Saturday, March 17, 2012

Why I Stay

Staying a third year in a small Quechua town without many amenities may have seemed like a wild decision, a flight fancy, a desperate escape from the real world. During my weaker moments, I say the same. Over the past two and half years, I have had moments of painful frustration, agonizing self doubt and absurd awkwardness, yet these only highlight the true fulfillment and joy I´ve found throughout my Peace Corps service in Musho.

Sometimes, when groups of volunteers get together, there is a bad habit of getting into out doing one another´s complaints: Well, I don´t have hot water; well I don´t have any water; I don´t have cell service… etc. It´s an easy trap to fall into, as if we feel that by enduring hardships we prove ourselves as volunteers, as adventurers. However, endurance has always been a prerequisite for Peace Corps. As a friend of mine said, most of us applied imagining living in a straw hut in Africa, to find ourselves with cellphones and cement walls, our biggest lack close grocery stores and intellectual stimulation.

I stay in Musho not through some wish for self-flagellation or need to prove myself. If I prove anything over these two years, it will have little to do with my fortitude as an adventurer and more to do with an acquired patience and ability to bite my tongue. My reasons are two sided: one is idealistic and perhaps a bit foolish. The project I am working on this year, a Center for Early Childhood Development is unique in our region. The infrastructure is challenge enough, but I feel that my work and relationship with mothers here gives me an opening to actually encourage them to use this future center. In my hopeful moments, I know I am staying because there is a need in my community and I hope that my first two years gave me the abilities necessary to fill it. My second reason is far more selfish—I like it here. I like paying $1.50 for a three course meal, being given random gifts of produce by my neighbors, agonizing over Quechua verbs (and seeing Editha´s face light up when I finally produce an intelligible narrative), watching the subtle changes of seasons, knowing that I am important to people here and that by my presence I may make some change.

This week, several volunteers in our department were given the choice to leave Peace Corps, stay in their sites or change sites, based on the danger of transportation in their area. All of them would kill me in a game of “Who´s site is harder?”—Their sites are isolated, underserved by health and education personal, mostly Quechua speaking and often without Internet or cellphone service. However, when of think of them leaving, I think of my reasons for staying and hope that they consider the same reasons. By virtue of their sites being harder, I know that they have an amazing ability to introduce change, as slow and painful, as the process may seem. In the heat of the moment, a trip home might seem appealing, but you can never come back in the same way.
Earlier this week, in the midst of painful illness, I went through my wallet and found a free waffle coupon that expires in September. It was a call to homesickness—to 24-hour restaurants and fountain sodas, to big breakfasts and free refills on brewed coffee. Still, though, Waffle House will still be there in December, even if I do have to shell out $1.99 for a waffle. Opportunities and openings here are ephemeral and don´t come often. I wish I had a way to make those volunteers realize that.

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