I believe it would be all but impossible to find a Peace Corps volunteer who did not think it from time to time. But last week is the first time that Chris or I said it out loud. Maybe it is because the thought is less threatening than it was earlier in our service and the difference between saying it and actually acting on it is now separated by a much safer margin than it used to be. “Of course I think about it”, I answered. “It crosses my mind nearly every day”. But as we casually discussed the sinful thoughts we all share of getting the heck out of here, I think we also stabilized our commitment to fulfilling our volunteer pledge in full.
Not surprisingly, life in a foreign land is challenging. Those who have lived abroad can tell you the difficulty of…well…EVERYTHING. I’m not just talking about a new home, a new job, a new language, new culture, and new environment. I’m talking about the (formerly) simple things that we do every day. Eating, drinking, bathing, sleeping, shopping, and commuting, and so on. It all takes a heightened level of energy to complete the common tasks, and for each task it takes a while to work up enough gumption to get the job started.
Our presence here falls somewhere between freak show and movie stars. It is impossible to step foot outside of our home compound without being called to, stared at, carefully ignored, or enthusiastically greeted by each and every passerby. Every small child craves a wave from the passing “obruni” (white person). And the children with greater vocabulary commonly ask for money (since it is assumed that all obunis are wealthy).
Combine the lack of anonymity and daily challenges with the heat and humidity and you find that the daily grind can really suck the energy out of you.
On the other hand, the daily grind makes the actual work feel like a welcome distraction. It’s fun to consider the possibilities of an eco lodge/artist community/national park tourism when it takes your mind off the fact that you have a pile of super stinky clothes in the corner that must be washed but the electric is down, the water pipes are only trickling, and maybe you shouldn’t wash anyway because it looks like it’s going to rain.
As an escape, Chris and I have always enjoyed going out for walks, bike rides, and generally getting out and exploring. Here, (once we psyche ourselves up enough to go beyond the gate), we typically assign a certain amount of time to our outings, “Let’s go down this path for 45 minutes and then turn around and come back”. Inevitably, when the allotted time is finished one of us will say “Let’s just go up around the next corner to see what’s there”, or “Let’s just keep going to the top of that hill so we can see what’s on the other side”.
Now, as we continue our Peace Corps Odyssey, I am guessing that both our commitment and curiosity will carry us through. Sure it takes some added energy, but it’s just too darn intriguing to discover what lies around the next bend!