June 4, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Meagan's Adventure: Peace Corps in Dominica
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June 4, 2003 - Personal Web Site: Meagan's Adventure: Peace Corps in Dominica
Meagan's Adventure: Peace Corps in Dominica
Meagan's Adventure: Peace Corps in Dominica
Tales out of the Peace Corps have always sounded deliciously exotic and intensely exciting. And, oh yes! Let us not forget unimaginably challenging. (Did I mention intimidating, exhilarating, and slightly more than slightly scary?) Still, I dreamed of balancing precariously on my head a clay pot filled with water. I would totter along, the Cameroon sun beating down from above, as I chatted amicably in French with the village mamas. Sometimes, in my mind, I slipped breathlessly into “my” classroom, only to discover no one had yet arrived. I would sit down to patiently wait; being “tranquilo”, after all, is very important in Ecuador. Or perhaps I would venture upstairs to my apartment in Turkmenistan, only to discover my landlord had prepared a meal for me. (Like in the recruiting video. I could get used to that.)
As it turns out, my Peace Corps experience will be everything…and nothing at all…like I imagined.
On July 27, 2000, I will embark upon the journey of a lifetime. A member of Peace Corps group, EC ’67, I am bound for the island of Dominica in the Eastern Caribbean. (Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic on the island of Hispañola.) There, I will spend the next two years as a “Youth Development Worker”. To be perfectly honest, I am not exactly certain what this will entail. I do have a general idea, or what is known as a Volunteer Assignment Description (VAD), which I’ve kindly included under the when/what section. (I know, I know. It's difficult, but try to conceal your excitement…;-) But like most PCVs, I won’t recognize the full implications, range of duties, or possibilities offered by my role until I’ve been acting in it for some time.
This web-site is designed to provide one individual’s experience with the Peace Corps from application to (hopefully) Close of Service. As I am uncertain what my Internet capabilities will be on Dominica, it’s hard for me to predict how frequently (if at all) this site will be updated after July 27. I’ve tried coercing friends, family members and household pets into taking on the prestigious role of Web-Master, but so far no one has eagerly accepted. So we’ll see. Ideally, though, this will be a good way for interested people to witness vicariously the humor, patience, enthusiasm, tolerance, creativity and compassion required in adapting to another culture… as well as the happiness, loneliness, inspirations, challenges (and dare we say mosquito bites?) I will likely encounter along the way.
The picture above represents just a few of the people who showed up for my going away party. In retrospect we should have all posed outside instead of trying to squash together on the porch, but oh well. Hindsight. My apologies to those who were excluded from the frame. Fame and fortune will just have to come later. And thanks to my Aunt Denise who allowed me to confiscate her Panama Jack hat that just happened to match my dress.
(Who is Meagan? How and Why I Did I Join the Peace Corps?)
The Application Process a.k.a. How long did it take? a.k.a. Ways to pass the time when you are terrifically excited and deliriously impatient.
(Where in the world is Dominica? When am I going? What will I be doing/What is my Volunteer Assignment Description?)
(Journal entries/letters/etc. in the months leading up to service.)
(Journal entries entries and letters from PST
Settling In: Journal entries and letters from the Month of September
Roller Coaster Adjustment: Journal entries and letters from the Month of October
The Decision: Journal entries and letters from the Month of November
The Aftermath: What am I doing now?/Post-Service Reflection
So, would I recommend the Peace Corps?/Brief Rundown of my experience
Advice and Resources
“Too many times we stand aside and let the water slip away. 'Til what we put off 'til tomorrow has now become today. So, don't you sit upon the shoreline and say you're satisfied. Choose to chance the rapids and dare to dance the tide.”
So, Would I Recommend the Peace Corps?/Brief Rundown of my experience
So you want to know if I would recommend the Peace Corps?
Hmmmm....that's a difficult question. This will get complicated.. I apologize for that, but hopefully you'll be able to weed through the crap and find something that means something to you
Pat answer: I think, in general, the Peace Corps is a wonderful program and lots of people find tremendous happiness and "success" with it.
Concession: Everyone... not some... not most... everyone has moments of tremendous loneliness and unhappiness and frustration. In other words, everyone wants to go home at some point. Some do. Some don't. Sadly, I have to admit that before I left for the Peace Corps, I thought of the people who dropped out of the program as those who "couldn't hack it". I know see them as what they truly are; people like me. If I had not been Medically Separated, I would have Early Terminated. I'll get to the reasons why in a moment.
First, I'll address the common problems Volunteers face that could sent them running for home. I did not encounter all or even most of these, but they are commonalities for a lot of Volunteers: lack of resources, lack of support, lack of a "counterpart" or boss, lack of an actual program, illness, loneliness, villagers not accepting them or calling them by a previous Volunteers name, unwanted sexual advances, robbery, rape, lack of contact with family and friends, sadness by the scenes with which they are prevented, the feeling that they aren't realy helping or aren't really wanted, political problems in-country, environmental hazards... and the list goes on.
You should know before you proceed any further your Volunteer Assignment Description truly reads as though you walk on water. However, many Volunteers find themselves doing nothing related to it at all. Most Volunteers find themselves with inordinate amounts of free time... after training, that is. In order to not go crazy, the majority have to develop programs of their own that range from gardening to coloring with the local school children to business advice to tutoring, etc.
You should also know that you will learn more than you teach. That's kinda hard to deal with, particularly since there is a strong desire to help in any way that you can.
Also, and most importantly,... EVERY EXPERIENCE IS DIFFERENT. There is absolutely no way to predict what yours will be until you jump on in. Sometimes even after the fact you are not even sure what to make of it
My experience: Story time...this is the long part. As I'm sure you can tell, I was beyond excited before I left. I had spun so many tales in my head, I was just setting myself up for disappointment, although I didn't know it at the time. I knew virtually everything there was to know about Dominica, too... from how many species of bat there are to the height of the tallest mountain. (I'm sure I was quite annoying. Drat that Boy Scout motto...) Theoretically, I was supposed to be working with kids; counseling them, developing reading programs, etc. When I got there and Peace Corps officials learned that I had experience as a ropes course counselor and liked sports, they thought they would put me in a village to replace a Volunteer that had Early Terminated. Supposedly, there I would be a coach. So I got there, got to know some of the people, became very close with my homestay family and the local village kids, hiked mountains, swam in waterfalls, river bathed, fended off the marriage (and... ahem... other...) proposals (who would have thought *I* would lose all desire to flirt???), taught my homestay family how to shuffle cards the "American" way, learned how to cook breadfruit and make juice without a blender, watched MTVs "TRL" and Disney's "Boy Meets World" (Dominica, to my chagrin, does have cable...), taught the children to chant at regular intervals "Say no to George W. Bush!" and "No more Britney Spears!" (haha!), played tag in the yard, visited fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, became comfortable with hitchhiking--perched on the edge of a pickup truck, went SCUBA diving, attended sporting events and cultural festivals, boiled water on the stove and trotted back and forth from the kitchen over one hundred times to my friend Ashley's bathroom so we could take a HOT bubble bath in our bathing suits together, ate cucumbers and tomatoes for breakfast and fish and rice for lunch nearly every single day for over three months, listened to one of my host sister's cry every time her hair was plaited, had pictures drawn of me by the local kids... and essentially did nothing for four months related to my work. I tried to get my counterpart to teach me how to coach cricket and football to no avail. He smiled at me and said that I could follow him around to his sports classes and watch him coach. Which I did. I also went to all the sporting events and Sports Division meetings and made several suggestions to boost attendance at events. Everyone seemed very pleased to have me there, but not very inclined to take me up on my pleas to put me to work. At one meeting, everyone was bemoaning how much they missed Anna, the previous Volunteer, and how glad they were that I was there. As far as I could tell Anna had not done much. I kept asking around about the programs she had instituted and if she had left behind any resources. Everyone kinda shrugged at me. How wrong I was, though. It turned out Anna had *bartended* at the sporting events for her nine months of service, thereby saving the community a ton of money. (She didn't give away beers for free to friends as the locals are wont to do, and her being the only white female in a village of 1600 people, more than half of them male, was a huge draw... as you can imagine.) Their hope was that I would finally give up all hopes of coaching, and bartend. (They started out very subtley with this, but eventually worked their way around to blatant suggestion.) I didn't mind the idea of bartending in my spare time... I just didn't want it to be my entire program. (What did *you* do on the Peace Corps, Meag? Oh I served up Kubuli beers at the local sporting events...) What I did, instead, was go to the local school and attempt to set up a reading program. I also talked to my Associate Peace Corps Director about my concerns, to see about switching my primary project. I figured I could work with the schools, maybe set up an inter-village counseling program, and then bartend and help get girls more involved with sports in my spare time as my secondary project. I just wanted to be busy.
Well, my APCD hemmed and hawed. He wasn't thrilled with my idea and wanted me to work it out with my counterpart. Which I tried to do, but I kept encountering the same problems. So I talked some more with the APCD and was finally getting him to come around to my point of view, when I fell in town, dislocating my knee. This was not a good day. So, the (Dominican) Peace Corps nurse prescribed bedrest for three weeks... (three weeks!). I am an active person and this drove me insane. Finally, when my knee was still swollen and painful after the requisite time, they flew me to Antigua to see a specialist. He told me that my leg muscle was weak and that was why it had dislocated. I told him "No kidding, asshole! I've been in bed for three fucking weeks!" Except I was rather nicer about my phrasing. That is what I thought in my head Well, he maintained his theory, and they sent me back to Dominica. By this point, I had finally convinced my APCD that there was no hope of reconciling my job in my village, and he decided that I should move in with a fellow PCV until we worked out whether I was going to be medevac'd for my knee or whether they would find me a new job in a new village or what. I wasn't thrilled about starting over; I rather liked my current village, but I was willing to do just about anything to have a viable position.
Three days later I came down with Dengue Fever (which is like malaria...it's a mosquito borne disease) and my 105 degree fever, sweats, eye pain, delerium, nausea, rash, etc. sent me to what is quite possibly one of the most hellish hospitals on earth for four days. After the fourth day I woke up with ants crawling all over me and I promptly decided I was going home to the U.S. come hell or high water. I checked myself out of the hospital, against doctor's orders and took a cab back to my PCV friend's house in Marigot. (This was the week of Thanksgiving. Imagine being in a hospital ward with tons of people around you screaming and crying and throwing up; being hot beyond words because all the windows are open; being bored because you have nothing to do...you couldn't read if you wanted to because your eyes hurt too bad and anyway, there are no books... and all you have to do is watch the HUGE spiders crawl on the ceiling and fret that they might fall on you in the middle of the night; feeling the worse you ever have in your life... quite literally like you would rather die than live; being away from your family on a holiday that is one of your favorites...and in a hospital for the first time--no less; and still not being able to walk.)
A little background here: Peace Corps Washington, D.C. is required to respond about whether to medevac or not to medevac within 72 hours to what is known as a Field Consult (or a report that a Volunteer has been injured). Well, nearly *300* hours passed... and still no word for me. I told the Peace Corps officials in Dominica that I was going to ET the following day if there was still no word from Washington. I still felt awful, my knee was a mess, and I didn't want to not be able to walk at 50 because I was a stubborn ass at 26. The next day came... still no word... so I went into town, closed all my bank accounts, had one final blood test for my dengue (it seemed I had liver damage from the dengue). They purchsed my plane ticket home, had me fill out all manner of ET paperwork, called Washington to let them know I was ET'ing... and they freaked out. "No, no no! Don't ET!" they said. "We will Medevac you!" So all that paperwork got ripped up, a new plane ticket was bought for the following day, and new paperwork was drawn up... this time for a Medevac. I went home to my best friend's and packed up all my boxes and bags. I knew, if no one else did, that I would not be coming back. I cried when the plane left Dominica.
The day after I got home, I went to see a surgeon who freaked out--first because my knee was an absolute disaster and he couldn't imagine anyone saying otherwise (I had bone chips floating all around in there... joy!) and because I had been essentially resting for over a month, the muscle had completely atrophied and I had absolutely no use of it whatsoever. He said I would need extensive reconstructive surgery and there was no way-no how that I could go back to Dominica. He recommended Medical Separation. Peace Corps concurred and kindly waited until after the surgery was complete to separate me on January 3. (Incidentally, two weeks after my separation date Ashley, my best friend in Dominica and the PCV with whom I had stayed, Early Terminated. She was the 10th!!!!! out of a group of 54 [in all of the Eastern Caribbean] to do so. All of us in less than 6 months. She ET'd because, unlike me, she was over-worked and her principal kept trying to enlist her help in beating the children. Understandably she was not at all comfortable with this and didn't feel there was a way to reconcile it.)
Conversely, my friend Lori (whom I met online and had become pretty good friends with.) is having a fabulous time in Samoa. She left the day before I did for the PC and is dating a local Samoan man and has a wonderful job and has had a baby named after her and all sorts of great things. She's thrilled. Before we left, I went up to visit her in New York and we speculated on whether or not we would ET. Neither one of us thought I would come home early. Just goes to show you, you cannot predict.
The question naturally arises... would I rejoin the Peace Corps? You bet. With my future husband if he's game. Several years down the road. NOT in the Eastern Caribbean. (The program is awful there. As you saw we had an extremely high dropout rate. The going rate collectively is about 1/3 of all Volunteers ET or MS. I have no doubt that our Eastern Caribbean group will exceed that. Furthermore, I've talked to people serving in other countries that had less dropouts in two years than what we had in six months!
So here you go... the question that it has taken me about a billion years to get to. Would I recommend the Peace Corps?
Yes. Just don't expect anything. Go in with an open mind. Certainly find out what you feel you need to ahead of time, but try your best not to create scenarios about it. You really have absolutely no way of knowing what is going to happen. Make friends with the locals when you get there. Find out what they want and need and accept that it's not necessarily what you think they want and need. The children will be your greatest resource. There's more advice, but you'll have to visit the Advice page for that
Advice and Resources
“I’m sick of life happening to me. I’m ready to start happening to life again.”
The Decision: Journal Entries and Letters from the Month of November
My journal actually had the most entires in November of any month. I chose, however, not to include a lot of them. They are just too depressing. Also, they are not very kind in regards to many of my fellow PCVs and Peace Corps staff. There are an awful lot of curse words too And some ill-tempered doodling. Just in case anyone is curious, I do not recommend constant bed rest. It can drive a person out of their good humor, as well as their mind. Just ask my journal
Journal Entry from 11/1/00:
I called Rose this afternoon and told her I didn’t want to leave and that the swelling had gone down a bit and it didn’t hurt as much. Which isn’t really true, but I don’t want to leave yet. She agreed to hold off on sending the stuff to Washington for three weeks or so. I have to stay in bed for the next three weeks, though. Which really sucks because it means I can’t move into the house yet. I gave Pepsi my deposit because he’s done stuff in the house, but I don’t know that I’ll ever get to move in because my job is going to change which means that I’ll probably be living somewhere else.
A few minutes ago I asked Bria to get the red deck of cards that I had given her last night so we could play a game. Well, some minutes passed and no Bria. I called her a few times and eventually she appeared, in tears. The kind where your breath hitches in your chest and your throat feels tight. It seemed she couldn’t find the red deck. “Come here” I told her and hugged her. “Don’t ever be afraid to tell me something like that. I’m not mad. It’s only a deck of cards. You hang on to this blue deck instead and we’ll play with them and if the red deck turns up, great. If not, don’t worry about it.” She did find the deck in her bag, later. I love these kids! I love how Furmine looks at me beneath her lashes and just beams and Bria’s shy-gap toothed smile and Charlisa’s dimple and the way Jody sings and makes fun of Britney Spears. They’re cool kids.
Dada, too, was funny. She said that it was good that I wasn’t moving up to my house yet. “You have a sick foot.” She said “You cannot chase away the men and the children with a sick foot like this.” Heh.
Journal Entry from 11/2/00:
What is wrong with me? Why can’t I make up my mind what I want? Today I feel very lonely and sad and I want nothing more than to be home. I think it’s because I’m holed up in my bedroom… can’t walk around too much. I’m trapped. Stuck in the house…
I just spoke with Ashley. She said that Marni sent an e-mail to everyone and is ET-ing tomorrow. She leaves at 9:00 a.m. Whoa. Not sure what to think or feel about that. So many of our feelings were (and are) parallel. The fact that I’m hanging in there says something about me. Either I’m stupid for not recognizing when I should give in. Or else I’m really stubborn. Once I would have said I was really positive, but most of these entries are negative so I can’t even say that anymore. Marni has given it a fair shot, though, whereas I have not. I wonder if a year and nine months from now I will look back on these emotions and grin because I came through one of the most difficult times of my life and I stuck it out and it was worth it or will I smile and say “I am so glad I left; it was the right decision for me.”? My worst fear is that I will make a decision and be unhappy with it.
Journal Entry from 11/3/00:
I have never wondered “Where am I going to be two years from now” Until the PC that is. I have always just counted on ending up where I needed to be… let the pitch come to me and then swing at it blindly knowing that I’ll eventually hit the ball in a decent direction. Now I am living within a time frame. I have so much time on my hands to think about what may be.. about what lies ahead. It’s driving me crazy. The fact that my support system and my livelihood is gone is huge. Outlets for frustration have been reduced to this journal. Back home if I had a shitty week I could go get a margarita with some friends or I could go for a drive or go dancing. Here I discovered walking was a wonderful way of releasing tension, but I can no longer do that.
I’m re-reading “A Few Minor Adjustments” and am underlining the parts that ring true to me. I recall when I hitchhiked after SCUBA diving and how upset I was when I called my homestay to tell them that I was going to have to hitch and it was getting dark and all my family said was:
“Don’t worry. You’ll catch a ride.”
Still upset and outraged at their nonchalance, I tried to further impress upon them the seriousness of my situation. Didn’t they realize I could be killed or attacked or raped or something? “If I don’t make it home tonight” I sighed despairingly “I guess, it’s because um, well ,um, because I couldn’t catch a ride and I stayed in town.”
“Okay!” was their cheery response. It occurred to me that their only concern was that I may not be able to get a ride and they naturally assumed that my fear was the same. In turn, I expected a reaction similar to one I would have gotten back home. Something more like:
“Are you crazy? You’re not hitching! Stay where you are; I’m coming to get you!” I had not yet adjusted to the culture. I’m not saying I have now, by any stretch of the imagination, but such reactions no longer seem strange. “Just now”, “Behave yourself”, “You okay?” and “Hello. Good night” not only make sense, but are beginning to slowly work their way into my vocabulary.
There is a lot to consider in this book. One of the “things to think about” is in regards to staying or going. It asks “Do I know enough to know that my situation is not going to change in the next few months?” The answer to this, of course, is no. It also questions “Do I have anything to lose by waiting another few weeks to see how I feel?” Again, no. The other questions aren’t appropriate at this stage of the game, but I will certainly revisit it later if I need to. God, how arrogant was I when we were reviewing the Cultural Adjustment Phase during PST and I thought for sure I would skip all the hard stuff and move right into the happy well adjusted part? I haven’t even begun to tap into the experience that this can be and that is at once thrilling and terrifying? I need to shut off this American filter and allow myself to live in Dominica as more than just an American who might be going home sooner than she thought.
Journal Entry from 11/8/00:
I think the reason why I am so down is because I don’t feel like Dominica is my home at all, but then, neither is America, anymore, either. It’s a horrible feeling, not being a part of anything. Yesterday I felt secure in the knowledge that what will be will be (Que sara and all that crap) but I am sick of uncertainty. I want to know for sure what’s going to happen.
My knee is still sore and swollen and I can’t walk on it too well. Since it’s been nearly two weeks since the accident, this concerns me. I haven’t written any letters for two weeks now because there’s nothing to write about. “Um, I stared at the wall, stayed in bed and played cards about a million times and listened to the bats or rats or whatever the hell they are squeak and scurry about in the ceiling. Hope you’re having a better day than I!”
The girls pulled out the books they’d gotten from the library this evening. I realized, for the first time, that Charlisa couldn’t really read and was skating by on Bria’s reading ability (which is absolutely phenomenal for a six year old. Hell, it’s phenomenal for an eleven year old. The girl has mad skill.) Charlisa and I then practiced reading for the rest of the night. I wish I discovered this sooner. The whole family was terrifically excited about it and I wondered why, if they all knew she had problems, no one had sat down with her to practice before? I also taught Jody the ASL alphabet and ate fried chicken. It was a good night. Marpin has been out for awhile and Jody kept mournfully turning on the dead TV. She wanted to watch “Boy Meets World.”, a show I had never watched until I came here. “We could act it out!” I told her. “You be Topanga; I’ll be Rachel and Charlisa and Bria can be Cory and Sean.” She laughed. The girl is seriously fun. We also sang goofy songs. I taught them the yodel song and the girls all jumped and squealed when I got to the grizzly part. Hee! These fun moments are the best thing about being here.
Journal Entry from 11/9/00:
I am moving in with Ashley in Marigot next week. My village is definitely changing; we’re just not sure of where I’m going yet. It all depends on what happens with my knee. Everything is impeded since I can’t walk. I get tears in my eyes, though, when I think of having to leave this family. I love them so much. I practiced reading with Charlisa again and she got all emotional because I made her go over words that she keeps getting wrong over and over again. I hugged her and told her how smart she was and what a good reader she was. I decided to make a bunch of flashcards for her to practice with after I am gone.
Journal Entry from 11/14/00:
Well, my birthday sucked. We all got together for a Halloween/Meag’s Birthday party up at Sheila’s apartment over the weekend. The party was fun; Ash and I made our costumes out of leopard print material we bought in town—We were Pebbles and BamBam. It was fun to play party games and such. There was a lot I couldn’t do over the weekend, though. They all went to the beach and I had to stay behind because I couldn’t walk that far. We also went up to Red Rock near Pointe Baptiste. (Red Rock is a beautiful moonscape made of red clay.) As we emerged over the horizon, we saw the moon—bright pink, pearl like and simply huge--emerging over the ocean. Behind us, the sun sank in a fiery farewell over the mountains. Everyone climbed down the side of Red Rock, but my knee prevented me from doing so. Instead I sat on my sarong and watched the moon continue to rise. I felt very alone and sad. If I’d actually been alone, I would have been fine. But I was with a lot of other PCVs; some of whom I really don’t like. I looked at the stars and the full moon and was startled to think “I wish I was here with my homestay family or my friends from home, instead.” It was a shame that one of the most beautiful things I’ve experienced in my life had to be with a group of people…a few of whom I fervently wished were not, in fact, there. The moon was exquisite and made me feel very peaceful and it helped me to make a decision. I want to go home. I am not going to ET, but if I get sent home it will be okay with me.
Yesterday, my actual birthday, was awful. I made flash cards for Charlisa and Bria and waited for my family and friends from home to call me to wish “Happy Birthday”. And the phone did not ring. I read some. And still the phone did not ring. We played cards. And the phone did not ring. Didn’t anyone remember my birthday? What was going on? I picked up the phone to call my mom to remind her that she should be calling me and found that there was no dial tone. The phone line was dead. My efforts to fix the problem was unsuccessful. I went into my room and cried…eventually falling asleep, despite the fact that I didn’t think I could. I awoke early and called Mom around 6:00 a.m. She sang an adapted version of Happy Birthday with new verses about how she’d never not talked to me on my birthday. Whereupon, I cried again. She said that everyone was trying to reach me and they kept getting a recording that the phones were out. Evidently they were out all over the island for the first time in years.
Journal Entry from 11/16/00:
I am in Antigua. Yup. Antigua. A lot has happened to get me here (and, for the record, it is not a pleasure trip, no matter how much I’d like it to be.) I got here last night. Rose called me on Tuesday to tell me that I would be leaving on Wednesday for Antigua to see a specialist for me knee since it still wasn’t getting better. I was excited, but subdued. Flying into Guadeloupe for our ten-minute layover, I saw my first glimpse of an actual city in four months and BIG planes. Wow. My eyes, I’m sure, were huge. I like the underdeveloped Dominica much better than this touristy place.
The hotel in Antigua is really nice. I have hot water. I put my things in my room and went to the lobby for dinner and sat alone in the open air dining room. It was cool and breezy and I had a glass of wine hoping to relax a bit. I wasn’t sure what to feel. I am 26 years old. I am in the Caribbean, ostensibly to help, but that’s not what I—or any of us, I think—have been doing. This morning I took my second hot shower in less than 12 hours, had breakfast, and came back to the room to wait for my cab to the doctor’s appointment. I’m nervous. I don’t know what I should want, but I do know what I do want. I hope I get sent home. It makes me sad to think that maybe my Peace Corps experience is going to be over soon. I think about all the excitement and optimism I had before I left and I want those feelings back. I was confident. I was fun. I was nice. I wasn’t so defensive or lonely or sad all the time. I wasn’t living on the fringes’ of my friends and family’s lives. And I could be doing something I like while simultaneously making a difference. Then I think about all the things that I haven’t done here yet and I wonder if I should want to stay more. But those things are not enough for me.
Journal Entry from 11/17/00:
I don’t know what to think or feel. I pretty much told Patrick and Rose today if Washington does not Medically Evacuate me I am going to ET. Yikes. Actually this is far too serious to be a Yikes. I think what I meant to write was Shit. Or maybe not. The doctor’s appointment did not go well at all. The stupid ass tried to tell me that the reason I’d dislocated my knee was because the muscle tone in that leg was poor. (No shit, Sherlock! I’ve been lying down per doctor’s request for three weeks! What do you think muscles do when they’re not in use? Could it be… nah… atrophy?) So he proceeds to tell me that I need to build the muscle in that leg back and I’ll be fine. He recommended two more weeks of complete bed rest, then me coming back for another visit. I had to fight the urge to get snippy with him. I can not stand two more weeks of bed rest. No way.
Our flight was canceled last night because we couldn’t take off due to bad weather, and then it was too dark to land in Marigot since there are no landing lights. We were put up in a fairly nice hotel in Antigua. This morning when riding to Roseau, I made my decision. You see, I realized that I was looking at Dominica differently; sort of like a visitor. The people seemed friendlier, the mist more mysterious, the trees more green. I’ve always thought the island magnificent, but I saw it through new eyes this morning. I can’t keep pretending my knee is not a mess. Fuck it all. I need to have this leg checked out and if they aren’t going to Medevac me, I’m going to ET. One way or another I am going to be in the United States next week. (This is not an easy decision to make and there’s all sorts of emotions attached to that, but I’ll get to that later.) So I sat down with Rose while she read the report, which I still maintain blows off the injury. My knee is clearly still two times its normal size and I pointed this out, along with the fact that I should be in physical therapy, not resting in bed. So Rose is doing a Field Consult with Washington and under the circumstances, I suspect they will Medevac me. They should respond in 72 hours.
I finally got proactive and it hurts me to know that it is proactive in a quitting sort of way. Best case scenario: I am Medvac’d. My knee is okay—heals nicely—and I get to come back. I don’t want to think about the worst case scenario. I don’t want to ET, but it’s been so hard keeping my head above water. I simply can’t do it anymore. I need to be somewhere where my knee can heal properly. I don’ t want to not be able to walk when I’m 50 because I wanted to finish the Peace Corps when I was 26. But when I write that I am filled with a yearning to do just that. I want this to work out so badly. But I cannot glorify it. I can’t; now that I’ve made the decision, view this through rose-colored glasses. Things have sucked. I’ve been sad and lonely and depressed. I hate being so limited in a country in which it is not easy to be limited. But at least the not-knowing has ended. I know I’m going home. I just don’t know how yet.
Journal Entry from 11/19/00:
Still no word from Washington. I wish they’d hurry up already and make their decision so I can get on with mine. Dada has been sick. When I got home on Friday the house was really quiet except for Dada moaning. Then the neighbors and family and friends all came over to take care of her. Jody and Furmine were also desperately ill and when I felt Jody’s forehead it literally felt like a stove. I’ve never felt a fever that high. It made me worry that they had Dengue Fever, but Nelly said that it was probably just the “running sickness”. Aside from my knee, I’ve been very healthy so far. No colds. No flu. No bronchitis. Just a few migraines. I’d trade in these chigger bites for a day of a stomach bug, I think. I am lucky the mosquitoes don’t bother me. They land on me, and probably even bite me, but I don’t get the welts.
(Later) I feel sad. It’s my last night in La Plaine. I’m moving in with Ashley tomorrow. All the remaining things I have are packed. I’ve decided to leave the family the $100 fan I bought because they have been so kind to me in a lot of ways and I want to leave them something useful. The kids were just dancing in the kitchen. Cute. It made me think of one of my first days in St. Lucia when Amara and Avylon and I danced to the Thong Song. All of a sudden I am feeling very strongly the confusion about this length of time. That memory seem so long ago and like yesterday all at once. I refuse to believe that this could be all over this week. I have my very own kitchen yet to dance in. I haven’t woken up in the morning knowing I had a day of challenging but fulfilling work ahead of me. I am going to miss these girls and this family, either way, and for some reason that surprises me. I have been in home stay for nearly four months. It makes me smile to think that there was once a time when I honestly believed I couldn’t go two weeks. There was a time when I thought I couldn’t go four days without seeing the fellow PCVs. Now, I really feel like weeks could pass and with the exception of Ashley and Marie, I would be okay with that. I want a chance for this not to be the end of my Peace Corps saga. I deserve to start a new journal… not end with this one. I want to light my own stove and color pictures on my porch with the local children and drink that glass of wine after killing that spider while listening to Rocket Man and re-reading Ryan’s letter at his suggestion. I want to go river bathing again and fill out a quarterly report and to feel pride and excitement at what I’ve accomplished. When people ask what I did in Dominica I don’t want my answer to just be “joined the Peace Corps” I want it to be laughed with the locals, talked to the children, played in the sun, held hands, hugged, listened, learned, taught, climbed mountains, made new friends, wrote lots of letters, journals, stories and poems, watched the sun rise and set, lived in Dominica. And, oh yeah, I did it through the Peace Corps but that’s not all or even mostly what I was. I want to be a Dominican… if only for two years… not just a PCV.
Journal Entry from 11/22/00:
I’m at Ashley’s, but I feel like hell. Right after I finish bragging about how well I’ve felt since I get here…shit, even my fingernails are healthier than ever… I come down with some sort of hell flu bug thing that has me battling a 105 degree fever, aching all over and alternately shivering and sweating. And I STILL don’t know my fate yet. And my fucking eyeballs feel like someone is trying to dig them out of my skull with an ice cream scoop. Rose said I should know today about the Medevac, but she flew off to Antigua without bothering to call me and give me a head’s up. Mom called Peace Corps Washington and explained our concerns. Once again I have fallen through the cracks. (Which leads me to wonder why I want to try and do this thing?!) I can’t write anymore right now. I feel too sick. I don’t think I’ve ever felt this bad in my life. I honestly think I am dying. Someone please take my eyeballs away from me. I honestly don't want them anymore.
E-mail to Family and Friends on 11/27/00:
Dengue Fever: a mosquito-borne virus characterized by severe muscle and joint pain, weakness, lethargy, extreme pain behind the eyes and in the frontal head region, high fever, and rash. Fatalities are rare, but not unknown.
Y'all are going to start thinking I'm making this stuff up. I know you're wondering...is Meagan writing this from the good old state of Maryland yet? Is she home yet? Why haven't I heard from her lately? Has she forgotten me completely? Well, my dear little chickadees, this is because someone or something is hell bent on making my Peace Corps experience as challenging as possible. Last Thursday, after three days of feeling like hell, I was admitted to the hospital in Roseau, Dominica with a fever of over 104 degrees, severe muscle and joint pain, extreme pain behind the eyes, weakness, lethargy, nausea, and...oh yeah...a rash. And a cough. Which was worrisome because one of the forms of Dengue can be fatal and it's the one that produces, among other things, Hemorraghic Pneumonia. Does all this paint a picture for you?
Yup. Your wandering friend has Dengue fever. Anyhow, Washington, D.C. was reluctant to fly me home in my severely ill state so they left me lying in a disgusting hospital infested with ants and spiders...and just to give you a more illuminating idea of what this hell hole was like, let me share with you a bit from my first introduction into a third world hospital. Keep in mind, I've never been in the hospital at all before, let alone one in another country.
A male technician wheels Meagan in a wheelchair, into a tiny back room off of a ward of thirty people. She just lucked out to get this room. The ward, a wide open room packed with 30 beds, is full and the first bed that opened happened to be in the attached room in which they usually place highly contagious people. She immediately notices that she knows the one girl—she’s also from La Plaine and plaits the hair of Meagan’s host sisters--occupying the other bed and grins. Then her gaze drifts to the other bed. A sheet covers the rubber mattress. No pillow. No top sheet. No blanket.
Meagan: "Um. Could I have a pillow and a blanket, please?"
Technician: (sounding doubtful) "Are you sure you want one?"
Meagan: (decidedly) "Yes."
Technician: (looking even more dubious by the second) "Hmmm....Are you SURE you want one?"
Meagan: "Ummmmm.... Hmmm..." (trying again to get the right answer) "No?"
Technician: (happily) "Okay!" (he leaves)
I later learned some countries, Dominica included, require you to provide your own sheets and pillows and blankets and even your own stupid toilet paper! Fortunately Peace Corps looked out for me and brought me all the necessary stuff. This place was truly bedlam. The critically ill were right there next to the moderately ill. People were screaming in the night and throwing up and doing all sorts of painful sounding things and the nurses paid no mind. They paid no mind to me either and I really pissed them off when I asked why they were performing a blood test. I made them take the IV out of my hand because the bag kept running out and I was sick of watching my blood trickle up the tube. I really wanted to leave the day I checked in, but I was sick enough that they wouldn't let me. I just got out of the hospital today...still against doctor's orders, but I was going insane and I woke up to find ants crawling all over me, so I released myself, feeling my friend Ashley can take better care of me than those nurses were.
In any case, I'm still not feeling all that great, and probably won't be for some time. But Washington is sufficiently concerned about me now, that my flight home will almost certainly be Tuesday or Wednesday and between the Dengue Fever and the f*cked up knee, I'm certain that this will be a Medevac, not an ET. Which is good. I'll be in touch soon, I promise.
Journal Entry from 11/27/00:
Dengue fever. I fucking had Dengue Fever. And I still don’t know what the hell is going on in Washington. I guess it really doesn’t matter, though, because I’ve decided to ET. I’m fed up with the powers that be messing around with my fate. Everyone back home is rooting for me to return. Jess called last night—she’d been frantic when she heard I was in the hospital—and she asked me “How many different ways can this country tell you to come home?” And Elissa wrote “Meagan! Come home for good! I’m afraid to open your e-mails because of all the bad things that have happened to you!” I have to believe that Dengue Fever is my proverbial straw. I can’t be this strong anymore. I just can’t. There’s nothing left for me here, I know it. I’m angry at Peace Corps Washington. You’re supposed to hear in 72 hours the results of a Field Consult. It has been eleven days. That’s 264 hours… nearly four times as long as the maximum response time. I will go home this week. And I am going to write a very strongly worded letter to the Peace Corps expressing my concern. I know they have 7000 Volunteers worldwide to consider, but can I really fall through the cracks on every level? It makes me sad that my opinion and experience with the PC is so tainted now. Maybe it never was objective. I had such a
MangoElephantsDearExilePondsofKalambayiWaitingfortheSnowUndertheNeemTree opinion of it prior to arriving and I have to say I idealized it more than I care to admit. But even if I did idealize it, it’s not fair for my dreams to be totally trashed. There’s a reason for everything, though, I guess. It’s not going to be as hard as I thought to get on that plane now that I’ve made my peace with this. Three nights in a Dominican hospital were more than enough for me. I want to put my head in my mom’s lap and take a hot shower and a bubble bath and listen to Enya and fall asleep in my cold bedroom. I wonder if I will cry. Probably.
Jamie wrote me, though, that she’d joined the Peace corps to help people and to learn about herself and to make a difference. Somewhere along the way she got it all mixed up and the two became intertwined. Once she realized that, it was easier to let go. That’s very wise, I think. I didn’t join the Peace Corps just to join the Peace Corps. I did it for innumerable reasons, not the least of which was to involve myself in activities about which I was passionate and in which I believed I could influence positive change. I’ve not had that at all, so why stay? This is not about the Peace Corps after all. I’m sorry that it took me until now to see that, but I am not sorry that I came. Perhaps there was a lesson I had to learn. I’m sick of thinking and writing. I’m ready for action. I’m going to Roseau tomorrow to close my accounts and fill out ET paperwork. (Also for another blood test. My white counts were really low on the last one and Rose wants to be sure they’re up again…)
E-mail to Family and Friends on 12/1/00:
I am home in the States...arrived late last night after traveling all day...and have spent the entire day in medical appointments. Peace Corps finally medically evacuated me. (I actually closed all my bank accounts, told everyone I was ET'ing and filled out all the ET paperwork, but when Peace Corps Washington found out, they freaked out and decided that it was in both their and my best interest to Medically Evacuate me after all. So the original paperwork was torn up and new stuff was filled out and to make a long story short, here I am. An official Peace Corps Medevac.)
The good news is...I am home for good...
The bad news is...I have to have major surgery on my knee on December 13th that is preventing me from being able to return to Dominica. Dengue has me tired too....I wear out easily. You wouldn't think that spending only four months in another country would have me so much on sensory overload. Dominica has no stop lights, though, and I realized just today how cool...and annoying...they really are. And carpet. Carpet really is a good thing. So are bubble baths. And Chinese food. It is going to be awhile before I stop expecting men to stop me on the street and tell me how beautiful I am, though. You all may have to help me out a little bit on this last part.
Anyhow, I'll be sending happy little personal e-mails to you all in the upcoming weeks as my recuperation period is quite lengthy , but if anyone wants to call me before then, that's totally cool too.
I miss you all.
The Aftermath: What am I doing now?/Post-Service Reflection
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Story Source: Personal Web Site
This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Dominica; PCVs in the Field - Dominica; Dengue Fever; Criticism of the Peace Corps
By Anonymous (d137-186-141-99.abhsia.telus.net - 18.104.22.168) on Sunday, March 04, 2007 - 6:50 pm: Edit Post|
hey there, was reading your post on Dengue in Dominica (sucks, had it too in Haiti) but am wondering if the hell hospital you were in was in Marigot? was it the main one or were you in a village hospital? Thanks!
My Peace Corps experience in Dominica was much different than Meagan's. I taught secondary school mathematics at Portsmouth Secondary School from 1985 to 1987. I found that I would not change Dominica, let alone the world. However, I and my class of 6 volunteers to Dominica all fulfilled our 2 year terms. I enjoyed it tremendously and met people who mean a lot to me. After returning to Dominica for a visit in 2007, I reconnected with many friends from there.