|By Admin1 (admin) on Tuesday, April 22, 2003 - 12:51 pm: Edit Post|
Peace Corps Volunteer Christy Fuller in Benin
Peace Corps Volunteer Christy Fuller in Benin
Wonderful Adventuring Me: A Peace Corps Volunteer's Service in Benin
"'Do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream - making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation, that commingling of absurdity, surprise, and bewilderment in a tremor of struggling revolt, that notion of being captured by the incredible which is of the very essence of dreams [...] No, it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any given epoch of one's existence, - that which makes its truth, its meaning - its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live, as we dream - alone...'"
- Conrad, Heart of Darkness
04-18-03: It finally hit me today - I'll be living in West Africa in less than two months. Holy shit. Ever since I got my invitation, I've been living in a state of denial. I've been acting as if it's completely normal for people to pack up and move to Africa to live in a mud hut without electricity or running water for two years. I've accepted the challenge as lightly as that of getting myself out of bed every morning, as if it were a simple step- merely a matter of course.
Now I must ask myself: "What have I done?" Failure is, for the first time in my life, a viable threat. Failure at any level can be upsetting, whether it's something as small as bombing that stupid stats quiz or something as big as bombing the interview for that dream job. I think I can safely say that I have never truly failed at anything I've ever done. And even if I did, that failure didn't have a large impact on my life, and it certainly affected nobody other than myself. Now I face the possibility of real failure. I have posed myself this challenge to push myself beyond my comfort zone, to get to know my own limits, my own self. I now realize that this challenge is no longer solely about me. My success or failure will impact an entire fragile community of people hanging on by a thread, with little reason to believe that there is still some hope left in the world. For the first time in my life, I'll be doing real work, important work that doesn't just affect me, that doesn't just affect some corporate investment, that doesn't just affect some insignificant statistic. I'll be doing work that will affect real lives...REAL LIVES...and my failure will also affect real lives. At least I can say that I feel ready to take this challenge, I just hope that I am strong enough to not let them down. For me, the scariest part is not knowing. Not knowing what challenges I will face, not knowing my own courage, my own will, my own strength. All of this not knowing, after 18 years of education....makes that college degree look a little silly, doesn't it?
04-04-03: I have spent a good chunk of time over the past month or so researching life in the Peace Corps. I'm remarkably like a small child, eager for any scrap of information that might throw some light on how and where I might be living abroad. Today, my thoughts turned away from my prospective volunteer experience itself, to the effect it might have on me when I return home. I changed so much as a result of my stay in Switzerland, that I can't even begin to imagine how living in a third-world country will affect me. I put together a little sketch of what I envision for my future. I'm posting it here so that I can read it when I get back and laugh at how silly and naive I once was...
I will be one inch shorter, as my body mass will have shriveled a little under the harsh sub-saharan sun and shrink due to the hard diet of rice, rice and rice. Maybe I will be legally considered a dwarf. I will no longer be afraid of spiders or cockroaches. In fact, I will return home with a family of bugs. I will name them, love them and whisper softly to them in the lonely hours of the night. They will ignore me until I give them food, take my unconditional love for granted (it's impossible to love something that creepy if it's not unconditional) and might even try to escape. I will come home loving America more than I ever thought possible. I will come home hating America, too. I will be more understanding of cultural differences and more sensitive to human suffering. Except of course, when it comes to my own children. They will just have to "deal with it", because they don't know what suffering is until they've seen what I've seen. I won't mind being dirty, and won't even notice being dirty until my little cockroach family councils me on the virtues of good hygiene. As one person recently said, I'll be SO much cooler than anyone else I know. I will gain fluency in a language that few have even heard of and will lose fluency in my native language. I might consider setting up a cultural exchange between the grizzly bear population of Montana and the wild camel population of the Sahara - both being equally misunderstood. I will read German literature in francophone west Africa and I will discuss Middle-Eastern politics with an English ex-patriate in French. My body will be weakend with exotic parasites, except for my neck, which will be brawny from balancing water buckets on my head. I will be a little on the bohemian side, "letting myself go" for the sake of simplicity. I will be ugly on the outside, beautiful but torn on the inside. I will have broken nails, frizzy hair, dry skin and dirty feet. I won't care. I will be completely different, but my name will not change. My country will not have changed, my family and friends will be much the same. I will come home and no longer recognize my own culture, my own home, myself. Then I will build my world again, as a new person with an old rusty name.
3-21-03: If anyone were to ask me right now about my feelings on joining the Peace Corps, I think that I might first stare off blankly and confusedly into space for about a minute of so, then cock my head to one side and offer a big fat "WELL, I DUNNO". Why would I say such a thing? Haven't I thought this over good and hard over the past several months? Isn't this decision merely part of the greater scheme of things, the result of intellectual epiphanies from time spent abroad? Of course I have, and yes it is. But the realization that I will spend the next two years of my life living in a country with one of the lowest standards of living in the entire world will probably not hit me until I have been living in that country for several months. That seems to me like a bad time to have any kind of epiphany. So I've been having mini-epiphanies instead. They come at odd times, like when I'm taking a shower or painting my toes. All of the sudden I freeze, look up as if someone has said something incredibly shocking, and think "SHIT". And that's it...the epiphany passes and I continue on with my boring little life, until someone happens to mention the word "Africa" in my presence (or until I find a way to work it into the conversation). I graciously educate my new audience on my recent decision to become a Peace Corps volunteer, then they get very excited. They tell me how how brave I am, how wonderful it is do be doing such a great thing for humanity, and how it will be a life-changing experience. Most of these people have just met me, but they somehow know me well enough to be certain that I will be "just fine over there". I am fickle, however, and even that is enough to get me excited about my service. Tragically, it isn't long before reality knocks me over the head yet again in the form of a mini-panic attack (yes, they are always miniature! Everything that happens to me is of below-average stature, as I am of below-average stature. Yes, I have tiny feet. If I had normal-sized feet, I would look funny. Everything must be considered in proportion. Same thing goes with epiphanies and panic attacks. Please keep this in mind), and the whole process painfully repeats itself.
The last I can remember ever feeling like this was just before I left home for the first time to move to Boston. I had had a splitting headache for days on end and was wiped out and frustrated because of it. My mother was trying to take care of me, giving me aspirin and putting cool wash cloths on my forehead, when I busted out in tears. I was sobbing because I had just realized that I was LEAVING HOME. What was I going to do without my mommy? Who was going to take care of me when I got sick? Who was going cook for me? Who else would send me off with a hug each and every morning and a cheery "Have a good day"? I recently realized that that first night alone in my African hut may be the harder than I can imagine. During that lonely and terrifying night, as well as during the majority of the difficult days thereafter, I won't, for the first time in my life, be able to pick up the phone to say "help me, I'm scared". That first night may very well be the loneliest of my life, and if I make it through that, I'm confident that I can make it through just about anything. I'm pretty sure that my journal will be my asylum through it all. With a lack of religious faith and close friends to turn to, it may be all I have.
"Je réponds ordinairement à ceux qui me demandent raison de mes voyages : que je sais bien ce que je fuis, mais non pas ce que je cherche." - Michel de Montaigne