This is a topic I’ve been contemplating, especially since my latest coping mechanism involves dodging site. We all joined Peace Corps with notions of what our lives should or shouldn’t be like. A year and a half later I still don’t know if there’s a set definition for what it means to be a PCV, much less a good one.
When I found out I was coming to Uganda, I researched as much as I could about this tiny country. I thought I’d be living in a mud hut, isolated from civilization, never speaking English, and eating bugs with my neighbors. Aside from the bug eating part, I couldn’t have been farther from the truth. I live in the doctor’s quarters of a health center in a house that is bigger than my apartment in America. Granted, I don’t have running water or consistent electricity, but my house is pretty ballin’. Life here is nothing like I expected it would be.
I didn’t think I’d get super close to other volunteers and was genuinely shocked at how quickly I became part of a family with my training group. These people have been the foundation to my success here and without them my life here would have been bearable, but not nearly as enriched.
As volunteers, we tend to get a complex about being a “good PCV.” Does it mean we’re not supposed to leave site to socialize with each other? Does it mean we shouldn’t splurge every once in a while on “American” food and luxuries, like Heinz ketchup instead of tomato sauce, and decent shampoo? Does it mean we shouldn’t allow ourselves access to daily internet? The longer I spend here the more I realize I don’t have to deprive myself from the things that give me joy, I don’t have to limit my happiness in order to be a good PCV.
Does being a good PCV mean you close yourself off to the outside world? Absolutely not. To me, it’s about sharing experiences and growing as a person. I’ve learned more about myself in the last year and a half than I did in all of my college years. I’ve changed as a person. I’ve begun to realize how short life really is and just how quickly time passes (I only have 9 months left??). I’ve stopped holding back as much and I’ve opened myself up and shared myself with people.
So what If some of us pay for someone to cook us dinner or to wash our clothes, does that mean we’re not “Peace Corps”? If something contributes to your overall wellbeing and doesn’t harm anyone in the process, then do it. I’m tired of getting caught up in the immense guilt of constantly trying to “be more PC.” Life here is hard enough as it is and only gets unnecessarily harder if I limit myself by falling victim to this mindset.
I like to think I’m a good PCV, but then again I’m biased. I have a dog and an internet modem and make up that makes me feel feminine and pretty when I wear it. I have 2 phones and 4 different network sim cards to be able to connect and stay in touch with volunteers here. Communication keeps me sane and reminds me that I’m still at least a little normal and haven’t turned into a total freak show here. I have a truly incredible boyfriend who continues to help me grow into a better person, and a better volunteer. Without that constant support and encouragement from him and my best friends here, I wouldn’t be happy. I wouldn’t be as strong as I have been to deal with what Uganda, and life for that matter, throw at me.
I would still be “PC,” but my life wouldn’t be nearly as satisfying as it is now. If I am happy and emotionally and mentally stable, I get more work done and more fulfillment out of the work that I do. If I’m not happy and emotionally sound, then I’m not worth anything to the people here.
The one thing I know with absolutely certainty is that I refuse to close myself off to happiness. PC doesn’t always have to mean suffering. Of course life here is way harder than it is in America, but at the end of the day, I know I’m doing good things here. I’m focused and determined and I know when I need to take a mental break from site. To me, being able to maintain that balance is what it means to be a good PCV.