Some might read this and tell me it was up to me to improve my condition, and that I needed to be strong enough, or flexible enough, going in to resist negative impacts from all these factors. But I think that's wishful thinking. Homesickness, the gremlin that nails most Peace Corps volunteers, wasn't my problem, nor was it a lack of desire to participate in Peace Corps. I wanted to give to the community, to be a member of an international relief and development organization with as much clout and respect as Peace Corps. But mostly I just wanted to be treated like an adult. All throughout training we were kept like junior highschoolers, chaperoned, told all the things we should be scared of. Then, when we were in our sites, we got the reverse: don't bother us, and just do your job. I needed something with a little less extremes. The two volunteers with WorldTeach, assigned to New Amsterdam, got much better support and respect.
Prospective volunteers are really the target of this blog, but to them I feel I need to add a disclaimer. My experience is not common. In truth, there is no Peace Corps experience that is common. Those television and magazine advertisements that show volunteers hugging scores of little African or Central American children are only part of the story. A little part. Your experience will not match that, no matter how hard you try. But nor will it match my experience. I had a unique situation, a unique response to that situation, a unique psychology, a unique background, and unique expectations. Someone thrust into my identical experience would not see the same outcome, or anything like it.
Some might claim I was a failure, and at time, I would be among them. But in the end, I had a fascinating experience, made some friends, learned something about the world and its people, and more importantly, about myself. I matured in many ways during this experience, even despite the fact that I was in my early 30s at the time. It is unshakably a part of me, now, for good and bad, and I am grateful for that.
And so to prospective volunteers, those going to Guyana, the Caribbean, South America, or anywhere else: Nothing you read in this blog is meant to dissuade you from Peace Corps experience. These are the memories and episodes in one person's life, and that's all they are. Some of them are good, some of them are not so good. Based on what I've witnessed, both in the late 90s when I shamefully gave up Peace Corps in the Eastern Caribbean, to 2005 when I went to Guyana, Peace Corps is undergoing a time of rapid administrative change, in part as a reaction to 9/11, in part to law suits, and in part to the changing perception of Americans worldwide. Peace Corps is finding itself redundant in some parts of the world, where progress and development have reached levels where they, honestly, don't need Peace Corps anymore. And everywhere it is finding it harder and harder to hang onto the role it used to play in communities and with volunteers.
But I still love this institution. I want to see some major changes, both for the sake of volunteers and for the survivability of the program. But Peace Corps remains one of the best experiences a person of any age can have, and I will continue to say so until I die or the program is ended. If you are thinking of joining Peace Corps, or are in the application process, or are about to go, or are in-country, or have returned, this will be one of the most important and amazing times of your life. Do it, without hesitation. Just be sure to read this blog, the numerous blogs of volunteers all around the world, the short stories published in Peace Corps publications, and the novels of fiction and non-fiction written by former volunteers. Read it all voraciously, and let it sink in. Then, when it comes time to go, forget it all and be prepared to experience something unique to you. Be ready for disappointments, but also be ready for adventures, hardships, friendships, and a feeling of being more alive than you have felt in years.
And don't quit.
- Aloha to all volunteers, former and future. This is Brian Reeves, signing off.