After 12 weeks of training and the label “aspirante”, I can finally and proudly call myself a Peace Corps Volunteer. The past three months have been packed with trainings that served to strengthen my skills, abilities, and attitudes that I will need to have as a successful Community Economic Development volunteer. There were countless assessments and interviews to determine my readiness to serve and during my very last meeting with my training manager Enrique, he confidently stamped my invitation to serve and told me to take 24 hours to determine if this opportunity was really for me. The ball was in my court and the decision was surprisingly heavy for me.
In the United States, we are constantly told that early termination of a project, activity, or goal is “quitting”. It’s so extreme that in the United States, if we go to the movies and pay for a movie ticket, we will sit through the entire movie, even if we hate it (I have recently done this with Forrest at Zoolander 2. We hated it, but patiently waited for the closing credits to get up and leave without saying anything negative until we were in a private setting). “Giving up” is shameful and shows a lack of drive.
Perú is different. In Perú, there is a mentality that time is precious and should not be wasted doing things that don’t make us happy. My host mom told me that the most important key to happiness is your stomach. They have a saying, “Barriga llena, corazon contenta” (Full stomach, happy heart). Feeding yourself when you need nourishment is priority over all and should not be sacrificed for any other commitment. If an experience is not nourishing you physically, mentally, and spiritually, then it should not be continued.
So, when asked the question, “Are you ready to serve with the Peace Corps for 2 years in Perú?” I approached the question with my new Peruvian mindset. If this experience is not feeding me, I do not feel the need to prove to anyone else my “strength” by committing 2 years of my life to hardship. And it is hardship. There are incredibly beautiful moments where I am experiencing an entirely new culture, language, and lifestyle that I would never have gotten to witness in the United States. But there are also moments of deeply missing my family, friends, and the comforts of home. Every time I step into a freezing cold shower, I have to remind myself of why I am here. Every time I look down at my plate and there are cuy eyes staring back at me, I have to remind myself of why I am here. And, every time I show up for a meeting on time and have to wait an hour for everyone else to arrive, I have to remind myself of why I am here. Do the benefits of learning a new language and creating sustainable economic development projects outweigh the comforts of getting to see my boyfriend, Forrest, everyday and having a cocktail on a Friday night with my sister, Maura?
At this point, it is hard to say. I am just starting this endeavor and I have no expectations of what is ahead of me. But, I do know why I am here. I am here to live. I am here to see a part of the world and experience a world where people aren’t born into the naivety that just by being a USAmerican, you can help save the world. I just read Sunil Yapa’s book, Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist, and a line resonated with me: “What a violence of the spirit to not know the world.” We think we live amongst so much diversity and information in the US that we understand the world and have the power to “help” others and do something to end the injustices of the world. We donate money and stand up for human rights without actually walking life in someone else’s shoes and empathizing with the fight (Of course, this is a vast generalization and I am mostly writing from the experiences that I am guilty of).It is a privilege that we have as USAmericans that we don’t even realize. (Note- I use USAmericans because I have been asked by people in Perú why we call ourselves Americans, when they are Americans, too.)
For me, the Peace Corps is an opportunity to live someone else’s life for just enough time to understand that what we as USAmericans perceive as hardships, could be what others see as beauty. It is a way for me to understand what hardships actually exist in my tiny town in the sierras of Perú and do what I can to contribute to what the Peruvians want to achieve to make their lives better. I no longer want to think I know the world, but I do want to know a little tiny piece more of the world and contribute where I am asked to contribute.
Also, I got freaking lucky by being placed in Perú. From what I have seen so far, I have all the resources I need to live a pretty comfortable life. I have an abundance of food, technology to clean water, internet to blog, and loving Peruvian neighbors who take pride in being caregivers and nurturers to me.
After my internal debate and struggle with the idea of being away from Forrest and my family for 2 years, I decided to say yes to the opportunity.
The swearing in ceremony gave me a sign that I made the right decision. I stood up after saying the final oath and as I turned around a woman ran up to me and greeted me with a big hug and kiss on the cheek. I had no idea who she was, but she was so excited for me and asked if we could take a photo together. She then told me that she lives in my town of service, Chacas, and she took the 8 hour trip from Ancash to Lima just to be there to see me swear in. She said Chacas has been anxiously waiting for me to return and they wanted to make sure that I knew the community was supporting me so the alcalde sent her there to see me swear in. The Peace Corps did not pay for her trip or provide support for her to get there. She came out of pure eagerness to make me a part of the Chacas community. It was absolutely humbling and meant more to me than my community will every understand. It gave me confidence that I will be able to develop a family within my community and reminded me that Forrest and my family at home will still be there for me after these short 2 years.
This is not just hard for me, I know. So, I want to say thank you to Forrest, Mom, Maura, Sam and all of my friends and family in the United States who are supporting me through this somewhat selfish/somewhat altruistic experience. I will (hopefully) make you all proud by being honest with myself about the nourishment of this experience, but I will miss you all every single day!