"The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress and grow brave by reflection." - Thomas Paine
No one ever said the Peace Corps would be easy, and I am not sure that I ever honestly believed that to be the truth, but there was a period where I felt I was so settled, it seemed as though I was home. Then, in true Peace Corps form, I was rocked back into the reality that I am in another culture, another world, far away from the one I have grown up in my whole life. A few weeks ago I had an experience that seemingly changed the course of my views, insight, and attitude here in St Lucia. In the moments of and following the said incident, my soul felt as though it had been rocked to the core, and in a way that I had never truly felt. My mind began to race as I tried to understand why, in this world that I long to make my home, I could not just blend and settle with those around me. I wondered if I had been targeted, if I was the centerpiece of someone's anger and hatred, if people's perceptions of me were truly so far off from the essence of who I know I am...then the days passed. Life went on. As I talked to more people around me I started to cleanse off the dusty, soiled layer that incident had grown around my heart and mind and I started to see things as they truly were. Random.
Random. Such a hard concept to decipher when you come from a belief that all things happen for a reason. The question then becomes...do all things happen for a reason or do we make a reason out of the things that happen? Interesting place to take your brain some time. So what I learned from my experience was that though this incident was seemingly random, it was one that I needed to remind me to watch my back. Stay alert. And never, ever lose the essence of who I am. I was posed with aggression and rather than acting back with aggression I acted back with patience, and peace, and learned that this concept is somewhat foreign here. The more I spoke with people about what had happened, the more I was asked if I hit back and if not, why. So, as this incident served to 'wake me up' in my surrounding, it also appeared to open a door to dialogue regarding the strength in non-violence. Ahimsa.
I took my situation to the kids at the CDP, and out in the world of people that I know here in St Lucia and I began to have the conversation around why acting out with violence against violence was not a part of my nature. Why it takes more strength to walk away rather than hit back. Why it may not always be the case that if you give a knock for a knock you will get respect. In the midst of all of this, I was also reminded of that principle of ahimsa, of non-harming, and the importance of truly understanding a situation and treating it with empathy. While I would be kidding if I said that I was fine in the beginning days, as time went on I began to see that even if I was the target of someone's rage, my ability to remain calm and with peace allowed me to show myself and those around me the strength in non-violence. I am so grateful for my yoga practice and the awareness it has brought me so that I am able to experience these pieces of life that are seemingly random and manifest growth and meaning from them. That experience was the beginning insight that while I like to believe that I am integrated and a part of something here, I am an outsider. I look, sound, and act differently than those around me. I am not St Lucian. I am American....and that means so many different things. So, I am now beginning to understand the importance of working toward that Peace Corps goal of sharing American culture with the one you are in. Because it appears to me that there is a limited understanding of what it means to be American...and I clearly represent something outside of the boxed understanding most people around me have. So, this becomes a subtler piece of my life here. The piece where I stay true to my essence, walk in peace, and keep my head high, regardless of what is thrown at me, including discrimination and racism.
It is such a profound and interesting experience to be somewhere where you truly are not the same. To be in a place where people judge you and make assumptions based on the color of your skin. To be somewhere that having a conversation consists of a lot of backtracking and attempts to understand the other side of the line which yourself and your communicative counterpart keep trying to traverse while lost in a sea of cultural differences. I have never known what it is like to be judged based on the color of your skin. I have never known to treat people differently because they are dark or light. Though I would be lying if I said I didn't see skin color, it has never held any sort of weight to me regarding who the person is or how close I might get to them. I am gaining a new understanding now. It does not change my own essence, only fills me with more empathy for those who are not heard or seen simply based on the way they look which is such a detriment to the human spirit because more times than not, that person who is being overlooked, has something profound to say, and no one will listen.
I love St Lucia for all it has shown me thus far and all that I have yet to learn. This experience truly is changing my life. It is teaching me more than I could have ever expected about myself, about the world, and most importantly about staying true to yourself against all barriers. I don't know how this experience will effectively weave into my service here but I am seeing the strings beginning to ravel around one another. I am becoming stronger here while learning to express my vulnerability from a place of truth and rawness. I am growing in softness. I am letting go and opening to the core of who I am while allowing my essence to guide. Walking in love all the while.