I live alone…
…and I have too much time on my hand. Far too much time to watch way too many films and dither endlessly on how to write the perfect blog post, because sometimes the things I start writing are so banal that they stay floating in draft mode. Also, I’ve become a cat person.
I live alone, well, with Cat, and with far too much time, but that makes it sound like I haven’t been active. I have. There are things I’m working on that I’m really pleased with, and more importantly so are local people. It’s not about the time spent on work, but the time after that, and if at the end of the day I still have all this time on my hands, shouldn’t I be doing more? Am I forgetting something? Isn’t this supposed to be a life changing experience?
It is one year since we moved to Albanian (or just nearly). There’s a lot of transition as we prepare to greet the incoming group and say goodbye to the group before, and with it, a lot of introspection about what we’ve accomplished or want to accomplish and how we relate all the stories with others like friends, family, loved ones and potential employers.
Peace Corps catchphrase “everyone’s experience is different,” but listening to volunteers and reading some of the articles that have been shared around, like this one, this one, and, oh yeah, this one, I have developed 3 main categories for what I think happens to volunteers.
1st Category: “Strangest Things Seem Routine”
This category is more about the transformation of experience. First everything is amazing and crazy and different and strange and one day, it’s not. A donkey in the street, dealing with continuous power outages, pulling teeth at the office to get the simplest tasks done, drinking raki with the old men every time you hit the head, being offered sheep head at the party, and other things I can’t even think of as different, suddenly aren’t. It’s not that there’s nothing interesting, it’s just that I don’t know what that is anymore.
2nd Category: “I’m so tired of you, America”
These are the folks who go a bit, well, funny. I’ve embraced my life pretty well in Albania, but there are some (from the literature) who love the life so much that they don’t really seem capable of going home. Like this young lad, who wrote:
“Here’s the thing. I haven’t felt anything since I’ve come back to the States. A friend’s sadness has moved me deeply on a couple of occasions, and I was moved to the point of mild irritation by the need to take midterms and final exams this semester. But I haven’t emotionally connected to anything or anyone in a way that felt real to me. Things happen, and they’re sometimes things that I should feel keenly. But I don’t. I even took a volunteer job that I thought would push me emotionally. Nothing.”
(full article here)
And maybe there is some validity. I’m not knocking it. You are special, a unique individual in a small community (“Oh my village loved me. I did this and that. It was the best experience.”) and suddenly there is the painful transformation of becoming once again a seeming cog in the machine. There’s a bit of ego involved too, if every sentence afterwards begins, “When I was in Peace Corps…” Volunteers have changed a lot, but in their own way so have the people back home.
3rd Category: “It’s just a place in time and space”
For this category, being in Peace Corps is a great experience, sure, but it’s still a job. The life has changed drastically, but not so much. Not in the basic ways that keep one grounded. The routine follows – wake up (at the appropriate time for your water schedule if you have one) shower, coffee (at home or the lokal) head to the office (maybe buy some byrek on the way) make the rounds and say “hi” to a few people (at this point be invited out for another coffee) do work (or at least try if your office is lacking a computer or internet) go get some lunch (pilaf and sallat greke, yum!) maybe work the rest of the day from home or out of the office, pick up some groceries (meat from one place, bread from another, the veggies from the people selling outside on your street, except for the broccoli because you feel like splurging and went to the supermarket) make dinner and watch a movie (that maybe you’re streaming from a Russian website because you don’t want to wait two years to see the Hobbit).
Pretty much a normal life, like you could have anywhere.
I’m sure there are other categories, and possibly I’ve annoyed some readers (if we shadows have offended, then think but this and all is mended – that my opinions are mine alone, are constantly changing, and do not reflect the position of the Peace Corps or the U.S. government). Ultimately, though, an individual gives meaning to the experience, not the other way around. The experience is just a place and stuff.
I don’t know yet which category I fall in, but recently I saw this video:
That’s not us is it, Cat?
Next week, Summer Day!