Wednesday, May 15, 2013

International Day of Families

My Peace Corps calendar tells me that today is International Day of Families. Of all the obscure holidays it makes sure to include, I think this one may be my new favorite.

As cliche as it may sound, I would (maybe) be a fraction of the person I am today if not for my family. My dad's side of the family is small but closer to where we live. It includes his two brothers and their families, one of which is my godfather. This side has provided me with laughs, love, and support since before I can remember. Being on another continent in the opposite hemisphere makes me realize how silly it is that we saw each other so infrequently while we were within driving distance. Let's change that when I get home.

What I wouldn't give for my Nana to still be alive today. I can only imagine the talks we would have, the afternoons we'd spend together, the catching up we would do. Papa still lives right down the street, but it's just not the same since we dyed Easter eggs in the backyard as kids and walked into the living room to see what wild animal she was nursing back to health. Thank you for your strength, kindness, and love.

My mom's side of the family is almost uncountable. As the ninth child with nieces and nephews her own age (or sometimes a little older) my mom's family gives me aunts, and uncles, and first, second (and maybe even third) cousins. They're more spread out than my dad's side, scattered all over Long Island, in New Jersey, Connecticut, etc. These same family members helped fund my first international trip when I was 16, arguably also helping to mold my interest in travel. Some asked my parents what they were thinking sometimes: "Doreen, you're going to let her go to Peru?" or "Dor, you're going to let her teach in a prison?" or "you're going to let her go to [South] Africa for Peace Corps?" I know your intentions were good. Thanks for looking out for me.

And the most important of all are my immediate family. Important isn't even a strong enough adjective but I'd have a long list if I had to include all the suitable ones. The things my parents have done, the sacrifices that have been made on my and my brother's behalf blow my mind. They are the epitome of the idea that a good parent gives their child everything they never had as kids. Despite the times I am stubborn and argue and think I know what's best when I often have no idea, I love you more than life itself. And I could thank you until the end of my life and it still wouldn't be enough.

And then there's Derek. Kid has my back no matter what. When we were younger, we had the typical spats and didn't talk for a day or so because each of us was always right and the other was wrong. But as we grew up, I went to college, he was close to finishing high school, we both really grew up in the figurative sense. We came to realize that we make a better team together, rather than on opposing sides. Part of me feels like I'm missing out on a big part of his life right now. But thank goodness for WhatsApp. Thanks for always being there when I need you, bub. Love you kakhulu.

Most people's list would stop there. But I've got a lot more to write about families. Because I've got almost half a dozen of them.

My next family is those friends from high school that I will never lose touch with. I'm looking at you, Oliver and Luke. You guys have been there since the beginning of our time and I love and value your friendship more than you may know. From our rides in the Subaru to our walk-and-talks at Mill Road, I hope we find ourselves doing those things for years to come. I hope we cross paths when I come home next year.

Chloe. I have never met anyone who can read my thoughts, or who is exactly like me in as many ways as you are. Or who is so wise and beautiful and caring. I'm keeping your section short and sweet because we all know I could spend the next 2 days writing it if I really put my mind to it. I admire you so much, d00d.

I think it makes chronological sense to talk about my host family in Peru next. Not just one summer, but two: the time that the Huanca-Ochoa home was mine too. It's nice to not see people for years and still be able to call them hermana, padre, etc. Next time I'm in Cusco, know that ustedes son mi primera parada :)

Rescue Rider family assembled in 2009, when a bunch of fools got on a bus with an undisclosed location and arrival back home. For the benefit of people who have no say in how their lives play out. That was the first time I met people whose minds worked like mine did; who said "finals? I can sacrifice those," or "my job? I'll get another one." Who became friends that I know I can rely on or drop in on or sleep on their futon. Who I can talk to about things. Lindsay Pankok, I'm talking about you. I hope we all meet again someday at some similarly planned event.

Fast forward to July 2012. After I spent the beginning of July 10th crying and wondering if I'd made the biggest mistake of my life as I left mom, dad, and Derek at Albany airport security check. I was transported to South Africa and felt a whole lot of stuff, some good and some bad. My first host family made me feel welcome, introduced me to Generations, and taught me some useful phrases like "pashasha" and "sizobonana late."

I don't know what I've done to deserve such wonderful host families, but they just keep coming. My present family at site is exactly that. Some volunteers end up feeling like tenants, not really having a relationship with the people whose compound they inhabit. But mine checks on me when I'm sick, continues the weeknight tradition of Generations viewings, helps me give the dog a bath, and teaches me how to drive stick shift. Keep up the yell singing and the soccer playing, obhuthi wami. I love you boys.

And finally (but certainly not least) is my Peace Corps family. No one in the world understands my daily joys and agonies better than those in this country doing/struggling through/conquering the same job I am. On my darkest days, I can always rely on a happy anecdote or a cute animal picture to pick me back up. And I hope that my actions and words try to reciprocate.

I never thought about how blessed I am when it comes to families until this day to celebrate them was staring me in the face. This country is really fucked up sometimes and there are days where I just want to call it quits. But one thing it really does right is family. The holiday is called International Day of Families for a reason. Why have I never heard of it before?

One of Peace Corps' goals is bringing back something from the culture you lived in and sharing it with those around you. While this holiday isn't specifically South African, it's one I came across here. And one that feels like it's celebrated on more days than one. Expect to hear about it when I return.


  1. This is really beautiful, friend :).

  2. I feel guilty saying I've just now read this, but man, you're the best. Sarah and I were just talking about how much we love and miss you. I'm just going to spend today reading all of your stories (sorry, job). <3