Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Year Mark

So I have officially been in my site for a full year. It’s a strange moment. This is the moment where many volunteers have a “mid-service crisis,” where basically you feel like you have accomplished nothing and you wonder why you are so far away from home. I definitely had a moment of a mid-service crisis. It was the week before going on Thanksgiving vacation, and I had spent too much time in my own head. I began to wonder what I was really doing in Peru and feeling a severe sense of unaccomplishment. Which I know is not a word, but I can’t think of what the actual word should be.

I began to feel like a failure because I had not accomplished anything tangible. There were other volunteers building things, getting money like rain and seemingly moving with the fluidity of Michael Phelps. It was like I could look around and effectively say- you have accomplished nothing. And of course in this week of feeling hyper-unproductive I did what feels like nothing. It’s a vicious cycle.

During the week and a half of my mid-service crisis I began to feel the weight of isolation. For Peace Corps Peru I am one of the more isolated volunteers. I live in site 6 hours from the regional capital, closest mailbox, grocery store, and market, what can sometimes feel like everything. I am an hour from the closest volunteer. Although I started off in a cluster of 4 volunteers all within 1 and ½ hours either walking or in car it sometimes feels like I am living in the land of Murphy’s Law. 2 of them have left and let me tell you when you are on top of a mountain the difference between 2 and 4 is palpable.

I am also one of the lucky few that lives in a Claro only site. For those of you that have no idea what that means there are basically 2 cell phone companies in Peru, MoviStar and Claro. MoviStar is much more popular and the majority of volunteers have it and something called an RPM which allows you to call all other volunteers for free. I on the other hand have Claro and RPC. I can call a whopping 5 people for free. Two of them are my bosses. I don’t frequently call them to chitchat. So I either have to dish out dinero to call people or go running (literally) to hunt for MoviStar service. Although it is not a daily annoyance it can get burdensome at times.

Then I always look at my life and I feel absolutely ridiculous feeling isolated when there are 2 volunteers about an hour and a half from me and I do have the ability to call someone in emergency about 90% of the time. I remember I could be in Africa with no electricity to charge my cellphone. Or I could even be one of my fellow Huancavelica volunteers living without any cellphone service and colder sites. In which case I would probably die, since I’m already sleeping in 6 layers under 5 wool blankets.

That’s the funny thing about Peace Corps it can begin to play tricks on your brain. You can begin to think everyone’s projects are going swimmingly until people can’t leave for Thanksgiving because of abrupt changes in plans. Or that everyone is getting together without you because they are all so much closer, only to realize sometimes those exact people feel the same way. You never really know what is going on in another volunteers site, unless you live in the same site, because everything else is hearsay. You only know what they tell you. Even if they tell you the complete and total truth, you can never compare your work to theirs.

The program goals, lifestyles and pace of projects are entirely different depending on the size of your site, efficiency of your municipality, and whether you live in the sierras (mountains) or la costa (the coast). Even if you live in the biggest most organized site in the sierras your work comes to a standstill during the rainy season. You can’t construct, generally the population shirks and annexes you may have been working with can become inaccessible. Therefore a water and sanitation volunteer, who generally starts constructing faster due to program goals, in a large costal site is entirely different than a health volunteer in a small sierra site. It’s like comparing apples and steak. They are both food, but that is about where the comparison ends. They are not operating on the same resources. They do not have the same end in site. They may not even speak the same language, literally; in the sierras there is a lot of Quetcha.

Although I feel like every volunteer knows that they cannot compare themselves it is nearly impossible to not do it. Especially when you are feeling like your work is inadequate or your isolated and bewildered, which is the absolute last time you should be doing it.

I guess it sometimes feels jarring when you hear about people getting together and you cant do that much traveling. Or you totally misinterpret Peruvian news and think the new African American secretary of state had a sex scandal the CIA is investigating. Only to be told you are completely missed the mark. Go Spanish skills. Although to be fair they were cutting together the stories with a rapidity that probably confused Peruvians.

I guess the point that I am trying to get across is that the year mark puts you in an oddly pensive position. You are sitting there thinking about what you have accomplished in the past year. Trying to put it into tangible form and make sense of it all. Wondering if you have advanced in anything besides gaining a potato belly. It also forces you to redefine the word accomplishment. In the states for me accomplishment basically meant doing well in school, winning games, getting asked on out (sorry mom and dad). And pretty much none of that is relevant to my life here unfortunately. I do not qualify getting asked out by toothless 5 feet men as a self-esteem booster.

It is so easy to feel inadequate in the Peace Corps that you have to take the small moments in order to feel some sense of accomplishment. There usually is no easy quick fix and everything can seem like it is falling apart faster than you can repair it. Sometimes all you need is to get out of your own head. Go somewhere to escape and put everything back into perspective. A time to have those fleeting moments you have been so devoid of to remember why you came and what you are gaining.

I think I am a fortunate volunteer because I never came into the Peace Corps with the delusion that I was going to change the world. My dad set very realistic expectations of what I could gain. The best thing he ever told me before I came was that he became the man he is today because he got a chance to be outside of everything he knew and be completely free to figure out whom he was. When I was having difficulty in my first three months he put things in perspective. He was the only person in his program in the entire country and his socios refused to work with him after the first few months. It made me think you have to take things a day at a time. You can’t really go at warp speed in the Peace Corps, and happiness is just as important as the work. Because really without happiness what do you have?

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