Why this job is tough

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.


9 thoughts on “Why this job is tough

  1. Heather there is one, actually a brother who knows exactly how tough your job is. He walked in dirt from town to town sharing news with people who would not listen and actually made fun of him. He just wanted to make a lasting difference in their lives but they did not know this until it was too late and….they hung him on a cross. He is our brother, Jesus, and you are making a difference – many will remember you long after you have returned to the states and will wisper in the night when they feel all alone. She loved me…..Jesus loves you and hurts for you at the right hand of the Father. This second year will be awesome if you can trust that we don’t always get to see the outcome of our efforts. Just know that great seeds are being planted in young lives.
    Please continue writing – many of are living our adventure through your life story.

  2. I know it’s hard to not be so hard on yourself but you are making an impact. In Niger, I too did not have a huge project like the volunteer that preceded me did but, my villagers loved me just as much, for different reasons. She did a lot in a volunteer sense and started student governments. I did a lot more social work, by that I mean socializing. To this day, people still ask about all the volunteers that have been in my village and I’m sure it will be the same way for you. Just remember there is more than one goal for Peace Corps and you are definitely making an impact. You’re bringing a new perspective, a new model of what Americans are and can be. That is something bigger than any of us can comprehend. But, having my husband here, transplanted from Niger. I can see even more about the importance of just being there, present in the village, among the people. Du courage!

    • Jessica, I love imput from RPCVs. I apprecaite all of your support and thank you for reading. It truly means a lot to me.

  3. Oh Heather, I’d love to give you a hug. And then I’d remind you that the Peace Corps cocktail is two parts cultural and one part pragmatism. It’s never been about making a difference you can see. It’s always been about Peace and Friendship. It’s not called the Development Corps, ya know? 🙂
    Also, you gotta follow your instincts. If you encounter hurdles and you don’t feel like it’s your job to jump over them, then just don’t do it. If one thing is certain about working in rural villages, and it has become clear to me that it is a global phenomenon, from Africa to Central America, it’s that rural people just don’t “need” progress like others do. I mean that they’re lives won’t necessarily be worse off without social projects. I know one thing, Heather, and it’s that you always do what you can with all the passion you have. Don’t doubt your passion. And try as hard as possible to remember that your service belongs to something bigger than you, and bigger than your village.
    Lastly, remember that what matters is your attitude. My service hasn’t been so much different from my first year (failure) to my second (acceptance of failure). I know somewhere in your heart you know that the relationships you have are the most important thing there is. And I would always say that the world is NOT your fault. Do what you can and take each day as a lesson. You’re amazing. Keep it up.

    • Mason, I have read this comment several times. You are simply amazing. Thank you for all of the support and encouragement. You have reminded me why to keep going. I know that you are doing simply wonderful things and I am so glad that I know.

  4. My impression is that many PCV’s (and other volunteer workers as well) are frustrated because their efforts as originally planned are often stymied. Please remember, though, that many times we never really see the true fruits of our labors. Think back on the many people and events that have shaped your own life. How many times are you yourself the only one aware of these effects and influences? If you are like me – many.
    Follow your heart – do your best – it IS enough. You are blessing people and making the world better in ways that you might only OCCASIONALLY see but ALWAYS need to believe in!

  5. Pingback: Mistakes | Heather Marie

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