Sunday, June 7, 2009

2nd Year...

The latest news is that I am now officially a second year volunteer. My one-month mark just passed and was duly celebrated with mid-service medical exams, where I discovered I've been carrying around an amoebic parasite. It's some form of dysentary, so I've named him Larry. Fortunately it's been asymptomatic so I've felt perfectly fine.

Being a second-year also means that the new group of volunteers has arrived. It's been interesting to meet them, largely because it's so evident how far we've come in a year. Not just in terms of being physically adjusted and having acquired more language, but having a realistic perspective on what it means to be a PCV. Let me expand on that one. Peace Corps Training does NOT prepare you for what you are about to do. You get a little language and cultural training, some ideas of where to start, but largely, you figure this out on your own. You never really know what you're getting yourself into until you're there. That also means you don't know how you will react to challenges. It can be a little frustrating to talk to brand new kids who are so naively confident in what they will be able to accomplish in a year. You don't want to dampen their enthusiasm and confidence, which can go a long way here, but at the same time, you don't want to feed it, knowing they'll only be disappointed.

I have now been here for a year, and in a physical sense, I have nothing at all to show for it. No projects, classes, or physical structures. And I'm not alone in this. Some people get disillusioned with it, or just plain bored, and go home. We all have these ideas when we begin that we will have busy and fulfilling lives, and sometimes, that isn't the case. You spend an entire year trying to get a meeting with the right public official who won't take you seriously because your French is less than perfect. You spend 6 months trying to hire a tutor and then he comes to your lessons high with a prostitute, and then makes a pass at you. You try to meet with every local official you can, and without a translator and with minimal language training, communicate your purpose, and then end up being rejected. You find a potential project and a potential work partner, and they offend the wrong person and it blows up in your face. And then you just keep trying. You end up spending long days alone in your house when you just can't deal with hearing "You don't speak Tashelheet! You don't know anything!" one more time. And yet, you keep trying.

This is why I can't lay any blame on those who have gone home. It's frustrating to feel so useless, to have nothing positive to contribute on a daily basis, when you've sacrificed two years of your life, your money, your comfort, your family and friends in return for something that you think will be richly rewarding but turns out to be trying in every way. This is also why a part of me wants to punch in the face any new volunteer I meet who asks me "what projects have you done so far?" and I have to respond none, I'm still trying to find something. Then they give one another smug looks as if to say "that will never be ME." They'll learn soon enough, I suppose.

Before you start thinking that I'm jaded from being here, let me say that I'm really not. If I was, I'd have thrown in the towel already. In spite of my last year here, I still have hope that I'll be able to find someone to work with and get something done. I've made a few new contacts and had a few good meetings that hopefully will lead to a school health club in my village in the coming school year, a formalized women's association with plans to sell handicraft, and maternal health classes. If I have learned anything though, it's not to count my chickens before they hatch, so I'm going to keep pushing on those and if they don't work, I'll keep looking for something else. Thanks again for all the continuing support from everyone back home... I'll keep you all updated!


wide-eyed innocent said...

I so hear you. You've ... summed it right up. I love the newbies I've met, but they do highlight just how huge the gulf is between what I thought I'd accomplish and what I have accomplished. Le sigh.

Here's to the ongoing dream of the exponential growth curve. ;)


Ray said...

Mel! I'm so glad to hear about your experience so far. No matter where we go, what we do, who we are, some constant challenges are always there. There are the limitations of the world outside and people, and then there are our own limitations. You seem to be handling both with humor and grace.

Stay joyful,