Among the first things that a volunteer learns is this: we all go through very similar phases. Typically, the first six months is the hardest portion of service for any volunteer. Adjustments are still being made, the idea of years of service looms over their head, and often times they’re still detaching from their life in the states.
I’ll take a second here to apologize for not having updated my blog in a long time. The majority of my writings happen in moments of clarity inspired by something in my day-to-day life. Unfortunately, those moments have been few and far between lately. Over the last few weeks I’ve been sick, homesick, and dealing with a number of other issues. My thoughts have been very jumbled, and I haven’t been able to find the motivation to write. I haven’t felt that I’ve had anything of any real substance to say. But, as you may have surmised, that has changed tonight.
Why is being a Peace Corps volunteer so difficult? As I’ve said before, it’s not the lack of amenities. Those are minor adjustments in the grand scheme of things. I think I’m starting to recognize what is it that is just so difficult, but I’m going to try not to get ahead of myself here.
So I’ll start by saying this. I’ve never really lived alone before. There are some things about living alone that I love, but that’s far outweighed by moments of loneliness and frustration. I was fortunate to have a great group of friends from a very young age. Particularly, I think back to my years as an upperclassman at Wofford. I lived with some of my closest friends and had such a fantastic community all around me. I had very few moments of loneliness and isolation during my entire 4 years of college.
My life now is a different story. Even the busiest volunteers find themselves with a good deal of down-time. We don’t have cars to travel, most of us are rather constrained financially, and we have fewer friends near by than we’re used to. This leaves us with plenty of time for contemplation and reflection. I would dare to say that after a few months, volunteers even get beyond that. We’re stripped of community, coping mechanisms, and many of the distractions from our lives back home. I would venture to say that at some point in the first six months, every volunteer is forced to take a hard look at themselves. And I do mean forced. We’re left alone with ourselves, which, when you take everything else away, can actually be pretty frightening. We’re forced to confront the things about ourselves that we don’t like, as well as the things that maybe shouldn’t even be a part of our lives. I can honestly say that I’ve never really assessed the things about myself that I do and don’t like. It’s a challenging thing to do. But when you have lots of time on your hands, it happens.
There are plenty of things that I do like about myself. I like the fact that I’m a highly analytical person. It helps me discern why I feel the way I feel at any given time. I like the fact that I thrive off of my relationships with the people that are closest to me. I like the fact that I’m often times able to see the big picture and not just focus on the present. However, all of those things are being challenged and I’m also forced to confront the things about myself that I’m not crazy about. I never really realized that I had the ability to drive myself crazy. Sometimes I have the hardest time letting go of things…
Anyways, this is getting a bit tangential. Let me just get to the point. Peace Corps service is challenging because, as volunteers, we’re left alone with ourselves. I think many of you would be surprised at the big questions in life that we never ask ourselves. Who am I? How do I really feel about myself? What do I really want out of life? Do I have the ability to achieve my dreams? Even writing these questions down is daunting, because I honestly can’t say that I have answers for them right now.
The redeeming fact about all of this is that I’ve come to a point where I recognize what it is that I’m being faced with. My challenge is not immersing in a new culture, finding a way to make a difference, or getting used to an alternative lifestyle. Those things may be challenging, but I’m confident that I can, and already am, doing all of that. The real challenge that I’m faced with is coming to terms with myself. It’s so easy to gloss over these big questions when you’re constantly surrounded with love and affirmation. Take that away, though, and you may see that there is a lot that truly needs to be dealt with.
“Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself makes you fearless.” -Lao Tzu