Tag Archives: mental health

On Living in the Moment

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Photo: A bridge constructed for easier passage across a lagoon in Quissico, Mozambique.

I fall asleep at night wondering about the next day. What do I need to get done? Who is going to help me with my projects? Is it going to rain, and everyone in the community will stay inside their houses? Are we going to have power? These questions shoot through my mind, passing one another and forming other more complex questions that, against all of my attempts, don’t have a real solution or answer, because the real answer is: who knows.

I fall asleep at night wondering about the next year. Where do I want to plant myself at the end of my service? Where is the most competitive environment I could find myself? Where are my good friends planning to live? These questions collide with my thoughts about the next day, and soon enough I find myself in a sticky sweat, unable to sleep, and staring up at my mosquito net. The air in my room is humid. I walk outside my house to breath cool air.

I stare up at the sky and wonder why I had been worrying in the first place. Questions about my life, whether it’s tomorrow or a year from now, melt away and are replaced by countless balls of gas hanging low in the clear sky, burning their ancient light deep into the twisted center of my consciousness. The image calls back memories of walking across the street to my best friend’s house during middle and high school. For the longest time, I swore to myself that I would pursue astronomy, because to get paid to get lost in the stars sounded unique, and, at the time, I needed something unique.

I look around each day and wonder what I’m missing. Walking to and from work, Mozambican children run up and down the main road, still dressed in their school uniforms, and laughing together as they walk to the local store to buy a sucker or bread. I walk past the primary school, and young children poke their heads out the broken windows to yell my name. Many of them I do not know, but it doesn’t matter. I wave back and yell “good morning!” with a smile on my face and my hand high in the air.

I look around each day and wonder who I’m missing. In the faces of the children I see my niece. With her since she was brought into this world, I am now ages away, and the distance feels farther and farther each day, but I know exactly where she’ll be upon my arrival: either tucked in her bed sleeping after watching Monster High or Scooby-Doo or standing tall on a bicycle as the final light of a summer day hits her blonde hair and lights up everything in her expression.

I look around each day and wonder who I’m missing. I speak with my brother and his wife who are planning to build a new home together (literally, they’re moving forward with building a house). I look forward in the future to days spent in their new home, curled up in a warm blanket watching a movie, playing a board game at the kitchen table, or (attempting) to bake with my sister-in-law. My sister is there with her husband, and we’re all standing in the kitchen laughing at a story from the day. My younger brother pops his head in after a cross-city run, as he describes getting honked at for his short shorts.

I look around each day and wonder who I’m missing. I speak with my mother and my father, and they’re both proud of the work that I’m doing in Mozambique. I tell them that I’m putting pressure on my shoulders to deliver something great, and they respond by reminding me that the world wasn’t built in a single day. People take time. Health takes time. I wish the best for them, and streams of memories flow through my mind as we speak.

I look around each day and wonder what I’m doing here. I remind myself of the path that I’ve chosen for myself. I run through the list of reasons that this will be good for my future. I explain to myself on the walk home that not all days will be a success, and that change will come in time. I challenge myself to stop overthinking life. I push myself to remember that, soon, all of this will be gone, and I will only have memories of the experience.

I fall asleep at night wondering about the next day. Who will I be able to help? Who will I have a good conversation with? Who will yell my name from the road? I calm my mind and remind myself that the next day is bound to be better than the day before. How couldn’t it be? It is on these days that we accumulate shared experiences with the world, the environment, and it is on these days that I remind myself to stay present, stay focused.

To live in the moment.

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American Insecurities, African Sensibilities

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I fear the morning. The morning is a daily reminder that there is so much to do and that what happened yesterday is already history. The morning means a new day filled with heartfelt attempts followed by the possibility of failure, embarrassment. The morning begins early, softly eases you from your sleep, then forces you to take notice.

While night allows you to sink into introspective thought, morning shows you in all its daylight the world in which you’ve agreed to help. The only problem is that you’re not sure how. While others thrive and shine in this possibility playground, the uncertainty and weight of it all debilitates me. My response to the morning is to close my eyes tight, shut out the light, and hope that the day passes in a moment.

My nights are long and my thoughts endless. The night is my friend for its seemingly slow existence. Others sleep, time slows, and those who are awake float on the night’s abundance of free space, filling the world with thoughts of the future, thoughts of the past. The night doesn’t ask for action, only contemplation. It is in this contemplation where my greatest ideas are created and my biggest anxieties are analyzed, piece by piece.

South by Southeast
In a training provided to my first-year AmeriCorps team in Federal Way, WA, we were given a personality test to determine our place upon a symbolic compass, with each direction representing a different personality type. This type of training is popular not just among service-minded folk, but businesses, colleges, you name it. Everyone enjoys being put in a recognizable box and told in which personality traits we thrive (just ask BuzzFeed!)

Along this symbolic compass, north represents the strong minded, action-oriented individual. This person lives to lead the forces. To the south, we have the soft hearted, group oriented individual. This person is eager to help but wants to make sure everyone in the group is heard. To the west, we have the organized, detail-oriented individual. Regardless of the leadership, this person wants to make sure everything is organized, accounted for. Finally, to the east we have the big picture people. These individuals thrive on imagining the future outcome of any project or campaign.

For my two years in AmeriCorps, I found myself being grouped mainly in the south with a little eastern tendencies. Basically, I’m concerned with taking care of the group, addressing issues, and sitting around talking about the difference we are going to make.

Sure, it’s an activity. A fun activity, in the keep-you-occupied-until-free-lunch kind of way, but still fun. Yet, while we realize these activities aren’t necessarily written in the stars, we find ourselves hanging on every word, reading every description, in hopes that our true selves will be unveiled to us. Back home, we are always looking for bigger answers to simple questions. Usually, we develop our own definition ourselves built from insecurities and doubts.

In the case of myself, I am still searching for a clear definition and often strangled by unrealistic thoughts of failure. I often place myself in the minds of others and imagine myself as someone who is annoying, uninteresting, unkind. I search out others who struggle with the same issues, and in these people I look for my answers and support.

I’m such a South.

Success & Self
It should come as no surprise that this post is being drafted in the nighttime. My mind is in a million places at once, and my thoughts settle on the people we are here to serve. I realize that the insecurities of which I find myself thinking often are a product of an American upbringing. Back home, success is measured in terms of output. What can you hold in your hands, what can you describe during a job interview, what can you produce that will provide sufficient evidence of success?

The people of Mozambique (and I can only assume other countries of this beautiful continent) measure success in an entirely different realm. Instead of bothering with personality tests and hyper-analyzing the results, (I’m Princess Jasmine! By why am I Princess Jasmine?) the people of Mozambique measure their lives in terms of health, family, and community: three things that have somehow let slip from our own definitions of success and life.

They do not wake in the morning and wonder about the interactions they’re going to have throughout the day, crippled by an unrealistic fear that failure is around the corner. To them, the morning is another day. Another day of being able to provide. Another day of hard work followed by spending time with loved ones. Another day filled with handshakes, cheek kisses, meeting new people, laughter, drinks, stars, dreaming.

Is this the big answer to my simple question? Is life this easy? Then why do I turn to isolation instead of socializing, something I’ve done since high school? Why do I believe that the nighttime holds more answers than the day? Will my mind eventually find the solution to its constant confusion?

Simple Answer: Estamos Juntos
The Mozambican welcomes the morning. The Mozambican does not worry about his or her place on a symbolic compass. Mozambicans find their direction from the direction of the collective whole. The collective whole is strong when healthy and happy. I now belong to this collective whole and can feel the love pouring in, but the trick is opening myself up to this inflow.

The trick is to not fear the morning but fear the idea of a personal world without the ability to face mornings, nighttimes. The fact that I’m able to wake healthy and happy surrounded by people who are living each day with love in their hearts and a sense of identity built on a strong history and even stronger national pride. A common phrase when meeting someone for the first time is “estamos juntos” or, literally, “we are together.”

I can’t promise that I’ll be able to face tomorrow morning without hesitation, but I can promise that I’ll allow the morning light to fill my eyes and show possibilities as they are: solely dependent on ourselves and our ability to recognize them, attempt them, and learn from them. If we are to succeed as volunteers, the answer is that simple. Mozambique will welcome us. Mozambique will recognize our role.

Mozambique is such a South.

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