This post was published in the Capital Journal as part of my regular column.
Sputtering through the Peace Corps rumor mill are horror stories of volunteers and their host families. A sibling stealing cash when the volunteer is at work or witnessing harsh, but part of reality, behavior between spouses or host mothers dropping in at 6 a.m. Some families aren’t on speaking terms with their host volunteer and some want to be involved too much.
When picking sites and making our preferences known, I originally wanted a site that was on a school compound. I liked the idea of living next to a hostel, where students from far away villages stayed, and developing deeper relationships with them. Mainly, I didn’t want to deal with the awkwardness and realities that can come with host families.
Yet, I was assigned to a post with a host family. I have my own house and toilet, but would be living on their property, twenty feet between our front doors. At almost 28, I had no interest in having helicopter parents to question where I was going each weekend or what I bought in town. I didn’t want to be looked down upon for bringing home a bottle of wine to enjoy with meals or when a group of fellow volunteers come to stay including a few male friends with whom my relationship is strictly platonic. I was also nervous of being asked for sweets or to use my laptop. I wanted my home to be my retreat area and I wasn’t sure I could get the kind of solace I needed to function each day with a host family.
When I moved to village, host mother immediately showed me where to get water and my host father gave the safest times and places to run. Without really knowing me, they adopted me as their American daughter.
They often bring me fruits and vegetables from their garden and fried bread straight from pots of hot oil. They allow me to charge my cell phone in their house, assuring me that I am “not troublesome.” When my host sister was married in June, I was a part of the celebration like all the other relatives.
My host brother helped me set up an adult English class for a few women in the village and my host father consistently asks about my work at school. They genuinely care about my happiness.
Yet, their involvement hasn’t been intrusive. If I don’t come out of my house for a few hours, they aren’t pestering me. They rarely ask for things, and what they do ask for doesn’t overstep my ideals of a volunteer-family relationship. They aren’t insisting to help me with every chore. They give me space and allow me to be independent.
It’s not always perfect but no family is. However, I was blessed with this incredibly caring and sweet family to ensure that I am safe and happy in a foreign land. When I can’t be with my true blood family, the one that it physically hurts to be away from, they are a good comfort. They don’t have to love me, but they do. They do because we are a family and that is how families work.