The Peace Corps Volunteer job comes with lots of frustration and loneliness and the best, sometimes the only, remedy is America Time.
America Time is when PCVs get together to watch American movies and television and cook meals that aren’t readily found in our village life. Many times it’s nothing more than a single night of beers and swapping stories from the work zone, but it’s often the refresher one needs to get through the next week.
In the last month I’ve been out of village exactly four times – two were sports days with my students (post on that is coming later this week) and don’t really count, one was a Peace Corps committee meeting and the other a movie date with Hannah. They were all day trips and didn’t extend beyond 12 hours. Like a new mother, I needed a night out.
Our country director, a former volunteer, is pretty great about allowing us an occasional night out of village for this precious America Time. Early last week I sent out a desperate message to my closest neighbors about the need for a get together. Thankfully for my sanity, they agreed and we made plans for that Friday.
When I walked into another volunteer’s house – after getting lost along the way and being forced to give some bo-me my popcorn in exchange for a guide to his house – Grant and Evan were huddled around three screens: one with an early ’90s version of NBA Jams, another with Tosh.O and the third with some type of kung fu movie. I grabbed a Black Label and collapsed on the couch next to Hannah to share gossip and frustrations. Ariana showed up a bit later and the five of us spent the night discussing TV shows, books, the PC life and whatever else seemed appropriate at the time.
The next morning we woke up and headed to the mall in town. The mall seems like cheating in the hard-knock volunteer life, but I am fortunate to often have a small escape into the first world because I only live a few hours away. In two floors it houses an Apple Bee’s-like restaurant called Spur, fast food joints such as KFC, the best grocery store in the country, an Old Navy-type clothing shop, an office store great for markers and poster board, a movie theatre, a spa that I could never afford on my volunteer salary and a few house-hold item department stores. They also have an ATM, which allows me to avoid dreaded trips to the bank, and real bathrooms, which is a nice treat when you are accustomed to latrines.
Because it can be expensive, I don’t often eat at one of the restaurants and opt for something from the grocery store or a pizza. But it had been a long time since I was in town and with friends so we decided to stop at Renaissance, a charming café with decent coffee. We ordered up greasy breakfasts like the ones I long for from Fryin’ Pan or Cooks.
At 11, Evan, Hannah and I went to the lower level to catch the early show of “The Hunger Games.” I didn’t know anything about this movie (apart from that it is a book and there was a ridiculous explosion on Twitter and Facebook when it opened in The States) but anything is good in this theatre. Hannah and I’s first time there was to see “New Year’s Eve” – a likely terrible movie at home, but here it made us cry, laugh and deeply miss America. Movies treats that I will splurge on because they don’t make me feel so foreign and act almost like a temporary portal to home.
After the movie – which I did enjoy – we went to the grocery store. I browsed the aisles, dreaming of what I wanted to buy and I what I actually could on my volunteer salary. Still, I filled up four sacks, all of my necessities for the next month, including popcorn, lentils, ground coffee and soup packets. For some reason, like the movies, grocery stores make me think of home and wandering Hy-Vee at 11 p.m. on Sunday nights.
Once satisfied with the amount of retail therapy, Hannah and I went to the PC office to meet Grant and take advantage of the somewhat fast Internet. The office is the only place we can stream online videos so we watched “The Five Year Engagement” trailer because I am mildly obsessed with Jason Segel.
Before heading to our respective villages, the three of us went to a hidden gem we lovingly refer to as box-box and drank one more Black Label. We huddled into this small shelter built of sticks, plastic bags and boxes with some bo-ntate while a man serenaded us with cooing and light guitar.
In America all of these things are normal day activities, but in my village life they are luxuries. These 24 hours of American-like activities felt like a mini-vacation, one I desperately needed.
But, luxuries are only great because you don’t get them every day. As much as I miss some of America’s conveniences, I like the idea for an extended time away from them, living a life beyond the one I always knew. It makes me see the world in a simpler view and, when I do get to go to the movies, eat in a restaurant, chat in fast American English and shop in a grocery store, I am amazed and struck by wonder that these things were once the norm to me. And that’s kind of a fun way to live.