Friday, March 7, 2014
February 24 - What Peace Corps is Like Now
Was the last post I wrote really about Ramadan? It’s certainly been a while. I remember during our Peace Corps staging how we were told that you find lots of first year blogs online, about all the struggles of getting ones service started, but the writing falls off sharply once volunteers get into their second year. I guess I’ve fallen into that trend. So many things have happened that have made me think “what a good blog post topic!” But that’s as far as the ideas have gotten. So to get things going again, I’ll write about a very simple topic – what is Peace Corps like now, 4 months since I last wrote, and 6 months until the official end of my service?
1. Peace Corps is Comfortable
It doesn't feel like a major accomplishment to get through a day now. Sure, I have hard days - but it's sort of the same as having a hard day back in Boston, or in college - just a tough day in a place where I'm used to being, where I'm pretty comfortable. I know how things work here, even if they are still sometimes frustrating. I know what to expect.
2. Peace Corps is Busy
I have a planner full of appointments, and slow days are a treat. I may not be running around 8 hours a day, but I have a lot going on. I'm working on a latrine project, and have a girl's club, and work in the garden, and do Peer Support network activities, and am helping design a visual aid about rice growing to be used all over West Africa, and organizing a Take our Daughters to Work event in Parakou, and... a whole lot. I never, never expected Peace Corps to be so full of activity.
3. Peace Corps can go from frustrating to unbearably beautiful all in 24 hours
Last night, I was sitting on my bed in my sweaty hot house, reading – my front door was closed which means I’m done being public for the day, either asleep or getting close to it. But some people were staying at my concession who aren’t usually there, and a few of them were gathered outside my open window – someone whispered “anasara” (white person/foreigner) in the window and I’m pretty sure they were peeking in at me through the curtains. Frustrated at not having any privacy, I got upset and slammed my shutters shut, making them laugh and say “Gorado’s angry” in Fulani. I lay there stewing and feeling bad about having gotten upset for a while before I fell asleep.
This morning, after attending the morning service at the Assembly of God church, I had to go on a long, long motorcycle ride to Basso, a village about 50k away, to help with a survey in their garden. We ended up leaving around 11:40, and even though being on a moving motorcycle helped the sun was blazing and it was HOT. And the road was dusty, dusty. My shirt was made of a fine mesh material, and my arms under the sleeves were covered with tiny specks of dust that had worked its way through the fabric. 15k into our trip, my motorcycle stopped and the driver went into a store to get something. I was feeling frustrated, standing there in the sun, but soon he came back with two ice-cold bags of water, one for me. (Water is often sold in machine-sealed bags here). It was so cold, it was hard to drink fast, and I could feel the coldness inside me long after I’d finished drinking. It felt so good.
When we finally got to Basso, hot, hot, hot and dusty, I realized that it was their market day. Parched again, I had my motorcycle stop at the market before going to the garden so we could look for something cold to drink. We found some lukewarm bottles of soda – one orange Fanta and one Sprite – and I bought them for the two of us. A fair exchange for my cold bag of water earlier. I gulped down my Fanta at the garden – soda was never so good as it is here. We had to stop by market on our way back to return the glass bottles. Once there, my motorcycle said he had to go pray (it was around 2:00), and so I sat down in the shade next to the soda seller to wait for him to return. The Basso market was beautiful and spacious, and full of Fulani, men in blue tunics and checkered scarves with swords on their shoulders, women in colorful outfits trimmed with lace, brightly striped shawls, coins woven into their hair. Everyone was moving slowly like the mid-day heat demands, and it all seemed so graceful. It’s hard to describe how happy I felt to be there, sitting next to the soda seller, watching her barter with the beautifully-dressed Fulani woman who was trying to get a good price for the skin lotion the woman also sold. It was all so beautiful, such a wonderful place to be. When my motorcycle driver finally returned, I almost wanted to thank him for making me wait. (Of course I didn’t, since he has a way of being hours late and doesn’t need to be encouraged.) But I was so grateful to have been there, and so happy that this is all part of my life.
I guess in sharing this 24-hour period I mean to say that Peace Corps hasn’t changed that much. It’s still up and down, but the wonderful, sweet, inspiring moments are the ones that stick with you. 24 hours ago, I was craving privacy, my own insulated world, the right to be alone with no one staring at me. But on our way back from Basso, we passed a fancy white jeep with development workers from one agency or another, one of them American or European, passing through Basso on the way to somewhere – and I was glad I didn’t have the privacy of my own fancy jeep. I’m sure there’s no one to stare in their windows, wherever they stay – but they also don’t have the pleasure of being stranded in a beautiful market stall like I was, with no choice but to slow down and appreciate where I was.