Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Whole Wheat on One Side, Light Frosting on the Other

Well, I found out what the mystery "perfect" assignment would be. It is a literacy training and teaching program, probably similar to this Guyana assignment, but this is in Belize! My PO honestly felt there was no way in hell anyone would drop out because that country is highly-prized amongst volunteers. It's another English-speaking Caribbean mainland country, like Guyana, and I've always been curious about it. BUT, if I want it I'd have to wait around a year and, frankly, I don't think I want to do that.

This whole day I ruminated about the option before me. I have to admit, it sounds increasingly good: for one thing, its location is wedged right in between the Caribbean and the Amazon. I've always wanted to see the Amazon, and from what I hear many PCVs take breaks to do some travelling to relatively nearby locations. A jaunt down to the Purus River to canoe through the jungle would be just about the most amazing thing ever. Plus my father used to work in Venezuela in a place called El Dorado right across the border from Guyana and that's where his wife is from. (Funny, but our lives share some bizarre parallels in unexpected ways.) Living for two years with a family would suck, because I like me privacy and I don't want to be in a situation where I'm expected to be more social than I am, but the PC likes their Guyana volunteers to live with a family because it helps integrate them better into the community.

Looking a little closer at my motivations, I'm embarrassed to realize just how much I bank my expectations on the location of the site. When I think about it, the actual assignment, the job seems just as important, if not more. Could I be totally and completely miserable in -- for example -- Jamaica, if I had a lame job and/or counterpart? Oh yeah. Heck, I might clash with people and end up hating my assignment. This could happen anywhere. And if I were to hold out for a location, giving that more preference over the job, I could very easily end up doing something I don't want to be doing or that doesn't challenge me. I know the Peace Corps says "be flexible, be open," so I'm trying very hard to let the picky, fussy part of me let go.

Fact is, Guyana isn't bad. I was fully expecting to get something like Uzbekistan or Mongolia or Bulgaria. No offense at all to people serving there, but I couldn't do it. I was reading on one woman's blog, I think she was serving in Kazahkstan, and she wrote about coming home from her work everyday and spending fifteen minutes hugging the water heater just to warm back up. *shudder* Hell with that. I couldn't serve in a place like that, mentally. But my point is, I kinda dreaded finally hearing from my PO because I was afraid he would send me somewhere that simply sounded 100% unappealing. Guyana is nice; it's not precisely what I was yearning for, but it's damn close. It's still tropical, sunny, and has the added benefit of being English-speaking so I wouldn't have to labor for months learning something totally new (it has a creole, but that's much easier). Plus -- no hurricanes! It's too far south to get them.

• Tropical
• Close to Caribbean, including Barbados, T&T, and even St. Lucia; also Spanish Main!
• Close to Amazon
• Dad used to work near there
• Assignment sounds good -- teacher training is part of it
• Probably would be in a coastal city
• Departs in May
• Soca!
• Good climate with no hurricanes
• Not too far from USA, so I can get visitors and have easier time sending my writing to publishers

• Close, but not IN the Caribbean
• Not an island, which for some reason I really dig
• Permanent Homestay
• I'm already sick of Jim Jones/Kool-Ade comments (to the anonymous poster who commented on this: I don't mean you. I've received jokes about this from everyone I've mentioned it to, including people I didn't think even knew where Guyana was! It's probably something I'll have to get used to).
• Higher expectations for personal appearance (slacks and button-ups, which I don't think PCVs in the Pacific have to worry about)
• Not likely I'll want to stay there long-term (I fantasize about loving my host country so much I simply stay after service)
• Not sure it has good reefs for snorkelling ... (?)

I don't have the luxury of a lot of time to decide. "I recommend you commit to the Guyana program now if you really want to
serve in the program," my PO said in an email today. I'll try to make up my mind by midweek.

Still taking suggestions...



Anonymous said...

The Peace Corps is hard. No matter what assignment or country it is a difficult experience and the expectation that there is an ideal assignment or experience out there is kind of unrealistic. I don’t mean to burst your bubble my friend. But if you are holding out for something better then maybe now is not the right time for you to be a PCV. I don’t mean to be harsh. Especially since I don’t know you accept from your blog and you seem like a really decent guy. But the PC isn’t very good at accommodating volunteer’s desires or want of comfort. They will make sure you have a job, a roof over your head, and that you are safe. Other than that all bets are off, and it is a chance you take. For me it has been a very worthwhile chance.
I hope that whatever you decide, you have a great experience. Whether that be in the PC or in Hawai’i or wherever life may take you.
Good luck my friend.

Brian Reeves said...

I should point out it was my PO who labelled that Belize assignment as "perfect." Actually, once he described it I didn't think it was even as close a match as this Guyana one. I don't think I'm holding out for something better, necessarily, because Guyana is actually sounding really good. I know *ideally* every volunteer would be able to be sent blindly anywhere and enjoy it just as much as any other place, but I don't think that's very realistic. Frankly, a cold weather assignment wouldn't work for me. There really *are* assignments that are better than others, based on how certain factors match the individual. Also, I'd venture to say some of my hopes are based on having travelled to certain regions before and so I would like to return there on a longer-term basis. I've never been to Africa, so I don't know what life is like there, but I've been to the Caribbean and I know I like it. Simple as that.

I believe one of the things the PC could do to cut down on the amount of Early Terminations is to invite the volunteer a little more into the process of placement. Work with them a little closer so they don't feel so recklessly thrown to the whims of chance. I don't know, maybe present them with two invitations and they have to choose one of them. I don't see anything wrong with that.

Yeah, PC service is very hard, and in unexpected ways. Already I experienced that. One of the things I wrote about was understanding that, in the end, assignment trumps location, at least by a little bit. I'm more interested in doing something that matches my skills and interests well in a location I'm neutral about, than being unchallenged or unhappy in the country of my dreams. I do admit also I'm more focused on *places* than a lot of people are, and where I am has a lot to do with how happy I am. Everyone I know in life just about lives in the Seattle area or Pac. Northwest, but I don't live there because the *place* doesn't match my needs. Most people, it seems, would gladly take a great job in their career field if it meant moving to North Dakota, but I'd rather be poor in Florida. It's just something about my psyche. I don't think it means I'm not ready for the Peace Corps, only that the location might be more of a factor for me than other people.

I guess it remains to be seen.

~.i.am.ashleigh.~ said...

I've been to Belize...beautiful country.

I don't know what you should do! Follow your heart...

Jason said...

Last week I built and launched a new blogging site for Peace Corps volunteers called Third Goal. Peace Corps volunteers are invited to create a free account.

Jason Pearce of Third Goal

"Third Goal Is Born"