Two weeks after finishing her service in Botswana, Janina Yates landed in El Salvador to begin working as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer. We talk about the similarities and differences between Botswana and El Salvador and her two different Peace Corps Volunteer position, in addition to all the amazing stories she collected over three years of service.
On this Episode:
- Why Janina went right into a Peace Corps Response position, as opposed to extending for a third year in Botswana
- Enjoying the simple pleasures in life and remaining present
- How not to hand wash your clothes
Photos from Janina’s Story
Janina Yates’s Peace Corps Story
Where and when did you serve? What did you do?
I was a Community Capacity Builder in Gobojango, Botswana from 2012-2014 and also served as a Response volunteer, working as a Youth Outreach Specialist from 2014 to 2015 in La Palma, El Salvador.
What is one of your favorite Peace Corps memories?
I have so many fond memories of my three and a half years in Peace Corps. Many of my most favorite memories remind me of the kindness people have showed me. There was a situation with “mashodwane” (tiny birds), and another when I learned to catch chickens.
What is one of your least favorite Peace Corps memories?
Hand-washing laundry. I would procrastinate for weeks, which only meant that the pile would get larger and larger. There was one day in particular in Botswana where I really felt as if “Africa won again” and I would never resurface from my home.
What do you miss about the Peace Corps?
Hands down, I miss the people. The people who took me in, who trusted me and allowed me to trust them. I also miss being in a position to ask difficult questions. If you question the norm here in the U.S., people think you’re crazy…but as a Peace Corps volunteer, people already assume you’re an anomaly so asking difficult questions isn’t as much of a problem.
What is something you learned in the Peace Corps?
I learned to appreciate the small moments.
Now that I’ve been back for almost 3 years now, my whole time in Peace Corps feels like a very vivid dream. During that time I learned more about myself and the world than I have in my whole 28 years on this earth. I have met people who would offer me their shoes even if they had no clothes on their back, and I have fallen love with the diversity and lessons this life offers if one is willing to open their mind and be patient to learn them. I know there were days where I literally felt so lonesome I wanted nothing more than to be back in the United States, with all of her amenities and privileges…but those days in particular, where I struggled to learn to bake my own bread and roll my own pasta noodles, were what made this journey so unique. So significant.
Do you have a favorite quote or local saying?
In Setswana, there is a phrase: “Ke teng”.
Literally, these two words simply mean “I am here”. When I first arrived to Botswana almost six years ago, this was one of the first things I learned not only because it was relatively easy to remember, but because it was used multiple times throughout the day. If someone asked “how are you?” you could answer “ke teng”. If they asked what you were up to, where you were, etc. the answer was always the same.
Now, seemingly worlds apart and a plethora of experiences later, I have had the opportunity to meditate a bit on this phrase and its actual pertinence to everyday life. I have learned that “I am here” isn’t as much of a physical state of being as it is a mental one. To be present, one has to believe every aspect of their surrounding is their reality.