I have a tendency in nearly every therapy session to compare my life to a Disney movie or character. After three and a half years of therapy weekly, I’ve probably mentioned everything from Alice in Wonderland to Zootopia. (Let’s give a round of applause to my therapist, am I right?)

Do you know that part in Frozen 2, where Elsa is playing charades and looks kinda upset? But it doesn’t really make sense, because she seemingly has everything she wants now? She is the queen and can freely express herself and her magic, yet something is still nagging at her. She hears a call that no one else can hear. It was a deep knowing, a personal legend, some might say, and she had to follow it.

That’s what brings me here. It’s been 4 years since I’ve written a blog post. To which some might say, “well yeah, you’re not in the Peace Corps anymore so why would you?” But, like Elsa, there is still something gnawing at me from the inside. I’ve been hearing this call for years, but, like Elsa again, I’ve profusely ignored it. It has taken every bit of the last four years to find myself here, with enough self-love to stand and say: “THIS IS REAL, THIS IS ME.” (see what I did there?)

August 2019, ringing the bell to complete my Peace Corps service in South Africa

I came to realize there is actually no way forward in my life without these stories being shared, my voice being heard, and my own act of true love being fulfilled.

In writing my story, I am actively fighting against the negative thoughts in my head. Thoughts that say things like, “who do you think you are?” and “you can’t do _____ because you’re _____.” My fear is that I show up and no one cares, or people say/think horrible things, or their opinion of me changes when they hear what I’ve been through, or hear the opinions that I’ve formed now from my experiences. But all of those fears evaporate when I come back to my intention behind sharing my story:

It is an act of radical self love.
I do this to show myself I belong to me first.
It is as if I was standing outside my own window in the pouring rain with a boombox playing, screaming to myself,

“Girl, please! Yes, your story deserves to be heard. There is wisdom in your voice, I’m proud of you.”

I give myself flowers, fill my own cup, provide myself with all the things I’ve been longing for everywhere else. I’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, that the answer I’ve been searching for has been within me all along. I become who I have always needed, and have always wanted to be in sharing this. I walk toward my greatest fear in hope and in deep faith, that it will reveal my greatest gifts.

Sharing my story is an act of true love, one that could even thaw a frozen heart I think 😉 (sorry, I could not pass up the opportunity)

So, Elsa follows the voice inside and it leads her on this wild journey where she doesn’t quite know what she’s doing yet she takes each step with confidence. She follows the calling to which she finds her answer:

“You are the one you’ve been waiting for all of your life.”

February 2022, selling my art in person for the first time

She has a grand breakthrough in the ice glacier, everyone thinks she dies, she saves Arendale, and in the end, gets to continue to live her life in the woods doing weird magical shit.

I’m stepping out of my fears and into the woods. (What is that, like five references now?) I’m going to open up about some really heavy topics, but ones that I think become lighter when shared. Ones that I think we all struggle with inside, or within families, and never talk about out loud. Funny stuff too, for sure. I want to write about my spiritual journey, about mental health, heartbreak, setting boundaries, difficult lessons, traumatic encounters, the creative process, revolutionary friendships, and my deep passion behind self-love.

I’m not here to be on a pedestal, to say my story is more worthy of being shared than anyone else’s. It’s actually quite the contrary.

I hope to be a wave. I hope to create a ripple with my words, my art, my stories, and my healing that sparks curiosity, hope, and love in the life of someone else. I understand there may be a chance that something I share could guide or comfort another person on their journey, just as so many powerful people have inspired me to tell mine now.

I’m excited to combine my art and writing to express myself more fully moving forward. Each year, each month, each painting, is a step in my unraveling to come back to who I have always been. I created these pieces in celebration of the inner peace I’ve found as I’ve begun to listen to myself more. The quietness of being alone has become one of my favorite sounds. I no longer run from my fears, but rather befriend them. I sit gently with the light and dark and I am no longer afraid. Not afraid to share my stories, to fall in love, to lose anything, because I know now that no matter what happens – I always belong to me. I found that in my own silence.

found it in silence – the series


Dear Thendo

Dear Thendo, 

My sweet, sweet angel. My joy moves parallel to your growth. I remember when I first moved to your house. A stranger, to you, a recently turned 3 year old. We did not look alike. We did not speak the same language, but that changed. You always say to me now, “When I was little, I was being shabby to you but now I’m not,” (shabby = shy in Thendo’s vocabulary) “Why did I do that?” 

“I don’t know, you just didn’t know me yet. You were so little!”  We giggle and retrace his height measurements on my wall by the door, ranging 4 inches over the last 2 years, and the conversation continues elsewhere. We talk about how hungry the moon is, how stinky the cow is because he fell in the pit latrine. We talk about the Lorax and Moana and Tarzan, as you quote every line in each movie, your laugh filling the space around us with light. We talk about our families, pointing to South Africa and the USA on the map and the pictures of my family hanging around the room. We laugh together when Murendeni (your almost 1 year old cousin) tries to dance. We giggle about his little teeth coming in and talk about you being a baby too (which you seem to think you remember very clearly). I get tears in my eyes whenever I see you show him love with a kiss or a smile or just letting him hold your finger. 

Your heart is so pure. I remember once I was crying on my bed and I heard your familiar knock on my door. I yelled for you to come in and you saw me exactly how I was. 

“Why are you crying?” You asked nervously. 

“I’m sad because I miss my family and friends, Thendo.” 

“……. Well cut it out!” 

I bursted into laughter. Who knew at 4 years old you would be my fortress of strength and tough love expert. You are an expert at the age of 4 in more ways than one. You can memorize nearly any English world you hear, which has caused me to really reflect on the words I use. Your imagination is another testimony to your truly brilliant mind. We can play for hours and hours just talking about things like butterflies and ninjas and the shapes of clouds and the emotional state of nearly any inanimate object. Your humor is  unmatched. Your clever, cheerful, and goofy spirit can bring a smile to the most downtrodden. One day, my friend Kate asked you, “Who’s the best dancer in the world?” 

You responded without hesitation, “Chip Skylar!” 

Yes, the character from The Fairly Odd Parents. No, I didn’t even know that show was airing in South Africa and that you watched it. You surprise me everyday with new words or phrases that you’ve memorized and use them in the correct context. Like telling me I can’t fight straws with you any more cause you were suddenly camouflage. Or when you randomly started singing and dancing to the “Krusty Krab Pizza” song while we were waiting for dinner to cook. I have a permanent smile on my face thinking of all the moments you made me cry from laughing so hard. 

Somehow, when you pout, I get the same reaction. I can’t help but laugh as you plump out your lip, lose the spark in your eye, shoulders slumping and only answering me by looking off into the distance while shrugging.  Your pout is always meaningful and part of your meticulous plot to get what you want, which is usually scrambled eggs. I give into your silly charades more often than I probably should, but I really don’t know if I could help it. 

I have never felt more loved and valued than spending time with you because I have come to see that my presence is real and can make a difference. You have taught me about joy, about frustration, about the Power Rangers, and about how to live life more fully. 

I almost cry thinking of all your selfless deeds at the age of 4. I think you already have more than half of the world beat, including myself. Food never goes into your mouth without you first offering it to someone else. You will never eat in front of me without asking, “Allie, will you please eat with me?” If I ever slow or pause, you remind me that we must eat together. Another daily reminder of how special you are. 

I can’t do any chore on my own. Whether you are carrying my laundry, cooking, cutting veggies with me, sweeping, collecting water, I always have two extra tiny hands to ease my day. 

Truthfully, there are plenty of times that I blocked myself from that ease. There were days I closed my door and did not answer when you called. There were days when I was too sad or too tired to be my best self with you. Yet, in your infinite childhood wisdom, you loved me just the same, good day or bad. Your love is unconditional. (Except for when I won’t cook you eggs, that might be where you draw the line.) It doesn’t matter if my hair is brushed, if my clothes are clean, if my face has a smile or not, you come with your arms up yelling my name and I immediately feel a sense of love that I have not been familiar with before. In my age, I have never seen a child grow this closely. I have never been apart of a child’s nearly everyday routine. I had that privilege with you and believe me, Thendo,  you have truly changed me for the better. I allow myself to relax. I find new ways to play and entertain myself. My imagination grows with every conversation we have and I become inspired by your creativity, your vulnerability, and your innocent and encompassing joy. I aspire to be the person you think I am. I aspire to be a person that would influence your life positively, a person that would make you proud because more than anything in this world, Thendo, I want the best for you. In so many ways, you already have the best. I’m in awe of your mom everyday. She loves you and cares for you with grace, with independence, and with a joy that I hope to have for my own children one day. She has taught me how to love better through the way she has loved you. She has taught me about being a strong woman, by the way she follows her goals as a woman and as a mother. You have a family that knows you and holds you closely. I know this because I see it everyday and because they have done the same to me. You have a family that encourages your freedom and listens to your emotions. I hope and pray that same energy and love continues to be a constant from everyone else you meet in your life. 

But, in my days, I have seen the pain of this world too. I pray there never comes a day when peoples’ perception of you changes from innocence to fear. I know now that people look at you and love you immediately for your cuteness and your smile, and I hope that the world will still see the sparkle in your eye as you continue to grow into a young man. I pray that the smile on your face remains untouched by the ignorance and evil of the world around us. I pray that your intentions, your intelligence, your humor, your love, your life, are never questioned or endangered because of the color of your skin. I pray that your heart remains as golden and as pure as every afternoon we spent laughing and playing. I pray that you never forget your strength. After all the times you’ve shown me your arm muscles and made me watch you lift anything you could, I don’t know how you could forget. But, unfortunately, I know there could come a day when your features are perceived as intimidating rather than cute,  as guilty rather than innocent, and I know that your immense strength will be tested in this world. Please know, that whenever you feel the weight of the world and you don’t feel you can lift it, when the odds feel stacked against you, if you ever doubt yourself or your light, I will always be in your corner to remind you. I will always stand by your side, fight for you, listen to you, and love you. I pray that you are always seen for exactly who you are: a wise, hilarious, selfless, intelligent, loving, and unique person with a pure heart. 

I selfishly pray that you won’t forget me. In your 4 (soon to be 5 in September) years of life, you have spent more time knowing me than not knowing me. I pray that is enough. I hope that you will still call me to ask me about America and about movies and talk to me about the sky and about your new big kid school, which you have been dying to go to. It reminds me of the time you walked to the school I teach at, by yourself, and came to my classroom because you wanted to be at the big kid school with me. Believe me, I loved having you there with me, even though you scared everyone by disappearing from the house. But that’s you, bold and determined to accomplish your dreams. I pray that never changes. 

As much as I hope and pray that you never forget me, just know that I could never forget you. You, of all people, have had the most profound affect on my service. So many of my favorite memories over the last two years are the small moments I got to spend with you. Like when we fell asleep on the couch on a Saturday morning, watching cartoons after we finished our chores. Or all the times you fell asleep in my arms while we slowly danced around the room waiting for your mom to come back from school. All the times we watched movies, walked to the shop, played with puppies, went to soccer games, cooked meals, and played games. You have taught me patience, acceptance, humor, self-love, selflessness, and unconditional love. 

Some people have called you my sidekick, but really it’s the other way around. You are the hero of this story. You are the strength and the power that made me better. I love you with my whole heart. I hope you remember our routine with each other. Every time you leave my room, we sing “I loOoOoOove youuuuu!” We both echo back and forth, continuously repeating the melody until we can’t hear one another. Please know, no matter where I am, no matter how long it has been since I heard your voice echoing back, I will always be singing that same melody. 

All my love, 



Like a virgin: white for the very first time

One night in Pretoria, some Peace Corps friends and I went to an open mic poetry night. It still remains one of my favourite memories in South Africa. The poetry was loud, vibrant, painful, empathetic, and forward. One in particular I still haven’t forgotten, almost an entire year later.
A young black man, in his early twenties, stood at the mic. He sported some fashionable glasses and spoke with a nervous, but comforting laughter in his tone. After introducing himself, claiming to be testing some of his new work this night, he followed a deep breath with this opening line:
“I was never black until I was with white people.”
Someone yelled REPEAT, something people do at poetry nights when a poet writes something powerful. In essence (though I cannot fully speak for him), he was saying that in black spaces he was not measured by his skin color. He was described and known for the content of his character, such as being the nerdy kid who liked video games (as he continued to talk about in his poem). But, once he was with white people, those qualities came second to the adjective “black.”
The way he portrayed this image struck me from both sides of the coin. One side – Allie from Cincinnati, some diversity in my neighbourhood but not in my schools. Not on my soccer teams, not in my church, not in my family. I lived, worked, prayed, learned in majority white spaces. It wasn’t until college I had my first black professor, first professor of a different religion than me. Not until I was 16 did I have a close black friend. I remember she told me once in our predominately white high school, “They only ask me to be in the school photos because I’m black.” And so, I barely ever questioned my skin color. It wasn’t a part of my identity; I never described myself as white growing up. I wasn’t called white often by others growing up. I was athletic, I was smart, I was annoying, but I wasn’t white (at least in their descriptions).
In college that changed. It was the first time I went to a non-catholic school, first time I had professors and classmates that didn’t look like me, whose first language was not English, who were from a different country than myself. I entered college an education major and changed to sociology after my first semester. In the introductory course, taught by the first black professor I ever had (she soon became my role model and advisor), I had to take a test from Harvard about racial biases. The idea was to see if we more readily equated positive or negative words with black people or white people. It turned out I had a pretty skewed chart, leaning heavily towards relating blackness to negativity. This test wasn’t meant to show who’s a racist and who’s not. I never thought I was racist, I didn’t consciously have racist thoughts, I believed in Black Lives Matter. Yet, my biases still were shown.
It’s not a reflection of myself that I am trying to show here, but rather a reflection of the world that we live in. We have been taught through movies, shows, books, history, and politics, a single story of people of color.
Then, there was the Allie on the other side of the coin in South Africa. This understanding was flipped on its head when I moved here, a predominately black country with a history of racism that resembles the history of America, and I was the only white person in my community.
I was “mukuwa”(white person in TshiVenda) before I was Allie. Overnight, all the qualities I identified with were stripped from me. First, I was white. Not only white but everything that came with being white: the stereotypes, the history, all of it.
I started to question all of my interactions. Anxiety ran through my head on marathon mode, wondering if my learners only liked me because I’m white? Or if I get sexually harassed because I’m white? Did they give me the front seat in the taxi cause I’m white? Are they laughing at me because I’m white? Are they making fun of me because I’m white? Sometimes the answer is yes. Sometimes the answer is no. But either way, I can tell you that question is constantly in my mind and I can tell you, that questioned rarely occurred to me in America.
Everywhere I go, I am white and there is no hiding it. Walking down the road, going to the store, going to school, being in a car, running, playing soccer, washing my clothes, I am white. If I do something weird, it’s because I’m white, not because I’m weird. If I read a book, it’s because I’m white, not because I like reading. If I break out in a rash from the laundry detergent, it’s because I’m white, not because I have lupus.
I began this battle of feeling as though I had to constantly prove my individuality. I had to separate from my skin color. Suddenly, I was asked to speak for all white people. Or all Americans, which are assumed to be all white (even though everyone knows Beyonce is American). I was assumed to know a lot about computers, politics, making school budgets, wifi systems, about nearly anything because of the long, brutal history of racism and white supremacy in our world. Therefore, this was the first time I had to address my skin color.
Addressing my skin color means addressing the privilege that comes with it. To say that I have white privilege does not mean that I have never struggled in my life, that there aren’t other parts of my identity that cause me strife, but it is to say that my skin color has never been a part of that struggle. Even though I may have a GLIMPSE into how it feels to be a minority somewhere, it is not the same because I still have white privilege.
When people look at me as a white person, the assumptions that are made are not always bad. As I wrote above, some of the things that happen to me are good and I still question if they are because of my race. Strangers equate me with sovereign intelligence, richness, the ability to teach without experience, trustworthiness, and beauty, from the first glance at my skin. If we are being honest with ourselves, at first glance of someone of a different race, are those the qualities we immediately attribute to them?
Over the last year and half, I have had to grapple with difficult but important and necessary questions about race and identity. Here they are and I challenge you to ask yourself these same questions:
How many books have I read by someone of a different race than me?
How many of my close friends are of a different race/religion/sexuality than me?
What was the race of people I was educated by?
Have I ever been somewhere where the predominately spoken language was not English?
The movies I have watched about people of color, are they directed by people of color or by white people?
How has the news that I read or watch portrayed people of color, of a different religion, or sexuality?
When I scroll through all the wedding photos on Facebook, how many of them include a diverse bridal party or guest list?
Have I ever been taught about my faith by someone of a different race?
When I think of Jesus, what skin color does he have?
When I think of serving others, what do those others look like in my head?
When I talk about race, is it in predominately white spaces?
Do I shy away from conversations about race with white people?
Why do I feel uncomfortable when people talk about white privilege?
Why do I feel afraid to talk about race?
Here are some helpful links to those who want to dive further into the complexities of race, white supremacy, and South African history.
Books to read:
Born A Crime by Trevor Noah
White Like Me by Tim Wise
How to be less Stupid About Race by Crystal M. Fleming
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color edited by Cherrie Moraga and Gloria Anzaldua
A Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
Becoming by Michelle Obama
The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Feminism is: South Africans speak their truth edited by Jen Thorpe
Links to check out:

Click to access bivens.pdf

https://afropunk.com/2018/06/white-savior-your-volunteer-trip-to-africa-was-more-beneficial-to -you-than-to-africa/
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=vQco22znyfl (White Savior Complex)
Movies to see:
Get Out directed by Jordan Peele
Moonlight directed by Barry Jenkins
Black Panther directed by Ryan Coolger
Dear White People (also a Netflix show) directed by Justin Simien

Love Yourz

It seems that every minute that passes moves faster than the last. This desperation to control time, whether faster or slower, is a timeless and universal theme in the human experience to which is comforting to know I’m not alone. I try to humble myself to feel each breeze across my cheek or to meditate on the sound of my family’s laughter. I try to allow myself to stop and dance to each beat that reaches my ears but I don’t always succeed. I want to view time as a pool rather than a river. A pool where I am constantly consumed in noticing the water around me and floating in peace instead of rushing downstream, trying to clasp onto rocks to stop the current. The stress of desperately trying to hold back the river or make it move faster has proven to be pointless in this last year. More importantly, in these last few months.
The months before I went home were gruelling and troublesome as I have mentioned in previous blog posts. Still full of laughter and moments of peace, but also often over taken by fear, self-doubt, loneliness, confusion, and discomfort that pulled me down to the ground without even my eyes looking up to the sky. The days leading up to my flight home felt as though minutes were walking through quicksand to change on the clock. Each time I hoped they would move faster, they sank lower into the sand.
After a horror story of airport complications and a whole day of delays, I landed in Cincinnati. I was Westside bound, energy coursing through my veins, pushing my legs to move faster every step I took until I ran into my mom’s arms. The sweet relief, the overwhelming joy, and the encompassing familiarity all released from me in a moment of therapeutic, joyful tears. After a thirty-second tear-filled hug, it felt as though I never left. Each moment of familiar scene discovered felt more and more comfortable. First the hugs, the food, our dog, the scent of our house, they were all there in their healing glory. More than anything, I was relieved. The comfort came flooding back and it was exactly the therapy I needed. My time at home was precious. I was begging for seconds to turn into hours and minutes into years. I finally watched the World Cup on a real TV after watching multiple games on my brother’s TV through FaceTime (forever grateful for that). I ate so much good food, spent quality time with so many people who I adore, and took in all those small moments of joy in between.
Of course, people asked me constantly, “How’s Africa?” I was surprised at myself every time I answered. The most common thing I came to say was “I love it. It is really really hard, but worth it.” It seems simple enough, I can please the urge of needing to explain all the difficulties in my service but also show that I am grateful to be serving. But after these conversations were over, I played them in my head a million times wondering if I said the right thing, if I was really honest, if I really liked what I was doing, and if it really was worth it.
Before I came home, I had the realization that I had been gone for a year which meant I only had a year left. I couldn’t put off planning my future any longer and I called my brother in a panic. I was doubting that I was smart enough to get into grad school, doubting if I really knew myself, doubting if I could get a job. I was down that slippery slope. After ranting all of this to David, he simply asked “You have never shied away from something difficult before, why would you start now?”
That conversation with David, being home, that repeated simple question of “How’s Africa?” changed my perception. I realized all the little things at home that I let slip by in a day would’ve made me really upset in South Africa. It had always been the simplest things that turn my day around. When I find a new pile of ants, when I forget to bring toilet paper to work, when my bed sheet comes off my bed, when I try to cook something and I burn it, when my stacks of tupperware fall of the table, or when I step in cow poop. Those are all little things that can very quickly take me from okay to immediate anger. I’m not trying to say that I stepped in cow poop in Cincinnati or found piles of ants in my house, but those little things that would bother me at home (road rage, walking the dog, sibling arguments, Cincinnati in general) didn’t get to me that easily.
After being gone from home for so long, I came back with so much excitement for all those little things I never knew I would miss that much. I couldn’t wait to walk the dog or sit with my mom on the porch in the morning or just sit on a couch. Every moment was awe-inspiring filled with love wonderfulamazingoutstandingcherished and perfect. That’s not because nothing went wrong or there weren’t arguments or something, but because of my perception. I was utterly over-joyed to be home. That is why every moment was perfect. I allowed them to be.
After answering that question for the millionth time, I started to actually listen to the responses.
*Disclaimer for anyone who asked me questions about South Africa and had responses: I was listening the entire time and I appreciate you.*
Instead of allowing the haunting anxiety of going back to South Africa fill me, I stopped and listened. All that anxiety about my return was micro-focused on those moments that drove me crazy. If I had that perspective coming back home, it wouldn’t of been nearly as wonderful. I stopped and genuinely listened to people instead of tacking up their kindness to politeness. People were amazed at my life, impressed with my work, proud of me, and were saying it to me a lot. It wasn’t until I spoke to people outside of the Peace Corps, people that have been in the US for the past year, people that knew me before I was in the Peace Corps, that I really understood the wildness and difference of my life compared to a lot of other people. I started to let that sink in. We are taught to walk the tight-rope of self-love and appreciation but DON’T BE COCKY. And I started wondering, why? Why can’t I be proud of myself? Why can’t we indulge and truly soak up the joy in our lives or in ourselves without feeling guilty for it? So I let the pride hit me. I don’t mean pride like “Wow I’m awesome I’m saving the world!” because, I will say this over and over again, I am not. I was proud for sticking through all those moments where pain felt unbearable, where loneliness accompanied me with every step, when homesickness crept into each part of my day. I’m proud of myself for working on my self-growth with painting or writing or running or reading or practicing patience when it would’ve been easier to take a nap or turn on Parks and Rec (I love u Ron). Over time, my doubt in myself became a wildfire while my confidence dwindled to low embers. It became harder to “fight the good fight.” It was a fight I thought I was losing for a long time until I returned to my comfortable world with the opportunity to reflect.
My favorite rapper J. Cole was interviewed on a radio show a few years ago. He talked about the addictiveness of money, success, material things. He said those things are like drugs that keep calling you. You’ll never have enough money, women, cars, etc. He explains, “But if you place your importance on this: appreciation, love, that is enough. There’s enough of that in everybody’s life right now if they just took the time to look.” So, at home, that’s exactly what I did and I was in awe. I was overcome with gratitude and blessings that no self-doubt or bad day could break through. All this time these things surrounded me but I kept placing my importance on my productivity in my job, my student’s success rates, on food from home, on toilets, on showers, instead of looking at the people at my job who greet me with a smile or hug every day. I was letting those material problems or desires consume me without ever taking off the shaded lenses to really see. I was jaded because I was chasing things that would never be enough. If one student improves, it’s not enough its gotta be more than one. If it’s those materialistic things I’m focusing on, like the shower or the toilet, of course I won’t be satisfied with my life in a rural village. But, when I started to focus on the love, on gratitude, on laughter, on joy, it felt like a new life. It felt like I was seeing the stars for the first time. Instead of being frustrated with English lessons, I looked at how hard the students were working and how eager they were to just be in English class. I watched them take notes, trying so hard to see the board, constantly raising their hands even when they got the answer wrong. This gratitude and awe for my life grew inside of me and started to radiate into my life through random dancing alone in my room, to being more goofy in the classroom, and paying attention to love over productivity or success. J. Cole was right, it is enough. I’m not longer focusing on how fast the river is moving or how slow progress moves here. I’m not comparing my life to anyone’s, I am only focusing on loving mine.
This is not meant for comparison or bragging. It is meant to share joy. Nothing in my life dramatically changed. I didn’t suddenly have a constant rainfall of money from my ceiling and Elton John didn’t write a song about me. The only thing that changed was my perspective. Going home gave me the reassurance that I am doing the right thing. It didn’t erase my problems but it made me thankful for them. We all have the ability to change our perspectives this way.
I’ve decided I’m finished with that mindset. Will I still get upset and have bad days? Yes. We all will. I will also embrace all the good moments in those days and honor them. I will be proud of myself for achieving my dreams and the work I have done even when it feels like I am taking more steps backwards than forward. I will cherish the smiles around me every day and really acknowledge the love around me. Since being back in South Africa, I am happier than I ever was before in my service because I have finally seen that it is enough. That I am enough.


My intuition is tellin’ me there’ll be better days

April marks 9 months in country (woooooo) and nearly 5 months since I’ve written a blog post (booooooo). I’ve been AWOL for some time from my blog because I’ve come to a stark reality that I can’t explain how I feel being here. I read all the blogs, talked to all the recruiters, read millions of job postings and still, I don’t think anyone or anything could’ve fully prepared me for this.

I’ve avoided writing this because vulnerability is a lot easier as an idea than a reality. Sometimes as a Peace Corps volunteer, we feel pressure to speak only wonderful things, funny stories, share beautiful photos, and be in love with our host country. It’s hard sometimes for me to admit that this journey isn’t one of bliss. Sometimes, I leave the classroom and cry in disappointment and frustration. Sometimes when there is a knock at my door, I pretend I’m sleeping to avoid interaction. Sometimes, the challenges that lay ahead weigh me down with thoughts of self-doubt greater than I have ever known before. This blog post isn’t for me to harp on negativity or air my dirty laundry. It is for honesty. Honesty I have been pushing to the side to tell because it is difficult to admit. Honesty that I hope people could benefit hearing from and understanding. Honesty to myself that it is okay to share these things. Honesty in my journey to authenticity.

I’m most sensitive to smells. I was in the mall once in Pretoria, randomly smelled a candle at a store, and tears rushed to my eyes because it smelled like one of my best friends, Gail. When my mom sends me clothes from home freshly washed, I can’t help but shed a few tears. It’s as if I have no control over it. I don’t know why the smell after it rains makes me cry thinking of playing soccer. I never expected the smell of Heinz mustard to make me cry but it does. I didn’t know homesickness felt like this. It’s not always a constant thought in my head of “wow I miss my family and friends” because I am busy and doing other things. Those thoughts cross my mind but they don’t often make me cry. I was lucky enough to have my brother David come to visit a few months ago. It was the first time I had seen someone that knew me before the Peace Corps. Well really, known me forever. We both cried when we saw each other. Everything was the same as it had always been, except for the realization of how much I miss my family. Homesickness is one layer to the last few months. It doesn’t come as I expected, but it affects my mind and my emotions more than I realize because it isn’t always on my mind. It becomes clear that something is off though when a smell triggers a waterfall.

I’ve lived away from home before but the circumstances now are way higher risk than college. So many parts of my daily life and experience in South Africa affect my  subconscious more than I know. Of course, I have mentioned before that I poop in a pit latrine and there are a lot of spiders there. While my voice notes to my family about fighting spiders in the pit latrine are a crowd pleaser, it’s not funny when I’m constipated for a week because I realize I’m not sitting back all the way on the seat out of fear. I know some may be thinking “that’s not that bad, just get rid of the spiders.” I also thought this. After time though, the psychological impacts of not being able to relax when you go to the bathroom everyday takes a toll on the spirit.

The work is hard. I don’t say that to say I don’t like it or that I don’t love the children. The circumstances of work here are so vastly different than what I have been used to before that it sets me into a little bit of a panic when I’m working. Maybe this doesn’t happen for everyone, and I know some are better at this type of stress than myself, but a lot of times work feels like a panicked rush of trying to get things done while also not knowing what anyone else is doing. Yes, I am learning Tshivenda but I’m not fluent. I don’t understand what is being said in meetings or in conversations between teachers. I might pick up a few things but that is nothing compared to the 50 other things they mentioned. Of course, they will translate for me. But the 3 sentence translation at the end of a three hour meeting doesn’t equate. Being a newcomer, from a different culture, to a school that has been running since the 70’s, I often slip through the cracks of conversations. It isn’t on purpose of course, but there is a school culture that all of my colleagues have worked in naturally for years, which leaves a lot of unknowns and misunderstandings for me.

Imagine you are a teacher. But take yourself out of the classroom you just imagined. We don’t have finished buildings. There are holes in the ceiling and windows. I know some may be thinking “does that really affect learning?”

Let’s imagine teaching a lesson to 32 5th graders in their second language. You’re at the board and you are trying to explain the meaning of characters, plot, setting etc. in a story. You have 1 hour to teach this. After finally settling the class for the lesson (ten minutes at least), you get started. Just when some kids are participating, you feel you’re making progress; you can’t help but notice some students sitting by the window making noise and not paying attention. At first, you just think they are talking so you remind them to pay attention and continue. Again, a book falls from that side of the room and the learners are yelling at each other. You wonder why. And then you realize, they are freezing cold because we live in the mountains and the morning winter fog is blowing into the hole through the window. While the learners were curled up together already, they were attempting to use one of their books to balance it in the window to cover the hole. Still think it doesn’t affect learning?

We don’t have enough books for all of the learners in the classroom. We don’t have enough desks or chairs. Kids don’t have pens or pencils a lot of the time. We don’t have a library, we don’t have books to read, and we don’t have any technology for students to use. To this, someone may be thinking, “is technology or a library really a necessity?” and then think about world we live in now. Think about the schools that we often want to send our children to. Could you imagine them learning without the ability to research? In books or on the internet? Imagine a child never holding a book that wasn’t a textbook or a workbook. Imagine teaching without access to the internet or no knowledge on how the internet, computers, or projectors really work. I know before I came to South Africa and worked within this system, these were things that I took for granted in my education. In America, we take libraries for granted so much so that some are fighting for them to be demolished or seen as useless. It takes a humbling step back, a reflection of childhood and education, to realize how inexplicably important access to information is, which is found in technology and books.

The lack of resources in rural areas and structural issues are only the baseline of problems faced by the students and teachers in this school. I’m presenting these problems through my own experiences in America and in South Africa, trying to loop together the relationship between these worlds and how to navigate within them. I’m trying to speak out about the issues I’ve seen while also making these issues real and tangible to Americans, to people who want to understand a world different than theirs and exploring the reasons behind these problems, to which I’m still discovering every day myself.

While I am working, I am in high gear. I’m jumping around the classroom like a mad woman talking about characters and setting and why the letter k is sometimes silent and trying to explain the difference between me and I while attempting to make it fun and engaging and educational.  I’m glad only the kids see me doing this. Every day, I teach grade 5 English and Life Skills to a class of 32. That is 32 ten-year olds that speak a different home language than me, in a classroom made for a class of 18, teaching with only paper, pens, chalk, and enthusiasm. I have to go into this classroom matching their energy and then exceeding it x4. The second I’m not smiling, clapping, singing, making silly faces, running around the room, I lose them. When I’m in it, it is okay. Of course, I lose my cool and sometimes want to cry and walk out of the room. After a term with me, they have gotten used to my antics and warmed up to my teaching style. But, the second I walk out of that room and sit down, I realize my energy is drained and I need 5 full minutes of silence to comprehend what just happened. And then I walk into the next classroom for another round of how-long-can-I-act-crazy-to-keep-their-attention. This is every day. I love these kids but my hair is falling out at a faster rate than before, for sure.

In between teaching, lesson planning and preparation, there are all the other workings at the school that play into my job. Like teacher meetings in the middle of the day, in the middle of teaching. Trying to build a library or apply for new toilets at the school. Or being asked to fix the Wi-Fi when I actually have no idea why the Wi-Fi isn’t working. My days are hectic and I have a wonderful blissful moment and a horrible moment every single day. While I love this job, the kids, and my colleagues, and want to work to assist them in reaching their own goals, it wears me down.

Then, there is the own personal battle inside my mind. In a world that moves so slowly, it is easy to feel like I’m not making a difference. Kids are still failing. We still don’t have a library or even books for a library. I still don’t speak fluent Tshivenda. It’s a harsh battle not to measure my worth against my productivity. It is easy for me to feel like I’m not making a difference when the big indicators of making a difference aren’t obvious to me or to others. It’s easy to sink into a comparison game of “wow look at that volunteer, they have computers and a library and books and toilets” and then looking at myself thinking, what are you doing here?

Physical health is highly underrated in this scheme too. This has taken the biggest toll on my mental state. I was losing sleep, sanity, patience, and hope while fighting intense new allergies for months. It’s uncomfortable to be sick and so far from medical facilities. I live 7-8 hours from the Peace Corps office in Pretoria and 2 hours away from the closest pharmacy. I had to miss school 3 times to go to town to pick up medication. I had to miss school because we are not allowed to take taxis at night and it is 4 hours of travel to complete during the day, not to mention then getting to the pharmacy and getting the prescription, waiting for taxis to fill, etc. After that, I have spent weeks upon weeks away from my site in Pretoria trying to sort my medical conditions. Taking care of my physical health then only damages my mental health because it goes back into that cycle of feeling guilty that I’m not at site, feeling like I’m not getting anything accomplished, feeling selfish, and feeling like my worth is directly tied to my productivity.

I don’t feel like I have wisdom from this. I’m just trying to keep my head above the water at the moment. I am working to balance my self-worth on things greater than my productivity and not feeling guilty about taking care of my physical health, which may seem like a no brainer, but is a lot harder to initiate in these circumstances of feeling though I am meant to be a work horse. While I talk about these struggles, I am only willing to fight through them and put up with them because I truly believe in the mission here. I believe in the people in my community and I want nothing more than to give the assistance I can for them to write their own story of change and growth. The hard days of teaching are worth it when even one kid makes an improvement. It’s worth it to have a wonderful relationship with my counterpart who creates more change and innovation than I have seen before.

While David was in South Africa with me, I felt a certain comfort that he just understood. Maybe he didn’t understand every detail of my life or every change in me or every struggle I face, but he knows me. That is a comfort I have never been without and didn’t realize I was desperately missing. I didn’t realize the affect it was having on my mental state to feel alone, misunderstood, and disconnected. I didn’t know that was how I was feeling until he was in a plane and I was alone again.

I realize this sounds massively depressing but it’s really not. I’ve masked the longing for comfort with the word homesickness. I do miss my family and friends but everyone knows if I don’t have to be in Cincinnati, I won’t be. It isn’t homesickness; it’s a longing for deep comfort. A comfort that I get with quality time from family and friends. But, without the loss of that comfort, I wouldn’t know the joy of my life here. The joy of service, of mountains, of barefoot soccer, of children, of teaching, of dancing, of traveling, of new food, of learning, of simplicity, of diversity, of the milky way, of new friendships, and of growth.  I know it is hard. I know it isn’t all joy, but for the parts that are, it is worth it.


Forever young

* This is not a blog post for everyone. If you have struggled with mental health, suicide, or the death of a child, please read at your own discretion. *


On December 7th, one of the grade 7 learners at our school committed suicide.

The students were released for summer break on Tuesday. For the rest of the week, it was only the teachers at the school. The parents would come by to pick up report cards while we finished paper work and some small planning for the upcoming year. On that Thursday morning, one teacher walked in with a look on his face that needed no translation. Speaking quickly in TshiVenda, I couldn’t catch much but the name of a learner and the reactions from the other teachers in the room.

I saw a woman I admire like hell, my principal; lose control of her senses to the tsunami of pain that was released on our mountain top. It came rushing down to us from every side, filled the valley and we began to sink. I could see the reflection of this tsunami in the eyes of all my colleagues. Pain does not need translation. It does not need words. It manifests itself in every part of us until we are no longer recognizable. That day, I did not see the teachers I had worked with for the last three months. I did not see the faces of the community members I have come to love. I could only see a carbon copy of ourselves drowning in sorrow for reality had stripped us of ourselves and demanded we shed our appearances to pain. We stood that morning in sobbing hugs.

The teachers and I immediately went to the house of the boy. We saw his body wrapped in a blanket on the floor. The rope was still hanging from the rafter above. I am shaking while typing this. I don’t know that I will ever recover from the image of a dead child. I cannot explain the fear instilled in me as a teacher, as a friend, as a member of this community, as a human being. We sat with the family in silence for a couple hours. I silently cried as I looked around the house, imagining his life forming here, ending here. I was a wreck.

I was in the house when the sister came home. We did not need to see her to know she had arrived. Her screams echoed through the valley we live above. The howling wind and the voice of the sister harmonized with an agony that couldn’t be held within for even a moment. There was no forgiveness in the relentlessness of this pain. A pain that demands to be released so then the body can go numb. It is like a domino effect. The pain begins in the mind when the realization hits. Then, the horrific scream is released; the breath can only come and go in non-rhythmic heaps. The stomach is next, falling to down to the feet, taking out the knees on its way. The entire body falls in defeat of the pain in desperation to go numb. This explains why when the sister came into the house she was being carried.

This tsunami of pain did not stop there. The next day, doing laundry with my host aunt, she told me about my brother who was in the same grade as this boy. They grew up together. She said when he found out, “He wanted to faint. He screamed ‘noo’ and fell to the ground right away.” We sat and cried silently together at the image of someone we both love feeling this pain. She told me about the shirt she was making for this boy. She told me how she can’t bring herself to take it to their house because she cannot look at it without crying. It seems as though this pain is encompassing and never-ending.

I wonder if that is how he felt. Something that he felt, that he experienced, convinced him that 14 years on this earth was enough for him. This boy felt enough hopelessness to take control himself. At least, that is what I imagine. I do not have authority to speak over anything but my own experience of this.  All I know is a boy who once sat in the second desk from the left in the front of my classroom will no longer sit there. The boy who always marked me in soccer will no longer be there to joke with me. I don’t know how to handle this. I don’t know how to write about this. I don’t know how to honor him. I don’t know how to spread a message. My eyes were swollen for days from the tears I could not stop from falling. Nothing can prepare you for this. No one talks about this because God forbid it actually happens. No one discusses mental health. We don’t talk about this. We don’t know how to handle this. We just move together in the pain. I am doing my best. I will never stop telling my learners how much I care about them. I will never stop asking about their day or asking them to bake with me or demanding they tell me about school or their life no matter how annoying it gets. I will constantly be a presence for them so when they do break they know that I am there. This is all I can think to do. This is my answer for now. I don’t know why it happened and I don’t ever want someone to feel that pain again.  There is no satisfying reason for why it happened. Coming to terms with that will be a daily struggle.

In situations like this, it is hard to balance the realization of how small I am VS how much change I can make. It’s a paradox of being told “there was nothing you could do” and “change the world one person at a time.” Following either of these without the balance of the other leads into a dangerous mental trap of believing I can do nothing and believing I should be/ can be doing it all. I am still progressing to this balance with much difficulty. If I believe in either of these only when it is convenient for me to believe them, are they true? I don’t have an answer.

I didn’t join the Peace Corps and come to South Africa under the impression that I am saving the world. Because I’m not. I came to a new place with my own complex life. That same complexity of life is in each person I meet here. I am not saving anyone. We are growing together. With that said, I would be lying if I didn’t question if I had a role in this. Did I do something wrong? Could I have done more? Would it have changed? These questions are answered simply by seeing the complexity and humanity in one another. I don’t imagine the pain this boy felt to have appeared overnight, though I truly do not know. I can’t speak for him. I can only reflect on his humanity and become aware of it. Aware of all the pieces and parts that play a whole in who he is, just at the age of 14. Maybe, if I continue this practice more purposefully, I can create change. I know that people can change others because I have felt that myself. This doesn’t mean that the complexity of who I am suddenly changed and that is what I must remember. Human beings are not surfaces. When I think of how different I am in my room, vs the classroom, vs the soccer field, vs with my friends, vs ten years ago, I can see how so much of myself is changed and adapted in so many ways. This is universal.

It reminds of me of learning about space. It’s sayin,. “there are 8 planets in our solar system that all rotate around the sun.” And you think, “Yeah, that’s it.” But then, when you really ponder it, it can make you nauseous. We live on a planet in a solar system that circles around a big bright ball that keeps us all alive and orders our days and nights. The universe we live in is never ending…. NEVER ENDING. I’m getting that “wooah” queasy feeling just typing this.

Humans are the same way. We think “Yes, this is a guy sitting on the bus across from me who is tall and is reading a book.” But we don’t think about the PhD he is studying for about a specific species of frog in the Amazon rainforest. We don’t think about his foot that he broke in 2nd grade ice skating and it hurts whenever the weather changes still. He still won’t ice skate. He wonders if that was one of the reasons why his girlfriend left him. But then he remembers he’s actually a lot happier without her and now has the free time to read this book instead of having a draining telephone conversation about him being home late again from work. Which reminds him, he should call his brother to catch up about how his daughter did in her first gymnastics meet that she was so nervous for.

See how this works? We are endless beings just like the universe. Think about this. Ponder this. Get that queasy feeling thinking about the complexities of another person’s being. Let this be the beginning of recognizing that the pain you feel locked up in your room, feeling like your chest will shatter if you take another breath in between the tears is the same pain that a boy in a rural village in South Africa feels. Let this realization lead to putting our love into action. Before I judge, before I get angry, before I feel anything else, let me first feel that queasy feeling of seeing someone else’s universe.

Today, I stood with 3 of my grade 7 learners on the side of a mountain as they watched their classmate lowered into the ground. We sobbed silently together as the screams from the sisters once again echoed down the valley. I glanced up to see a group of grade 6 and 7 learners looking down onto the finality of their friend’s life at the ripe age of 14. I cannot promise much. But I can promise I will live in a way that allows for people to know they can share their complexities with me. As I look into the eyes of the learner crying with me, I thought to myself that I never want to see this pain in her eyes again. This is the change I can bring. I don’t know if I will “save someone’s life” or if I will even change it, but I will allow mine to be changed. Before I try to see where I fit in someone else’s life, I will just try to see their life. Fully.

While I do believe in the power of prayer and appreciate good thought and good vibes, let’s take action. Please, pray that silent prayer but then reach out to someone. Anyone. You don’t have to know if they are struggling or not but please just hold your child closer to you. Remind your son it is okay if he fails. Give love to someone. Physically. Make it known. Be open and vulnerable and willing to put your pride on the line for someone to know they are loved beyond measure. I can only hope this is a ripple. I can only hope that some good will come from this. That we may reflect on ourselves more, that we can see the humanity in every pair of eyes that we meet and of those eyes we will never see. I beg of you, to let this be a catalyst to more love. Tangible love. Make it a point to love in action.


The Twilight Zone


I moved into my permanent site in Venda about two months ago. I don’t know how to describe the last two months. I’ve been coming back to this post for days now typing and backspacing how to describe it or what to even write about. What is important to say? How do I say it? How do I make people understand? Is this worth writing about? Do I have the authority to write about this? After days of avoiding and rewriting and avoiding again, I’ve decided it’s the ultimate bliss and heartbreak, for so many reasons that could (and probably will) make up about 7 different blog posts in themselves. It’s not an emotional roller coaster, it’s more like an elevator. The Tower of Terror at Disney World to be exact.

You sit. You know what’s going to happen. You just waited in line for 2 hours for this. And a whole year before that planning this trip. You’re amped up. Big time. You’re a little shakey and giddy as hell. You’re squeezing your sister’s arm. You’re terrified but ready. So you think. And then it drops and suddenly it’s “OH GOD NO” and it’s straight down. There is no preparation. There is no choice at this point. You are going down. But then you pause at the bottom of the drop, and you see a little light outside, the beautiful sun shining over the even more beautiful Hollywood Studios Park. And then darkness. You’re up again just as fast and as steep as you went down and you think “ah that wasn’t so bad.” You see the view of the outside again, have a moment of “Wow… Disney World” and then you drop again into darkness without preparation and you kinda want it to keep going but also kinda never want to ride it again.

Disney is apparently the best way for me to describe my feelings. In terms of Peace Corps organization, I am currently in the “observation and integration phase” which means I am not full time teaching but still going to school every day. I teach here and there, help where I can, and learn constantly. One of the most important parts of doing development work is understanding and listening to the needs of the community rather than what I THINK the needs are. Therefore, I spend a lot of time talking to people, observing classes, learning how to be an effective teacher in this setting, building relationships with teachers and learners, and learning how to be integrated into my community as much as possible.

My day looks like this:

5:45 – wake up and cry a little bit cause its 5:45
5:46 – forget about it being early cause I need to pee NOW
5:47- rush to the put latrine, greet the neighbours, take my spider web stick and swirl it inside the toilet seat where my spider pal has made yet another spider web that I must dismantle in order to do my business (I’m hoping after a few more months of this it will resemble the spider-web-cotton-candy-thing from Shrek, a girl can only dream)
5:50- 6:50ish- do normal morning things like brush my hair (sometimes) and brush my teeth, have my own concert while getting dressed, eat, take malaria meds, make lunch, etc
6:50-7:00- walk to school, listen to my host brother yell at me across the road to “RELAX ALLIE” because I walk too fast and it’s weird (still getting used to African time)
7-7:20- greet the mamas outside the school selling snacks, greet 250 smiling faces of learners, greet my wonderful co-workers who are so patient and helpful with my TshiVenda, and then prepare for the day
7:20-1:40 this time frame here is a toss-up. Some days I teach every bell, some days I work on administrative work, some days I play games, or clean out the cabinet of old computer supplies, or struggle hardcore to set up Wifi for my school, or get whisked away to a retirement event or to pick up mail or some other random errand/celebration

After school, I usually come home, clean up a little, read a little and maybe take a nap. Then I’m woken up by my host nephew, Thendo, play with him for a bit, then meet about 20-30 kids outside to go running, do a workout, or play soccer. When I come back home, it’s usually getting dark. I’ll fill up the water I need for the night (dishes, bath, fill up filter, cooking, tea) and then do those things. My host brother usually comes in around this time to chat, take some food, and do general brother things like purposely annoy me or make fun of my dancing. I catch up with people on the phone and usually hop into bed around 8:30. Then, I’ll read or write or watch something or pass out immediately, depending on the day. There’s a small glimpse into an “average day” though it changes often, as life does.

As I mentioned, I now have a new host family. I do live in my own rondoval, but I live on the property of a family. I have a host grandfather and grandmother, an aunt, a sister, two brothers, and a nephew. It is the perfect place for me for so many reasons, but especially because I have little brothers.

“lol mom………. Wouldn’t it be so funny if you had an ‘oopsie’ baby………”
“haha mom it would be so cool to have a little brother, don’t you think?!”
“dad………….. wouldn’t it be fun to have 2 sons?…..lol crazy thought”

This has been me for the past ten years. Subtle hints led to shameless begging, unfortunately I think my siblings and I have effectively worn my parents out and erased any possibility of another child. For a long time I continuously asked my parents to have another kid because I always thought it would be so fun to have a little brother. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sisters, but a little brother is less likely to steal my clothes. I don’t know why I had this pull that I needed a little brother, but it really makes sense now.

Maano is 15 years old and he is a little s#!& in the best way possible. We have honest conversations about girls, his future, the world, politics, and we also fight like we have lived together our whole lives. He knows how to get under my skin and also has the ability to immediately cheer me up. He loves to gamble, wants to be an engineer, loves math, and really hates cinnamon. We watched movies together every night for almost three weeks straight, until he started his exams, then we studied together. He claims to not like Disney movies but we were both cracking up during Mulan and fell asleep during Deadpool. He is a sweet boy, filled with so much innocence, intelligence, creativity, and humor hidden behind his “wanna be bad boy” façade. I care about him like I would any other sibling. I feel blessed to have little brothers to help guide me through an experience that is so emotionally draining, to say the least.

Vhugala is my other brother. He is 13 and in my grade 7 class. He struggles in school more than Maano but he is a star on the soccer field. His passion for playing causes me to have immediate nostalgia and warms my heart because I know exactly how he feels. I play soccer with him almost every day and even though he doesn’t say much, he still finds ways to play jokes on me and hang out. I love him and his shyness and see a lot of myself in him, desperate to play soccer and not wanting to do much else.

And lastly, there is Thendo. My precious baby. He is only three years old but has slowly become my greatest support system. Every day he welcomes me home from school by screaming my name and rushing towards me for a big hug. I don’t know if there is a greater feeling. He will fill up water with me, do the dishes, eat my food and then spit it out cause he thinks its gross, play games, and sing silly songs. It’s like having all the hype of being a parent but never having to change a diaper or pay a bill. I just get to hug him and spoil him. I’m basically a grandma. It is bliss. I am so humbled and amazed at how my soul called out so long for a little brother and then God gave me three.

And then, the other side of this bliss is the heartbreak. Shooting down the elevator with no preparation. It’s getting a call from my sister and not being able to be next to her and console her. Missing family gatherings. Not being able to sleep because I have extreme paranoia of bugs crawling on me. Taking 2 hours to get to town to simply grocery shop. Being patient when people laugh at me for making mistakes in TshiVenda. Trying to understand confusing cultural differences without letting my immediate reactions get the best of me. Never washing my clothes well enough for my host aunt. Feeling inadequate. Overwhelmed with work to be done. Seeing stark inequality from village to town. Knowing I’m changing without being able to explain it. Loneliness. Feeling disconnected from home, then from my village, and in turn myself. Not ever feeling this type of loneliness before. Feeling I could roll up into a ball and disappear into a black hole of myself while simultaneously feeling enough emotion to explode and create another universe.

I will be honest and vulnerable here. It is uncomfortable. I don’t always have the right answer to questions about race or inequality or poverty or education or myself or womanhood or South Africa or America or anything of that nature. And it makes me feel defeated. One day last week, feeling as if I was suffocating in my inability to grasp a coherent thought, I sat outside and just started to free write some questions:

Am I here for the right reasons?
What are the right reasons?
Will I do more harm than good?
How do I disconnect from my skin?
Am I kind or selfish?
Do I ignore the truth to feel better?
Is my independence a fraud?
Am I actually a positive person?
Am I going through the motions?
Is honesty selfish?
If I don’t bare my soul, is it honesty or just storytelling?
Do I really feel my soul or is this just made up? How do I know?
Should I share? Why? Why shouldn’t I? Is it my place to share?
Am I learning from people or just using them?
Will I ever be able to settle?
What am I really homesick for? Why?
Am I wasting my time? How?
Why does nothing feel permanent?
Will I ever be understood?

And you’re probably thinking, “alright Allie…. Chill.” But I really needed this moment of intensity. I read somewhere (probably on Pinterest tbh) a quote by Socrates that read, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I read this a long time ago and its part of what inspired me to start journaling and reflecting more on what I want and who I am and all that hippie jazz. But in this moment, I didn’t feel real. I didn’t feel whole. I felt like I was out of my body looking at myself. There was a disconnection that created emptiness and confusion and I didn’t know another way to respond than to leave my office and go outside and write. I didn’t consciously think “OK Allie you need to go sit under a tree and write existential questions” …but that’s exactly what I did. While I was there, questioning it all, some grade 7 girls come running to me with an eagerness to learn and hearts full of gold. Smiles that make me wonder why I’m not smiling. Who would I be if I didn’t know them? I don’t want to know. I was distracted from my inner tornado by their pure happiness and love. I didn’t have to think. I didn’t think about feeing, about what’s wrong, about what’s right, I just was. I truly believe that children have a sixth sense which attracts them to hearts that need to be calmed. They sensed mine and it worked. After they went back to class, I started another list of affirmations and of things I want to feel and be.

I am strong.
My ability to feel without effort is confirmation of the power of my soul.
I will seek to understand others before I beg to be understood.
My confidence can coexist with fear.
My emotion does not discredit my intelligence.
I want to stop needing someone else.
Everything I am searching for will come in its time.
I do not want to feel in competition for truth.
I want to feel free in my own expression.
I want to feel comfortable and proud in my body.
I want to be a genuine friend.
My instincts are mine for a reason.
I want to love like kids love.
I do not have anything to prove.

And after writing these, I felt calm. This doesn’t suddenly mean everything is okay and will remain okay forever, but I felt another root in me grow stronger, another flower of my soul lift higher. I feel more ready and confident in my ability to be a role model to kids. I feel stronger in who I am and where I am going. One of my friends in the Peace Corps gave some women a speech about being a woman, and she told us, “You are the sunflower and the sun.” I try to remember this when I feel the drop of the elevator and the uneasiness of the ride. God gave me all I need within myself. All of these emotions, experiences, challenges, happiness—all of it – is exactly what I have been waiting for. I can’t imagine being another place in my life. I can’t imagine not having little brothers or not looking at mountains everyday or seeing my learners. There is work to be done and more things to learn. In all of the hustle and bustle of my life, I need to remember heartbreak and bliss can and must coexist. I cannot enjoy the thrill of the Tower of Terror without feeling the panic of the drop. Some may call it cliché, fake, irrelevant, or not relate and that is okay. This is me. I do not have anything to prove.

All my love,

Happiness hit her like a train on a track

“When you are done teaching, what do you do?” My South African host mama curiously asked.

Even prior to my arrival in South Africa, I was confronted with the doom of “what’s after the Peace Corps?” I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some ideas brewing in my head about the future, but when my host mama asked me while sitting in our living room, my mind was a cloudless sky. Nothing. No thoughts. No ideas.

“Well, I’m not really sure,” I finally mustered out.

After a few quick moments of needed silence, I had those distant ideas come back to me and I listed them as quickly as they pounced into my mind..

“I’ll travel Africa, being sure to get to Rwanda. I could go to Europe and work in a refugee camp. Maybe I’ll go back to school. I could move to LA and live near my brother for awhile or maybe I’ll go to New York with my sister. I’ve thought about living in New Orleans with one of my best friends, John. Maybe I’ll buy a van and travel cross country alone. Or maybe I won’t do any of that and go home, overwhelmed with possibilities and the weight of my Peace Corps experience, stay there eating ice cream on the couch for sometime..”

After rattling off this absurd list of ideas and possibilities, my mama stopped sewing to look up to me across the table. I could see her eyes staring directly through me. Not to ignore me, but rather to see the root to my tree of possibilities.

“Think easy. Don’t think tight. I see you crouch like this (she moves her forearms near her ears and buries her head into her chest, squishing her face together as if she were practicing hiding under her desk for an old school tornado drill). Take it easy. Don’t think. When you think hard, it will be hard. Think simple. Then it’s simple. Two years is nothing. You think it’s long time or short time but it’s nothing. Even now, you are here two months and ready to leave to Venda soon. It goes fast. Think simple.”

That’s my mama. Offering the comfort of delicious home cooked meals, artistic hand-crafted clothes, and her graceful wisdom across the same table. She welcomed me into her home boasting a smile that broke language barriers and gentle yet firm hand that tugged me into the family, immediately sewing me into their warmth.

Over the last two months in South Africa, I reread my personal journal, dating back to 2/16/2016. My style of journaling reflects my emotional state at the time rather than scripts of memories of life events. It has become an immense therapy to reread journals, seeing myself grow towards my truth with each entry, still continuing to this day. I remember how I felt when I wrote these entries. Since February 16th, 2016, they reflected this idea of “stuckness” (don’t look this up in a dictionary, definitely not a word). I’ll attempt to bring this feeling to life for your understanding.

I’ve had two dreams for a long time. College soccer and Peace Corps. Nearing the end of my career at Hiram, with one season left, I knew one of my dreams would soon be finished. As the campus got younger and I got older, I was coming close to my next dream and my patience was twiddling down to a thin string. I craved something beyond the tiny college town filled with political and sociological theories about a world that I was begging to see with my own eyes. This “stuckness” had more complexity than wanderlust. While dreaming of traveling, I also had an unspoken agreement with my best friend that we wouldn’t talk about the end. We couldn’t handle the thought of our ridiculous moments of laughter and watching each other grow coming to an end. Even now, I’ll hear a song by Akon (don’t judge) and instantly I’m transported back to spring break with the windows down, salt in the air, and the voice of Gail next to me singing with her sunglasses on and her hair flying crazy. It brings tears to me eyes. I didn’t want to imagine not watching Game of Thrones with Pretz every night or going to Taco Bell with John at 3AM talking about Lady Gaga’s new album and what types of witches we would be. As you can see, this feeling of “stuckness” was truly pulling me between two facts I couldn’t face. I would have to leave the wonderful world I created for myself in Hiram and I would have to wait to create another new world for myself. I was desperately jumping between dreams, trapped in the purgatory of growth. That was my “stuckness.”

When I arrived at Hiram, it made sense to me. I thought, “Oh, this is it.” When I hugged my host mama for the first time, the feeling was recreated. Again, I thought “Oh, this is it.” I had been waiting for years to get into the Peace Corps and then months to get to South Africa. Finally, I was here. And when I arrived, I was greeted with strong arms and a tight hug. All this time, since February 2016, I was writing of something missing, something I couldn’t reach, something I couldn’t even describe for some time. And suddenly, it was right in front of me. A new, different comfort. I don’t mean comfort as in “a nice bed and good food” (though I do have both a wonderful bed and delicious food). I’m taking about the snuggle onto one small bed watching Mrs. Doubtfire kind of comfort. Openly talking to my mama about diarrhea comfort. The eat as much as you want to without judgment comfort. The kind of comfort that makes me feel as though a part of myself has always been in South Africa. I found a missing piece.

If you aren’t familiar with the structure of the Peace Corps, let me give you a quick run-down. First, I arrived in country to begin Pre-Service Training. This training is 3 months long, during which I am in classes to lean TshiVenda (my host language!), safety and security information, health information, cultural lessons, teaching information, practicum teaching, and field trips. After training, I am assigned to my own site to teach and work for 2 years. During this training time, I live with a host family. And as you can see from above, man, I love my host family.

I have a mama, sweeter than the sweet tea she always drinks and carved from solid rock. Working 4 jobs as a single mother (her husband passed in 2005), taking in a 4th child and treating me as her own. Next, I have three siblings. My older brother Kenny, who is 27, is easy-going and quick to crack a joke with me. There is Mosa, 19, quiet and reserved but intelligent. He’s disciplined, incredibly thoughtful, and intriguing to me based on his mediocre feelings towards soccer and his love for the Fast and the Furious. Lastly, Palesa, my baby sister. An eight year-old with a diamond smile and a goofy soul. She has more smarts than she would ever credit to herself and is always looking out for me. And though it took her nearly 3 weeks to talk to me, that didn’t stop us from bonding as sisters do. When we aren’t doing the dishes together, accompanying each other outside when it’s dark, or teaching each other games, we are watching Zootopia, Frozen, the Incredibles, SO MUCH Doc McStuffins, and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, all things I proudly love.

My family, from the moment they met me, welcomed me as if their long lost family member had returned. They remind me so much of my family at home. They are genuine, welcoming beyond norms, goofy, loving, protective, and close. I was immediately integrated, even if we did things differently or didn’t fully understand each other. Though I describe my family with so much perfection, we definitely have our quirks. There’s a secret battle for me and Mosa to race to the last piece of bread in the morning. I fell asleep watching Frozen with Palesa. We ate an entire chocolate cake in one night. I always forget to close my window and one of them is always reminding me. I don’t like acha (traditional mango/fish salsa type of dish) and we all know it. My mama takes my socks off the line and makes me rewash them when they don’t meet her standards. And thought we can sometimes make each other bonkers, as families do, I am constantly trying to think of ways to make them as happy as they make me.

I have painted a beautiful picture of my life in South Africa. Do not be fooled. It hasn’t all been a sugar-coated fairytale of seamless culture integration and positive self-awareness. I truly love my life here. But just as any person loves their lives it does not equal perfection. I poop in a hole. I’ll freely put that out there, no shame. You should try it, honestly. Very freeing. Anyways, it is currently winter here but getting close to spring. With me only being here a month at the time, I had no knowledge of how pit latrines changed during seasons. So, for a month, I enjoyed my outdoor, roofless bathroom under the Milky Way, admiring the stars as my so-called “gypsy soul” self always does.

Here’s my 5 word horror story:

Warmer night.
Flying cockroaches.

No worries, I made it safely to the indoors bathroom after the initial shock/panic of cockroaches hailing the pit latrine. Now I know, there are cockroaches in pit latrines at night when it is warmer. And they can fly. Noted. My horror stories pretty much involve any type of bug/small animal near my living spaces. Such as the palm sized spider living above my bed or the frog the hopped out of my bucket while washing my face in the morning outside.

I am ecstatic to be here. Everyday, I get to play soccer with some neighborhood kids who make me feel carefree. The sunsets are absolutely breathtaking. Whenever I am walking in the village, I hear the distant yells of “Hiiiiii” “Hellooooo” “Allie!!!!!” The people in my cohort share the same dreams as me and I’ve made friends who have already brought me closer to who I want to be. I teach kids who amaze me with heir kindness, creativity, and energy. I get to watch my mama create lovely clothes. I take a bucket bath every night. I brush my teeth and wash my face in the sunrise every morning. I’ve gotten to play in competitive soccer games against local teams (these guys are good). I’ve taken great pictures (so I hope and pray). I write everyday and I learn. Constantly. I have loved being here and I’m not sure I will ever be able to express that fully.

There have been some struggles though. I’ve been coping with the challenges of being far from a life I created so long. I wish I could be there to help my best friend Jenna with more of her wedding planning. I wish I could see my sister Suzie enjoy her senior year at Seton. I wish I could watch my sister Emily form her life at Kent. I wish I had more car rides jamming to Prince and Elton John with my mom. I would love to have more spontaneous vacations with my best friend Chrissy. I wish I could see my best friend Erika and have some more picnics. But, (to semi-quote Elizabeth Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love) the only thing more impossible than leaving, was staying. Some days I feel on top of the world, completely drowning in this new adventure and excited beyond words. I also have times where I plug in my headphones and turn on dramatic musical ballads to do some heavy reflecting. There’s a crazy amount of emotional and mental adjustment, but I have been begging for this challenge for a long time. I can’t imagine living another way right now.

While sitting at the table with mama, a few moments went by between us. Then, mama paused again and said, “Tell your heart ‘I am in South Africa now.'”

That’s where I am. I feel the growth. I feel the love. I feel the confidence, confusion, frustration, trust, pain, and happiness. I found a piece of me that has been waiting in South Africa. And now, I am here.

All my love,


At last, I see the light

After getting the news of my invitation to serve in the Peace Corps in December 2016, my life has turned upside down. I’ve planned on joining the Peace Corps since 2011 but no imagination of mine could’ve prepared me for the whirlwind I went through in the last 8 months. There were medical tests, medical clearances, legal clearances, 5.9 billion emails and phone calls, lots of tears, lots of questions that I did not know the answer to, and lots of excitement. I knew it would be stressful and exciting—but I never planned for the response from the people around me.

I know everyone says “I have the best family and friends!” but I promise you, the people surrounding me are unmatched. As I mentioned before, I have known for quite a few years that I wanted to join the Peace Corps. For me, this is nothing wild or spectacular. I’m just livin’ my life, man. I’ve been planning for this for a long time. I used to spend hours googling new countries and reading Peace Corps blogs. Yes, I did have a social life contrary to how that sentence just sounded. Needless to say, when the invitation to serve came, I was ready to go.

My friends and family were also excited, but I never realized the impact I had on them. I don’t mean this as in “WOOOOOO I AM SO AWESOME AND I IMPACT EVERYONE.” It came more as a surprise because it wasn’t ever my purpose. Yes, I want to inspire people. Yes, I want to be liked. But, I spent far too long in my life worried about being liked that I started to not focus on that. Instead, I focused on things that made me feel like, well, me. Like watching How the Grinch Stole Christmas at least 300 times or going outside at night to lay in the grass and look at stars. I started listening to music I liked, shopping alone, dressing up just because, played a lot of soccer, read more books, started journaling, and so many more things. This transformation started about 5 years ago. Over the last five years, I lived more confidently in who I am and tried not to focus on what others were thinking. I spent a long time influenced by the perceptions and opinions of others but once I was more comfortable in myself, I began moving towards the things in my life I was called to do, like the Peace Corps. Being myself, following my dream, was normal to me. I don’t know another way to live. I couldn’t imagine not having the passion that I feel inside of me. Therefore, the response to me joining PC over the last 8 months was something I wasn’t expecting at all, though was definitely well appreciated and humbling. This became an “aha!” moment for me. In being myself, I gained what I had wanted all those years. I become surrounded by genuine family and friends who love me for just that—being me.

I made a New Years resolution with my brother this year. Let me give you a little bit of background. David is type A personality. He likes to research anything and everything before he does it and sticks to a schedule. He even has a timed light in his room that starts dimming at 10pm in order for him to get sleepy by 11.. So naturally, his New Years resolution was to “start a morning routine” …. which he typed out on excel spread sheets. Oh yeah, people like this actually exist. And I’m related to him. On the other hand, my New Years resolution was to be “more authentic.”

Heres how the convo goes (kinda):

“HA HA Allie that can’t be your New Years resolution!”

“Why not?”

“It’s not measurable. How will you know if you are actually being more authentic?”

My goal was to measure this in doing more things that fed my soul. So I explained this to him and of course he laughed, but he completely understood. (This is why we are best friends). And now, this hasn’t just become a “New Years Resolution,” but more a way of life. I want to live in ways that are true to who I am, to where I want to go, and how I want to grow.

That’s the purpose of this blog. For me to share my passions, my joys, my misunderstandings, stupid jokes, some (hopefully) good pictures, and for you to get a glimpse of my life on this grand journey to being more “authentically Allie.”

I can’t promise my writing will be great or that my stories will be hilarious, but I can promise, it will be me.

I have no idea when I’ll be able to write again so until then my friends – stay blessed.

Jesus, THANK YOU. I am going to South Africa!