I’m a stranger here myself
When you hear the term Peace Corps Volunteer, a certain image pops into your mind, doesn’t it? It certainly does mine, and I am both fortunately and unfortunately, painfully aware of the stark discrepancy of that image of a Peace Corps’ Volunteer and the perceptions of who I am as a person. When most people think of Peace Corps Volunteer, I’m sure the image of 20-something political activist, crunchy-granola type, professional do-gooder, and dare I say it, modern day hippie. People who have minimal life experience, still see the good in everyone, still want to save the world types of people. People who are unsure of their career/life’s goals.
I am none of these.
My 20’s have long passed [thankfully]. I about as apolitical as they come. No one would dare call me the crunchy-granola type with a straight face, and I while I have a career as a nurse, no one in their right mind would call me a professional do-gooder. I am as sure of my career and life goals as one can be when Fate is involved.
So what am I doing here and why I am I doing this exactly?
Well, it took me a long while to work that out.
I wish I could say my reasons were entirely altruistic. That I just want to ‘help people’. I’d love to climb up on my soapbox and tell you about the ills of the world and how I, personally, plan to address and fix all of them. But that would be the EGO talking, and I try daily, to keep the beast in check. However, I am a human being, and sometimes the EGO runs amok, does thoughts to run through my head.
My reasons are as varied as any other PCV’s reason are. At my core, I would like to do some Good, as much as it is possible. GOOD being composed of Concrete GOOD and Abstract GOOD. Also, I have never been one to follow the PLAN. The PLAN being go to college, start a career, get married, buy a house, have babies, retire with a healthy pension. I did go to college [and again, and again and plan to go again]. I have bought a house, butI don’t ever plan to have babies, and pensions are a thing of the past. So aside from doing GOOD, I want to travel and do something different, immerse myself in a culture foreign to me, go not only somewhere I’ve never been, but somewhere I’d otherwise never go. What better place to accomplish that than the Peace Corps? They have volunteers that are strewn, quite literally, all over the globe. And while I have traveled somewhat extensively even at times for long periods of time, I have never lived in one area other than the Upstate of South Carolina for a period longer than two years.
Where is here? And Rwanda?
But when was the last time you met anyone who has been to Sub-Sahara Africa, let alone lived there. When planning your last vacation, how many of you even considered sub-Saharan Africa? I’ve never even seen an advertisement for anything other than a safari. Even in this age of the ubiquitous travel blogger, very, very few are from Africa, and even fewer still visit/write about things other than Safaris and Vineyards. So if not for this Peace Corps opportunity, not only would I likely never go to a place like Rwanda, but no matter how much money I made or prestige I earned or opportunities I had to travel, I would likely never even consider it.
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
In my mind that means doing my best to experience the great touristy parts of the world, as well as the places that are off the grid. Of course, I say that now… while I sit here in the relative comforts of familiar environs with reasonably fast internet.
“I want to help people.”
And I really do want to help people. I’ve worked in healthcare for most of my adult life. If I didn’t truly want to ‘help people’ there are a lot of other, less strenuous, less soul-draining professions out there where I could probably make more money, have a better life-work balance, and certainly not spend all hours of the night awake.
But American healthcare is complicated. The overwhelming majority of my co-worker want to ‘help people’, yet we often know that whatever we do–whether it’s a life-saving measure in the Emergency Department or Continued Care in a Rehabilitation Department–it’s a stop-gap procedure. Yes, SOME people do GET IT. Some people see it the catalyst needed to do massive behaviour change, but for the most part, Americans are repeat offenders in the health care system, and generally speaking look to blame their problems on others.
Now I’ll get my chance to work with patients who really want and need help. Of course, creating behavior change is still going to be hard.
The Peace Corps, as one of their central missions for each volunteer, encourages each person to share their story, ostensibly through their own blog which many volunteers take advantage of. I would encourage many of you, if you are interested in getting great stories and reading great writing, to take a look at these blogs and get a feel for what life is like in other countries. The majority of them are very well done and informational. I’m excited to have what I think is a legitimate avenue to share my thoughts and writing in the context of traveling in the Peace Corps. There isn’t much more I can do other than report my story, simply, as I see it whether that is GOOD or BAD.
Ok so there is no official 4th goal, but for me, joining Peace Corps’ is a way to slow down in inevitability of life. People say the older you get, the more time flies, and at this stage of life, I’m starting to see that. Momentum is carrying me along this path or that path and sometimes I can’t seem to stop it. Of course, there are less dramatic and more practical methods of changing your habits and behaviors than signing up to live in an African village for two years. But where would be the fun in that?