I used to think that being a Peace Corps Volunteer was hard because of the sacrifices. Two years without big family holidays, coffee with a close friend or an income. Learning to cope without electricity, running water, reliable (and comfortable) transport and other modern machines that are now mind-blowing to me – washing machines, blenders, DVRs, ect. There are no 24-hour box stores or sandwich shops in my village and trips to the ATM and post office last hours. Yet I knew those things were part of the deal, but what I foolishly didn’t expect was that I would also give up privacy, understanding and being understood.
Then I thought they called this “the toughest job you’ll ever love” because of the emotional punching bag. My lack of patience, self-awareness, confidence and love for myself are much deeper issues than I ever recognized and my anxiety has hit new levels. Each decision and sentence uttered out of my mouth is matched up against who I was and who I want to be for examination and I feel strong alone in my rondaval but weak with others. I try to hold on to friendships lost when I decided to veer off onto the dirt road and can’t accept that the others kept driving on without looking back. My emotions are the ball of a pendulum, from happy to depressed, loved to alone. I know I am growing and learning to accept myself, but there is still a part of me that sees the mess that needs to be swept up and tidied before my feet touch American soil again.
I now see how self-centered and hollow these views are a year into this experience. Yes, sacrifice and emotional stress are part of this life that I have willing sought out, but, even though we are technically on duty 24 hours a day and seven days a week, they are not the job.
This job is tough because I am not sure that what I am doing is actually helping anyone, my main reason for giving up a comfortable life and barreling through the endless feelings. In year one, I have no project that I can hold up as proof that I have done something of value, made this village a bit better because of my existence. Any success that I’ve had seen are insignificant and personally bloated so I have something to keep nagging voices at bay. Things I’ve tried to start have failed for one reason or another and my students do not appear to be any better off. I’ve tried to help my community help themselves but maybe it’s me. Or maybe it’s them.
What scares me the most is that maybe it is me. Maybe I am not trying hard enough. Maybe I am relying too much on locals to take more initiative. Maybe I give up easy at the hurdles. Maybe I need to push harder when someone says it can’t be done. Maybe I am too wrapped up in my own personal non-sense that I am not serving my village the way swore I would. Maybe I need to give more.
Although it is utterly sweet, I hate when people say I am doing good work or making the world a better place. Truth is, I am not and there is nothing to prove otherwise.
Last week, during pre-service training, which I was helping with, one staff member said that most volunteers are dissatisfied with their after the first year. Although he was speaking to the trainees, I felt he was actually talking to the other two members of my group in the room and me when he said, “It comes together in your second year.” Maybe, as the PC fairytale goes, I will inspire one of my students to become a doctor or political leader. I may never know about it, but the optimism in the unknown is reassuring. Or maybe one of those projects will finally fall into place and people will understand my role doesn’t involve handouts.
I fear none of that will happen. I’m concerned that I will have nothing to say when I get home and have to explain the last two years. I worry that my students and village will have not changed at all and that I was just someone who came and went. I am terrified that I will fail at what I set out to do here.
When a project falls through, like many have in the last year, I wonder if I just met the wall or if I just didn’t work hard enough to scale it. These thoughts rot in my stomach. I want to be good at this job, but I don’t know if I can. Each hurdle, each doubting thought, each failure is what make this job tough. Nothing – not even bosses with high expectations, unforgiving readers, short deadlines, uncooperative sources, long hours, trying to start a publication with almost no financial support or the names I’ve been called for working in the media – matches how tough this job is. Nothing.