Sometimes is hard to believe that I am in the Peace Corps. I’m sure many of you, like me, automatically think of Africa, Southeast Asia or South America when you think of Peace Corps. Honestly I did too and was almost positive I was going to Africa, particularly because I have a master’s in public health. I was given the choice, however- which again is rare, of either Africa or Central Asia. I choose Central Asia and then through another set of unusual circumstances my departure time was moved up early so that I could come to Kyrgyzstan. So what do I think of that decision? It’s been a great one.
However there have been times when I do think, “Am I really in Peace Corps?” Part of this is because PC publication is very heavy on promoting Africa and various other places; Central Asia is not heavily promoted. Plus on the whole Central Asia volunteers, at least in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, do have it a lot easier than other volunteers in some places. For instance some of the volunteers here do have indoor plumbing, indoor hot water and indoor toilets. They have apartments, not a nice as some in the states and not as bad as some either. We all have actual homes made of stone, mortar and keep out the elements. We have electricity- maybe not all the time, but we have it most of the day. If we don’t have water in our house we have easy access to it. Some of our families have televisions, DVD players, radios, computers, microwaves, stoves, ovens, etc. We never go hungry nor do we have to worry about food; there’s always plenty of it, if not in the greatest variety. Finally, on the whole we are not that far from other volunteers, no more than two hours at max from another. Therefore, with all of this it can, at times, feel very hard to believe one is in the Peace Corps.
I’ve got two amazing rooms, my own kitchen and an awesome family and village. I don’t cook, unless I want to, which isn’t often, and I’m feed regularly, pretty healthily and abundantly. My work is great, frustrating at times but still awesome. I live near the lake and am within walking distance of it. An hour car drive away and I’m in the mountains. It’s a beautiful area but also not without trials. I don’t have running water in my house and we do have water shortages at times. Power does get turned off during the day and at night and I do have to use an outdoor toilet, although it’s one of the better ones in the village. I don’t have a stove, microwave, or anything like that but that doesn’t mean the food is not cooked well. White bread, black tea and sheep fat are staples to diets here but one learns to deal. Chairs with backs are hard to come by, they are very expensive and so are actual table and desks like in the states. During the warm weather I do have to worry about spiders in my room but they are easily taken care of. Also, sometimes we’ll see a mouse running around and I am constantly aware of the huge amounts of animal droppings that are everywhere. Yet, despite these few hardships I have it very easy. I can use my laptop whenever I want without fear of it getting ruined. I can watch movies or read books on my bed or couch or armchair. I can plug in my cell phone, laptop and heater most of the time and I never have to worry about the outdoor elements coming into my house.
So you can see how at times it could be hard to believe you’re in PC, and I don’t even live in a city. But, it’s more than just outside exterior too that can make you wonder at times. Every volunteer goes through the thinking of why are they here? In particular this usually arises during a time when they are not working or having a rough patch. I think, when those times arise, it’s almost easier to get an answer is places like Africa. You can visibly see the challenges that you overcome and even the differences that are being made. Here, because we do have so much, but yet don’t, those lines are blurred. It can be difficult at times to know if you are making a difference, especially when culture is considered. Also, when there is nothing for you to do can make you wonder. Currently because of weather many of the English teachers are not in school. So they have ample free time. Some of them have taken vacation and yet many, I’m sure, have wondered why they traveled all this way to do nothing. No matter what the reasoning for joining PC was, every volunteer, I think, has a small amount of idealism in them. When things change or don’t happen that idealism, those reasons, can be shaken. Yet, this doesn’t just occur here in Kyrgyzstan but occurs everywhere that a volunteer- or for anyone living outside of their home country.
It is often stated that being a Peace Corps volunteer is the “toughest job you’ll ever love”. It is very tough. Not only is very country different and has unique challenges to overcome but you have to deal with so much other stuff everyday, day in and day out. Comparisons to other places never help and can make volunteers wonder and contemplate. Language, culture, food, jobs, other volunteers and families all take their tolls and again are challenges. Yet each provides a time to learn and gain new perspectives. My site mate recently told me she’s learned so much about people skills in her short time here, and that is just one of many lessons. So while being a PC volunteer in Kyrgyzstan may not be as difficult physically as in other places, the mental challenges are all the same. So friends, don’t just automatically think of Africa when considering the PC. Remember volunteers are everywhere and we each have unique experiences and challenges. So until next time…