Friday, October 9, 2015

The toughest job you'll ever love

Happy 4 months EC87! Here are a few thoughts on the cycle of vulnerability & adjustment that is being a PCV:

The path that was ahead of us four months ago when we landed in St Lucia was an exciting one. One where every bus ride brought another new surprise and host mom brought a new way to cook a dasheen. Peace Corps likes to label this as the 'honeymoon' phase. And it was. I can't begin to tell you how many pictures of St Lucian and Grenadian sheep I took during the first two months. I came here, having idolized and idealized what this Peace Corps life would be like. I had these ideas of grandeur, of adventure, backpacking, being the 'cool' Peace Corps Volunteer who had been there, done that, and lived every awesome experience you could possibly imagine. Some of those ideas of grandeur have been fulfilled but looking back over the past four months has been a lot like the opening line of A Tale of Two Cities: " It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

In reality, as a PCV you willingly subject yourself to certain things, 'extremes,' on a daily basis. A lot of these will be physical. You will have insomnia. You will get sick. At first, a full night's sleep will seem impossible. This will change over time, but can (and will) revert to deprivation at the drop of a hat. You will sweat. LOTS of sweat. You will cry. You will gain weight. You will lose it. Your hair will reach new levels of frizziness. Your legs will always itch. You will bump your head getting off the bus, every damn time. And these are just the physical changes that will happen.

The mental effects for me have been the toughest part. For all intents and purposes, you will feel more alone than you have ever been, felt, or dreamt of being in your entire life. Sure, you will be a 'member of your community,' insofar as a 20-something foreigner with a very limited understanding of their cultural norms can integrate into a community which is physically and emotionally homogeneous. You Will Cry. A Lot. Especially if this Mango thing asks you to dance at the grocery store:
Do what the mango says.

Let me repeat it again: You will cry, you will want to curl up in your empty bed and dream for the 'American' things in life (Chipolte). You will want somebody to hold you, to just wrap their arms around you and pull you into them. There will be days when you feel like you are empty inside.
This is what dreams are made of.

Talking with friends and family in the States helps. But you'll get this nagging feeling in the back of your mind that, for as much as they can say they understand, and as much as you'd love them to be able to, they cannot. What I've found is that my students and teachers here have made me the happiest. You can build up fantastic relationships with your community members. You can get to know them pretty well, and you can confide in them and become really good friends with them. But in the end, they still cannot fully understand what you're going through 100%.  
Thanks for this one Kate.

In the end, the logical place to turn to aid your emotional well-being is your fellow Volunteer. But, just like everything, it is not that simple. Yes, these people understand what you deal with on a day-to-day basis. They were there during the 11-weeks of Pre-Service Training. However, they are obviously dealing with their own problems and establishing their new lives. Thank God for EC 86 and EC 87 though!!

Peace Corps service is all about these extremes. As dark as it is, perhaps even masochistic on many levels, this is why we signed up, right? We tell ourselves we are here for some noble purpose, that we are not here to find ourselves but to lose ourselves. To change who we are at the very core. Make no mistake; Peace Corps will change you, even in just four months, hopefully for the better. But this is not for the faint of heart or the weak-willed. What I've found is that you have to allow the bad things to either roll off your back or limit their expression to the privacy of your own home all while actively seeking the positive things (the reasons we came here in the first place) and allowing them to seep in. 

Peace Corps Service is a rollercoaster. There will be ups. There will be downs. But at least in the end you'll get to say, "Wow, what a ride!'

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