Twists and Turns: Update on South Africa
“We plan and God laughs.”
One of my friends shared this quote with me recently. All I can say is, “how true.”
One indisputable existential truth is that life twists and turns.
I could say that I never saw it coming, but that would be a degradation of my soul’s intuition. Sentiments we would never consider speaking aloud always find ways to be expressed. The last thing our human selves want to allow is a disruption to our plans. It’s very difficult for many of us to accept. When was the last time this happened in your life? A relationship may have ended, your family became ill, your career path changed, vacation didn’t go as planned…
Sometimes achieving goals means twisting and turning in alignment with our instincts. Many times, the twists and turns are not preconceived with our conscious minds. Often, the twists and turns are greeted by confounded and disappointed travelers. Back in August, I was that traveler, torn and confused.
Some of my supporters are aware that transitions are underway with regards to my international humanitarian endeavors. Many of you are not aware. I chose to be quiet about the transition until I could sort out my feelings, become oriented with the changes, and make sense of it all. What I have learned during my past few months of silence is that we may be able to make sense of a lot of things, but we will never make sense of it all. That’s just the nature of human existence.
For me, that gray, uncertain, mysterious layer of infinite possibilities, which accompanies all of life’s situations, has strengthened an aspect of myself that once struggled for survival. Faith. Yes, my faith is being put to the test.
I am in the midst of one of the most powerful learning experiences of my life. Foundations ripped up and torn away, I stand upon shaky ground as the Universe invites me to rely solely on faith, intention, and perception as choice in order to evolve. If I succeed in doing so, the rewards are countless. If I fail, then I don’t only fail myself. There are a lot of lives that are affected by my actions. The same is true for all of your actions, whether aware of it or not.
My soul knew something needed to change. My ego wouldn’t admit it. Yes, I have an ego. So do you. It’s just an aspect of humanness.
Everyone who followed my work in South Africa knows that much progress was made in rural Limpopo over the past year. I was busy. Busy may be understatement. I volunteered my time all day, endured the most extreme heat of my life while walking up mountains to my one room hut, hid behind the walls of my room to avoid the constant attention one receives as a strange foreigner, and locked myself inside doors by 5pm each evening to avoid danger. After locking myself in, I’d study, plan, and dream of all the work that needed done. I found solace in meditation and catharsis in writing, but my soul knew this wasn’t enough to sustain the mission.
I didn’t know until I moved there that I was living near a rape capital of the world. The written essays from the girls youth group said it all. They were living in constant fear, and so was I.
Fear wasn’t going to get the best of me; I went out there to create light and miracles, and with so much rapid progress, how could I allow anything to interfere with such plans? However, allowing is sometimes the best thing we can do. I would learn this later.
My energy began to diminish with the onset of severe allergies. I have no medical history of allergies. Applying my knowledge of how physical dis-ease is often an expression of suppressed psychological and emotional conditions, I thought resolution for the issues could be found within myself. This happened eventually, but not without months of intensifying discomfort and several futile rounds of detested pharmaceutical treatment.
In July, I left the village in Limpopo to tour South Africa for a while, with the intention to return in August. On my way down the mountain to the village departure point, I experienced three separate sexual harassment situations-three incidents in one hour. When I returned to the village weeks later, I could barely breathe.
As I lie in bed at night, I began to acknowledge my fear. The wind ripped over the mountain tops, and I could hear doors banging and debris crash against my window. I braced myself to be silent enough to listen for any audible cues which could warn me of an intruder. I was utterly afraid. My throat felt as if it were closing, and my chest pained. I was afraid to fall asleep. This happened on many nights. There was never an intruder. But there was always fear.
I called Peace Corps headquarters and asked to see a doctor and a counselor. I thought voicing some of these feelings could create the space for me to breathe, become healthy, and cope with my surroundings. I was looking for a way to move forward. I never anticipated the impending twists and turns.
A doctor informed me that my physical symptoms were asthmatic, which can be stress induced. I spoke with Peace Corps’ medical team, the safety and security director, and my supervisor. I was told it was time to get healthy and safe, and that I had more than fulfilled the goals as outlined by the Peace Corps mission. The guidance and support of everyone around me said, “go home for a while, and continue your mission in a capacity which is conducive to your personal wellness.” The Peace Corps staff was well aware that I had begun an independent empowerment project, studied in a separate leadership program led by award winning development pioneers, and had been making post-Peace Corps plans with scientists, entrepreneurs, community leaders, media, and other professionals throughout South Africa and abroad. I was told that no matter what, I would land on my feet and achieve what I had set out to do. Remaining in the Peace Corps program would restrict me to the living conditions which were becoming harmful to my health, and this was absolutely not recommended.
How could I just move on? I volunteered at a school of over 500 children, and was engaged in projects with over 100 of them. We had such big plans for the next year. Some of them are orphans, and most of them are in vulnerable situations. If I leave, then would I not fail them? Would they feel abandoned yet again? My only plan for the next year of my life was to be in rural Limpopo with these beloved youths. What now? Then, it all came to me.
In my reflection of some of our most memorable youth workshops, I recalled the mantras we used in the Takalani Empowerment Project:
“I choose life.”
“I have a choice.”
“I have value.”
“I make the world better.”
These mantras were handed to me during a leadership training with David Patient and Neil Orr. After David and Neil shared the mantras with the group, I discussed the meaning of them with fellow leaders. In memory, I recall feeling very confident about my grasp on the implications of the mantras. In retrospect, however, I realize that for many months I hadn’t applied all of these powerful affirmations to my own living.
I want to scrutinize my behavior with regard to each of these mantras so that my audience and I can continue to evolve together. As I reveal my self assessment, I am certain that many of my readers will gain some insight into their own lives. Thank you for being on the journey with me.
“I choose life.”
I choose life. This means I make healthy decisions; I protect my safety and security, and my basic needs for space and spiritual nourishment.
After one minor assault and multiple harassment episodes, how could I honestly say, “I choose life,” if I perpetuated the risk of harm?
“I have a choice.”
I have a choice. This means that I assume power and freedom in my life. There is more than one way of achieving any goal, and by tapping the source of creativity, new choices become available.
By subscribing to the belief that I needed to be restricted by the policies of Peace Corps in order to fulfill my mission of impacting my community, I relinquished the belief that “I have a choice.”
“I have value.”
I have value. This means that I entrust myself to meet my capacity for impact in the world.
If I am not healthy and safe, I cannot realize my value. I cannot be impactful if I am not healthy and safe…and alive. To make choices which could hinder the realization of my potential, I could not honestly affirm, “I have value.”
“I make the world better.”
I make the world better. This can happen in many ways, by allowing divine intelligence to flow through me and allow the twists and turns along my path, as the Universe deems change needful.
By resisting the twists and turns, instead of allowing them to shape me, I stagnate my evolutionary process. If I am not evolving, I cannot inspire those around me to evolve.
The world can’t become better if it doesn’t evolve.
I cannot make the world better if I don’t evolve.
So there it was. The answers were clear. Now, with all of this clarity, why was I still anxious about moving on?
In my next article, I will share the ego-based fears that made my decision much more difficult than it had to be. I will share how I responded to those fears, and how implementing positive thinking techniques created miraculous results…overnight! I will also share with you how this journey perpetuates as a daily test of faith for which I am incredibly grateful.
If practicing patience and faith when our plans go awry, we can find circumstances eventually change for the better. In light of the mind-blowing coincidences that manifested days after I made my tough decision, I cannot help but smile when I hear the expression:
“We plan and God laughs.”
Indeed, every traveler in life’s journey encounters twists and turns and pushes and pulls. Often, we resist in defiance of change. Adversely, I’ve learned that allowing can be our salvation.
Thank you again for being part of the journey. More coming soon!
Disclaimer: This blog is mine personally and does not reflect the opinions or views of the United States Peace Corps or United States Government.