There were many reasons as to why I wanted to join Peace Corps. But a main reason was that I was looking for some perspective. You hear people say that Peace Corps totally changes your perspective on life, and for some volunteers, I think this is true.
I didn't know what kind of perspective I was looking for exactly when I joined Peace Corps. All I knew was that I wanted to grow, and I wanted to be able to look at life more holistically, as well as realistically, and I thought Peace Corps would allow me to do so.
Now, three quarters of the way through my service, I think I've realized not only what I was looking for, but that I've found it – I've realized both the power of thought, and the power of gratitude.
What do I mean by the power of thought? A somewhat cliché statement would actually best describe what I mean – Peace Corps has taught me the power of positive thinking. I took me a year and a half to realize that I've created a lot of my own misery. I'm not saying I have been miserable over here in Uganda, because that is most definitely not the case. What I am saying is that the times that I did feel low, I brought on myself. There's always more than one way to view a situation and you always have a choice as to how you react to a situation. You can choose to be angry, sad, upset about something, or you can choose not to be. I honestly think it is as simple as that. Life is what you make of it.
The year mark was a very low point for me in my service. I can't even remember exactly why, but I do remember that I didn't even want to leave my house because I couldn't take another person yelling “Mzungu” at me. To this day, I still find it obnoxious, but I choose not to let it incite anger and negative emotions in me anymore. I made a decision to not let it bother me, and now I can tune it out, and my thoughts aren't allowed to get carried away anymore when someone calls me “Mzungu.”
What's more – things always have to be put in perspective. Sure that person pissed you off on the bus, or that old man made kissy noises at you, but is it really that big of a deal in the scheme of things?
Sometimes I think back to my waitressing days and remember all the customers who complained about the stupidest things – There was a smudge on their glass, or they were upset because the food didn't come out fast enough, or I forgot their tarter sauce and they threw a tantrum...Seriously, this is your biggest problem?
Sometimes I wonder how I am going to deal with “pseudo” problems and people's trivial complaints when I get back home, because now that I've been in Uganda for a few years, I've realized how common this is in the US.
However, I've made it my own personal resolution to stop complaining. I know that there will be a day now and then, when I need to vent. However, I've been doing my best to keep those times to a minimum because when I complain, I am NOT thinking positively and I'm not being grateful.
Positive thinking as always easier accomplished when you have a sense of gratitude for what you have in life.
Though I've been surrounded by poverty for the last year and half, it took awhile to really FEEL how lucky I am. I've capitalized FEEL because I'm trying to differentiate something here. I want to differentiate what it means to KNOW something and what it means to FEEL something.
I've always KNOWN how fortunate I am simply to have been born in a developed country, where I had access to free primary and secondary education. I KNOW that I was lucky that my parents were able to feed me growing up, and that they were able to send me to university. I KNOW that I was lucky to never have been denied health care. And I KNOW that compared to many people in this world, my life has been one that has been relatively easy. So, while I have always KNOWN that I have so much in my life to be grateful for, I didn't always FEEL the gratitude.
The epiphany happened when I was sitting in Cure Hospital in Mbale, a hospital which specializes in Hydrocephalus. There were children there, waiting to be seen, with birth defects that I could never even have imagined. And the whole time, I kept putting myself in the place of that child, and in their parent's place, and imagining how hard it has to be for that family. I can't even begin to imagine how ostracized some of these children, and probably even their parents, must feel.
Some volunteers, myself included, arrive in country and think “Wow, I was so lucky to have had a washing machine back home, or a car, or a dish washer or electricity.”
But lets go even further than that. How lucky are we, because most of us are physically able?
How lucky are we?
Most of us can walk. Most of can see. Most of us can hear. Most of us are, or have the potential to be, in good health.
The next time we go to complain, or we begin to lament on some horrible thing in our lives, instead, lets get up, walk around on our two legs and appreciate the fact that we can walk, look at the beautiful world around us and remember that we are lucky to be able to see, lets listen to all noises around us, ugly or beautiful, and just be grateful that we can hear it.
In short, lets feel gratitude, for even the “smallest” of things.