I am so glad that the Peace Corps is two years.
In the States, when people here you are going into the Peace Corps and ask how you long you will be gone, the reaction to your response of “27 months” is usually a little taken aback. “Wow… that is a LONG time.” “I would love to do the Peace Corps, but two years is too long.” “OMG, ARE YOU SERIOUS??!!1” et cetera. And indeed, two years IS a long time. It feels like I have been here forever, when the reality is that I am still in the first third of my service and have at least 18 more months to go. Sometimes it feels like it flies by and other days it crawls… but that is life anywhere, isn’t it? Spending two years outside of your country, away from your friends and family, is really hard at times. But I also think it is one of the best things about being a Peace Corps Volunteer.
It is funny how your concept of time changes. In the States, two years feels like an eternity. Upon hearing you will be gone for such a long time, many of your friends (who are still about 21 or 22 years old and for whom “two years” still sounds like a lifetime) start forgetting you before you are even on the plane. But once you are here… “Hey, it is just two years.” You start realizing (and as you get older as well) that it really is just a drop in the bucket.
But in reality, for a PCV, two years is not long enough. When you are in the States, fresh-faced and idealistic like most incoming volunteers are, you dream of a few months of hard work and cultural integration and then you will be just rockin. Indeed, I too had visions of the first six months or so being quite the challenge, but then after that I would be fluent in Portuguese, chatting up all my neighbors every morning in the local dialect, and just generally being well-known and the totally beloved American in my community and being super productive at work and totally changing the world blah blah blah… everyone entertains these thoughts at one point as they are preparing for PC. And then you get here and reality smacks you in the face.
As a PCV, you are (most likely) not a seasoned, experienced working professional who is contracted for a short time to come in and do a specific intense job and then go home. Rather, you are supposed to be part of your community, investing in a different way besides just professionally. You are supposed to really get to know the people, the language, and the culture, really understand this new place and its inhabitants and what makes it work and what your place can be in it. And this takes time. A LOT of time. Many volunteers talk about how they were pretty much useless their first year, and not for lack of trying! But to really understand this new place, understand your job, communicate effectively… it is not a quick process. And that is the great thing about Peace Corps is that you can spend a year trying to figure this stuff all out and then have an entire nother year to get down to it and really do what you came here to do.
I have been here for almost eight months now. And I have definitely learned a lot. But I am nowhere where I would have predicted I would be at this point before I left… I still don’t speak Portuguese very well, I speak next to nothing of the local dialect, I am starting to do a bit at work but still am nowhere close to where I want to be in terms of my competencies and ability to get things done. And if I was only going to be here for a year… it would be incredibly discouraging, to feel that JUST when I would start to get stuff underway and just start to be productive, it would be time to leave and go home and I would be left to reflect on how much I DIDN’T do when I was in the Peace Corps.
There is so much I want to do here. I want to be fluent in Portuguese. I want to be able to converse, at least some small talk, in the local language. I want to be able to facilitate exercises in the field easily and smoothly, and to bring in my experiences and knowledge to benefit my project and my coworkers in my organization. I want to get to know people in my community, to have local friends, to have a real LIFE here outside of my house and my office. I want to find a way and the time to start a community project, something that fulfills a need that I can use to have a sustainable impact here in Vilanculos.
I have pretty much not done any of this stuff yet. And maybe partly for lack of trying, but I don’t really think so. I am still new. And it takes a while, as I find myself realizing more and more everyday.
And the realities are, that maybe I won’t be able to accomplish all of these things during my service. But what I do know is that I have time. Time to absorb my new surroundings and time to really just learn and appreciate what I have here and fall in love with this country. And then there is still another year. And for this I am grateful.
This time commitment is intimidating, especially on the States side of things. But to invest yourself in a completely different experience than you have ever had before, it isn’t long enough. And though some days it may feel like an eternity, I will try to take full advantage of every day that I am blessed with spending here, knowing that in the end, it will be completely worth it.