To never have to start a sentence with "I wish I would have..."


The contents and opinions of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What makes a good Peace Corps Volunteer?

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.

Friday, July 8, 2011

When it rains it pours

There are two things I hate the most in Uganda: getting sick and transport. These past few days the stars aligned and I was fortunate enough to be blessed with both.

Since my PTC shut down, I've been out East doing AFRIpads presentations. 11 presentations, 400+ pads, and hundreds of girls in two weeks. It's been equally awesome and exhausting.

Towards the end of my Eastern trek, I managed to get some sort of nasty cold as well as some pretty wicked flu symptoms. Being away from site and being sick just puts me in a crappy, negative, even depressed mood. Traveling is exahusting and, when paired with being sick, it's downright debilitating.

Turns out I had a bladder infection and schisto. Fun stuff. I was looking forward to getting back to site, turning off my phone, taking a boatload of meds, and getting back into the swing of things. Aside from taking a boatload of meds, everything else was a disaster.

Long story short: My principal continues to be a very corrupt man, "mismanaging finances." And it turns out he was transferred from the last college he worked FOR THE SAME REASON. Peace Corps knew this and willingly gave him another volunteer. What I didn't know was that the Ministry of Education only wanted him to get another volunteer to help correct the budget and money management. Woah, I'm finding out a year later this is what I'm supposed to be doing? No thanks.

The list goes on...Brother Lawrence turned in his keys and quit because, big surprise, the principal refused to pay him. My principal made a blatant pass at me bordering on sexual harrassment in the middle of my having, what I thought was, a serious conversation with him. On top of all this I took my last round of schisto meds and passed out for a good two days. I'm talking didn't get out of bed and barely woke up. Nasty stuff, I felt like death.

Throw in my post office closing down (again), the secondary school calling to say Buzi killed 3 sheep and that they are going to kill him (when the brothers watching him said they didn't know anything about this and Buzi has been well behaved the whole time), and someone stealing a brand new roll of TP from my latrine (I've been here a year+ and have never had to lock my latrine!) It's been a hell of a week.

Oh, and did I mention that Peace Corps wants me to "seriously consider moving sites" due to all the financial crap going down at the college? After integrating into my community and becoming family with some of the people there the thought of moving brings me to tears.

Such is the continuous roller coaster that is Peace Corps. You have incredible highs, and then you have incredible lows. This is definitely one of my lowest. Not to worry, I'll get through it...I always do.

Missing everyone.