This wonderful blog post from a recent RPCV in Ethiopia made the rounds in the far-reaching Peace Corps community a year ago. For me, the strength of this post is rooted in its ability to sensitize me and to inform my emotional expectations for my imminent service. Michael Waidmann’s writing reminds me of a passage from Alain de Botton’s book How Proust Can Change Your Life describing the value of a novel:
The value of a novel is not limited to its depictions of emotions and people akin to those in our own life; it stretches to an ability to describe these far better than we would have been able, to put a finger on perceptions that we recognize as our own, but could not have formulated on our own. An effect of reading a book which has devoted attention to noticing such faint yet vital tremors is that once we’ve put the volume down and resumed our own life, we may attend to precisely the things the author would have responded to had he or she been in our company.
Our mind will be like a radar newly attuned to pick up certain objects floating through consciousness; the effect will be like bringing a radio into a room that we had thought silent, and realizing that the silence only existed at a particular frequency and that all along we in fact shared the room with waves of sound coming in from a Ukrainian station or the nighttime chatter of a minicab firm. Our attention will be drawn to the shades of the sky, to the changeability of a face, to the hypocrisy of a friend, or to a submerged sadness about a situation which we had previously not even known we could feel sad about.
The book will have sensitized us, stimulated our dormant antennae by evidence of its own developed sensitivity.
I feel as though I have done somewhat of a disservice throughout this blog, painting a picture that is not precisely accurate. I am an emotional person, romantic, optimistic to a fault. I like extremes and superlatives, exaggerating in an attempt to draw my audience in, and to make sense of things that I can’t make sense of.
I romanticize this experience as a function of my personality but also as a coping mechanism. Simply put, life in the Peace Corps is hard.
I want to write about the real Ethiopia, and the real Peace Corps experience. It is a defensive approach, protection for when a future volunteer reads about my experiences. Hopefully as a result, he or she will understand what to expect, and will not mock me for only showing pictures of sunsets and kids holding hands.
So what should you expect?
Nothing is the best answer. Expect nothing and you…
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