It takes a village to raise a volunteer

The other day I cheerfully greeted a woman who passed by my house and instead of returning my greeting in kind, she gave an exasperated sigh, answering me with what I felt was a condescending and mocking tone. I felt stunned. It made me start to doubt all of the efforts I’ve made to integrate into my community, and I began to get the sinking suspicion that everybody in my village hated me.

(My nearest PCV neighbor Sarah tells me teasingly that I’m a drama king. I don’t know where on earth she could possibly have gotten this extremely fallacious impression.)

I was still mired in this funk the next morning, when I decided the only way I could get myself out of it was to confront my fears and insecurities head-on. So I took a deep breath and forced myself to step outside my house and started walking. And as I meandered slowly through the village, calling out greetings to bamayos as I passed their huts and receiving a barrage of joyous shouts from kids at every corner, I could feel my sense of belonging beginning to return.

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At one compound I watched a family shuck the kernels from cornhusks in order to prepare it for pounding into maize flour. Outside another, I joined in a jump rope game that the little girls were playing, to the delight of the crowd of children and not a few women who had swiftly assembled around us. Later, I stopped and chatted with some bamayos and kids for an hour and got them to laugh uproariously at me as I tried my hand at pounding cassava with mortar and pestle. Much as I like to think I’m a naturally funny guy, I have to grudgingly admit that it’s not difficult to make people laugh in a place where everything you do is hilarious.

I showed the kids pictures of themselves on my phone. I promised to teach the bamayos how to make tortillas. I assisted a tiny girl in picking a small mango from a branch just out of her reach. And I returned home feeling a greater sense of community in my site than I had in a long time. I had started out that morning trying to find that sense of purpose and self-assuredness I was so desperately wanting. But along the way, I discovered that it was the village that had found me.

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Later that day, I ran into that same woman who I thought didn’t like me. She greeted me with such a genuine smile that it seemed like her negativity from our interaction the day before had been all in my head. Maybe it was.

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4 thoughts on “It takes a village to raise a volunteer

  1. I could imagine how hard it must have been feeling the way you did after that encounter, but I’m glad that everything worked out in the end. I’m especially glad that you ran into the same lady and that she returned a warm smile to you the second time around.

  2. Matt, I sometimes feel that way even though I’m surrounded by people I’ve known for years! Self-doubt is sneaky. What you did to overcome the doldrums was spot on!

  3. It sounds like your community has accepted you quite well. I bet she was having a bad day and you just ran into that woman at the wrong time. Your experience drinking with the Mwata would make for a great conversation starter. By the way, your blog is awesome, the kids look cute, I love your sunsets, and you should write a book. How’s that for an ego boost?

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