Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Things I've Learned in the Peace Corps

Or Some Things You May Not Know about Life in the Peace Corps Peru

1) I am too impatient to wait for the rain to finish so I’ll walk down the street in the pouring rain while my Quechua speaking companions stare at me from their door frames. I guess there is too much “Wisconsin” in me to let a little think like weather keep me from where I want to be.

2) I am very paranoid. When you’re the only outsider in a small town it’s easy to think everyone is talking about you. When people look at you, say something quickly in a foreign language and then laugh, it’s even easier to believe they’re talking about you.

3) Drinking cold drinks at night makes you sick, as does forgetting to wear a scarf and hot showers in the morning. And it’s your own fault so don’t expect anyone to feel sorry for you.

4) Personal space is a figment of my imagination. Obviously it does not exist on combis or collectives but also when I am reading outside, drawing my World Map, or walking down the street. Small children, stop touching me for five minutes!

5) Even I have a limit to how much reading I can do in one day. Which is why I am sitting at my desk writing this blog entry in a notebook by candlelight because it’s pouring rain outside and we don’t have electricity.

6) Campo Social Studies: Everyone in the world believes in God. Except for the Chinese, who believe in Buddha.

7) That in my day to day life, I use a lot of water. I recently discovered this when we were without water for a week. Drinking, cooking, bathing, washing, laundry – water truly is a precious commodity.

8) One of the Peace Corps slogans is “The toughest job you’ll ever love.” For me, the toughest part of the Peace Corps isn’t the actual work (I love my youth group) but the isolation and all of the free time. If you really want to get to know yourself, join the Peace Corps. After two years, alone in the campo, you’ll either be comfortable with your own thoughts or crazy.

9) During a perpetual power outage, going to bed after dinner at 8:30 isn’t so bad. I actually view it as a treat. Until the battery on my iPod dies and I’m stuck in bed at 8:30 without the diversion of a good audiobook.

10) Bowel movements are acceptable dinner conversation. And coffee conversation, and late night at the hostel conversation, and call a friend to chat conversation. Peace Corps volunteers talk about poop… a lot.

11) I can adapt to more than I ever thought possible. Soup everyday – check. No electricity – check. No internet – check. No showers – check. Pit toilet – check. No Target stores – well, you can’t expect me to adapt to everything.

12) A letter, e-mail, or package from family or friends can really make my day, or even my week. And knowing that my parents are a phone call away makes an immeasurable difference.

13) Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Skippy Peanut Butter are the two best processed foods ever created. As my friend John William said, “This Mac and Cheese couldn’t be better if it had been made by Jesus Himself.”

14) There are things about Peru that I will never understand no matter how long I live here.

15) That when you join the Peace Corps your world becomes very small. You expect the opposite to be true – you move to a new part of the world, you meet people from across the States, and you immerse yourself in a new culture – there should be loads to talk about. But without a common history and updates on world events (Did they ever stop that oil leak? Is Obama still president? Did Feingold really lose the election?), most Peace Corps volunteer conversations end up being about life in the campo, Peace Corps policies, and Peace Corps gossip. And, of course, poop.

16) People will say anything here to please you – even if it couldn’t be further from the truth. This may be nice at the time but does not bode well for my general state of paranoia.

17) I will meet the friendliest people on collectives. On my last trip back to site, a friendly woman talked to me the whole trip – more than any adult at my site has engaged me thus far. Unfortunately, she doesn’t live at site and I’ll probably never see her again. But it made one packed like sardines ride a lot more enjoyable.

18) It is a sad, but true, fact that watching construction vehicles go up and down the road in front of my house is often the most exciting part of my day. It is especially entertaining when we’ve had rain all afternoon and the road is completely mud.

19) Eating potato skins will probably kill you. Beware!

20) It’s okay to go to the bathroom anywhere. Without shame. Even if that means urinating on the door to a latrine instead of going inside.

21) Nothing will ever go as planned. So I’m going to plan on things not going as planned and then, maybe, they’ll go as planned.

22) Peru is a breath-takingly beautiful country full of kind and wonderful people. But, as L. Frank Baum eloquently put it, “There is no place like home.” I can’t wait to be in Wisconsin again.

No comments: