July 29, 1996 - Personal Web Site: Thinking about My Peace Corps Life

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By Admin1 (admin) on Sunday, February 02, 2003 - 1:50 am: Edit Post

Thinking about My Peace Corps Life

Thinking about My Peace Corps Life

Journal Entry: Thinking about My Peace Corps Life

It was to me most of all the reality of being very far from home and yet feeling completely at home in this distant place. It was a slight sense of danger, the smell of wood smoke, hearing the Beatles for the first time in a bar in the town of Limbe. In America, there was a sort of revolution in progress, but it had started partly as a result of the first Peace Corps group that had gone to Nepal. Those volunteers returning from Katmandu had blazed the hippie trail.

In Malawi, we had all that, too -- good people, wilderness music, dusty roads, hard-working students and a feeling of liberation. Things were on the move, it seemed. In Malawi, I saw my first hyena, smoked my first hashish, witnessed my first murder, caught my first dose of gonorrhea. After I lived a while in a cozy bungalow with two servants, I moved into an African township, where I lived in a two-room hut -- cold water, cracks in the wall, tin roof, music blasting all day from the other huts; shrieks, dogs, chickens. It was just the thing. The experience greatly shaped my life.
-- Paul Theroux, "When the Peace Corps Was Young

I want to go home, but I don't know if I should. I'm afraid of throwing in the towel not because I fear what others might think of me, but because I fear what that action will mean about myself. I said I would live here for two years and now I want to leave after one. Are my reasons good enough? Should I use the privilege I have to leave? Other PCVs don't ever seriously consider going back home before their two years is up. Is this because they are being true to their commitment to the Peace Corps? Maybe they are just staying because being here is better than facing what is at home.

I don't think highly of the behavior of PCVs, mine included. Our government has put money in our pockets and set us loose in this country. Many of us don't know what to do here, including me, and some of us go a little wild. I'm not one of the latter because I'm quieter and calmer, but I still need companionship, go looking for it, and don't do much work.

If I leave, what is the worst that this can mean about me? It can mean that I break commitments easily and that basically I do what I want to do and support my desires with strong arguments. If my leaving means these things, I'm in trouble and better think about it again.

If I leave, what is there positive about this action? I'm acting according to my beliefs and being honest with myself about what I am as a PCV, what I am doing here, and what I think I have to offer.

If I choose to be honest, I will break my commitment to the Peace Corps. Will I take future commitments seriously? If I ever get married, will I, when I tire of my husband, find reasons to divorce him?

If I stay what will I be facing for the next year? Long days, the longing to go home, some pleasant times with the people, loneliness, the frequent itch to see Bob, the feeling that I'm an extra person who partakes, but doesn't do anything to earn it, the desire to escape from Kangama every couple of weeks, some uncomfortable times with the people, the guilt of not doing anything day after day, the feeling of not being understood, the fear of being thought lazy or strange or aloof, days of relief with Bob, the sense that men don't quite know what to do with me, the sense that people don't know why I'm here but will be nice to me as long as I am, my doubts about the workability of fish ponds, my total lack of desire to sell the idea of fish ponds because of what I know about the work of other fisheries volunteers, the obligation to give gifts to my neighbors, the gracious treatment of these people for a respected stranger, my lack of desire to involve myself in secondary projects that will justify my presence here, the awareness that farmers don't understand the technical aspects of fish farming even though I try to clearly explain them, a sense of being defeated by the innumerable factors that I can't control, the struggle to smile and give in the face of all of this, the realization that my job is an excuse for me to be here and an excuse for the people to have me here, days of writing letters home to keep in touch with my people, a feeling that the villagers are right -- it is strange for a person to live alone in a foreign place while her friends and family are yonder,.....

The Peace Corps Handbook acknowledges that we may not be accomplishing anything. What it considers to be worthwhile is that a dialogue is established between people of two different cultures. The problem I have with this is that their culture is poor and ours is wealthy and their country is weak and ours is powerful. Wealth and power ideally should not be issues in our interactions, but they are -- at the highest level between our government and this government, at the second highest level between Peace Corps administration in this country and government officials in this country, at the third level between PCVs and the chiefdoms in which they are placed, and at the lowest level between the individual PCV and his/her neighbors and friends.

The contact that gets established is not just contact between peoples of different culture, but between rich and powerful people and poor and weak people. Yes, I admit that we discover that we are all people. We all eat, laugh, cry, procreate, fight, feel pain, give birth, and die. Together we are all part of humanity, but we -- the PCVs -- are the rich and powerful part and they -- the inhabitants of this country -- are the poor and weak part. Our ideals can't cut through this. We can ignore these facts, but they still exist and nobody knows this more than these people who are poor and weak.

I am an American in a world that isn't united, is caught in political conflict, and as such I am a political actor here. My government knows this, but I didn't fully realize it. I really thought I could offer something to these people. If I understood that I wasn't going to accomplish much, I at least thought I wasn't going to do any harm, but I'm not an innocent person. I am an American and I represent capitalism. (December 9, 1986) Journal Entry: More Thinking

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Sierra Leone; PCVs in the Field



By wunder (pcp02988964pcs.malvrn01.pa.comcast.net - on Monday, December 15, 2003 - 6:07 pm: Edit Post

just want to say that peace corps is awesome and being home after it sucks.
i know i'm probably not the first to notice it,

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