Sunday, January 09, 2005

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

Okay -- I got a call from my PO finally. He called me at 10:30 on a Sunday morning (!) -- which I found suprising, but delightful. Heck I was just glad to finally hear from him in person. He told me he was having trouble placing me because the Medical Office had put a lot of restrictions on me. He actually didn't know any of the details of those medical restrictions; apparently they keep that information confidential, which is certainly good in some ways, and he is also bound by their take on my limitations. I couldn't just tell him to ignore my nut allergies, for example, because he'd be in big trouble for doing so if something were to ever happen. Plus he doesn't know exactly what caused the limitations he has to work with.

He was actually very nice and pleasant in person. Maybe his e-mails seemed cold because they were terse. He explained that my interest in a particular geographic area was not a problem and he'd work to accomodate that wish, if possible. As for his previous sketchy-sounding e-mail, he explained it was a formality; he was required to get an expressed not implied statement about my being ready to commit, a requirement for anyone who reapplies after an ET. So my saying, "by all means I am ready to commit to a Peace Corps assignment" was exactly what he needed. Evidently it had to go in my file. Legal stuff, I guess. But the good thing was my very limited geographical availability meant I would take precedence over other volunteers and he could "bump" some nominees so they could accomodate me. One of his biggest priorities was using my Master's Degree, since so very few volunteers have advanced degrees.

There was a program he thought would be "perfect for me" in the Caribbean; problem was, it was already full. I assume that means all the invitations had been sent out and accepted. It departs in May of this year... not sure where to. He said he really wanted to put me in there but couldn't. And then he presented me with a quandary: he said there was a position he thinks I'd be good for in "South America," teaching English. This assignment combined formal English teaching with more informal, "community-based" teaching. "You mean tutoring, right?" I asked. He said that might be part of it, but it meant a lot of things including literacy and remedial instruction. He asked if I'd like to be sent that official invitation. I waffled a little, not sure if I wanted to just jump on the first thing out of the pipe. Sensing this, he said "Hmm. How about if I send you the VAD to your e-mail address and you can look it over. It wouldn't be an official invitation, just a chance for you to look at the assignment and get a feel for it." So I said sure, and he forwarded it.

Here's the gist of the assignment, and after that I'll explain my predicament a little more clearly. The assignment turns out to be in Guyana, which is along the northeastern coast of South America, just a little southeast of Trinidad. It's an English-speaking country, but most people speak "Creolese" which is pretty cool -- another creole for me to study. Slightly over half the population, though, are from India. I guess that means vegetarian food would be easier to come by than in other assignments. My job, according to the VAD:

The primary task of Education Volunteers will be to teach life skills, language, literacy or remedial reading, math and science in the public school system. Therefore, for the entire duration of your service, you will be working primarily as a teacher in the school system. This will help you gain an understanding of the public education system of Guyana. However, since your general role is that of a community educator you may also be called upon to work with groups in the community.

It goes on to mention several specific projects, principally creating education programs and doing Teacher Training. Excellent. I would also be called upon to act as an educator to K-12 students and do various functions within a school like organize events and activites and programs. This sounds peachy to me -- exactly what I hoped to be doing in the Caribbean or Pacific, and Guyana is very close to being in the Caribbean. In fact, it's a member of the Caribbean Community and Common Market (CARICOM). In short, it sounds like a really good assignment.

Here are the drawbacks. For one, this is the country from which the now infamous Jason Pearce was unceremoniously sent packing. His offense was blogging his experience and being a little too free with the information. Already I'm paranoid about this blog; I write a lot of material and a time and I appreciate honesty in writing (that what I teach in college). I don't want to ironically suffer the same fate as Jason in the same country!

Another thing that makes me squirm a little is the VAD's description of volunteer housing: "Due to the scarcity of housing in Guyana, there is a possibility that you will be living with a Guyanese family during your entire term of service with Peace Corps/Guyana."

For the first three months after swearing-in as a volunteer, you will be living with a family. This means that the volunteer will occupy a separate and secure room within the family living quarters. This will allow the Volunteer to have a period of familiarization with the community as part of and identified with a family before selecting a more permanent housing arrangement. At the end of three months, living with a Guyanese family is still our most desirable housing option for volunteers.

Priority #1. Volunteer lives with a Guyanese family living quarters: i.e. a room within the family living space; this is the first and most desirable situation.

Priority #2. Volunteer live in a family house in an upper or bottom flat on a long-term basis. This option will be considered only if the option above cannot be found.

Priority #3. Volunteer lives with another Volunteer, following Peace Corps/Guyana guidelines regarding rent and appropriate safety and security measures. This situation will only be considered if none of the above two exists.

Unlike any other PC assignment I've ever read about, we would be living for two years in the home of a local family. Two years, spare bedroom, perfect strangers. I mean, I feel like I'm imposing when I stay at my own mother's house! More than anything, I hate feeling like a burden or a bother or the houseguest that wouldn't leave. I already know I can look forward to a couple months staying with strangers during training, but I don't know how I'd bear two years!

Ultimately, I'm faced with a decision: do I accept this assignment which is damn good, or do I see what others my PO can wrangle? I wrote to him saying I'm seriously considering this, but I want to know what the "perfect" assignment he found was, where it was, and if it would be worth it, in his professional opinion, for me to wait for it if need be. I've been toying with the idea of moving to either Miami or back to Hawai`i, and a search around the Net revealed an lecturer/adjunct job at the University of Hawai`i or their community college system which pays basically twice what I'm paid here (which is peanuts -- seriously, I make less than $10,000 a year) and I could try to find some dump studio apartment in Waipahu to tide me over. I don't need a nice apartment, not if it meant I could live in Hawai`i again, my life's biggest dream.

I would love some input from my readers, regulars or strangers alike. I'm capable of figuring this out on my own, but as with all huge, life-altering decisions, it's a good idea to get a few outsider viewpoints before deciding which path to take.




Anonymous said...

This stranger's opinion is go for it! (But see if you can get'em to tell you were the perfect place is first.)

It sounds like a much diffrent country and there is amazing wildlife there. Not to mention it is the notorious country of the poision kool aid inncident.

Good luck making a decision

Anonymous said...

IMHO, the Jason Pierce thing was way overblown. Blogging seems to be an excuse to send people home that they want to but can’t technically send home any other way. It happened with a volunteer here. He took his case with Washington and they agreed that he was unjustly admin sep’ed by the CD, who obviously had it out for him.
I would say this… There are things that you simply cannot say in your blog. For instance we can’t really give any more general information about were we live or work, than a country or a city (or a village). Also I would keep the disclaimer on your blog. And lastly… I wouldn’t say anything that could be perceived in any way a negative about your country, hosts or the PC. I know this limits a lot of what you can say and gives a VERY one sided perspective of the experience… but follow those basic rules and I doubt you will have much trouble. Oh and also… don’t lie about your blog… If they want to Admin sep you they will find it anyway.

Other than that I would say TAKE IT. It sounds amazing!
Living with a family can be difficult at first but, really honestly you adjust and it is not so bad. In fact it is easy integration. And trust me, after a while you become more of a family member with all the expectations and responsibilities and you feel much less like a guest and more like a member. The first time my Samoan mother yelled at me to scrape coconut faster… I almost hugged her.

Would you just be moving to Hawai’i in the meantime?

Good Luck

Brian Reeves said...

If blogging is an excuse to send home "problem" volunteers, I'll really need to watch it. I have a bit of an anti-authority streak in me that can sometimes lead to tension between me and my superiors. I don't want to give them any excuses. So I'll be sure to watch it. Though, frankly, I think the idea of not revealing any specific details about where we live/work in the name of "safety" is total crap. Sure, terrorist read Peace Corps blogs so they can find a good victim. I don't buy that security argument. The only people who might read that and hunt you down probably live in-country, and if they do, they probably already know where you live anyway. Americans, and especially white Americans, stand out in these third-world countries. Everyone knows who you are.

Anyway, about the negativity... I would like to get something a little more concrete than that out of Washington, honestly. "Negative" could be a lot of things... "I stubbed my toe. I hate this house!" "I don't feel too good; maybe it was the fish the women at the market sold me." "I can't stand the way bus drivers careen down the mountainous roads like rock stars." "My counterpart decided not to implement my new strategy. He can be so stupid sometimes!" I would hate to see this blog reduced to bland reportage... "First I went here, then went I went there, and I talked to X, and I had some supper..."

I'll stop ranting now.

"Would you just be moving to Hawai’i in the meantime?"
Well, if I don't take this assignment in Guyana and decide to wait for something else, I'm strongly considering that. I love Hawai`i -- love it -- and every year that has gone by since I had to move back to the mainland feels like a misplaced year. To me, it is home; not in the familial way, you know, the place where you grew up, or where your family lives, or where your friends live, or where you spent most of your adult life, or the place where you have the most fond memories, or the place you feel most like a member of the community, or any of those things. It's something else that's hard for me to define. Somehow, Hawai`i seems closely matched with my soul in an odd way. I feel like I belong there, but not because I know anyone. Actually, I don't know anyone on Hawai`i at all. But there's a vibrancy and life to the place, a combination of -yes- the beautiful scenery and climate, but also the cross-pollination of so many cultures and people, and the constant background spirit of the islands themselves, the mana. My whole life I've felt like an observer, as though I'm watching the "Brian's Life" t.v. show, separated psychically from my surroundings and experiences. Very rarely have I really felt alive and immersed in my environment. Like here, in Tallahassee, every day is a waking dream. For some reason, though, Hawai`i feels more *solid* and *real* than anywhere I've been before. Just being there I feel more conscious. Does that make sense? No, I imagine not.

So, yeah, I'd move back there and I'd probably live in abject poverty (not by Peace Corps standards, I admit), in a bad part of town and I'd adjunct teach some classes and I'd wait for a PC assignment. But it might not be the best idea because I know I'd get there and not want to leave, or get a job I wouldn't want to quit, or get trapped into a lease, or simply not be able to afford housing on a shitty adjunct salary and become homeless. :) So I'll probably wait until I get out of the PC.

Anonymous said...

Yeah be real careful. About half those things you listed could be taken offensively. I know that my co-workers and my Pule (boss) sometimes look at my site, so I can’t say anything that would offend them, or their people or anyone. And sensibilities seem to be more delicate here than at home. So offending is much easier. It does sometime reduce my blog to “I went here and did this” and it does give an inaccurate picture. But give the option of “don’t blog” or “go home” or “just be all positive” I have made my choice to do what I have to do to stay. I do however have another blog, one that is locked up and can only be accessed with an account and password, that I put things not suitable for public consumption on. It helps me exercise a lot of negative feelings and experiences that I just even admitting I have would be offensive to the HCN’s.
As for the security issue… it is a very thin argument indeed, but again, I have made the choice to do what “they” want in order to stay. I would sum up the whole issue like this. Stay on your CD or APCD’s good side and don’t make a whole lot of noise, if you don’t want them to go digging up something on your blog to send you home for. And if you do end up getting on someone’s bad side, I suggest just taking your blog down entirely so that they have NO ammo.

I spent a month in Hawai’i (Maui actually) several years ago. I loved it. There is something magical about the place. You can smell it in the air the moment you get off the plane. It tingles on your skin and in your lungs when you breath it. At the time I had crazy dreams of moving there myself. But somehow I ended up in the PC on a very different sort of tropic island. Life is funny eh?

Brian Reeves said...

I'm seeing now, more and more, that the nature of my writings on here will probably change a lot once I get into country. I actually enjoy your blog very much and visit it almost every day to see what's new, and even though I'd love it if I could read your *real* thoughts -- either positive and negative, as long as they're "real" -- I'm quite happy with just a description of the events of your life. It's intriguing to read just for what it is.

What I'll do instead is keep a private journal, and pick and choose what to post here from that. I have a nice program for my Mac laptop I'll use instead, and it has the option of electronically sending journal entries to a blog address. So mine will probably become more external and less internal at that time. Fair warning! :)

And you're totally totally right about doing what you need to do to avoid friction with your CD or local contacts. It's just wise, and besides, the Peace Corps has a whole level of expectations for behavior that come with your choice to volunteer. Your life isn't entirely your own during your service. Just like I won't be able to show up to work in cutoff shorts and a tank top, I have several expectations for personal conduct I am implicitly agreeing to when I committ to an assignment. I understand that now more than I did before.

As long as the thoughts get recorded in some way... that's the important thing. I'll keep them to myself.

If I live in the U.S., by the way, Hawai`i is my ultimate destination. But I'd rather live there after PC service, assuming I don't love my host country so much I end up nationalizing there. Hawai`i is unlike anywhere else I've ever been in this world. said...

Wow. This op. sounds incredible!!