It’s All About Attitude

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Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference. 

~Winston Churchill

The electricity has been off almost every night since I arrived home from Tanzania. I honestly don’t mind the darkness that much but it can make certain tasks tricky to accomplish. Tonight I was putting soy sauce on my rice and, since we only had one candle at the table, I couldn’t tell that I had dumped way too much onto my plate. After the first horrifying bite I used my phone light to examine the damage and found that each individual grain of rice was drowning in a sea of soy sauce and I knew there was no hope for salvaging this meal. Of course I ate it. Soy sauce is a precious commodity and one doesn’t just throw away a meal here because you fail to add the correct ratio of sauce to your rice. You man up and eat it and vow to never again pour soy sauce in the dark.

Later in the meal I made a crucial mistake when selecting a utensil to stir my hot chocolate and ended up using a spoon that was covered in rice. To make matters worse it wasn’t even my spoon! Seeing that I had finished eating, the nun next to me had started consolidating the utensils and added a few extra to my plate without my knowledge.  It was at this moment that I could hear my mother’s voice saying, “You cannot always choose what happens to you but you can choose your attitude and how you respond to these things.” Part of me was really disappointed and angry that there was rice floating in my hot chocolate (a gift sent from home) but there was no way I was wasting it. I did my best to imagine the rice particles were tiny marshmallows and it honestly wasn’t that bad. Something like hot chocolate is a rare treat and even mixing it with rice cannot take the joy out of drinking it!

I am learning more and more every day that attitude really makes a big difference in life. There are a lot of elements of my life here that I cannot control and that is incredibly frustrating, but I am finally realizing that I do have the power to control how I respond to these situations. I will admit it has been a slow process and I wish I could say I am consistently positive about everything but that would be a pretty significant stretching of the truth. My Peace Corps journey has really helped me to embrace a life fueled by gratitude and optimism. On days when I am sad or frustrated I have learned to stop and ask myself why I am feeling that way. Most of the time, when I reflect back on the situation that made me upset, I realize that I could have reacted differently.

It can be hard to accept responsibility for negative emotions but through acknowledging the fact that my attitude is something I can control I have discovered a newfound sense of empowerment. It really sucks to admit that you are sad or frustrated because you chose to be, but in the same line of thinking, it also means you can alter your behavior to make yourself happier. This of course does not work all the time, but it is very applicable to my life in Rwanda. I am learning to react differently to the daily conflicts that once ruined my day. When people insist on informing me that I am fat before they even ask my name I do my best to smile and thank them for what they perceive as a compliment. When the other teachers show up two hours late for a meeting I try to be grateful for the time to read or daydream. When one of the kiddos from the special needs preschool sneezes in my face and then wipes their snotty nose on the skirt I just washed I try to remember that spending a time with these kids is a blessing and constant contact with their mucus will build my immune system- at least I hope so!

Some situations are easier than others when it comes to adopting a positive attitude. On sleepless nights when the rats move down from my ceiling and into my room I struggle to remain positive. When I try to trap them they manage to eat the bait and escape, so instead of solving my problem and killing them I feed them a midnight snack that energizes them for a night of scampering about my room and chewing on my favorite sandals. Sometimes I manage to stay positive by reminding myself that I should be happy that they are not in bed with me and sometimes I just feel sorry for myself and spend the night sulking. Even the most positive people I know have moments where they lapse into brief bouts of frustration or sadness. We are all human after all. This lesson about attitude is probably one of the most valuable that I have learned during my time here and I hope it is something I will not forget when I return home.

Here are a few photos from the past week and a half:

Adorable Arsene- he looked so handsome at the feast and spent the night sleeping in my arms after consuming his body weight in food- that kid loves to eat! Instead of writing another description of the feast I opted to simply copy and paste a portion of an email I sent back home to a friend:

Yesterday they had a feast down at the orphanage since the current
directors, Isaac and Serena, are returning to America on Monday. It
was good food and fun to be with the kids. We all ate in the church
and when it finished they put on music and all the kids danced. One of
the cute little boys, Arsene, came and sat in my lap for a while and
played with my watch- they love to mess with it and I often can’t
figure out how to change the settings back after they alter them. He was
getting sleepy so I asked him if he was tired and he nodded yes and
put his head on my shoulder. I started rubbing his back and he fell
asleep two minutes later. I spent most of the night with Aresene
sleeping in my arms, watching the other kids dance and run around the
church with their bellies full of good food and huge smiles on their
faces. I think it was the happiest and most content I have felt in a
long time. Sometimes I think it will be impossible to leave this place.

But don’t worry – I will return- eventually…

Mama Serena and some of the kiddos- she has been such a wonderful friend and I will miss her dearly!

Baby Isaac showed up to feast in a complete winter outfit- it looked like he was ready to hit the slopes for a day of skiing!

This little guy was born into a world of chaos since his mama died giving birth and the convent workers have resorted to bottle feedings to keep him alive. He is so cute (this picture does not do him justice) and I call him Rukundo, which means, “love” in Kinyarwanda. I try to visit him a few times a day and since humans are raising him he is a very social baby cow. While the other cows at the convent shy away when I come near (unless I have grass to feed them) Rukundo comes right up to the gate and shoves his little nose into my hand as a form of greeting. He loves to be pet and often tries to lick my hand so I usually forget he is a cow since he acts like a puppy. Hopefully I will get some pictures of me bottle-feeding him in the near future but until then you can just conjure up the image yourself- who knows, your mental picture might turn out cuter than the actual photo!

Since the theme of this post is about attitude here are few of my other favorite attitude quotes that I have hanging up in my room for those days when I need a little extra encouragement:

Happiness is an attitude.  We either make ourselves miserable, or happy and strong.  The amount of work is the same. 

 ~Francesca Reigler




If you don’t like something change it; if you can’t change it, change the way you think about it. 

~Mary Engelbreit

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today,

at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little,

at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die;

so, let us all be thankful. 

~Buddha

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf. 

~Jon Kabat-Zinn

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. 

~Hugh Downs

People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them. 

~Epictetus

Change your thoughts and you change your world. 

~Norman Vincent Peale

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2 responses »

  1. Hi Suzanne, I came across your blog on PC Journals. I am a FPCV for Jamaica (March 2013), but I am currently volunteering and piloting an arts-based literacy program near Save, Rwanda. If you are nearby, perhaps my colleagues and I can meet up with you and/or other volunteers? We would love to learn about the work PCVs are doing here! You can email me at champton116@gmail.com Thanks, Christina

  2. Great stuff Suzi. We (lots of us here at Cornell-rebecca w. Katie s. Marc and others) are very proud of you. Looking forward to the day you can come see us on the hilltop.

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