Remember back when I wrote this post about the ups and downs of Peace Corps service? I told you about how Peace Corps gives us this lovely little chart meant to help us reflect on our feelings. In case you don’t remember (I don’t blame you; I don’t remember what I had for breakfast this morning. Curse you malaria prophylaxis!), it looks something like this:
Check out that dip at the 12 month mark. That, ladies and gentlereaders, is what is know as the “mid-service crisis”, where we purpose-driven volunteers begin wondering just what in good gravy are we doing here? We agonize about what we have or have not accomplished. We realize that we only have 15 months of service left, and then we’ll have to go home and try to justify what we’ve been doing for the last 27 months of our lives; perhaps to people who don’t know or understand the purpose of Peace Corps; perhaps to people who expect actual results after two years of a very fluid definition of success; back to parents and friends who will actually expect us to get jobs (oh! the humanity!).
As for myself, I am still in shock that I’ve even made it this far. As much as my wonderful friends, family, and readers remind me that I’m a tough lady doing tough things, I am more often than not (and I believe this is a technical term) completely freaked out that I even managed to get on the plane all those months ago. With the 1 year mark rapidly approaching, a change has come over me and many of my closest PCV friends that I did not expect: I sorta-kinda feel supremely irritated by pretty much everything. And I mean everything.
Zambia is full of little annoyances for the PCV: people are nearly always late to meetings (if they show up at all); AmaGuys (the hordes of usually young men who run mini-buses) are always yelling in my face, grabbing my arms, mocking me; people laugh at my attempts to speak; children scream MZUNGU at me as I ride by; I am constantly haggling down from the mzungu price; nothing runs on time…the list could quite literally be endless. Normally these are the everyday annoyances of every PCV. They happen, we deal with them, we move on. BFD.
But. Lately these things have started to drive me out of my mind. When my farmers didn’t show up to clear a field and plant rice (a crop with huge profit potential), I fumed with anger. When a man on the bus called me a booga (which is the white equivalent of the N-word), something I normally would have ignored or laughed off, I rounded on him in front of a bus load of passengers. When someone told me I look like I’m 40 instead of a spritely 27 (the African sun is surely the fountain of youth for skin, right?) I tried to burn anger-holes through them with my glare. When what was surely the ten-thousandth man to ask me if I’m married then proceeded to explain why I simply had to marry right away and bear my lucky husband many, many sons and cook him nshima, it was a magnificent feat of my personal strength and fear of going to Zambian prison to resist explaining to this man in explosive volume and at minimal distance just why he was a pig-headed chauvinist who could stir his own damn nshima thankyouverymuch. These feelings of intense anger, annoyance, and frustrating seemed to be bubbling out of control and were becoming explosive in nature. The jealousy, the pettiness, the alcoholism, the seeming (to me) lack of desire to change anything in our village; I couldn’t take it any more.
And this, my friends, is precisely why Peace Corps gives you vacation days.
On my way to Malawi where I spent my first lovely vacation, I shared these feelings with my provincial leader (PCVL), K. She’s what we call a “pretty rad chick” (another technical term) and gave me some great advice.
Almost all PCVs hit a point around their one-year mark where all the little things begin to bother you. They eat away at you. And (and she was surprised to learn during her own service), they never go away. Those annoyances and frustrations that make you reconsider every reason you ever had for being here don’t diminish. Instead, you have to decide how you will deal with them. K advised that volunteers usually make one of two choices, consciously or unconsciously: they either find their peace with it, or they become bitter and angry for the rest of their service.
K said she wished someone had explained this to her during her own service, because she kept waiting for those feelings to go away during her second year of service, and they never did. So she learned to live with them, to be productive and compassionate and a great volunteer (now in her 3rd year) despite them.
I realized then that this was the choice I also had to make. And it’s one that I will probably have to make every day for the rest of my service.
So, what is my choice? To find acceptance within myself for that which I cannot control and do what I can with the time I have here? Or to let those same things control me and bring out my ugliest side, a side which I loathe to feel. This may sound so obvious, and on the screen, it seems clear which way I should put my energy. But, sometimes it is easier to be angry and slam the door to my hut than it is to be stared at by grown adults. Sometimes it is easier to shout down those who laugh at me than to walk away. But, I know that it is never easier to fall asleep those nights, wishing in the clarity of hindsight that I had made a different decision.
So, I have 15 months of a daily choice. I won’t always succeed when I try to overcome that darker nature, but at least I will choose to try.