You heard me. Don’t do it. I’m telling you, it’s going to break your heart.
The Core Expectations for Volunteers states you are expected to “serve where the Peace Corps asks you to go, under conditions of hardship, if necessary…” What it doesn’t state however is just what hardship means.
Right now you’re thinking, “Oh. There’ll be no flush toilets or showers. I can handle that. I might have to squash a few spiders, but for the high calling of changing the world, I think I can put up with those things.”
But the truth is, hardship isn’t the quirky and fun hardship you’re expecting, where each new day brings adventure upon crazy adventure, more wonderful than the next. True hardship is much more sobering.
During your service you might have to bury a neighbor. Or watch helplessly as your host family is torn to pieces by corruption. You might show up to school to learn one of your students was killed by a classmate. Your host sister could be kidnapped and forced to marry a man she’s never met. You might witness abuse, violence and mistreatment. You may see your best student lose to a kid from another school because his bribe was the biggest. Your dog might be fed a needle, just to quiet it down, forever.
And if none of that happens, then something else will. There’s just no knowing how hard it will be or it what way. It could be dealing with other volunteers is your biggest challenge. Or that you can never live up to the expectations of your host organization. Or that the Internet is so accessible you spend your entire day trolling Facebook, jealous of all the lives continuing on back home.
And what about all the things you’ll give up? Your boyfriend might not wait two years for you. You’ll put your career on hold. Your familiar support networks probably won’t be around – there’ll be no gym, no fast food joint, no car to drive, no family to visit. The stress and diet could make you lose thirty pounds—or gain thirty—whichever you don’t want.
The Peace Corps uses phrases like, “Life is calling. How far will you go?” and in a breath you’re ready to sign your name on the line. But two years is a long, long time and in the middle you find the world you wanted to change is a confusing and complex puzzle of which you are just one, tiny piece.
So please, if you’re not ready for the heartbreak in the hardship, don’t join the Peace Corps.
Because you might just find that all your blood, sweat and tears are worth it – worth the pain, worth the time and worth the investment in the people for whom your heart breaks. Because you might learn some of the most important lessons of your life – that a broken heart can heal stronger than it was before, that a softened heart has more compassion for the world, and that in between its cracks and fissures is the only place where true beauty and grace can grow.
Kaili, Guizhou, China - China has about 55 ethnic minority groups and Han is the majority. The Miao ethnic minority group is one I have been able to learn a little about mostly because their is a large population in Guizhou province. I have visited several Miao villages and have many Miao students. Miao people also speak their own language which sounds pretty cool. My favorite part is their beautiful clothing and jewelry.
Jumping right into my first real Lesotho post, I’ll begin by saying the lack of “material comforts” is the easiest thing to adjust to. I do think fondly of shiny white porcelain flush toilets, but the latrines work just fine. And honestly, without being forced to go in a corrugated iron closet with paperboard for a (very fragile) seat, I never would have developed the skill of squatting, holding up my skirt, holding the door closed, and warding off aggressive flies all at the same time. Definitely a resume booster. I brought a little solar charger that does the job for my small electronics, and I kind of like the routine of heating water and taking a bucket bath by the light of a paraffin lamp. My family hauls in big jugs of water every day on the donkey. I really don’t miss constant connection to internet. In short: living arrangements are quite comfortable.
My host family is wonderful. I’m staying with the chief, an awesome strong get-stuff-done kind of woman who is in charge of our entire cluster of training villages and wrings out my wet jeans like they’re flimsy cotton. There’s a whole troop of little ones between the ages of three and eleven living in the family compound. My Momma the Chief is actually their grandmother; the parents work in other towns or live in a different part of the village (more on this later, but family structure and raising children is very flexible and communal in Lesotho). Having so many siblings is a mixed bag. They’re fascinated by my belongings and always want to touch everything. They turn up and start chattering in Sesotho just when I’m the most frustrated and need time alone. However, there’s nothing quite as heart-twinging as having a five-year-old spot you walking home and come screaming “Sista Mosa!” and then grab your legs and ask to hold your hand. I thought I was melting when tiny Masanadi whispered in my ear “Sista Mosa, after school tomorrow will you carry me on your back like a Basotho mother?” Darling, you should never trust me to carry you on my back like a Basotho mother.
Doing this whole Peace Corps training thing a second time is a bit frustrating, and I can’t wait to move to my permanent site and actually start teaching. Really, our days are very unexciting. We just sit in language or methodology sessions for hours. Our greatest source of entertainment is watching everyone shave their heads during lunch break (guys and girls. It’s something of a PC Lesotho tradition, but I will not be taking part). Once a week we take a trip to the regional center with an unpronounceable name so we call it TY, and this is where I am now, sitting in an internet cafe, finishing what I hope is an engaging blog post. I must also buy some groceries, send some letters, and get pizza and whiskey before our taxi departs, so I will leave you now. Sala hantle, stay well until next time.
P.S. I left out what might be the most interesting part of the transition to PC Lesotho: our various stomach ailments, uncomfortable digestive issues and bowel movements. So many good/awkward/embarrassing stories there. Definitely too good/awkward/embarrassing to publish on tumblr.
Last night, I decided I was going to divvy up some of the Velveeta my mom sent me in a care package to make some broccoli mac and cheese. Mmm, yummy!
I tossed my broccoli in a pan to cook, boiled some water, and diced up the Velveeta. Next, I went for my penne pasta, which I keep in a tupperware container. I only had one portion left and was about to add it to my boiling water when I noticed something. Something small, black… and crawling?
Say hello to my little friends.
Apparently, I’ve had little weevils living in my pasta! Lightbulbs started going off in my head. Italian pasta is more expensive than your standard Chinese noodles, so I usually buy one package and make it once a week. At this point, I was on my last portion, so I’ve been eating weevil pasta for a few weeks now!
Another lightbulb: the last time I made penne, small black things came to the surface when I started boiling it. “That’s weird,” I thought. But now, it all makes sense.
For a split second, I contemplated tossing the penne. But then I thought, I may have eaten these little buggers four other times, and obviously, I haven’t died. So I went through my penne, checked each tube for weevils, flushed them town the toilet, and made my delicious broccoli mac.
As for my culinary recommendation, weevils are just extra protein! And if you don’t cook meat, like me, you need all the protein you can get. So eat up, weevils are tasty and delicious. Hakuna matata!
Week 3 was our first week at our training sites! My site is called New Parade Training Center (henceforth known as NPT) and despite the name, is not new at all and we aren’t training to be in parades. We’re training to become amazing English teachers!
Here’s a picture of most of our NPT trainees – Christina, Carl, Zahra, Kati, Damien, Amanda, Travis, Kelly, Cameron, Leah, Minette, Colton, Julia, Ryan, Nicole, and I! Smack dab in the middle is our Site Manager Zhong Lan, who is amazing!
Weeks 4 and 5 of Pre-Service Training, we were knee deep in Model School! We had to pair up with another trainee so that we could co-teach the class, and my phenomenal partner was Nicole. Now, if you’re another NPT member reading this blog post, Imma let you finish, but Nicole Foster is the greatest Model School partner of ALL TIME!
Model School was not actually a class where we taught our Chinese students how to walk the runway, smize (smile with the eyes, of course), or participate in cat fights, but was actually our first shot at practicing teaching Chinese students.
We decided to make our class focus on Oral English with a concentration on comparing American and Chinese culture, so before our first class we had to come up with general themes for all of our classes and divvy up the days. Nicole and I taught the first and last classes together, then alternated days in between.
We had no idea going into these two weeks how good our students’ English level would be, we just knew that they would be around 16-17 years old. We had the bare minimum of resources–a small white board, four whiteboard markers, a small desk for our things, 20 desks we had to arrange in a tight space, and an air conditioner that pointed in the wrong direction so that it was always hot teaching in the front of the classroom. These conditions were very similar to my previous job at Manos Unidas, so I wasn’t devastated not to have a projector, computer, speakers, and so on, but it was quite a challenge squeezing 19 students into a room so small.
Nicole and I came up with about 40 names featured in Disney films hoping the students would pick them… The only student who picked a very Disney name was Cinderella.
We were very surprised after our first class how good our students were! They were quick to understand activities, they spoke English very well, and they were super entertaining! Teaching them was almost too easy.
We started with 19 students and despite our wishful hoping that we would lose some and be able to take some desks out of the room, we only lost one student over the course of two weeks. That one student didn’t drop out because she didn’t like us, but because she had to go back to her hometown for vacation. So, that means that Nicole and I are amazing teachers–or the students just really wanted the certificates saying they attended our class. I’m going to keep believing it’s the former.
We taught classes on American hobbies, animals, sports, diversity, holidays and traditions, movies, music, families, and food. My favorite activity probably happened during my class about American movies. I passed out movie titles that already exist (i.e. Dumb and Dumber, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, the Princess Bride), and had the students make a skit acting out what they thought happened in the movies. It was so hilarious! I filmed most of them, so look for some videos in the coming days. :)
Apart from teaching, we also had to observe at least two other people teach their classes. I observed Kevin, Jimmy, and Nicole, of course, and they’re awesome! NPT is an incredible group!
Check out our shabby classroom and amazing students!
Despite the sometimes exhausting amount of lesson planning and prep work, the two weeks flew by and we had to say goodbye to our lovely students last Friday.
Their final assessment was to make a speech about one of the topics we learned about, and they did really great. After that, we played Jeopardy, passed out their certificates, and gave them candy. The students said a lot of sweet things about us and we posed for a million photos with them. At some point it was easiest just to stay in one spot in exactly the same pose and wait for a student to jump in for a photo.
Nicole and I with one of our students, Crystal!
Today was our first day back at NPT, and it felt strange not teaching our students. It felt good to teach again, and it made me even more excited for full time teaching in the fall, wherever that may be!
Now we’re back to lots of language, mock Language Proficiency Interviews, TEFL sessions, and SITE PLACEMENT INTERVIEWS! On Wednesday, I have my Site Placement Interview (which will last a mere ten minutes), and then we find out our permanent site next Thursday. The weekend after that, we’ll start to visit our sites. I’m excited to find out where my Chinese home will be for the next two years. :)
So for those who know (not many because it was embarrassing), I hosted the first English corner at my school last Wednesday at 7:30PM. All of my students sounded gung-ho about it, but when 7:30PM rolled around, and then 7:45, and then 8:00, and then 8:30, it was a no call no show. None of my students showed up and I had no idea why. So as I was leaving the empty and dark teaching building, I find all of my students practicing their singing outside - turns out they had mandatory practice for a competition the next day and forgot to tell me.
So today was the official official first English corner. At first I was worried that no one would show again, so I brought all of my necessities to lesson plan if I were going to be on my own. On my way to campus I ran into a few Thai exchange students who decided to come with me. Around 7:25PM, one person showed up, and soon, my room filled up with students. There were so many students packed into the room that I had to speak from standing on top of my desk. It was awesome. The students got to see a different side of their teacher, and I got to see a different side of them outside of class.
I also had to take a bunch of pictures with students who have me as their first foreign teacher - which is WEIRD because no one has ever asked me to take a picture with them before. I guess this is my one shot at being a celebrity.
This was one thing that I was legitimately worried about before arriving. I had only squatted once in my entire life, and that was an emergency so things just kind of happened on their own. Now that it was going to be intentional, I wasn’t so sure how it was going to work out. I still remember one of the trainers on our last day of orientation at the hotel saying, “Oh yeah – one more thing – you get down like this,” and proceed to flat foot squat on the floor. He must have been missing a tendon or two because my legs didn’t bend that way and I was positive that position would send me straight down the hole.
The first morning in my host family’s house was all trial and error. I went to the outhouse seven times in two hours, but ironically nothing was coming out. Did the pants go in front or in back? I honestly had no idea; I kept swinging my hips forward and backward, eyeballing the distance between my jeans and the imminent free falling object. I could only squat for about 45 seconds at a time, both arms straight out to the sides bracing myself in a tremendous iron cross that would make an Olympic gymnast jealous. I was a nervous wreck for days, avoiding the toilet and corking it “until the time felt right.”
I had been completely spoiled by my previous living abroad experience those two years in Japan. Those people know how to go in style: built in bidets with dials to adjust the temperature, knobs to change the angle and pressure, and a button that when pressed plays the sound of tinkling water for the more modest goers. Even the seat was heated; you could take a nap on it and still look at yourself in the mirror afterward.
There’s no toilet in the toilet
When I arrived in Kyrgyzstan I found not only an absence of the bells and whistles but the complete absence of a toilet at all. It did, however, force me to acclimate very quickly. I can cork it a good while, but there just ain’t no will power on God’s green earth that will stop a bout of giardia from passing as it so pleases.
Now a year on, I’ve grown so accustomed I just squat and play Sudoku on my cell phone – with a vice-like grip mind you – mashing the numbers and hoping it doesn’t fall. My legs have gotten more flexible. I can stay down for about 16 or 17 minutes before my feet go numb (I time it with my Sudoku games – don’t judge).
The one upside about being able to poop in a hole is that it is a truly transferrable skill. I can now poop in all kinds of holes in all kinds of places. Of all the things I’ve learned in the Peace Corps, that right there is the most satisfying.
The preparations for drinking “stone ground” kava in Lekavatmel Village, Central Pentecost island, Vanuatu.
There are several different ways to prepare kava, many places simply use a Chinese made meat grinder. The grinder is very efficient but lacks any “character”. Stone ground kava is much more labor intensive, makes less kava to drink but the shells served with ground and hand mashed has a different flavor, and a much thicker constancy. This combined with the freshly pulled kava from Pentecost created a great kava high when drunk.