Two summers ago I was a live-in nanny. The family lived in
and I was really excited for the experience. I pictured swapping recipes with the other nannies at soccer practice, stopping to chat with some neighbors while at the grocery store, and maybe even having a summer romance with a gorgeous guy who mows all the lawns in the neighborhood with his shirt off. As you may guess, I learned a lot about the danger of romanticizing a situation. I ended up spending my weeknights alone in my bedroom, my weekends traveling to visit friends in the city, and speeding through my grocery trips with my eyes on the shopping list rather than the faces around me. It was a necessary lesson in the difficulty of finding one’s way in a new community. Westchester County
When I accepted my invitation for Peace Corps, I made a point not to romanticize what I expected to happen. In fact, I tried my damnedest to not have any expectations at all – something that has served me well in adjusting to life here.
However, I now realize that I had one huge expectation – something so essential that I took for granted that it would happen, and it’s the same assumption I had upon embarking to be a nanny. I assumed that I would have friends. I assumed that people would want to get to know me as much as I want to get to know them, despite barriers in language, background, or culture.
Well, that hasn’t happened here. Of course I’m friendly with a lot of people. Everyone I see says hello (well, “Dumela”) and a majority even know my name. The teachers and nurses are also starting to get more comfortable with me as well. And of course everyone is absolutely fascinated by my white skin. But there’s no one in my village I would call a friend. No one who knows more than the most basic information about me. No one who I feel comfortable going to when I’m homesick. When I stay home on the weekends, the only face I see is my own in the mirror as I’m brushing my teeth.
Okay, I know, my dramatic side is coming out again. It’s just that I honestly hadn’t thought too much about it until recently. I figured it would just take time to make friends. But the fact is, every other volunteer has someone they’re close to in their community. Someone who lets them know if there’s an event going on, or someone to stop by and say hello to, or someone who invites them to baby showers. So, since I don’t have that, I’m wondering what exactly it is that I’m doing wrong. I know I’m not an effusively out-going person, and maybe I even come across as somewhat guarded at times, but I do always try to wear my brightest smile.
So I find myself again looking to my weekends as an escape. A chance to either visit other volunteers who know me well or to just get to the capital where I can be a nobody (instead of the village lekgowa). This worries me. I don’t want to look back on my Peace Corps experience as I do my nanny experience: something I would never take back, but also something that could have touched me on a more personal level.
I want to live without regrets. I don’t want to live without friends.