People say we’re brave, adventurous, and tough-skinned. They also call us crazy and rambunctious when we get together and (noisily) try to one-up each other with stories about public transportation, weird bathroom situations, and other only-in-Peace-Corps type stories. With all these experiences, it’s hard to remember why we’re doing this some days, and other days it’s hard to think of doing anything else. So, why the #$%*@ did I join the Peace Corps anyways? After a year and a half of service, here are some of my reasons – as best as I can remember them – and how much success I’ve had in fulfilling them.
1. To learn a new language
I had crossed my fingers for a French or Spanish speaking country, and got nominated to Francophone sub-Saharan Africa. Technically, I did end up in a Francophone country, but volunteers in Madagascar learn Malagasy because we are much more effective volunteers as Malagasy speakers. So yes, I succeeded in learning a new language, but not a terribly useful one for later in life.
2. Because I had little money and couldn’t decide where to travel next
Obviously, total success on getting the “where-to-next?” question answered for me. For those of you unfamiliar with the selection process, Peace Corps candidates have some say in the region they are sent to in their interviews but not the specific country. I never would have thought of traveling to Madagascar otherwise.
3. For the friendships with other PCVs
I love being a Peace Corps volunteer, and I love all the volunteers I’ve become close to – both from the group I arrived with and don’t see often, and those in my region that I see pretty often. I hardly ever go more than week without seeing another volunteer and these amazing people play the biggest role in keeping me sane. Success? Definitely!
4. To immerse myself in a totally different culture
Peace Corps would call this ‘integration’ and mostly I feel ‘somewhat integrated’. I’m bored living in a community whose major weekend activities are watching soccer and going to church (both of which I hate), so I usually spend two days a week immersed in American-ness, either by reading, watching movies, or hanging out with PCVs and other expats. Even still, cultural immersion is unavoidable and I have come to understand Madagascar a little more every day. So have I accomplished reason #4? Sort of, I suppose.
5. To learn random life skills and be a badass expat in Africa
Before Peace Corps, I thought people who had lived in developing nations all had these incredibly useful or bizarre skills they picked up along the way. They all seemed confident, self-sufficient, and ready to face any situation no matter how wild. I don’t know what I expected to become skillful at or impervious to, but I can now open a beer bottle with any flat surface, live without running water, haggle like a pro, and bike in a city whose everyday traffic includes rickshaws, bikes, cars, buses, trucks, and herds of livestock. Success? Yes.
6. To teach some English
(And other things.) Of course, there is an altruistic aspect to any volunteer’s rational for joining. With my past ESL teaching experiences, I thought I’d be most useful continuing with it. So for 17 hours a week, I teach ESL but also run a cooking class and talk with my students about ‘life in America’. My success with teaching is hard to judge, but knowing that five Malagasy can now cook Potato and Leek Risotto and 400 students understand not to call Americans fat or shout ‘vahazah’ at us is enough for me.
7. For the stories…
“This one time I… slept on the floor of a bush taxi / had a goat jump on me while biking / the door fell off our bus / saw a woman pull a hunk of raw, unpackaged meat out of her sweater pocket.” Those of you patient enough to hear and read my stories should be the judge of how ‘successful’ I have been at collecting them. Hopefully you have some positive feedback!