03 January 2011

What It Could Have Been Like

A topic of intrigue for myself of late has been how disparate and unique my Peace Corps experience will have been from all of the returned PCVs I meet in future travels, even from other PCVs here in the EC and on my island.  To wit: the nature of PC interactions and influence in our daily lives is, I have to imagine, several orders more prevalent than the non-island norm.  Since most readers are presumably aware, to some degree, of my situation here on St. Kitts, I'll start by laying out a fictional, but what I understand to be entirely plausible, alternative scenario were I stationed in, say, Niger of Africa.

Settled once-for-all in my home that is comparable in nearly every way to the expected basic living conditions of the average-income citizen, situated in the village I will be expected to work and live in for two years, the few hundred people that inhabit my village will become my second family in time.  They already know me in short order and recognize me from great distances, long before I will be able to recall everyone's names.  But as I am a welcome outsider, for a time my inability to recall names or even communicate well in both French and the local dialect is forgiven.  The village nearest to mine is 50 miles to the southwest, about an hour-and-a-half jeep ride over the sand and steppe on the way to the capital of Niamey, which is another 50 miles beyond that.  The nearest PCV to me, on the other hand, is about 300 miles north along the national highway, about an 8 hour trip counting in rest stops, meals, and passing livestock, and not including unforeseen obstacles like tire blowouts, road impasses, and sandstorms.  The other PCVs say I'm lucky to be just 100 miles from the Peace Corps office in the capital, since I can conceivably ride into town, take care of important business like collecting mail from home (it's been a month since I checked last) and filling out Peace Corps paperwork and trimesterly reports, and still get back to my village in the same day.  For most of them, it is a full day's commitment, an entire day devoted to almost non-stop travel, just to take care of an hour's worth of business, maybe see the capital again while the sun is still up, then head back home the next morning, all the while being forced to miss the usual Thursday pickup game of soccer with the village youth.  A final note: the most remarkable thing to me about taking up residence here is that, even when away from my village and around people who clearly don't know me, because of my obvious difference in appearance, I am treated with inviting curiosity and generally welcome interest by most host-country nationals.  I am not treated as an outsider, but as a visitor, which provides a unique opportunity to engage in the Corps's second goal: share a little bit of my culture with my new neighbors. 

This is diametrically opposed in many instances to my experience here in the Federation.  Even compared to my fellow PCVs on-island, I have a very short trip into the capital (seeing as how I live within eyeshot, and sometimes earshot, of it), so while others have to at least budget between EC$5 and EC$7.50 for a trip into town, I can just walk with nothing to lose but a few hours and some lactic acid buildup.  Similarly, if PC staff has to visit on site for any reason, instead of a more typical, say, two-weeks notice, they have the freedom to literally call on their way.  This is all forgoing the mention of just having running hot water, electricity, and the DSL internet connection I am using right now.  I sincerely look forward to the conversations I have with future RPCV acquaintances about the expanse of differences in our respective experiences.

I gather a few shout-outs are due here.  Happy 30th anniversary, Mom and Dad.  The gift may or may not, in fact, be in the mail.  And congratulations to Meagan and Ryan on their engagement.  I can't wait to find out the date!

Please continue to pray for me, specifically for a healthy diversity of social interactions.  Granted, it's only been four months, and things will probably start getting more hectic when work starts up again, but for the meantime, it's difficult to get away from the pressing feeling of loneliness.

If I haven't already said so, Happy New 2011 to everyone.  Here's a new blog header to celebrate!

1 comment:

  1. So funny I was reading my friend Shauna's blog just yesterday and thinking the very same thing. She's in Swaziland and must cart water in a wheelbarrow from the solar powered well back to her home about 4 miles roundtrip once maybe twice per week. Another friend Stacey in Morocco is in freezing temps but enjoying her little l'madrasa (school) nonetheless. Our experiences are different yet the same. We are all being immersed into a culture very different from our own and learning more about ourselves each day.