The one year anniversary of joining the Peace Corps seems to be a good time to reemerge into the blogosphere. The "reflections" entry is pretty standard in any blog tracking the journey of a PC Volunteers, so why should I be any different.
Well today, April 4th, is my one year anniversary for joining the Peace Corps (not becoming a volunteer) and Saturday, April 7th, will mark one year in country. Then April 10th will be the day when I officially started living with a host family. Yes, there are many anniversaries, some quite trivial. The funny thing is that early on some of us (myself probably more than others) kept close track of these dates because not only was living in Indonesia for a month quite an accomplishment, but so was being part of the Peace Corps. April 4th therefore has as much significance to me as April 7th does, but at the same time they are quite distinguishable.
This pattern will again arise come June. While I joined the Peace Corps on April 4th, I did not become a volunteer until June 15th and I did not arrive at my site until June 16th. So many dates, but each has their own significance. The first few months are filled with a number of milestones and our time is so rushed that its easy to forget that each one has it's own meaning.
So one year. It has all passed by so quickly. In truth I feel like a year of memories has been crammed into a month of time because it really doesn't feel like a year has passed. As I understand it, many of my friends back home feel quite opposite. There are a good number who were convinced three months ago that over a year had already elapsed. Apparently time moves slower in the US.
I have learned things, though they weren't the lessons I expected to learn of course (they never are). Most lessons have been about me or life in general and less have been about the world of development.
Here are 5 lessons learned during Year 1.
Lesson 1: "Oh the things you can think, think and wonder and dream, far and wide as you dare."
My fast paced American life in which I use tv to relax in the evenings and on weekends does not provide any time for me to just sit around an think. Here in Indonesia I have come to appreciate the act of thinking. It is an activity that has been lost to Americans and was certainly never taught to my generation.
This practice is pretty much forced onto all volunteers whether they realize it or not. We get left behind in conversations or meetings so often that the only thing to do is think. Sure we try to decipher the conversation in the beginning, but your brain can only take it for so long. After a while you really just need to escape into your own mind.
What do I think about you ask? Well I often make plans. I lesson plan. I think of secondary projects and the results that will come out of it. I map out a daily schedules hoping that I have found the one I will be able to stick to (they never work out). I decide how I will tackle the GREs. I imagine what I will do with the trainees when they visit me at site next month. Then, of course, I day dream about seeing friends and family again or going on vacation. More recently I just try to make things up; generate ideas for stories. Get the creative juices flowing. There is a whole world of "thinks" real and imaginary to muse over. It is quite amazing and really not a waste of time.
When I first arrived in Indonesia I was amazed at the number of Indonesians I would see sitting on their porches doing nothing. I just assumed that they were spending their time thinking. Now my host sister has given me reason to doubt this. She always asks me why I am staring off into space when I am the one thinking and it is usually accompanied with a tone of concern. So maybe I have been wrong to assume that Indos sit and think a lot, but they do sit and I have a hard time believing that nothing goes on in their heads. At any rate I like to believe that I am becoming Indo in taking the practice of thinking to heart.
Lesson 2: Running away from your vices is not possible when even developing countries have found a way to connect to the internet.
Yes internet is quite prevalent here. It is not found in even a fraction of houses in the villages, but I can afford it and therefore I have it. Of course I purchased it for practical reasons. I needed a cheaper way of talking to friends and family and in the end having the internet is cheaper than paying for cell phone credit.
Well the internet also means that I have a source for TV shows and FB (and of course this blog, but I think we all know it has not been a vice). With so much good, comes a lot of time sucking entertainment which I have a hard time saying no to.
I had fully expected to be ripped away from current episodes and I hoped that Peace Corps would rid me of my addictions. Alas running away from your problems is never a good idea and even those caused by technology can reach you on the other side of the world. The only thing to do is to confront it head on.
Lesson 3: You learn not to take friends and family for granted when you are forced to be apart.
This was one of my earliest lessons. It isn't difficult to become homesick here. I had a particularly rough time of it when I first arrived at site and I was overwhelmed by my host family, but simultaneously jealous of their proximity to one another. The only thing that was able to calm me down was the thought that I would never miss my family this much if I had found a job and moved out on my own instead of joining PC. Although the lack of feelings would have been easier, the general notion of not missing your family is quite sad. When we do what is expected of us there isn't too much time to reflect on what was because we are so busy moving forward, but being away heightens feelings.
Surprisingly I have found that a few of the relationships that I have cherished over the years have actually been strengthened by the distance. This is quite ironic in my case because I was always horrible at maintaining long distance relationships. My current lack of contact with basically all of my high school friends is proof of this. I was fortunate to finally find the rich value of my friendships partway through college and since then my skills at maintaining long distance relationships have flourished. It is more painful to lose a friend than to be apart. In fact I have only come to love these people all the more. I am grateful for the time they have put back into me.
Lesson 4: "You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need."
This song runs through my head fairly often for days at a time. I don't think I can even come up with a specific anecdote for you; it's just a natural part of my life. This one certainly applies to the world of development.
Lesson 5: Aversions do not remain aversions throughout your entire life.
Well truth be told I learned this lesson quite a while ago when I finally began eating tomatoes in Florida. We are talking about a lifelong aversion that was suddenly cured by the taste of fresh Pico De Gio. This Pico did not just give me a taste for Pico, but for the first time in my life I was not taking tomatoes off of hamburgers, picking them out of salads, or forcing my grandmother to make two batches of tuna salad. To say my mother was shocked was an understatement.
I suppose that all of my getaways have help me grow to like things I hate in some way or another. Indonesia has been particularly helpful with my dislike of writing. I am not saying that I LOVE writing yet, but I have become more fond of it over the past year. This is truly a big step for me. Writing has been one of my academic nemeses since high school and we have hated one another equally. I know that my blog has not reflected this in the last few months, but overall I will say that the relationship is improving. I apologize if the proof is not always publicly visible, but maybe, one day, it will be.
I raise my Nalgene (filled with water) to a good first year. Here is to hoping that much will flourish during the next year and ten weeks to come!