The Fun That Was Peace Corps Guyana - Mark's Blog

Postings from just north of the equator. Let's see if training in CPR and First Aid prepares me to teach Health Education in a small, remote village in Guyana. I'm thinking... no. Read all about this ill advised decision! In addition, here is the required Peace Corps disclaimer: "The contents of this website are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the US government or the Peace Corps." So, please, don't confuse me with the White House Press Secretary.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Mid-Point in Peace Corps

Well, I’m officially halfway done with Peace Corps. One year at site, one year to go. I’ll be honest, that is a crazy statement. Sometimes it seems like yesterday that I was finishing college or was working in Washington DC. But no, I’ve been here for fourteen months, twelve of those in Affiance on the beautiful Essequibo Coast.

I’ve spent one year living among the rice paddies, enjoying the breeze coming off the strangely brown Caribbean Sea. One year living on the one road, riding my bike to work. One year talking to the mothers of Affiance, Columbia, and the other surrounding villages about the importance of fresh fruit, vegetables, and why wheat bread and flour is better than the white variety. One year talking to the pregnant moms about why they have to take iron and folic acid pills, even though they give them upset stomachs. One year making friends, going to weddings, funerals, and Hindu ceremonies. One year doing things I could never have imagined, like cutting up a puma, eating caiman, laba, iguana, tapir, snail, and lizard.

So it’s been a good year. I can’t say it was everything I expected. As much as I tried not to have expectations when I first showed up, I still had some ideas. I mean, I signed up for Peace Corps thinking I would end up in a mud hut in the middle of Africa, five miles from the nearest phone, five hour bus ride to the nearest Peace Corps volunteer, and not even close to America in any form. I can’t say if that is what I really wanted, but I know I was ready for it. Instead, Peace Corps said I should go to Guyana, South America. Alright… I don’t know anything about that place, but flexibility is the number one desirable character trait in Peace Corps volunteers.

So it turns out Peace Corps Guyana is not the mud hut in the middle of nowhere. This country of 750,000 is mostly spread out along the coast. And they live comfortably, relatively speaking. I live in a house with electricity, running water, a shower, an oven, microwave, TV, DVD player… All that means is basically I didn’t need to worry about portable solar panels (thanks anyways Martin) and a shortwave radio. I also live within ten minutes of four other Peace Corps volunteers, which was definitely unexpected. So sounds kinda easy, right?

Well, for reasons that you might not understand at all, it is not easy here. Yes, I’ve got creature comforts. Yes, I can eat American food (though it’s another question if I can afford it). Yes, I can watch Oprah on television every day. But in many ways, that’s what makes it hard here. It’s like having one foot in Guyana and one foot in America. Every way you turn, you’re faced with American culture. Oprah on television, Akon on the radio, 50 Cent t-shirts, people talking about America. Everyone has a relative in America, mostly in New York. Constantly you are brought into conversations about America. Strangely you often find yourself being told what life is like back in the States. And what you say is often disregarded, as if you don’t know. That, obviously, can be odd.

And so the things that give you solace in the short term can be the things that, in the long term, make it hard. Having cell phones, being close to other volunteers, having internet, watching American television, eating American food, being surrounded by American culture… You end up relying on these things to make it through, but they also constantly remind you that you are not in America. You are in a country obsessed with America, a country full of people trying to get to America, but you are not in America. And that can be really hard sometimes, especially when you didn’t expect that coming into Peace Corps.

But I don’t mean to make this sound like a pity party. Nobody said Peace Corps is easy. And I’m sure that if I were in that mud hut in the middle of nowhere, I’d be saying it was hard for a whole set of other reasons. And I’d be pining to see Oprah on television.

So on the whole, I’m doing well. I’m glad to be halfway done, but I’m not ready to leave yet. Which, obviously, is a good thing, considering the projects I’ve got going. So another 365 days? To quote our President, “Bring ‘em on.”