Being a Peace Corps Volunteer demands your full attention, resources, and effort. You left your friends and family to move to an unknown land to work with unknown people. The lessons to learn and the family to gain continue to make it the “toughest job you’ll ever love.” But let’s be honest – toughest is also a part of that description. Sometimes, it’s a completely draining job. Unlike many 9 to 5 state-side positions, at the end of the day, you don’t get to leave your work at the office. In fact, you probably don’t even have an office outside of the room you’re renting from your host family.
As I sweep the puddles of water out of my house after it runs down the stairs and floods in the rain, I can’t help but remember the warmth that is to curl up by a fireplace. As we check for rocks and bugs in our rice, I can’t help but remember a clean pantry where animals and bugs didn’t run the show. When I stand on a crowded bus for 4.5 hours to ride from Managua to my site, I can’t help but remember that I used to own a car and drove to work in style. When mosquitoes make people sick and the regular fumigations worsen my asthma, I can’t help but long to be out of the tropical zone of strange diseases and not have to worry about our health.
This far into service, some of those US memories start to be idolized. The States becomes a land of dreams and hope and cleanliness and prosperity. It’s easy to forget the struggles that also exist there and that nowhere is a perfect paradise.
Living and working as a PCV also means that you are giving a lot of yourself to your service. You have to change the way you work, exercise, interact, shop, travel, think, eat, and perhaps even sleep to adapt to your new culture. While the adaptations you made long ago serve you quite well, you may also be tired, homesick, and longing for those old-now-dreamlike-comforts that used to be your normal.
To be at month 25 of this original 27-month commitment brings a lot of conflicting emotions to the table. In addition to the triumphs, you see the limitations of what you will not be able to accomplish during your time. You recognize the elements that are out of your (or your counterparts’) control. You know the realities, the struggles, the complications of lives of host country nationals – because you’ve been living them, too.
And you care, so, so much.
The easy thing would be to disengage. The easy thing would be to ignore the complex feelings and conflicting emotions. The easy thing would be to focus solely on your future plans, your shiny life that awaits you after service.
Burnout and disengagement is easy. But we want to do better. I believe that with a little extra effort and care, we can find ways to exist in the in-between. We can find ways to prepare for our future transitions and still be present in our service. We can strive to create space and meaning in-between these two worlds.
Andrew and I are trying to do just that.