If anyone ever tells you that the Peace Corps is an emotional rollercoaster, they aren’t lying.
Just this week I’ve gone from loving my job to wanting to book a ticket home. There are little annoyances, like almost getting ripped off at a hotel, that irritate me on a daily basis. Then there are bigger issues that nearly push me over the edge. For example, I got kicked out of a host family’s house simply because one of the kids didn’t like me—and by kid I mean a 20 year old male, living with his mom, with no job. He moved out of the house and refused to move back in until “the stranger” was gone. It didn’t matter that his parents and three sisters are the ones that invited me. Apparently they didn’t “consult” him first. Regardless of the family dynamic and how I feel about it, the end result was that I was kicked out, potentially with nowhere to go. Fortunately, my former host family took me back in but the damage was done. The neighborhood was abuzz with gossip and everyone I met wanted to get involved in some way, though generally in no way that I considered helpful.
Realizing that you’re at the mercy of completely strangers is daunting. Being slapped with the reminder that not everyone has your best interest in mind is disheartening.
Then there are the great times. Just the other day I had a successful tutoring session. A boy who didn’t know the alphabet when we started now can identify all of the letters and is beginning to write them by dictation. He can also spell his name and sound out individual syllables. I’m SO proud of his hard work! I am relieved to see that I am having some sort of impact here.
I am also conducting a winter arts camp. For the older grades there are dance classes, and for the younger kids there are arts and crafts. My high school dancers are doing an outstanding job. They remind me of how much I love to dance; they also remind me that I need to be a good role model at all times: I showed up to class one day in my baggy, hunter green cargo pants—made of parachute material–that I’ve had since at least 8th grade. (They remind me of Aaliyah’s pants in the “Are You That Somebody” video.) After class the next day, two mothers asked me where I purchased the pants because their daughters wanted some exactly the same. The subsequent classes, a few girls showed up in baggy pants with pockets. I had to keep myself from laughing throughout class. I’m really excited to start seasonal classes with them later in the year.
Thank God, I’ve had success with some teachers, too. The jardin teacher has been super helpful with my winter camp. I’ve gotten to know her and her family very well. The preschool teacher has also made some suggestions for early childhood stimulation classes that will help prepare kids for jardin and preschool. In the upper ranks, the vice principal really liked my proposal for health classes with 3rd and 5th grade. She is supporting my efforts by helping me proofread and edit the syllabi. Other than not speaking Guarani, I have no complaints about work.
But just when things get good, you’re reminded that you aren’t at home. Perhaps that’s what makes service so tough. If I hated every minute of it, I could go back home to my family, friends, pets, my BED, AC/Heating, sushi, REAL coffee, my jacked up car which is still better than public buses here, and everything else about the US that I miss. If I adored every minute, I’d always know I was in the right place for this point in my life. Switching back and forth just makes my brain and heart tired.
WHAT’S BEHIND DOOR NUMBER 3?
After getting ousted from the host family’s house, I feverishly began my search for a place of my own. Some of my original options still stood, so I contacted an owner and arranged to move in within two days. On a rainy Friday evening I bought some goodies (a stove, mattress, dresser), moved in my junk and started the three day long cleaning process: sweeping the community of cobwebs and spider webs from the vaulted ceilings, as well as killing their creators; cleaning more of the same from all of the furniture; bleaching the bathroom; sweeping and scrubbing the beautiful tile floors; and unpacking.
On day three, the rain recommenced. I looked forward to sleeping in, reading and writing, and taking a long hot shower. What I got was rain in my living room and part of my kitchen. Before, I thought we had tracked the water. Now I could see it falling from the ceiling. Since the floors are tiled it wasn’t a terribly huge deal but I would’ve liked to have known about the leaks before moving in. The owner said he’d have it fixed Tuesday or Wednesday. The days have come and gone. The roof still leaks.
It’s raining again. A variety of cookware decorates my floors. Even with the leaks, I’m still really happy about the house. It’s the perfect size for me, and it has a lot of security features that I wanted. The location is close to the school, my friends, and the main roads leading in and out of town. Once the ceiling is fixed I won’t have a complaint in the world about this house. The next step will be painting and replacing the shutters if money allows :o)
Let’s talk about money. You will not starve on the Peace Corps living allowance. Depending on your site and how often you eat with neighbors, you can live quite reasonably. The strange thing is that, as it becomes the norm to have certain amenities (a fridge, for example), the Peace Corps budget hasn’t increased to accommodate modernization in more developed areas. Volunteers then have an awkward decision to make: they can live below the means of the rest of the community; they can use money from the States to live at the means of the community, thus diminishing money that should be used to readjust to our lives back home after service; or they can save every penny possible, live as a recluse, and finally buy a fridge two months before it’s time to leave for home. Peace Corps sees the problem and is actively working the fix it, but current volunteers are left wondering why some people are living posh while other are just making it month to month.
I certainly didn’t have enough to buy everything I wanted for the house with my Move-In Allowance. With that said, I’m not sleeping on the floor, either. It’s the Peace Corps. I didn’t expect to have a fridge, washer, dryer, and stove when I signed up. I was thinking mud hut and a hole out back to piss in. I am pleasantly surprised to have electricity and running water. I’m stupefied that I have wireless internet connection. Fellow volunteers in other countries ARE sleeping on the floor. They DON’T have running water, electricity, and wireless internet and at the end of the day I have no room to complain. Inconveniences are expected. Luxuries are appreciated. And service must go on either way.
My first somewhat necessary renovation is the fix the roof. My first not-necessary-but-desired renovation will be to replace the shutters. On cold rainy said like today I may as well be sleeping outside with as drafty as the house feels. Then I’m going to save up to buy a washing machine. It’s not what you’re imagining by any means, but it does get the job done better than my bare hands. Third on the list, I plan to save up for some paint. The interior walls are jacked and the house would look a lot merrier with a fresh coat of high quality color. To me, it’s a worthwhile investment. Lastly, I might add a sink in the kitchen (surprise, there isn’t one). I’m currently using the bathroom sink just for water, and washing dishes outside or in the shower.
Things are ended on the up-and-up. I’m still here, still planning cool stuff for my community in the future and still optimistic about this whole save-the-world-and-change-yourself gig. Suerte!