We find ourselves constantly thinking ahead –we’ve often thought about what we would want to say for this blog post. What would be important to share at the one year mark? What will we want to write about when we are finished with the Peace Corps? What will be the first place we stop when we land back in Portland? While I (Mollie) don’t know what we will write about later, I still don’t really know what to share as we have now spent 12 months in Cameroon.
Instead of feeling pressure to write an eloquent story about our first 12 of 24 to 27 months as a Peace Corps Volunteer, I am going to share a few honest lessons, thoughts, or themes that have been present since we landed over a year ago.
It is difficult to be honest. The positive stories, the ones with cute pictures of African kids, the stories about getting work done and finding the silver lining – they make far more interesting blog posts – these are the stories people want to read, but not necessarily the whole story of our lives in Cameroon. Writing a post about the frustration of life here not only makes people at home worry, but, it also can paint a more negative image of the country or the Peace Corps. While we strive to create a balance, I have found myself feeling like I have withheld some of the realness of life here. Yes, there are things that we are proud of, that we are happy we have done, small ways in which we can maybe see we are making a difference, but there are also many things that make work and life here far more difficult than we think it needs to be. I hope in this next year I can be more bold with our blog posts, in attempts to share a realistic, rounded, view of the second half of our service.
It is hard to see the value of us serving in Cameroon. There are definitely days where we think we could be making more of an impact if we were back in the US working for another development agency…but, for whatever reason, we are here. Between Peace Corps staff continuously not responding to emails, to daily being asked for money/gifts/beers, to being expected to play into corruption because I am white, to not having a full work load, it is hard to find the value of what we are doing, here. I say here because I am (thankfully) constantly reminded that our American cheer-squad back home appreciates our service and us being here. The mail, blog comments, Facebook messages we receive make all the difference and the encouragement from those back home definitely don’t go unnoticed. I long for a day when Cameroon can see development more as collaboration and less as handouts.
We have lots of free time. While we would ideally have a strong community partner in which we could facilitate community projects to keep us busy, we instead, find ourselves with a few projects and lots of free time. The Peace Corps promotes development and diplomacy, and I am learning to change that definition for myself to (personal) development and diplomacy. At first, and still now sometimes, I am annoyed by how much free time we have; we are used to being busy, we are American after all! But, I am trying to see the benefit in this down time: I have more time than I ever would in America to study for the GRE and work on grad school applications, I have lots of time to interact with our neighborhood kids, and, we have lots of time to plan, dream, and discuss what we want our future to look like post Peace Corps.
I am more resilient than I originally thought. Shaun has always been way more resilient than me, but, through the annoyances, struggles, and sometimes boredom that has been the last 12 months, I am learning that my stubbornness can make me resilient. We came in with certain expectations, and when these expectations haven’t been met and there are other small struggles along the way, I am learning that I can keep going. It sounds cheesy, I know, but for me it is an important positive lesson that I have learned since being here.
I am sure I am learning more now than I realize. Hindsight is always 20/20. Given time after we return, I believe that I will realize more about what I learned when I was here than I am seeing now. Maybe these lessons will be about best practices for development, maybe it will be ideas to take into grad school, or maybe they will be more simple lessons about how I will choose to live my life. Either way, I am looking forward to the clarity of what I learned here when it is all said and done.
All of that to be said, the Peace Corps is an adventure, and this last year has been one too. Of course, some of the adventures have been true adventures – taking a safari with my family, relaxing on the West African Atlantic Coast, hiking through Tarzan’s waterfalls – others have been adventures of endurance, creativity, persistence, and resilience in trying to live and work in a foreign country for 2 years.
And so, the adventure continues for another year. I am keeping my fingers crossed that we can continue to find strong work partners who, together, want to work to improve Cameroon, and, I am looking forward to the adventurous adventures of more days on the beach, exploring new areas, and continuing to live in a country that is not my own.