A Real Peace Corps Experience / by Alan Strathman

Below is a blog post that I wrote at the end of March and thought I posted. Tonight, as I was cleaning up my laptop desktop, I saw it. So here it is.

 

We are 9.5 months in to our 27.5 months of service.  Three months of training and 6.5 months of service in our schools and communities. And a couple of weeks ago we had, what was for me, a watershed moment (googling watershed moment is interesting). I have thought about it a great deal and have also talked about it with my fellow PCVs. This is what happened.

One of the key Peace Corps staff positions here is the Director of Programming and Training (DPT).  I assume it is a key position in every Peace Corps location. The DPT that was with us for training, a nice young woman named Sara, timed out of the Peace Corps so we have a new DPT. Our new DPT is a nice even younger man named Wes. Wes invited all the PCVs to lunch to begin to get to know us.

During lunch some of us were grumbling about this and that. Some of this was griping about the way things run at our schools, in our communities, and on the island. Some of this was grousing about the way the PC in our region functions.  Wes took it all in, smiled, and said, "It sounds like you are having a real Peace Corps experience."

Yes, that's right! I think it was beneficial for all to hear that this is the way Peace Corps service is. It is what it is. This is it. It functions here, in the Eastern Caribbean, like it does everywhere else.  And it's not going to change.  Cope.  Number 3 on the list of "Core Expectations for Peace Corps Volunteers" (see it here if interested) is: Serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary, and with the flexibility needed for effective service.  One can't serve under conditions of hardship without it sometimes being...hard.

Now, let me say this about that:

1. I want it to be hard. I was looking for a challenge.

2. In my days as a professor I said to many students who were struggling with some aspect of college life: If it was easy anyone could do it. And that would lessen the accomplishment. This is true of my experience here.

3. I hoped this would be a life-changing experience.  I needed it to be. I still do.  And I have discovered, many times over in fact, that from time to time during any life-changing experience, I find myself wondering something like, "what the hell was I thinking!" If you never wonder what you were thinking then it is not likely to be a life-changing experience.

4. Considering all the possible placements I could have received, and the difficulties I could be facing, I do not experience any real hardship.

Not having fast food available isn't a hardship; it's an opportunity. I cook at home more and have lost weight. (If you cooked like me you would lose weight too!)

Not being allowed to drive a car isn't a hardship; it's a rule.

Living in a country with inconsistent bus service isn't a hardship; it's an inconvenience.

Having to store everything in tupperware with tight lids, or in ziploc bags, or in ziploc bags inside tupperware with tight lids isn't a hardship; it's life on an island in the middle of the ocean.

Teaching at a school where things often don't operate as I think they should isn't a hardship; it's the reason the Peace Corps is here.  When Doug and I were in Martinique in December we often joked that we wished we had been assigned to Peace Corps Martinique.  But the reasons why we wished we lived there are the reasons why we aren't living there. Martinique doesn't need the Peace Corps. St. Lucia does.  When I find myself complaining about the workings at my school, or in my village, or on the island, I usually end the complaint with, "And that's why we're here!"

This is how it is. It isn't going to change. Now what are you going to make of it?!