Have you ever had the feeling that time is standing still? For the past 8 weeks, I’ve been trying to get past that very feeling. Day by day I’ve been subject to many of the same frustrations. It hasn’t been all bad, but the frustrations have a way of piling up when they are repetitive and constant. Essentially, I’ve been subject to my own purgatory. This idea of ‘two years’ looms over me every time I feel the weight of my frustrations. Fortunately, in one (hopefully) short week, I’ll be upgraded from a trainee to a PCV. Our swearing in ceremony will be conducted next Tuesday, and I’ll be freed from my metaphorical purgatory. I understand that this probably sounds slightly dramatic, but I’m thousands of miles from home. I think I’ve earned that right.
My hope in pointing this out is to give some insight from what I’m coming from and where I’m headed. Last week, I spent a few days on Mahalpye, my home for the next two years. I will live in a ward called Xhosa 1, which is just a short combi ride from downtown Mahalpye. I’ll be working in the local clinic, and living about 1.5k away. I’ve met a few of my co-workers, and even received my first task. The staff in my clinic would like to learn how to use computers, and especially learn how to type. Given that some of my first memories are of using computers (back in the days of DOS for you old folks!), I think I can do this. These kinds of tasks aren’t typically primary tasks for PCV’s, but it’ll be a great introductory project that will help me get to know my staff and build a rapport. Conceptually, my goal within the clinic is capacity building. I want the organization and the people within it to acquire skills and systems that will help promote the operations of the clinic long after I’ve gone.
I also have responsibilities outside of the clinic. I’ll pick up at least one secondary project within the community. Given that I have a background of working with youth, that may be one potential outlet for my secondary project. However, both my primary project and my secondary project are subject to a needs assessment. During my first two months at site my job is to meet stakeholders in my host organization and community and find out what the primary needs of each are. After that, my task is to find ways to mobilize the community to solve their own issues. Essentially, I want to act as a catalyst within the communities. I could do my best to solve their problems, but then things would collapse when I leave in two years. Successful PCV’s are able to push communities to not only solve their own problems but also improve their own systems and highlight new opportunities within the existing infrastructure.
On a personal note, the challenges of being in Peace Corps and starting a new life have really pushed me to confront facets of my own personality that I’ve overlooked. During my training we’ve talked a lot about the concept of sustainability. Recently, I’ve been taking that concept and looking inward. I’ve begun to realize that I have changes to make in order to promote my own sustainability. Hidden within America’s Puritanical roots, there are certain concepts that have become societal norms that are very unhealthy. The idea of charity is beautiful example. Our concept of charity leads some overly-sympathetic people to self deprivation and borderline masochism in efforts to appease some needs within the community. While this may be noble, it’s certainly not sustainable (except for your occasional saint). Personally, I’ve found that I’m often easily burdened with what I feel are other’s expectations for me. So much so, that I will sacrifice time I’ve set aside for myself to make sure that I complete what I feel are obligations. This often leads to compounding stress and a lack of general well-being. Lately I’ve had to force myself to set those expectations aside and do what I think is best for me. Since then, I’ve felt more equipped to handle the daunting 2 years ahead of me.
It’s funny how it’s so easy to learn about concepts like sustainability (or utilitarian concepts in general) and take them to heart in every way possible except for individually. It almost feels as if we’re creating double standards within the construct of society. It’s so easy to know what’s best for everyone and everything except ourselves. In the past, I’ve considered myself the type of person who is ‘in touch’ with himself. I’m just now realizing that there are a multitude of things that I really don’t know about myself yet…
I always wanted to be the type of person who always had more questions than answers. And until now, I never thought about that in the terms of oneself…
Joseph Arthur-In the Sun