***In honor of National Peace Corps Week, I’ve decided to share some thoughts on my time serving in Peru as a community health educator. If you know anyone who has, will or is serving with the Peace Corps, give them a hug this week***
Imagine, if you will, an average day. Except on this average day, you wake up sick with fever and a kind of stomach pain that resembles hot steel coursing through your intestines. You’re overheated in a tiny, cement room and know instantly that it’s going to be a long sprint to the latrine. You run for it and are caught by your host mother in the kitchen who stops you to see how you’re feeling, she sits you down and attempts to feed you meat to make you stronger. As you sit you lose your stomach contents into what were almost clean pants and accept your fate. Today you’ll be washing your soiled clothes in a big bucket amongst the chickens.
My first few months of Peace Corps (and I can only speak to my PC experiences) involved a lot of fevers and pants washings, not to mention too many cultural and language misunderstandings. The number of times I answered the question “how are you?” with “oh, I’m ok, just really married,” is ridiculous. The months following got better as I got over my stomach issues, learned the language and made friends. I found work that I loved and carved a place for myself into my little, desert community.
I became the crazy girl who walks everywhere, the one who doesn’t eat, and the really (no like really, she’s a giant) tall teacher. I made friends with people who were my total opposites and found myself in places and situations I wouldn’t have dreamed of at home. Lack of running water became the norm and a place in the capitol city with wifi became Oz. My Peace Corps volunteer friends became my therapists and little kids became my biggest allies.
Peace Corps was a big, beautiful, messy mix of fantastic and horrible. I laughed and I cried and yeah, I pooped my pants.
I’ve been home for a little over three months now and still don’t have much clarity on the subject, but I do want to share some thoughts for anyone out there considering Peace Corps.
Things to Know Before You Decide to “Run Away with the Peace Corps:”
It is a 27 month term
There is no one year or six month option. When you sign up, you sign up for 27 months (3 months of training + 2 years of service). While you can leave early for personal reasons, plan to stay 27 months.
All the stories you read on Peace Corps blogs are put through a filter by that volunteer.
My Peace Corps blog includes fun and heart warming stories of teaching and learning and living a charmed life. I wrote that blog for my friends and family at home and before each post I had to think really hard if I should include the two days I spent crying in my room for reasons still unknown to me. Volunteers write the good stuff in favor of saving people at home the worry. If you want the real story, talk to an RPCV (Return Peace Corps Volunteer) at length, get past the “it was a great experience” part and into reality.
You’re going to miss two years of “stuff.”
With the advent of Facebook and email came an easier time for Peace Corps volunteers to stay in touch. That’s not always a good thing. You see every wedding, birthday, party, and death happen from afar. The FOMO gets pretty intense.
You might turn into a weirdo.
In every info session I went to, they mentioned how it’s kind of hard to leave home, but it’s 10x harder to come back. They were not wrong. Coming home after adapting to this new place is jarring. You go back to the same old routines and the wifi and the washing machine and the beauties of America but a part of you still screams “but wait, I’m a Peruvian! A really tall Peruvian, right?” Part of you misses the woman down the street who sold you fruit and the kids that yelled your name as you walked by and the giant pig that was tied to the tree in the center of town in October and mysteriously disappears on Christmas Eve.
Peace Corps is beautiful. It’s an adventure and it’ll give you a lifetime of stories. I wouldn’t go back and do my service any differently. But I’m not going to tell you that it’s easy or that you won’t poop your pants*, because I don’t want to lie to you.
*I’m realizing now that I talk about poop a lot, but you guys, I promise it was normal amongst Peru volunteers.