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Bahala Na: Learning to Let Go as a Philippines Peace Corps Volunteer

My book, "Bahala Na: Learning to Let Go as a Philippine Peace Corps Volunteer," is a memior capturing my learning experiences during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer as well as those of others surrounding me. Bahala Na is a Tagalog term meaning "come what may," "allow God to have control" "blow with the wind" - all referring to letting go of constand control and simply trusting the movement of the universe. I have chosen this as the title because, I believe, it's this exact phrase which has kept me strong and laughing during the moments when I thought that I couldn't manage any longer. This simple phrase has taught me so much about life, human nature and myself. 

The memior will be written in journal form, moving from present to past tense. The themes will be self-discovery,nature of desires and cultural variety.

 

Bahala Na: Learning to Let Go as a Philippine Peace Corps Volunteer

 

Chapter 1: Take-Off

 

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” - Mary Oliver

 

July 5, 2013

 

It's all happening - the moment that has taken me three years to reach! There were times when I thought it would never be a part of MY reality. Voices told me: "this is something for the most adventurous, with a liberal upbringing, who can stand on their own - not for YOU." Well, here I am, making my move, doing the unthinkable. It's funny to look back at the decisions that brought me here in the first place...

 

It was April of 2011, my junior year at Sewanee, when Matt, the Peace Corps recruiter, visited to give a portrayal of his two year service in Kenya. I tried to convince friends to go with me, but no one was interested.

 

"That's a sign," I thought, "If your friends aren't interested, what makes you think you should be?"

 

I went anyways, walking over to the rec room all by myself, wondering who else I wuld see there. That same voice said to me "go figure, it's the environmentalists, the Birkenstocks-, overalls- and plaid shirts-wearing type. This is not for you - just walk out now".

 

Instead, I sat right down in the deep-seated couch, chatting with the people I knew, waiting for this Peace Corps guy to begin.

 

Matt showed us a PowerPoint with pictures from his site, sharing personal stories along the way. I remember looking at Matt, trying to figure out what type of person he was to be able to complete such a feat. The idea of living in a developing country for two whole years was so overwhelming. I would have to adjust to a new culture, language, family, group of friends, and everything else that would spring on me as a foreigner in a land in which the people have united as one through generations upon generations of families who have lived together. Just sitting on that couch, pondering the possibilities of where I could end up, who I would be surrounded by, the culture that would inevitably transform me put chills down my back and goose bumps on my arms.

 

The fear within was yelling loudly in my mind, to the point where I could literally feel my eardrums pulsing. I was hearing all sorts of nonsense:

 

"You practically failed at living in Barcelona Spain, calling the family almost weekly with your sobs. What makes you think you can do two whole years in a foreign country?"

 

"Take a look around at your life - the things you enjoy, your mentality, the way you were raised. Even if you could handle Peace Corps life, why would you want to forgo all of that?"

 

"You've worked so hard over these past four years at a very expensive school. Don't you think it will be a cop out to go waste two years volunteering when you could find a real job with a salary and begin making a life for yourself?"

 

"You're crazy if you think that mom and dad will really let you do this. Anyways, they won't take you seriously about the idea."

 

Despite this deep-rooted fear that wanted so badly to drive me away from a sense of fulfillment, another voice said: "You want this. Stay put. Pay attention. Speak to Matt afterwards. Don't listen to the negative ideas pulling you away from a wonderful opportunity to expand yourself and give back what you've been blessed with your whole life".

 

And that's what I did, asking him all the questions that were boggling my mind and sharing all of the fears that were holding me back.

 

Matt’s inspiring words could have changed everything. He said to me “You would be abnormal if you did not have fears. We all have fears regarding life in general, but we could never learn and grow if we did not go after those fears. We say in Peace Corps that this is 'the hardest job you will ever love'. That being said, there will be very difficult times, but you will learn to overcome the struggles and will find what you've been searching for along the way. Just think about it over this next year and do some research while you're at it.”

 

However, I think my decision to become a Peace Corps Volunteer (or PCV) began way before Matt stepped onto the Sewanee campus. I majored in Cultural Anthropology and Psychology, with a focus on child/youth development, after all. Though the two studies (can said to be contradictory), they both get to the bottom of humanity – and that topic has been of interest to me my whole life. I've always enjoyed observing people, wondering where certain behaviors and beliefs stemmed from. Additionally, considering my selfish nature, I wondered about myself in this huge world of contradictions. In addition to having a passion for learning about human nature, my inherent social kills naturally formed around the topics. I never could see myself going down the traditional path of business, education, nursing, etc. My intuition always told me that I had a calling, which wasn’t one that could easily be found. Rather, it was a calling in which I had to veer off the main road – take that long, often lonely, walk down the beaten path. What I was sure of was that I always wanted to work directly with people - empowering them, teaching them, guiding them - and gain the same back in return.

 

When I was a child, I enjoyed caring for those younger than me. I wanted to teach them what I knew and dare them to do what they were afraid of. Throughout my youth, I was babysitting for money. I loved those moments with the kids so much that I probably would have done it for free. When I was a teenager, I would say "I can't wait to have kids of my own!" (thank the Lord that still hasn't happened). The bottom line is, I always liked what those younger than me brought out - a high energy, yet laid back, no-care-in-the-world type of mentality. And you could mold their little minds - for the better, of course! As I grew older, I found a concern for children lacking in parental supervision and luxuries that I was blessed with. This could have come from my high school environment, which was across the street from the projects and many of my classmates would come to school with stories that I couldn't possibly imagine. I would think:

 

"It’s no wonder why (s)he acts this way in class and doesn't care about school. The main reason I care so much is because my parents wouldn't accept anything otherwise. If it was up to me, I'd be partying every night and going to the beach daily, and most likely come to school grumpy also, if I showed up at all". 

 

I remember when I told my parents of my decision to apply for Peace Corps. I could tell immediately in their facial expressions that they were not buying into the idea, even after me ranting about "following my passions, listening to my intuition, doing what I like and am good at, facing my fears, and being an adult with my own life wishes".

 

My dad dramatically exclaimed: "Evan, you don't understand the dangers in the world we live in today. There are Muslims everywhere that can kidnap you, rape you, or worst, murder you to make a point to the world. What would we do without our little girl? I would never be the same if something like that happened to you and I would blame it on myself if I allowed you to go through with this decision."

 

My mom, too, had her own reasons for not liking the idea. She was concerned for my mental health, reminding me of my time in Spain, as I just knew she would: "Do you really think this is a good idea, Evan? Don't you remember your time in Spain? You had us worried sick about you. All I wanted to do was go over there and take my baby home. How could you manage being across the world from us, in a developing country at that, and not be able to contact us regularly? I don't think you've put enough thought into this."

 

I was not defeated by this, but rather, remembered learning about the cycle of acceptance in Psychology class. "They'll come around," I thought. Besides, even if they don't, this is not their decision. It's mine. And my decision is still made. I will do this and I will succeed in my service - not because I'm going through it lightly, but because I am considering every angle.

 

And sure enough, each time the topic was discussed, I was seeing more flexibility on their side. Instead of saying, "no you can't," they began to say "you can only go to specific parts of the world. You will have to tell Peace Corps that if they want you, they send you where you want to go."

 

I couldn't leave it at that, but had to make a point: "Dad, it doesn't work that way - I can't just tell this huge organization, which has thousands of applicants who are willing to go anywhere, to take it or leave it. They will say, 'well, you must not want it bad enough after all. A true PCV is flexible, open to even the most extreme of circumstances.' They place people where their skills and interests can match those of the countries. I want this so badly and don't want to sacrifice a potential placement by saying that I will only go to certain countries."

 

Dad retaliated with, "well, you're going to have to". The conversation was over there.

 

While filling out the application, I was honest to the core. People suggested that I not be so blunt, but I knew that if I wasn’t, then I definitely wouldn’t get what I wanted. I expressed my social need to stay in contact with home and to be close to other volunteers. I requested for South Each Asia, conveying my developed passion for the culture over the years. I even went as far as requesting for certain comforts that I thought I wasn’t willing to forgo, such as running water. It was July of 2012, exactly a year ago, when I finally got my application in.

 

The interview happened a few months later in Atlanta and though the questions scared the wits out of me, that voice of wisdom was my guiding light, providing me with the needed passion and confidence to gain the interviewer’s acceptance. Much to my father’s dismay, I ended up giving in to Peace Corp’s flexibility expectation, telling them that I would go anywhere they could see a fit for me. Though part of me knew that my dad was right – the world is a dangerous place – I also knew in my heart that I wouldn’t be placed anywhere that I couldn’t handle. If, for the millions of possible reasons, that I couldn’t finish my service, it would have only made me stronger in the long run. So, in a way, by saying that I would go anywhere, I was taking my first step in letting go of control and, instead, allowing the universe to do some of the work.

 

I’ll never forget that feeling of ecstasy when receiving the email titled “Welcome to Peace Corps Philippines”. With shivers down my spine, I must have re-read the email five times and I think even slapped myself in the face before believing my eyes. It was as if fear allowed my heart to drop to the pit of my stomach, while excitement made me feel as if I could reach the stars. With tears in my eyes and laughter in my voice, I eagerly showed my co-workers, who supportively cheered alongside me. For the rest of the afternoon, all I could do was frantically research the country that I would be living in for 2+ years!

 

From this point on, my life was revolved around Peace Corps, and all I could do was wait.

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