(The story, as told by Tija...)
People talk a lot about how Peace Corps changes you as a person. It shapes and molds who you are and returns you to the world you once knew with new eyes. You give for a few years and you get so much more in return. For me, this experience has given me the world.
In August of 2011, just four months after I arrived in Botswana for my own Peace Corps service, I went to volunteer for my first time with the HIV+ Teen Club at the Botswana-Baylor Children's Clinical Centre of Excellence, part of the Baylor International Pediatric AIDS Initiative (BIPAI) at Texas Children's Hospital. We were set to play ultimate frisbee and to discuss the importance of physical fitness for health. The winds delayed us and, in the end, forced us inside to put on short dramas and have small group discussions instead.
While waiting for the teens to assemble and everything to get sorted out for the change in schedule, I chatted with another volunteer - a cute boy who was also passing the time. Something caught my eye about him and I was instantly intrigued. I remember feeling awkward as I searched for words to say to this adorable stranger and I made him repeat himself many times while I struggled to understand his accent. We exchanged phone numbers as we were sent in opposite directions across the Centre to work with different groups. I wondered if I would hear from him.
Some hours later, after the day's activities finished, a friend (who was also volunteering that day) and I slowly meandered from the Centre towards the bus rank where we were meeting up with someone. As we reached the main road, we heard a man's voice shouting at us. It was that same cute boy who entertained me with quirky stories while we waited. He offered us a ride. He stayed with us all afternoon and we had drinks into the evening.
Our paths crossed again. At first only by coincidence but, in time, it became intentional.
My closest friends know that I was skeptical as we began hanging out more. I hadn't come to Botswana to meet anyone. In fact, I had come with my blinders up and with my eye firmly locked on my mission to serve. But we kept talking and kept growing closer together. I found myself getting giddy with each text message that cute boy would send and I succumbed to the permanent smile I had whenever he was around. Giving in to him taught me the true meaning of love. He showed me that "love" is also a verb. He made me a believer in all the love stories long told. And we hadn't even kissed yet.
But then one day he held my hand. Before I knew it, he held my heart.
...And now I am blessed to say that he will be holding it forever...
There was no way of knowing that the August winds that fateful day were blowing me exactly where I belonged... into the arms of that cute boy.