The opinions expressed are mine and do not reflect the positions of the Peace Corps or the US government.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Coping in Swaziland Time Transition

This is Maggie posting for Michele.  She said I could share the wonderful article about her which was printed in the Grants Pass Daily Courier.  Thank you to her friends Sue and Ferron who shared it with Michele's friends and family.

Michele arrived in Swaziland two days ago.  She is having some difficulty with jet lag and a reaction to the anti-Malaria pills she has to take. However, she is coping and hopes that within a few days her body will catch up and adapt.  The peace corps volunteers are in classes all day and get only a little time with Internet access to catch up with emails.  Michele is hoping to post later this week.

She does ask that her friends and family please keep the emails coming. She treasures each one, and they give her a sense of home connection and support.

Now here is the article. Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


We leave tomorrow. My heart is so full of the places and people I am bringing with me. Flew to Philadelphia yesterday. Landed at an airport I didn’t know with no one to meet me. How long since I’ve done that? As always, I began talking to strangers, sharing laughter and information.

Arrived at the hotel, which is swarming with Peace Corps folks. I’m no longer the only one with this crazy dream. Feels good, though it’s less than flattering to ask young folk, “Peace Corps?” and have them reply, sometimes shyly, “Yes.” “Me, too.” I say and hear what now seems to be the inevitable, “Really?!??” Then – “Cool”. A wake up call, for sure.

Each step towards Swaziland has untied another part of what I realize has become my – identity? security? not sure what the word is. I began by sorting through my things – a several month process. What to take? What to store? What to give away or sell? Winnowing, winnowing, without appreciable progress for a long time. Then things began to disappear: sold, in storage, given away. Next I moved out, gave up my rental – no more home. Ended phone service – another connection severed. Last, I sold my car – no more transportation. Then Sueji drove me to the airport and I left home. It’s not as though I can’t go back, find a place to live, replace the phone, the car. It’s that for now, I don’t have things that have been a part of my life for a very long time. I’d love to say I feel really free, but the truth is I don’t know what I feel, except that this path, this journey, is right.

And – all the things that will no longer be in my life will make room for things I can’t yet visualize or begin to comprehend. It’s humbling, for sure.

So, Farewell until I get a chance to write from 10,000+ miles from Orygun. Can’t wait to see what comes next.

Oh yeah, my challenge is to identify the things you take for granted, that are a part of being able to function. What are they, and what part do they play in your life?

Saturday, June 22, 2013


A fallen redwood: nursery to new life. You can't tell from this picture, but this giant was many stories tall.

Grace. It’s such an amazing/encompassing/undefinable concept that left brain cannot find the words to describe it. So often who we are is shaped by the stories we tell about events in our lives. That's left brain, putting things into words. But who we are is also shaped by our right brains - by images and poetry and experiences. Grace has to do with honoring both...

I can bring grace to myself by not apologizing for Ugly American actions, and being kind to myself when things get really hard. How? By remembering I have a place in the Universe, and that place is not just mine, but that of all of my Village. And, we, as a Village, have gifts to share and receive. Gifts that bring growth. And change.

How do I bring that grace? Connect with that which grounds me, brings me peace, links me to nature. Seek that place where I can’t tell where I end and the rest of the universe begins. Bliss out, be in the moment, be present. Visualize being at the top of a class 4 rapid, my whole world filled by the oars in my hands, my raft, the sheer power of the water. And feel the euphoria, peace and gratitude when I make it through right side up, everyone and everything still intact – this time.

Imagine walking through a redwood forest, sensing the enormity of the community overhead and underfoot, and feeling a part of the timelessness, connected to Universe. Be so at peace I can hear the redwoods’ gentle laughter. Or see myself standing on the beach, at the edge of the continent, water splashing at my legs, feeling the beat of the waves under my feet. Experience being both a tiny speck in an unimaginably large cosmos and having, within me, a spark of whatever life means.

Grace is acknowledging those connections, drawing on the strength and love and light of friends, family, Universe. And it’s replenishing it by providing support and love and caring back. It’s understanding that give and take are both part of the whole, and remembering that it’s necessary to receive sometimes, even though it’s so much easier to give.

Grace moves towards the light. Always. It’s about bringing that journey to the dark places. There are always dark places. It's a lack of judging others, accepting what is, even when I want to change it, then providing a role model of what change can look like. And when life get hard, by going back to times I've dealt with forces of nature - how did I do it? What helped me? If the only way out is through, how do I go through?

Grace means that I feed my own soul; I don’t need others to do that for me. It means remembering that the way to be accepted is to accept myself. It sounds so very simple. Have integrity. Judge not lest ye be judged. Actually living this in a culture where I don’t comprehend the reasons underlying actions is going to be most difficult. Coming to terms with clashes in values will challenge me to my depths.

I’ll give my curiosity full reign. The curiosity that wants to understand the hows and whys and whats. The curiosity that allows, even encourages,  living with the unknown, the unfathomable; with being at ease with chaos. Maybe it will inspire curiosity in others – and with curiosity comes growth. And change.

I'll probably be pondering these concepts the whole time I'm gone. I surely hope so.

(Many thanks to Suellen, energy worker and friend, who took time to explore these concepts with me and give me tools to take traveling).

p.s. For each of us, that place of grace differs, but the resulting peace is the same. Your challenge is to go visit your place... And take the resulting peace to a situation requiring you to be, for however long, in chaos.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

It Takes a Village

Sitting on my front porch, gazing at the roses, bamboo, palm trees and luscious greenery, typing this. A hummingbird flew in front of my face. Wings beating swiftly, it hovered at eye level, then flew off. Another gift.

Last night was a going away party for me. I can’t begin to describe the depth to which I was touched, nor have I been able to fit words around the emotions. But as I try, it comes to me that It Takes A Village is not just about raising children. It’s also about nurturing and supporting each other.  It’s a way of life.

We ate way too much of the delicious food. Then sat in a circle and I received encouragement, love and touchstones to take with me to Africa, to a whole different culture and way of life. I was a link in that circle, a temporary focus, but not the center; one part of a whole. And though many folks were physically present, many others are also a part of that circle. I will take gifts with me, some physical and many more energetic/spiritual/intangible.

Two things emerged from this gathering: Intentional Group Appreciation and It Takes a Village; each needs its own blog.

I think that once our Villages were physical places; today we create them with circles of friends. Sometimes we call them extended family, families of choice, long-time friends… My Village is sending me off with an incredible link to, for want of a better word, Home. I keep saying thank you, trying to express gratitude to Universe/Great Mystery/The Divine/God/Whomever for the abundance connecting all of us.

I am venturing out into the world with my Village, my Home, at my back, lending me strength and courage. I will draw on the good things you, my Village, offer, and replenish it with what other Villages share.


The poem that manifested this morning:

It Takes A Village

In that circle
of friends
I am a link

In that circle
We make a reservoir
of shared

Belief in me
        as a me
        and as one
        who strives to share
        with the world
        the best in all of us.

With a touch to a gift
with a smile
I’ll dip often
into that pool

And replenish it
with gratitude
        for lives shared.

                June 9, 2013

Friday, June 7, 2013

Nuts, Bolts and Perspectives

Tempus fugit!?! 3 weeks from today I will be in Swaziland, at the preferred end of 28 hours of continuous travel, which will have followed 12 hours of travel from Orygun and 7 hours of staging. I think I like that fugit part <g>.

What I know so far:

Sending mail and packages is expensive and iffy. However, emails and virtual hugs will be gratefully accepted.

Internet connections are iffy and slow and I may not have access on a regular basis. Therefore, if you email me and don’t receive a reply right away, please be patient – I’ll answer as soon as I can. Also, please don’t send cute stuff that takes a long time to load; links are fine, and I’ll check them out when possible.

You may have noticed that Maggie is listed as an administrator. Should there be some kind of problem in Swaziland that may cause concern, if I am unable to post here, I will contact Maggie and she will post for me. THANK YOU, Maggie!

The first 9 weeks are pre-service training, and access to the internet will not be readily available. Once again, patience, please.

After a month or so I’ll get a cell phone and I’ve been told that if I put whatsapp on it I can send text messages to others who also have whatsapp using a data plan.Not quite sure how that will work; I'll post when I figure it out.

An RPCV (returned Peace Corps volunteer) said she wished she’d taken more pictures when she first arrived, since later on so much had become part of her “normal”; I’m going to try to learn from that.

Here at home, Makhosazana, a Swazi woman living in Grants Pass, has been sharing her perspective of her culture and her people. She’s helping me learn the language as well as answering questions that arise as I strive to recognize my “givens” and wonder if and how they will be challenged. She’s a lifesaver, allaying concerns as my flight nears and my trepidation increases. Yesterday we laughed and told stories in between my attempts to make the sounds in SiSwati that don’t exist in English. Her support and encouragement made it fun; a good reminder for my teaching times to come.

As we talked, I discovered that many of the things I was raised to  (but sometimes forget) may cause offense if I get sloppy. For example, it’s important to let people finish their thoughts without interrupting, allowing lots of pause time. Disagreements need to be couched politely. It’s okay to say, ‘please don’t disturb me’. All good things to do; so I hope to come back more polite and tactful. (Stop laughing! Anything is possible! Maybe I'll even figure out how to keep my foot out of my mouth. You're going to hurt yourself if you don't stop laughing!)

What is most clear is the thread of humanity, of people being people. When I first met with Makhosazana and she began describing Swaziland as she experiences it, I thought our countries and cultures were so very different, so literally worlds apart. The more she talked, the more I saw the underlying similarities. In fact, though things manifest differently in our 2 countries, there are amazing amounts of “sames”. The differences are easy: geographical size, government, size of the middle class, availability of electricity and running water… Of course there’s poverty, so easy to avoid seeing here, but present all the same. Then there’s the attitude toward women – oops, look at the men in the last election blaming rape on the women. Look at the disparity between salaries of men and women in the same jobs… Okay, what about education? Um, states are scrambling for funding for schools, and higher education costs more every year while student loans teeter on almost unpayable interest. America is an amazing country, no doubt about it; I’m proud of to be American. And, like every country and every individual, we have room for improvement.  

I wonder, once I am in Swaziland, how my perspectives will change, what I will see and question and ponder. Challenge (sorry, I seem to be unable to stop myself from issuing them <grin>): Think of 2 things in your life that seem worlds apart. What makes them so? Are you sure they are really that different?