Bslama (Goodbye)

With every risk in life, there are unknown consequences waiting to unfold. If you’re lucky those consequences can be an absolute blessing, but sometimes those risks prove to have a detrimental effect on your entire being. One day you’re incredibly happy living in the beautiful Ozarks and another you’re applying to the Peace Corps because you feel like it’s “now or never.” The spontaneity of your youth and the lack of responsibilities (AKA a husband or child) you possess seem like the perfect pairing for an adventure abroad. After all this is your dream – right? The one where you show everyone how you were meant to be a humanitarian, vowing to live as the impoverished do and wow everyone with the life changing projects you implement with locals. You set wildly high expectations for yourself and are determined you’re going to make it past any challenge that’s set forth in front of you – because after all, you dropped everything and moved to Africa. This experience was meant to challenge you physically, culturally, spiritually, and mentally and you welcomed any struggle that was to come your way. Basically – you were ready to be Wonder Woman with a dash of Mother Teresa.

And then – you realize that the best expectations are to have no expectations. It’s only human to have them, but we tend to create an entire fairy tale like world inside the depths of our mind, turning everything that could be a set back into the best possible outcome. We become naive to the real situation around us and when reality finally hits, we act so surprised to be in the environment around us. No matter how prepared you feel – some things in life you cannot prepare for. There is nothing that could have prepared me for the last 3 months. It’s strange because it wasn’t the actual training or the lack of amenities that was a true struggle for me. I loved every moment of learning Darija, until drama in my CBT group caused a somewhat hostile learning environment. It wasn’t showering once or twice a week that broke me and it surely wasn’t from the smothering love my host families gave me in BenSmim or in Taftacht.

I wish I could pinpoint the exact reason for my disdain. Is it Morocco? Is it the Peace Corps? Is something wrong with me? I tried to stay positive and encourage other volunteers to work through their discrepancies, but why haven’t I been able to help myself? Why were other volunteers having the time of their lives since the moment they got here and I’ve felt a level of anxiety since the moment I stepped into Rabat? Every single volunteer knows that it is detrimental to compare your service to other PCVs experiences. EVERY SINGLE VOLUNTEER’S SERVICE IS DIFFERENT. Do I need to repeat that again – because I will if you don’t understand this concept. Every Peace Corps country is set up differently from one another. They all possess different cultures, programs, languages, transportation, relationships, hardships, etc. Just because your friend completed an amazing two years in Sub-Sahara Africa does not mean your experience will be the same. This concept also rings true inside of Peace Corps Morocco. Every single site is different. Some have site mates, some are completely isolated. Some have urban sites, others live in towns of less than 2000. Some have amenities like WiFi, others have to go to the next town over to stay connected. Some live a more Western lifestyle in more liberal areas and some are confined to the cultural bounds of a conservative site. Some have to navigate the intricacies of a brand new site, some have current volunteers showing them the ropes. Some have great host families, and some are counting down every minute till they can find their own place. So, whatever you do – don’t assume every experience is the same – it’s not a fair assumption.

I wish that I could have been the Peace Corps volunteer that everyone says “wow – I want her service.” I wish I could have traveled around the entire Moroccan countryside, photographing the beauty that encompasses this entire country from the enchanting blue city of Chefchaouen to the desert oases in the depths of the South. I wish I could have perfected Moroccan Darija and had successful conversations in Tashelheet. I wish I could have gone back to visit my host family in BenSmim and told them how much I adored them in perfect Arabic. And even though I wish for so many things to have happened, I know without any doubt in my mind I NEED to put my mental and physical health first.

I’ve woken up nearly every single morning in the last two months wishing for the sun to go back down so I didn’t have to deal with another day here. And when you start living your life in terms of wishing entire days away – it’s time to change something. So, I’ve decided to go back home to the United States – for now – to find the happiness that I felt for life prior to this experience. I’ve exhausted what coping strategies I have left and have found them useless. I’ve felt my physical health deteriorating since the first month I was here. You don’t have to google anything to know that having poor nutrition is detrimental to your mental and physical health. For over two months, I’ve experienced terrible headaches, extreme fatigue, and nausea. I’ve complained to the PCMO about this, but their answer was to “have a better diet” and take iron pills (easy to say when you don’t live with a host family). Pair the physical ailments with stress, anxiety, isolation, and exhaustion and apparently, you find yourself trapped within the walls of depression. Despite my ability to perfect smiles, give laughs, and show cheeriness to locals, I don’t want to live my life in a series of fake emotions. I’ve always been a firm believer that you shouldn’t bottle up your emotions or neglect feeling a certain away if that’s how you truly feel. We are all guilty of faking it till we make it to an extent, but if you never allow yourself to feel real emotions how can you can truly recognize and tackle the underlying issue causing the negativity?

Although I’m going back home with no job, no car, and basically no money, I know that everything will be okay with the help from my support system. During these last few months, I’ve come to realize that I 100% want to work in international higher education like I did previously. After 6 months of being away from this field, I know that this is where my true passion lies and where I want a long term career in. Maybe the Peace Corps wasn’t exactly what I was intended to do, but it’s comforting knowing I can cross it off my list of what I’m not interested in doing. I’ve come to understand that I value structure in the workplace – which is something that I didn’t realize that I wanted in a job. And though I do not want to be confined to a desk from 9-5, I’ll be searching for positions that allow me travel like I so desperately want to do. To be honest, there is nothing in this world that brings me more excitement then knowing I’ll be home for two of my closest friend’s weddings, getting to spend time with all my family and friends, and enjoying being me again. I can’t wait to show my personality again, to be able to communicate my feelings and frustrations to people who understand me, to gain a better relationship with food and enjoy being vegan again, to drink copious amounts of ice tea, to be able to work out on a regular basis, and to be able to bathe whenever I want to.

My biggest fear is that someday I will regret this decision. That I didn’t try hard enough. That I couldn’t get past the inner fears and anxieties in my own head. I’m over trying to cheer myself up with posting entertaining stories on Facebook or posting breathtaking photos of this beautiful Kingdom – it just isn’t working. Just because the Peace Corps didn’t work out the way I intended, there are PLENTY of causes in the United States that need dire support right now especially with the current political and social climate and I have every intention on becoming an active supporter. There’s a part of me that isn’t ready to have to answer question after question about why I came home and why I failed to complete my full service. And the more I think about it – all I can say is – I’m not living for anybody else’s approval. I’m here to live a life full of passion and full of happiness, doing whatever I need to find that. Tell me – when was the last time you took a risk? For me, the only regret would have been not trying this whole experience. I’m proud of the US Peace Corps and what it stands for and I know that I have over 100 passionate friends there that will do life changing projects to fulfill the Peace Corps mission. Inshallah – I’ll see you again Morocco. You have a piece of my heart ❤

 

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How Hiking Heals…

The cure to loneliness is learning to be content with one’s own company. At least – that’s what I’ve learned after nearly two years of living on my own, hours away from my closest friends and family. When I moved to Fayetteville, Arkansas in October 2014, I honestly didn’t have any intention on staying here for an extended amount of time. I longed to be in Denver, Colorado with my boyfriend, ready to start a life together. I didn’t go out of my way to make friends because I honestly didn’t feel the need to. In my mind I had already planned my escape out of Arkansas. I had found companionship with my coworkers and with those I played volleyball with and that was enough for me. I was satisfied.

It’s funny how as humans we try to plan our lives in advance, as if we know exactly how our lives will pan out. Well trust me – we don’t. The day after my 25th birthday, I removed myself from my long distance relationship that had already been deteriorating for years. It was long overdue, but unfortunately that didn’t make the heartbreak any easier. You see, that was my first legitimate relationship. My first love, and then, my first real heartbreak. So you can now see why after 25 years of not experiencing any sort of heartbreak – I was sort of a mess. In those dark moments, I sought comfort in professional help. In all honesty, I saw the woman once. She was a great listener and she suggested a really captivating book for me read (which reminds me – I should probably finish it now). And then, I met a fantastic guy. He challenged my thinking on every level (especially science). He was incredibly thoughtful (and easy on the eyes). He was well-cultured, loved to travel, enjoyed talking about politics, and loved to workout. He was literally everything I dreamed of. And best of all, he made me feel worthy of being in a relationship with. But….it was bad timing. I was still dealing with too much drama with my ex and I was honestly beyond exhausted. I couldn’t be the person I wanted and needed to be for him at the time, so we parted ways. That in itself was heartbreaking because I had finally found the comfort of a companion here in Arkansas – something that I didn’t realize I had sought.

For the first time (and because I was completely alone), I finally saw what Arkansas had to offer me (they don’t call it the Natural State for nothing). I found solace in hiking the worn out trails in the Ozark Mountains, feeling the warmth of the sun shine down my face. It was like a battery full of charge, the sun propelling me forward and giving me energy and life as I walked miles away into the wilderness. There is truly nothing more therapeutic then walking along the trails of freshly fallen amber leaves, inhaling and exhaling the clean cool air, and clearing the demons that inhabit your mind. F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote, “Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” And just like Fitz said, it felt like my life had started over.

Throughout the last eight months, it has been nature that has kept me sane. My weekends have often led me to the most beautiful secluded destinations, hardly touched by civilization. I’ve climbed over 2000ft to reach a 200 ft waterfall, walked along a 350 foot bluff with stunning views of the Buffalo River, and practiced yoga on overlooks surrounded by the greenest trees. I have learned how to be wildly and incandescently happy in my own company because I am in sync with nature. I have learned that with every step amongst the pines, I can also let go of any detrimental thoughts that linger within me. The negativity that once crippled me now streams steadily away, like water flowing freely down the Buffalo River.

And that is what nature does – it allows you to move freely without the constraints of the real world that are constantly tugging at you from behind. If you respect it, it will respect you back and give you 10x more than what you ever expected. I hike alone because it is a safe haven for me to escape. I can be in complete control of my actions and not have to worry about anything other than myself. Call me selfish, but after my last three years of emotional torment, I deserve it. My life isn’t always full of dandelions and butterflies – but for now, I’ll take refuge being amongst them.

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Centerpoint Trail to Goat Trail – Overlooking the Buffalo National River

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Hawksbill Crag or commonly referred to as Whitaker Point

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Yellow Rock Trail at Devil’s Den State Park

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Pigeon Roost Hiking Trail – Beaver Lake

Love,

Kayla