don’t do it as much as I should, and I miss the luxury of a gym, I do make time for exercise. It’s great stress relief, and perfectly complements those previously mentioned improvements in diet. The best part is I’ve been able to share this activity with local friends. “Ninja” Caeser should be paid the big bucks for his personal training skills, and Friday afternoon aerobics classes and Sunday morning runs are usually the best parts of my day.
Reading. The second rule of Peace Corps Malawi is to always carry a book. (I’ll tell you the first rule some other time.) Thanks to the wonderful invention known as the kindle, I do one better and always carry a library. I’ve read about 40 books in 17 months- not exactly a world record, but probably a personal best.
Hobbies. Got extra time and limited entertainment options? Why not pick up a new hobby.I dabble in playing guitar, brewing wine, blogging, taking photos, and gardening to name a few.
Cleaning. This sounds like a weird thing to list, butI’ve never lived alone and I’ve certainly never had a whole house to be solely responsible for. Though the chores are never ending and I sometimes dread them, cleaning can be cathartic. Putting in the time to make my house healthier and more comfortable feels good. Going to the borehole and carrying a bucket of water on my head is a task I may actually miss. (Won’t miss washing clothes by hand though, that got old fast.) It feels like cleaning takes up a decent chunk of my daily schedule, but routine and mundane actions keep me sane.
Travel. Travel is an obvious plus, and one of the main reasons I submitted an application to the Peace Corps. I’ve been to some breathtaking, marvelous places and I wish it would never end.
Minimal Superficiality. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t care if my legs are shaved. Clothing labels mean nothing. I’m not judged by those things and even if I was, I’m not sure I’d care. Things that used to matter so much no longer do. And don’t get me wrong- I still like to look and feel nice, but I do it on my own terms and only when I want to- there is no pressure to keep up appearances amongst people who think you’re weird looking regardless.
Creativity. Creativity is one of few absolutely necessary requirements to make it as a PCV. You have to solve problems you never thought you’d face, with a lack of or totally different set of resources- ALL THE TIME. From fixing a flat bicycle tire in the middle of nowhere to trying to organize a national education camp for 120 people- you need to try all sorts of new things. There are constant mental exercises, and something as simple as figuring out how to rig food storage that’s protected from bugs & your pet cat using only a basket lid and some rope is a personal achievement you can feel good about.
General Knowledge. I’m exposed to all these wonderfully weird things I never knew about. Things I’ve learned: the natural medicinal properties of local plants, how to kill and prepare a chicken, a language spoken by >1% of the world, how to teach 50 kids advanced English topics in a dark, deafening classroom that’s leaking with rain, the entire life cycle of corn, how aid works (and fails) on the ground, bargaining strategies with locals, what the night sky in the southern hemisphere looks like and so much more.
Personal Clarity & Self Reflection. This is another one of the main reasons us lost and confused 20somethings enlist in a two year service abroad. One of the first things I posted on this blog was an image that said something along the lines of “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I’m discovering so much about who I am, what I value, what I might want to do with the rest of my life- or at least what I don’t want to do with my life. Information gained through experiences that college or work in the states couldn’t offer me. This is the ultimate character-building opportunity.
A Focus on My Work. My job is why I’m here. I think that’s a sentence few Americans would utter. I mean it literally, but I also mean it as a sort of personal mantra. It’s my first priority and pretty much my only obligation. And “work” is a wonderfully loose term here. Hanging out in a library is work. Painting a world map with my students is work. A casual conversation about America is work. “The hardest job you’ll ever love” is a Peace Corps slogan because it’s true- although sometimes, it doesn’t seem all that hard.