This is the 4th post in the series From Trainee to Volunteer [See the others here: Swearing in, Site, and Goals]. This one is all about expectations. During PST and even before, Peace Corps tell its trainee not to have expectations because whatever expectations you may have [good or bad] will not be met. Come into service with a blank slate so to speak, and you’ll have a chance to mitigate disappointments.
Back home, most of my jobs had clear expectations, and there were generally accepted ways of doing things. Be at work on time [call if you are going to be late], take care of assigned patients/customers, don’t be a smart ass, and don’t kill anyone were the basics of just about every job I’ve ever had. How exactly said job was accomplished was generally left to me, and as long as I didn’t break any rules [or laws for that matter], I was generally left alone to do said job, and ask for help when needed.
Peace Corps jobs are a little different. One month in and I still haven’t met the boss. I wouldn’t know who he was if it weren’t for the supervisor conference we had in training. I still don’t have a schedule or any semblance of a schedule. I don’t know when ‘work’ starts. I’ve shown up at 7am and have been late and shown up at 8a and been early. I still don’t know what I am supposed to be doing or how to do it. Oh yes, I have my site goals, but without support and honestly without a plan those are just ideas. My assigned counterpart doesn’t show up to work a lot of the time which leaves me to either sit in the office, go home, or just find something to do. I’ve been ‘finding something to do’ but when I mentioned this to PC, I was told to ‘not be so flexible’. It’s damn near impossible to co-create, co-teach, co-plan, co-present, co-anything when the person you are supposed to be co-ing is unreliable [PC’s new mantra is Co-co-co… We should never be doing any projects on our own; every project needs to have a counterpart… something about fostering sustainability and having local-level buy-in so when I leave, the project continues on…]
During the first three months, the focus is on ‘integration’—meeting neighbors, establishing a house, getting comfortable in said home, learning even more Kinyarwanda, basically allowing the community to ‘see me.’ My job as described by Peace Corps is to be seen. And for an introvert like me, being seen is hard. Talking to strangers in a language I don’t have full mastery of is hard. Meeting and greeting people is hard.
In order to accomplish ‘being seen’, I set little goals for myself each day. Some days it’s ‘go to the AM meeting at the health center [even though there’s a 99% chance that I won’t understand most of what is said and isn’t applicable to me]. Walk across the street and talk to my neighbor for 3-5 minutes [this is about all my vocabulary will allow]. Go to the market and buy some things [I proud to say that I now have an egg guy and a tomato lady that seem nice and don’t try to rip me off]. Talk to the HC staff. Sit outside [weather permitting] and cook, or wash dishes or do laundry…
It doesn’t seem like much, but some days it’s exhausting. Usually on Saturdays I don’t leave my house [I love Saturdays]. I may do laundry, cook, and fetch water, but I don’t often leave the front gates. I have been assured by past and current volunteers that going slowly in the first few months are the best approach. Show up, be available, and be friendly. If I can do that, I will have a successful service.