I had the amazing opportunity to speak with the new cohort of GYD (Global Youth Development) students tonight (yay technology!). They asked some great questions about how the program prepared me for my service, what I’m doing during community integration, gender roles here and how they’ve effected me, projects I’m thinking of doing, how to teach about HIV/AIDS when I’m not allowed to teach preventive sex ed, etc. With each answer I gave, I felt like I was becoming more and more of a Donald Downer (I’m trying to break some gender stereotypes here humans, bare with me).
But this is the truth about Peace Corps, if you’re going to be an effective volunteer who can handle this type of work, you have to know what you’re getting into. Peace Corps is not all rainbows and unicorns; everyday we face new challenges. Those challenges can be worries that we’re doing something wrong, not knowing how to handle the corporal punishment we’re hearing in the next room, not having running water or access to water, getting tired of constantly being a show pony or being free game to be touched and poked and prodded by every person in your community, working in a corrupt system, being far away from your support system, dealing with loss and grief, etc… (All but one of these already applies to me. I’m happy to say I haven’t witnessed corruption). Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of rewards as well, but in the end, the challenges are what make or break your service. You can have countless amazing things, but one major challenge that you aren’t prepared for can break you.
This environment is no joke; emotions are always more extreme than you expect here. Learning one new Setswana phrase can make me happy for days and thinking about how much I wish I could be watching the new season of Grey’s Anatomy can make me cry. That’s a small exaggeration, but barely. Anyway, the point is, where is the line between realism and Donald Downerism?
I think it’s important to share every aspect of Peace Corps. And everything I said was true, it may have been a harsh reality, but reality’s a necessary bitch, isn’t he? And if you’re really considering Peace Corps, it shouldn’t surprise you much. Even the Peace Corps themselves used the slogan, “It’s the hardest job you’ll ever love”. One of the stories I remember the most from an RPCV who served in Tanzania, was a gruesome story of corporal punishment and lack of power over those situations as a PCV. Yes, it was hard to understand how people could do that to children, but in the end, that story increased my resolve to become a volunteer because I knew what I was getting into.
If you’re a little squeamish and don’t like peeing in a bucket and dumping it out your window (it beats the alternative of going out to your pit latrine in the dark and being eaten by a giant cockroach or having one crawl up your bum, seriously), don’t think you could sleep through plaster dust falling all over you because it’s a windy night, don’t think you could sit back and just listen while your counterpart gives a presentation on learning challenges with completely false information, or sit in the next room while you hear the standard 1 teacher hitting kids who are sobbing, this job may not be for you and I totally respect that! I personally would be a terrible plumber or massage therapist, but there are great people out there for those jobs. So it’s OK that I’m not trying to do those jobs. It’s just extremely important when you’re going to make a commitment like this to see it from all sides. It’s a multifaceted world we live in, don’t treat it like it’s two dimensional. So, anyway, I’m kind of glad I was a bit of a Negative Nate. My sugar tooth is waning here anyway, so all that sugar coating just doesn’t sit well on my tongue anymore.