This past year has been one of ups and down, moments of feeling like a great success, others of feeling like a complete failure. Taking a ride on the perpetual roller coaster of life that is the Peace Corps.
There were times where all I wanted to do was eat chocolate and watch an excessive amount of a new TV series, and don't get me wrong about half the time I wanted to do that, that is EXACTLY what I did. The other days where I was outside of my room the entire day running from meeting, to presentation, to class, feeling like the most productive person in the world.
Katie Campbell-Morrison in Peace Corps in Peru
One thing that is very important to understand about Peace Corps is that there is not typical day. There is no 9-5. Often people ask me what I do. I can give them a picture of my project and my life but there is not routine. Every volunteer can give you an outline of what would normally happen on that day, but rarely are there two days that are exactly the same.
Even if they have the same schedule every Thursday somehow each Thursday will crop up with a new and unexpected surprise. Things can seem like things are routine but if you write it down and think about it barely anything is routine. Even speaking Spanish is not a routine activity because about half the time you totally forget how to say the most basic sentence while some super complex sentence can come flying off of your lips.
This nearly daily change in pace is one of the best and worst things about Peace Corps. It gives you a sense of challenge, but also when the daily change is people arbitrarily changing their schedule on you it can be excruciatingly frustrating. The change of pace back to a normal work day is one of the things that scares me about returning stateside; the apparent monotony that could lay in the life ahead of me. The impending reality of grad school debts, the two weeks of vacation a year, a boss to report to on a daily basis, these are things I am not looking forward to.
There is a freedom attached to the Peace Corps that allows you to figure out who you are while you are working and through your work. Since you are by yourself about 60% of the time you have plenty of time to reflect on the actions of your past and the aspirations of your future. It's a strange time that you can use to its fullest or entirely waste. All I am really hoping is that I am a more than glass half full kind of volunteer.
Although I had my fair share of low points during this past year, something about this year feels somehow like a fresh start. I am continuing on some of the same projects as well as starting in with some new ones, the battles I face are different. My perspective is entirely altered from my first year in service, gaining knowledge and learning my own limitations.
Some of the boulders I have to mount are just as daunting as last years, such as making sure my community feels more responsibility for the improved cook stove project we are doing than I do, keeping my youth sex education group on track and raising money for my hopefully approved gran. These will not be easy tasks to surmount, but at the very least they are new barriers.
Some challenges may feel the same, but for the most part I am at a different point with my projects and with myself. One of my bosses actually quoted someone famous, I cant remember whom, but I will paraphrase. "It isn't if you have problems, its if you have the same ones as last year." Something along those lines and that is a very true statement.
Its not that I think that problems will magically go away, it's that I am facing different battles this year than the one before. It makes you feel like you are moving forward in some way or another. Even if it's not in the way you necessarily imagined.
The ups and down are such that, moments of joy and sorrow, I wont burden you with the downs; instead I will focus on the ups. Although the downs exist, they always will no matter where you are in life. It's is one of the unavoidable elements of life, its how you handle them that really shapes your future. The majority of the downs I have had I've moved passed easily. They were flitting moments of anger or frustration that did not leave and indelible mark on my life. These are burdens of a distinct time and place that were mostly resolved by getting just managing to get my head out of my ass.
There are others that I have had to learn how to accept. Some are things I will probably think about for the rest of my life. There are moments and issues that will form my perceptions for the rest of time and change my behaviors going into the future. Feelings that will never fade away they will only be resolved with perspective and time.
Interestingly some of them are from far back in my past, but having a chance to live outside of my comfort zone is the first time I have allowed myself to deal with them. These things from my first year or my life before Peru are the things that I can never truly forget will do a lot to shape my action in my second year, and hopefully make a more successful year. These are the pebbles that line the path of my life.
In the face of any world shattering low there are highlights that I will always be able to look back on. Moments that are distinctly Peace Corps and distinctly Peru, the times that make you happy to be alive and taking advantage of youth. Some of the distinct highlights in this year have been my moments with fellow volunteers. Getting in a paint fight during Carnaval in Cajamarca, climbing up sand dunes to watch the sun rise, nearly destroying a car by setting off fire works wrong, walking 15 km up hill both ways with Sperries on because there was no car to take us to the coast, getting stuck on the side of a mountain while doing a hike out of my range of skill and expectations. These are only a few of the memories that I will always cherish and would never have experienced without the Peace Corps.
The bonds I have forged, the memories I have mutually created with other volunteers and Peruvians is the cornerstones of my time here. The friendships that you form with a fellow Peace Corps volunteer are somewhat inexplicable. I feel closer to some people from the Peace Corps in one single night than others I knew from college for 3 years.
There is something about already having agreed to do the Peace Corps and sticking it out that makes you know something fundamental about a person that can take years to uncover with friends from other places. Even if you don't necessarily like the person you can trust that there is something good within them.
Friendships with Peruvians have a strange way of putting my own life into perspective. Sometimes things drive me up the wall, but for the most part it provides me with an entirely different life view that I can mold into my own. Take the good and leave the bad in order to strengthen myself as a person.
Even though finding my sense of belonging within my community took time, a lot of effort and many embarrassing moments, it was not as hard as I imagined.
There were a few people who put me at ease from the beginning, which helped to open up the doors to those more closed off. I don't know exactly where this year will take me but I know that at the very least I have the respect of the majority of the members of my community, something I did not have when I first got here. In fact some of the mothers I am working with now did not even talk to me when I first arrived in San Antonio de Cusicancha.
This paradox of easily making friends with volunteers while struggling with people in my site made me feel like a fish out of water a lot of times. In the end however, I realized that I demonstrated to me the traits that are universally appealing. The things that can make anyone trust you and open up to you, whether they are from New York City or a Peruvian mountain town of 200 where time seemed to stop circa 1650.
Before Peace Corps I was a hard nut to crack, a great listener but very reserved about my personal life and very slow to trust. Always sure to maintain some distance between myself and those who sought to become close. Eventually I would let people in but often I had my guards up for longer than was necessary. Somehow that has all changed here. And it seemingly changed in an instant.
In Peru my shell has pretty much dissolved and for all intents and purposes I am an open book. Don't worry there are still some secrets; everyone has to have something they hold close to the chest. But this is the first group of people where I felt like I easily belonged from the very beginning. A place where I felt like I had a purpose and nearly everyone else had some similar outlook on life that I did.
Someone willing to speak on my wavelength and able to understand me, an excruciatingly difficult task if you try to talk to me over the phone. There is always a person by my side to tell me to get my head out of my ass and really sometimes that is all you need. Not a hug, just a swift friendly kick in the ass.
This year has been filled with pushing my limits, realizing my limitations and overcoming personal and external obstacles. Its hard to say now how it will change me in the end, all I can say is it has, and I can only wait to see what happens in year 2.
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