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On packing for two years

June 6, 2011

Yesterday my family helped drag my possessions into my front yard and sell what we could for what we could.  Then today my mom and I went shopping.  For like five hours.  It felt like such a contradiction.  Why am I buying new things to move to an impoverished country?

For this reason I’ve struggled with packing for the past seven weeks–perhaps why I’m still frantically doing it less than 48 hours before I leave.  I get to take eighty pounds of stuff for my twenty-seven month service, roughly two large bags, and at first, looking around my apartment, that felt like nothing.  But then I started paying attention to what I actually use and what actually makes me happy and those two bags seemed like a luxury.  I thought about my future host family and my eager students and I just wanted to fill those bags with books and candy and stickers.  (Ok, maybe a pair of clean underwear for those days I really miss home.)

I’ve been reading a lot of Peace Corps blogs the past few months and people usually post a packing list to show future volunteers what they took.  After a lot of thought, I’ve decided not to do that.  The most important things I’m taking can’t be restrained by weight or dimension.

Peace Corps Packing List

Deep Breaths

I started doing yoga a year and a half ago totally by accident.  I dabbled in it during college, but only enough to fulfill physical education requirements.  Then, some years later, I walked in to a free class at my gym and met my teacher Sarah.  She has taught me about compassion (for others and for myself), courage, and dedication.  With her help I have built a sturdy home in my heart that I can return to anytime from anywhere.  I am not sure that I would have made it through the last year without my practice and I cannot thank her enough for teaching me to ride the wave rather than let it crash and swell around me.  I also thank Netta for getting me into my first headstands, teaching me to trust myself even when I’m afraid.  Each time I attended class at YogaSol I packed a little for Liberia.

Calm and forceful movements

Last fall my brother invited me to attend a self-defense course at his kung fu school, Bu Ting Xi.  I agreed reluctantly, but Shifu Greg and the senior students were thorough and patient and once I found out I was nominated for service in Africa I asked to continue.  Shifu agreed to let my brother share his weekly lesson with me and they spent six months helping me make self-defense second nature.  I can’t begin to count the number of times they told me “stop fighting it!” or “don’t muscle through it!” and they were always right.  “But you’re choking me!” I’d protest.  “Exactly,” they’d respond.  Stay grounded and you won’t believe the things you can accomplish with simple, thoughtfully executed, movements.  Shifu Greg, I hope to never need my chin na in Africa, but I thank you for teaching me that even the biggest opponents are vulnerable as long as we stay calm enough to take them down.  (I also thank my brother Ben for letting me throw him on the floor over and over again!)  Bu Ting Xi holds self-defense seminars regularly and I highly recommend them regardless of age or gender for anyone in the Columbia area.  Tonight I pack six months of calm and forceful movements for Liberia.

Cross-cultural experiences

I met my friend Judit through the local Literacy Action Corps.  I responded to a call for volunteers in the newspaper and received six weeks of English Language Literacy (ELL) training.  We studied the Laubach method and learned how to use the materials then were matched with our students.  “Stay calm,” they assured us, “Just work through the materials at their pace.”  After meeting my student, Judit, I nervously approached the trainer and asked which books I should use–her English was already quite good!  “Oh, she doesn’t need the books,” they replied, “you’ll figure something out!”  And, eventually, we did.  We shared pictures and stories, shopped for Christmas trees and baked cookies.  During our weekly meetings Judit taught me about Hungary, but she also taught me how to share my culture and my values.  Each time I met with Judit I packed a little for Liberia.

Strong mathematical women

I fell into a math major in college almost by accident.  I loved art and film but I needed something employable, something to help pay off my growing student debt.  The math department at Bryn Mawr was goofy and inviting and I love a challenge so I signed up.  Pairing it with a double-major in History of Art, I was sure I’d end up teaching math only as a Plan B.  Five years after graduation I’ll use it for the first time in Liberia and it couldn’t feel more natural, like it was meant to be.  Bryn Mawr taught me that strong, educated women can change the world.  I can pack little teaching experience, but I excitedly pack empowerment and critical thinking for the girls (and boys) in Liberia.

Sitting in a stripped-down, empty yet messy apartment, I’m reminded that more important than what I pack is who I am.  Sure there are things that will be handy to have in Liberia and that will help me be a more effective teacher (thanks to everyone who has helped me collect them these past few weeks!) but some of the most important tools don’t come from a store or fit in a bag.  Every step I have taken has lead me to this point and I am so grateful to be able to offer the sum total of my efforts to my future neighbors in my new home.

No step upon this path is ever wasted, and no dangers are found, and even a little progress is freedom from fear — Bhavagad Gita

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Catherine permalink
    June 6, 2011 11:23 am

    Just think of what you’ll be “packing” when you come back from Liberia. It will be irreplaceable.

  2. June 6, 2011 4:01 pm

    Thank you, Catherine! I was thinking the same thing. I look forward to sharing every bit of it with you. Here we go!

  3. Alex permalink
    June 6, 2011 8:10 pm

    This post is proof that you are ready for this. You are going to make a difference! Have a safe flight!

  4. Sarah permalink
    June 7, 2011 10:19 am

    Great big huge swelling heart!!!! Om Namah Shivaya – you are becoming!

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